H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Big Plot

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When a crashed foreign airliner is found to contain parts which could form an atomic bomb, the authorities fear that further attempts might be made to smuggle parts into the UK.  So Peter Brady is put on the case ….

This is a rum old story and no mistake. Thanks to a very unconvincing piece of stock footage we see Helen Peversham (Barbara Shelley) triumph in a big golf tournament in France. Helen’s heading back to Britain, but by the shifty way her chauffeur – Hanstra (Terence Cooper) – is behaving, it’s obvious that he’s stashed something inside her golf bag.

The authorities have clearly moved at lightning speed since the custom points have now been fitted with Geiger counters, thereby allowing all luggage to be scanned. Hmm, okay then. When MacBane (Edward Hardwicke) checks Helens golf bag the counter goes crazy.  He doesn’t say anything to her, but quickly gets on the phone to Sir Charles (Ewan McDuff) at the Ministry.  Sir Charles then tells Peter that Helen was carrying a canister of Uranium 235. Sorry? How exactly did he work that one out?

Helen’s husband, Lord Larry Peversham (John Arnatt), is an ardent peace campaigner, but he’s been duped into helping the baddies. They’ve told him that atomic bombs will be placed in the capital cities of all the major powers (in order to create an atmosphere of stalemate) but they’re obviously lying and he was remarkably trusting to believe them ….

Rather wonderfully, the bomb is installed in the basement of the Peversham’s house, which allows a shocked Helen to discover it. By now I have to confess that nothing in this loopy story could possibly surprise me.

Barbara Shelly and John Arnatt help to paper over the cracks as does William Squire. He plays Waring, the Peversham’s valet, who – like Hanstra – is also involved in the plot. Is every person on Peversham’s payroll a baddy? It would be a remarkable coincidence if so, but this story has something of an “end of term” feel, so maybe logical thought had taken a slight holiday. Squire’s good fun as the glowering Waring anyway – he was always an actor you could depend upon to provide a spot of top-class villainy.

Brady is, ahem, rather invisible in this one and does little which the authorities couldn’t have done themselves. Which in a way rather sums the series up. By not concentrating on Brady’s invisible plight, the show instead tended to shoehorn him into generic crime/thriller plots where he didn’t always fit.

Few of the stories are valueless – the guest casts are always worth watching at least – although it’s fair comment that the show does sometimes settle into a rut.  But whilst it can be a little samey and predictable, it’s also well-made and entertaining. It’s certainly one that I’ve enjoyed revisiting and no doubt I’ll come back to it again in the future.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Shadow Bomb

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When a light-sensitive bomb malfunctions, Brady (because he doesn’t cast a shadow) is the only one who can disarm it before darkness makes it detonate ….

It’s slightly eye-opening that Brady is more than happy to work with the military on this new bomb (he’s responsible for designing the detonator).  It was obviously a very different time – WW2 would have been a very recent memory for most – but it’s hard to imagine a modern series featuring a scientist quite so keen to design weapons of destruction.  True, it’s suggested that the shadow bomb would be ideal for clearing a path through minefields – but it could just as easily be used for offensive purposes.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve been something of a stuck record throughout these posts, but once again we’re treated to a wonderful cast of players.  The previous year Anthony Bushell had memorably appeared as Colonel Breen in Quatermass and the Pit – here he’s the rather similar General Martin.  Martin is slightly less pigheaded than Breen, but since he possesses the same bite and aggression it’s rather hard to distinguish between the two.

Conrad Phillips is the dashing Captain Barry Finch, who ends up being trapped by the bomb, whilst Jennifer Jayne adds a touch of glamour as Captain Betty Clark.  Walter Gotell is pressed into service as the latest Man from the Ministry whilst Ian Hendry pops up as Lieutenant Daniels.  As I said, a pretty decent cast ….

When Brady hears the news of Finch’s plight, he’s so agitated that he rushes out to the test ground without applying his bandages – which presents the strange sight of an apparently empty suit of clothes bobbing about.  We didn’t see this happen too often (no doubt because it would have been hard to realise) so this is a noteworthy little sequence.

Shadow Bomb has one pretty obvious problem.  If the bomb explodes then Brady goes up with it (thereby bringing the series to a rather abrupt conclusion).  But although we can guess that everything will work out fine in the end, the maximum amount of tension is still generated during the closing minutes (we’re presented with multiple close-ups of Finch’s anxious, sweaty face).

Co-written by Brian Clemens (under the pen-name of Tony O’Grady), this isn’t a story that springs any surprises, but a race-against-time to diffuse a ticking bomb is always a good source of drama – as it proves here.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Rocket

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Ronald Smith’s (Glyn Owen) heavy gambling debts make him susceptible to an approach from Reitter (Russell  Waters).  Smith is the transport officer responsible for the movement of a new rocket (due in Scotland for further tests) and when his information allows it to be stolen en-route, the Invisible Man sets off in pursuit ….

The first few minutes sees Smith sweating at the casino table, losing heavily at baccarat.  A favourite game of James Bond (it was featured heavily in Ian Fleming’s debut novel Casino Royale) possibly it was felt that the rules were already well-known, since they’re not explained here  Smith draws an eight and is understandably pretty confident (only a nine could beat it) although his later downcast expression confirms that’s exactly what must have happened.  An uncredited John Standing makes a brief appearance as the croupier.

Smith then decides to throw himself off a nearby bridge, but the coolly seductive Reitter stops him.  We never learn precisely who Reitter works for (an unfriendly foreign power no doubt) but he’s quickly able to convince Smith that his debts could be cleared if he divulges the following information – the time and route that the rocket will take.  Reitter insists that no suspicion will fall on Smith, although as we’ll see, Smith rather betrays himself ….

The rocket test scenes in London with Brady, Professor Howard (Robert Brown) and (somewhat oddly) Smith are very evocative of the era.  The surroundings are rather tatty and makeshift (old-fashioned telephones and a general feeling of decay) but the message seems to be that British ingenuity has made up for a lack of money and facilities.

There’s also a delightful later scene when Brady and Howard demonstrate the rocket to a number of Military and Whitehall bigwigs. None of them speak, so they were either deeply impressed by the brilliance of the invention or were non-speaking extras (the latter I guess).  Keep an eye on the gentleman on the far right, who throughout the demonstration wears an expression of shock.  I assume he was aiming for an engrossed countenance, but didn’t quite manage it.

Sally pops up for a single scene in which she and Brady are attempting to knock down a series of wooden skittles.  Brady, being invisible, cheats terribly and when Sally points this out he appears to give her an invisible smack on her bottom.  Which wasn’t fair or friendly, poor Sally (and Deborah Watling didn’t even merit a credit for this appearance, which seems a little odd).

There’s one major plot-hole with the story.  Despite the fact that Smith’s been told he only has to pass on the transport details of the rocket, he decides to advance its departure time, thereby bringing intense suspicion on himself.  Had he not done this then the baddies would probably have succeeded.

I love the fact that the lorry carrying the rocket is so poorly guarded (one single motorbike rider!).  Mmm, given that we’ve been told how terrible it would be if the rocket fell into the wrong hands, I’ve a feeling that a touch more protection would have been advisable.

The second half of the episode follows a predictable route – Brady tracks the villains down, gives them an invisible beating and wraps everything up by the time the end-credits roll.  But whilst this part is less compelling, I’ve still got a lot of time for The Rocket.  Glyn Owen doesn’t have a great deal to do, but he still manages to sketch Smith’s character very effectively (Smith’s conscience later kicks in and he ends up redeeming himself).  It’s also nice to see Robert Brown (later to star as M in the 1980’s Bond films) although his role is also pretty slight.

Some nice location work, decent actors and a good punch-up.  There are worse ways to spend twenty-five minutes.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Man in Power

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The small Middle Eastern country of Barat is in crisis.  The hard-line Army leader, General Shafari (André Morell), wants to see them break their agreements with the West and then play East and West off against each other.  When the moderate King disagrees, Shafari has him brutally murdered.  No doubt Shafari hopes that the new ruler, Prince Jonetta (Gary Raymond), will be more pliable – but Jonetta (known as Johnny) has a powerful ally – Peter Brady, the Invisible Man ….

We’re once again heading off to a fictitious ITC Middle Eastern state, so expect to see British actors browned up and lashings of stock footage.   But our stay in Barat is made very bearable by the presence of André Morell .  Morell was one of those actors who could have read the phone book and made it worthwhile (although fortunately his character here is slightly more interesting than that).

Only just though.  Shafari is never developed in any great detail – we do learn that Barat is a poor country and no doubt Shafari hopes that an alliance with the East would be more profitable for them (or more likely, just him) but beyond that he’s a nebulous figure.  This doesn’t really matter though, since Morell invests every line of dialogue he’s given with gravitas and meaning and even when Shafari has nothing to say, Morell still captures the eye by glowering memorably in the background.  Without him, this one would probably be much more of a struggle.

Gary Raymond is perfect as Johnny – he’s boyish, open and honest (making it perfectly plain that he’s keen to put the interests of his people first and would turn out to be an enlightened and progressive leader if he’s given the chance) whilst Nadja Regin as Johnny’s sister, Princess Taima, is on hand to provide a touch of glamour, moral support for her brother and to function as this week’s damsel in distress.  When Taima is kidnapped by Shafari, he no doubt hopes it will serve as the lever to force Johnny not to accept the throne – but luckily Brady’s on hand to dish out some invisible fisticuffs and so he calmly rescues her.

If Regin seems familiar, then it’s probably due to her several small, but eye-catching, appearances in the early James Bond films.  The most memorable one came in the pre-credits sequence for Goldfinger where she acted as the decoy for Alf Joint’s swarthy assassin.  “Shocking”.

It’s something of a treat to see two Professor Quatermasses sharing the screen.  Not only Morell (who played the Professor in the television version of Quatermass and the Pit) but also Andrew Keir (who would later play the Prof in the Hammer film adaptation of Pit).  Keir’s role of Hassan, a supporter of Johnny, isn’t terribly interesting but it’s nice to see him nonetheless.

As so often, we’re left with a rather pat ending.  After Shafari is captured and led away we’re led to believe that the crisis is now over.  But this supposes he was the only bad apple and that the rest of the army will now be loyal to Johnny.  Real-life would suggest he’s got troubles ahead, but Man in Power elects to close on an optimistic note.

Although some of the stock footage really stands out (it’s so scratchy that it doesn’t convince for a minute) the presence of André Morell adds more than a touch of class to the episode. Another very enjoyable twenty five minutes.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Man in Disguise

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After a crook masquerades as the Invisible Man in order to smuggle a supply of cocaine from Paris to London, Brady teams up with the police, in the form of the attractive Sergeant Winter (Jeanette Stark), in order to run them to ground ….

There’s a nice touch of continuity here as Man in Disguise clearly follows on from the events of the previous episode.  Brady, heading home to England after solving the case of the vanishing rabbit, is waylaid at the airport by a conniving femme-fatale, Madeline (Leigh Madison).  It’s plain to see that she’s a wrong ‘un – maybe it’s the fur coat that does it – and within a matter of minutes she’s allowed her associate Nick to nip off with Brady’s bag (and passport).

The smugglers – Madeline and Nick (Tim Turner) – have clearly identified Brady’s Achilles heel (he can’t resist helping a damsel in distress).  So when Madeline pretends to faint,  Brady instantly dashes over to lend his assistance.  Luckily for them, he kept his passport in his bag (if he’d had it in his pocket then their brilliant plan wouldn’t have worked).

It’s surprising that more criminals haven’t attempted to impersonate Brady.  All you need are some bandages, dark glasses and a hat and voila – you’re instantly transformed into Peter Brady, the Invisible Man.  Thus disguised, Nick finds he can waltz through the customs at London, since the officer knows that Brady wouldn’t be mixed up in any drug shenanigans.

Tim Turner, of course, voiced the Invisible Man for the majority of the series (there’s the odd episode where Brady sounds rather different, so presumably other actors occasionally stood in).  It’s therefore rather neat that Turner plays Nick since not only does it allow us to see, for once, the man behind the voice but it ensures that Nick’s masquerade is quite convincing.

Brady’s eye for the ladies is once again evident after he’s introduced to Sergeant Winter.  Along with Sergeant Day (Howard Pays) the three of them go undercover as they hit London’s fashionable nightspots to investigate the drug trade.  This is an irresistible part of the story as it’s just so polite and of its time.  The fantastically named Golden Monkey nightclub is where the action is and Sergeant Winter (after transforming herself into a well-heeled addict) infiltrates the joint.

If Tim Turner was something of a voice expert (in addition to this series he also narrated a considerable number of Rank’s Look at Life cinema documentary short films) then so was Robert Rietty, here playing the club’s waiter, Victor.  For many, he’ll probably be best remembered for dubbing a number of characters for the James Bond films (most notably in Thunderball and You Only Live Twice).

When the drug smugglers realise that Brady’s after them, they become desperate.  They plant a bomb in his car but unfortunately they choose to do this in broad daylight and with the inquisitive Sally watching on.  This leads into my favourite line in the episode as Sally picks up the phone and informs the caller that her uncle is otherwise engaged. “I’m afraid he’s busy. He’s taking a bomb out of his car”.

Man in Disguise is able to pause for a few seconds to consider the cost of the drug trade (when flicking through a series of photographs in order to identify the woman who stole his bag, Brady is shocked to see that many of them are very young) but apart from this brief reflection, the episode is pretty straight-ahead fare.

The criminals might be bumbling and written rather broadly, but the time-capsule aspect of this one makes it very appealing.  Certainly one of the stronger episodes from the later run of the series.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The White Rabbit

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Brady heads over to France after a story surfaces about an invisible rabbit.

That’s one of the most succinct story synopsis I’ve had to type for this series, but it seems to cover everything.  I love the opening few minutes, which sees Suzanne Dumassie (Marla Landi), out walking her dog, suddenly watch with incredulity as a rabbit appears before her eyes.  I think it’s the juxtaposition between the rabbit’s sudden materialisation and the dramatic music which is rather amusing.

Normally in a series like this you’d expect to see a collection of British actors putting on French accents.  That’s generally what happens here, although with one exception – Marla Landi was Italian.  Quite why an Italian was playing French is anyone’s guess (but I assume that genuine French actors were thin on the ground in late 1950’s Britain).

Keith Pylott, here playing Suzanne’s father, had a very long career although with my Doctor Who hat on he’ll always be the Aztec High Priest Autloc to me.  Austin Trevor is another very decent actor attempting a mild French accent (luckily nobody goes overboard with comedy accents – although Paul Daneman comes closest).

As so often with the series, the mystery is easily solved.  The rabbit was observed in a field opposite a large, heavily guarded, chateau.  It therefore seems plain that invisibility experiments are taking place inside.  But even if this were so, why would it concern Brady?  Have invisibility experiments been outlawed?  If not, then there’s no reason to suppose that the work in the chateau is anything but disinterested, scientific research.  Of course it turns out to be part of an evil masterplan – but Brady and the others weren’t to know that …..

Rocher (Daneman) is a fascist politician who dreams of taking over the country with a handpicked team of invisible men.  Given that Brady’s the expert in this field (even if his self-inflicted invisibility was accidental) it’s strange they didn’t attempt to lure him over from Britain in order to pick his invisible brains.

The plot plays out as you’d expect – damsel in distress Suzanne is abducted and taken to the chateau.  Bound and gagged, she’s due to be used as an unwilling guinea pig (or white rabbit) unless Brady can save the day.  Hmm, I don’t think she has anything to worry about.

Another efficient, if somewhat unremarkable, story.  As touched upon before, there’s not always the time to develop characters in any depth, so Rocher remains a rather mysterious figure.  He wants to take over the country because, well, just because.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Gun Runners

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Brady teams up with American investigator Zena Fleming (Louise Allbritton) to investigate the gun-running activity which is occurring in the small Mediterranean state of Bay Akim.

Given the recent terrible terrorist activity in the UK, the opening of The Gun Runners has now been granted an added resonance.  We see a British engineer and his wife gunned down in a foreign market whilst their horrified young child looks on.  Whilst there’s no blood, it’s still an extremely jolting moment, especially the aftermath which shows the uncomprehending child desperately attempting to shake his dead father back to life.

It’s an interesting dramatic touch that we see the murders taking place. They’re not the focus of the episode (since Brady reads about them in the newspaper, this second-hand report could have sufficed). But the fact we witness the crime provides the episode with a dramatic impetus it otherwise would have lacked.

There seems to be a simple solution to the problem – the terrorists are only a threat if they have guns in their hands, so if their weapons supply could somehow be cut off then they’d be nullified.  Sadly, real-world events have shown that guns aren’t necessary to create mayhem ….

Zena, an accredited investigator, has already been out to Bay Akim and remains convinced that someone there is gun-running, although she found no evidence to support her belief.  Now she wants to go back in an unofficial capacity and has very little difficulty in persuading Brady to join her.  But when she returns, the gun-runners are uncovered with such ridiculous ease that it makes you wonder just how incompetent she must have been in the first place not to discover them.

Bay Akim is your typical ITC Middle Eastern country.  It’s populated by British actors putting on funny accents (and who are slightly browned up to boot).  Fezzes are also very much in evidence.  James Booth has a certain swarthy villainy as Ali whilst Paul Stassino has the most substantial role as Sardi.  Whilst he initially appears to be on Zena’s side, in possibly the least unsurprising twist ever he’s revealed to be one of the baddies.  You can almost guarantee that in adventure serials like this, the authorities will turn out to be corrupt.

The fact that Brady is invisible and incognito during his time in Bay Akim is the cue for plenty of invisible fighting.  It also means that Sardi is somewhat perplexed as to how a mere woman like Zena could possibly beat up his men (he’s in one room, listening with incredulity as Brady’s next door and giving them an invisible going-over!)

As so often with the series, The Gun Runners is good, solid fare.  Ian Stuart-Black ended up writing thirteen episodes for the show (which included some of the best instalments) and it seems clear that he had a very definite ideas about what would work and what wouldn’t.  As with many of the better episodes, The Gun Runners doesn’t attempt to overextend itself – it’s content to tell a fairly simple, linear story in an efficient way.

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