H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Flight into Darkness

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On the eve of demonstrating the results of his groundbreaking research into electromagnetism, Dr Steve Stephens (Geoffrey Keen) disappears.  Brady, a close colleague, attempts to locate him before his work is appropriated by foreign agents ….

The first scene makes it plain that all is not well with Stephens – although Brady tells him how important his work is, Stephens seems subdued and non-committal.  And after Stephens is left alone he smashes up his lab and destroys his papers.  It has to be said that Keen does this in a rather half-hearted way – rather than acting in a mad frenzy, there’s almost an apologetic air as Stephens destroys various instruments and eventually manages to set fire to his papers.  Stephen’s fake-looking beard is a touch distracting (although this is addressed in a few scenes time after we see him clean-shaven, no doubt because he’s attempting to go incognito).

When Stephens doesn’t show up the following day, Brady steps in to demonstrate his work.  It’s certainly eye-opening – you’ll believe a guinea pig could fly – and the men from the ministry can quickly see the possibilities.  Eh?  The ability to levitate guinea pigs isn’t something which has many practical advantages, unless it could also be applied to men ….

And this is the crux of the story.  Stephens is a scientist interested only in pure research – the thought of his work being used in any sort of military or offensive context disgusts him (although it’s odd that he’s never considered this before – after all he’s been working in this area for five years).

Stephens’ research would naturally be of great interest to unfriendly powers, which means that foreign agents such as Wilson (Esmond Knight) are doing their best to obtain it.  Wilson, posing as a member of a peace organisation, attempts to convince Stephens that it would be better if his invention was shared with the entire world.  This is a familiar theme – if a scientist can’t be bought with money, then appealing to his peace-loving nature might just work instead.  To his credit, Stephens sees right through Wilson and even the attentions of Sewell (Colin Douglas) who’s armed with a nasty-looking cosh doesn’t change his mind.

Flight into Darkness raises some interesting points, such as the moral dilemma faced by scientists who risk having their discoveries misused, but there’s simply not the time to develop this in any detail.  The reason for Stephens’ sudden breakdown isn’t at all clear (it’s suggested at one point that Wilson’s earlier arguments had turned his head, but since we later see him reject Wilson’s request for the formula this can’t be so).

Wilson isn’t the most nuanced of characters and by the end of the episode he’s become a frantic, gun-waving heavy.  Stephens’ daughter Pat (Joanna Dunham) adds a touch of glamour as the damsel-in-distress who inevitably falls into the clutches of the baddies, but it’s not long before Brady turns up to rescue her, so only minimal tension is created.

The cast, as so often, can’t be faulted but this is pretty thin stuff.  A trip to Covent Garden market is one highlight from a pretty average episode.

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