H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Point of Destruction

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Scott (Duncan Lamont) has seen four pilots killed during tests for his new fuel diffuser.  Accidents or sabotage? Brady, a friend of Scott’s, steps in to find out ….

The cast of Point of Destruction oozes with class.  An early example is Alfred Burke, playing the test-pilot Bob (and he doesn’t even appear in the credits).  This is a little odd as although his role is qute short, it’s still a speaking part.  Always a pleasure to see Burke though, even in a small role like this.

The moment when the control tower loses contact with Bob is an effective one – rather than the crackle of a dead radio there’s simply silence – although the sting of the incidental music shortly afterwards does underscore this moment rather too obviously and melodramatically.

Is there a saboteur on Scott’s team?  With only twenty-five minutes to play with it’s not a mystery that can be maintained for any length of time, so the reveal that Dr James Court (John Rudling) has been accepting substantial sums of money from the hard-as-nails foreign agent Katrina (Patricia Jessell) occurs very early on.  Had the episode been longer then we could have been introduced to several different members of Scott’s team, leaving us to decide which one was guilty, something which could have worked well.

Court isn’t a terribly well-defined character.  Is he motivated purely by money or is it more a case of envy?  No matter, since he performs his place in the narrative perfectly effectively.  John Rudling’s television career stretched back to 1937 (a half-hour adaptation of the play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer’s Night Dream) but it was only towards the end of his life – when he played Brabinger in To The Manor Born – that he became something of a household name.

If you only know Rudling from To The Manor Born then you probably wouldn’t have connected Court to Brabinger (since he looked very different here).  Barry Letts, playing the control tower officer, is someone else who isn’t instantly recognisable (if he’d had a beard then I may have twigged a little earlier).

But Alfred Burke and Duncan Lamont are both very distinctive as is Derren Nesbitt.  There’s certainly no mistaking Nesbitt, one of the longest-serving of the ITC utility players (he appeared in pretty much every ITC adventure series, almost always as a villain).  In Point of Destruction he plays Stephan, Katrina’s henchman.  Even his first scene, in which he does nothing but lurk in the background – smoking a cigarette in a threatening manner – is a treat, but he soon ramps up the villainy.

He and Katrina set off to kill Brady and he almost manages it (via a well-aimed shot with a high-powered rifle).  This then leads into a nicely mounted action scene as a wounded Brady attempts to escape.  Yes, it’s something of a diversion from the main plot, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

With a cast like this, how can you not love Point of Destruction? Maybe developing Court’s character and motivation a little more would have been a good idea, but I’m happy just to sit back and enjoy the acting.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Four

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Once again, the Squire is forced to count the human cost of his quest for gold, since all three of his servants now lie dead. “Old Redruth. Joyce. And now Hunter. Loyal souls, all of them, who served and trusted me. I have much to account for, Livesey.”

The Doctor offers a brief word of comfort, but maybe Livesey’s gesture here is just an automatic one. It’s certainly debatable that Trelawney’s escapade can be judged to be an honourable one – as his intention was to keep the plundered gold for himself (after, presumably, sharing out a small portion to the others) he can hardly claim the moral high ground over Silver and his men.

Jim decides to take Ben Gunn’s boat and return to the Hispaniola. It’s a brave, if foolhardy venture, since it brings him into contact with the murderous Israel Hands. Patrick Troughton once again is on good form as Israel, reacting calmly to Jim’s statement that he’s returned to take possession of the ship.

Exactly why Jim decided that the pirates onboard would be happy to receive him is a slight mystery. True, Israel seems harmless enough to begin with (he’s incapacitated after a fight to the death with another pirate) but Jim wasn’to know this. You’d have assumed that after the horror of the stockade battle, with death all around him, Jim would have been a little more cautious. But if Trelawney has begun to learn the true cost of adventure, maybe Jim hasn’t.

All that we’ve seen of Israel has primed the audience to expect that he’ll turn on Jim when the moment is right, and so it proves. Israel’s pursuit of Jim is a nicely shot sequence from Michael E. Briant, especially as the pair climb the rigging to face their final reckoning.

The ever resourceful Jim returns to the island, only to find that Silver and the others have taken possession of the stockade. Alfred Burke is at his most affable, as Silver appears delighted to see the boy and offers him a chance to join them. Jim refuses and furthermore tells them all that they’ll never see the Hispaniola again.

This is something of a turning point – Jim’s life should now be forfeit, but Silver won’t kill the lad, which displeases the others intensely. Silver has been tipped the black spot, but even with his back to the wall he’s still able to run rings around the rest of his crew.

Silver, with his keen sense of self preservation, is looking to change sides and Jim is an important part of this. Ashley Knight is never better than In the scene where Livesey attempts to forcibly remove Jim from the stockade. Jim refuses, biting the Doctor’s hand at one point, because he gave Silver his word he wouldn’t attempt to escape. This action bounds Silver and Jim even tighter together.

The sting in the tail – the treasure is gone from its resting place – is the prelude for the final (albiet brief) bloody battle. Ben Gunn, of course, found the treasure nine months ago and brought it back to his cave. The reveal is done in a highly theatrical manner – a seemingly never-ending stream of coins gush out onto the cave floor as the faces of Silver, Livesey, Ben, Trelawney and Jim are overlaid. It was surely intentional that Livesey’s face was impassive whilst both Trelawney and Jim showed great pleasure.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s something of a mystery why this excellent version of Treasure Island hasn’t appeared on DVD before, but it’s something that any devotee of this era of British television should have in their collection.

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One

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Treasure Island, an evergreen classic of children’s literature for more than a century, has generated more film, television and radio adaptations than you could shake a cutlass at.  But even though there’s many versions to chose from, this one (broadcast in four episodes on BBC1 in 1977) has to rank amongst the very best.

Like the majority of the BBC Classic Serials from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the adaptation (this one from John Lucarotti) displays considerable fidelity to the original source material, although Lucarotti is unafraid to build upon the original narrative.  In a way this isn’t surprising, since the book was told from Jim’s perspective it’s inevitable that it has a somewhat restricted viewpoint.

Lucarotti’s additions begin right from the start, as Jim’s father, Daniel (Terry Scully), someone who merited only a handful of mentions in Stevenson’s original, is fleshed out into a substantial character.  Scully excelled at playing people who suffered – he had one of those faces which could express a world of pain – and Daniel is no exception.  Daniel is clearly far from well and concern that he’s unable to provide for his family is uppermost in his mind.  So the arrival of Billy Bones (Jack Watson) seems to offer a chance to extricate himself from his financial problems.

Watson’s excellent as Bones.  With his weather-beaten face and the addition of a wicked-looking scar, he’s perfect as the rough, tough, seaman with a secret.  Bones’ decision to recruit Daniel (an invention of Lucarotti’s) is quite a neat idea, since it explains how Long John Silver and the others came to learn where Bones was (Daniel heads off to secure passage for himself and Bones to the Caribbean, not realising that Silver is monitoring the port for any unusual activity).

Lucarotti also elects to bring Silver and his confederates into the story very early, making it plain that Bones has absconded with something of great value that they’d all like back.  If you love British archive television of this era then the sight of Silver’s gang will no doubt warm the cockles of your heart (step forward David Collings, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Greif and Talfryn Thomas amongst others).

Alfred Burke’s Long John Silver impresses right from the off.  He doesn’t have Robert Newton’s eye-rolling intensity, nor does he have Brian Blessed’s physical presence – but what Burke’s Silver does possess is great charm and a rare skill at manipulating others to do his will.  But although he seems pleasant enough to begin with, it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates his true colours.

Bones’ run-in with Doctor Livesey (Anthony Bate) is kept intact from the original.  Bate is yet another wonderful addition to the cast and Livesey’s stand-off with Bones is a highlight of the episode.  Lucarotti’s subplot of Daniel’s doomed night-time misadventure slots into the original story very well, as it explains why his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which then resulted in his death shortly afterwards.

A member of Silver’s gang, Black Dog (Christopher Burgess), arrives to confront Bones.  Burgess was a favourite actor of the producer, Barry Letts, so it’s maybe not too much of a surprise that he turns up.  He and Watson step outside (and therefore onto film) for a duel, which leads to Bones’ stroke.  Watson’s particularly fine as the bedridden Bones, suffering nightmares accrued from the horrors of a life spent on the high seas and dreading the arrival of the black spot.

David Collings’ nicely judged cameo as the malevolent Blind Pew is yet another highlight from a consistently strong opening episode.

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