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 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 – 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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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Bank Raid

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Crowther (Willoughby Goddard) and his henchman Williams (Brian Rawlinson) kidnap Sally and issue Brady with an ultimatum.  If he wants her returned, then he’ll have to steal £50,000 from the bank ….

Bank Raid was a pretty cost-effective tale, since it used material shot for the unaired pilot.  The first half is new, with a different take on Sally’s kidnap, whilst part two is lifted direct from the pilot (the bank raid and aftermath).

The episode opens at the riverbank.  Sally appears to be fishing by herself and Williams makes a move to snatch her.  Rawlinson is decidedly creepy (Williams tells Crowther not to worry, he has a way with children).  The tension ramps up a little more as Williams advances on Sally, preparing to use his scarf as a gag.

This tension is quickly dissipated once it’s revealed that Brady (in his invisible state) is fishing alongside her.  The sight of his fishing rod bobbing up and down is a nice image as is the later scene of Brady lifting weights at home (once again invisible, of course) with Sally by his side, joining in.  It’s odd though that Brady didn’t seem to notice Williams by the riverbank, chatting to Sally.  Presumably he must have been engrossed in the fish he was attempting to land …..

In the pilot, Sally was kidnapped off-screen, here we see the girl abducted from her school.  Crowther, posing as a doctor, manages to convince Sally’s headmistress that the child’s mother is lying desperately ill in hospital.  When Dee later turns up to collect Sally she’s understandably shocked that her daughter was allowed to go off with a stranger.  Clearly it was a more trusting time.

Deborah Watling is the recipient of a few nice new scenes, most notably when Crowther is driving her away.  She idly decides that he would look much better if he was invisible!

But as with the original, once Sally’s in the clutches of Crowther and Williams she pretty much disappears, only popping up again right at the end.  My comments on the bank raid part of the plot from the pilot still stands – it’s fairly diverting stuff but the tension level is pretty low.

Willoughby Goddard is good fun as the corpulent Crowther whilst Brian Rawlinson’s Williams starts off in sinister mode (both during the fishing scene and later, when he confronts Dee in a scene from the pilot).  By the end though, both of them have been made to look faintly comic after Brady effortlessly outfoxes them.

A story of two halves then.  The new material beefs up the episode somewhat, but it’s still not the best that the series has to offer.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Behind the Mask

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Brady is abducted and brought before Raphael Constantine (Dennis Price).  Constantine is a millionaire who’s surrounded himself with beautiful objects, but he tells Brady that this doesn’t negate the pain he feels (Constantine is horribly disfigured and has to wear a mask at all times).  He wishes to become invisible so that he no longer has to look at his ravaged visage and since he knows that Brady needs a human guinea pig for his continuing experiments it seems like the obvious solution.  Brady is initially unsure but is won around by Constantine’s arguments, although there’s more to this man than meets the eye ….

Behind the Mask opens with the Invisible Man having a shave, being watched by Sally.  This is a nicely mounted effects scene, although since they discuss how Brady’s experiments are floundering for the lack of a human subject, it quickly becomes obvious that it was no casual chat.

Price was a heavyweight guest star.  Probably best known for the classic 1949 Ealing film Kind Hearts and Coronets, his film career was still buoyant at the time.  He’d already appeared alongside Peter Sellers in The Naked Truth (1957) and would shortly do so again in another memorable British film, I’m All Right Jack (1959).  With his face partially hidden, Price had to fall back on his voice to convey Constantine’s full character, but since he had such a deep and expressive vocal range this was no problem.

Constantine’s monologue, where he pleads for Brady’s help, is one of the highlights of the episode, thanks to Price’s performance.  “To think that no-one, not even I, would ever again have to look on his mangled nightmare of a face. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t give for such a favour.”

If the script by Leslie Arliss and Stanley Mann has a flaw then it’s the early reveal that Constantine hasn’t been exactly honest with Brady.  He wants to become invisible so that he can kill Domecq – a visiting foreign dignitary whom he blames for his disfigurement.  A pity this revelation wasn’t held back until later in the story.

Constantine has surrounded himself with fellow dissidents, such as Max (Edwin Richfield), all of whom share the same hatred for Domecq – although Max is wise enough to see that Constantine’s burning hatred might endanger them all.  Oddly, Max sports a heavy foreign accent whilst Constantine’s tones are cut-glass English.  If they both come from the same country then how is this so?

The question of Brady’s public profile also seems a little inconsistent.  In the previous story Colonel Warren referred to him as a government secret, but here it appears that his story is in the public domain – Brady himself admits to Constantine that his bandages are a bit of a giveaway.

With a lovely guest turn by Price and the always dependable Richfield offering decent support, Behind the Mask is an above average effort.  And for once, Brady’s invisibility doesn’t help him when he tackles the baddies as he’s knocked out and Max takes his clothes and bandages to masquerade as him.  A wonder nobody thought to do this before, as it allows Max entry into the research base without the guards batting an eyelid!

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Pilot

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Although H.G. Wells’ name was prominent in the titles, apart from the presence of an invisible man, this 1958/59 series bore little resemblance to Wells’ original novel. Wells’ scientist was a man tipped over into madness after his experiments with invisibility proved to be unreversable – with the result that he ended up as a danger both to himself and those around him.

The television Invisible Man, Peter Brady (normally voiced by Tim Tuner, here it’s Robert Beatty), had a much more even temperament. He adjusts to his new life remarkably well, with no mental anguish at all and (unlike in the story which eventually aired first) seems to be unconcerned that he’s now permanently invisible.

With only twenty five minutes to play with, this pilot doesn’t have time to hang about – within the opening few minutes we witness Brady’s experiment going somewhat awry and he quickly heads home to speak to his sister Jane Wilson (Lisa Daniely) and her daughter Sally (Deborah Watling).

They both take the news of Brady’s invisibility very calmly, even young Sally – after he unwraps his bandages to reveal there’s nothing there, it only elicits mild curiosity. One of the joys of the series is the various different ways in which Brady’s invisible state was realised. There’s something rather appealing about the sight of him sitting at the typewriter (apart from his clothes there’s nothing there, meaning that it appears to be a headless body!)

You’d have assumed that Brady’s invisibility would have been kept secret, but no – it’s all over the papers and a pack of hungry reporters (along with an ATV television van) pull up outside the house, anxious for a scoop.

Sally has been abducted by Crowther (Willoughby Goddard). Goddard oozes villainy as he persaudes the reluctant Brady that he should put his invisible skills to good use – robbing banks, say. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Brady to be wearing clothes when he robs the bank – surely being invisible would have been more sensible? But the camera has to follow something, and a bobbing suit of clothes is certainly an arresting image.

This is moderately diverting stuff, although the bank-raid subplot never really clicks, possibly because the crooks aren’t depicted as being very formidable. It was obviously felt that they could do better, so another origin story was crafted …..

Doctor Who – The Enemy of the World – Episode Six

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The Doctor’s impersonation of Salamander places him in a rather precarious position as Benik doesn’t seem to be totally convinced.  But he’s able to authorise the release of Jamie and Victoria and he asks Bruce to take them to the gates to ensure they get away safely.  There’s a lovely moment when Bruce asks them to call his deputy Forrester, once they get outside, and tell him that Bruce is at the research station (using the word “redhead”).  Jamie wonders if that’s a reference to his wife, but Bruce tells him no, it’s just a code-word.  Typical Jamie, always thinking of women!

Once Jamie and Victoria leave they don’t reappear until the the final scene, so this, together with their fairly light appearance in episode five and their absence from episode four, means they’ve hardly featured in the second half of the story.  Maybe this is because whilst The Enemy of the World is a good story, it’s not necessarily a good Doctor Who story, so Jamie and Victoria end up rather surplus to requirements.  Indeed, you could remove the Doctor as well and it would have been made a very decent one-off serial with Kent and Astrid facing off against Salamander and Benik.

Astrid is able to do little for Swann, but he’s able to tell her the whole story and Astrid ventures underground to tell the workers that Salamander has duped them. She’s only able to take them up two at a time, so she naturally elects to take Colin and Mary (there’s no point taking any of the others, as they’re non-speaking extras!).

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For a large part of the story, Kent has insisted that the Doctor should impersonate Salamander in order to find incriminating evidence that will expose him.  In the end, this doesn’t happen (and is rather neatly reversed) when Kent meets Salamander (or so he believes) and betrays himself.  Kent and the faux-Salamander seem to be trapped in the records room, but Kent knows about the secret exit.

DOCTOR: Well, that’s very interesting, Mr Kent. Why didn’t you tell me that before?
KENT: Oh no, it can’t be.
DOCTOR: Oh, I’m afraid it is. Oh, look. Here’s another surprise for you. Look behind you.
KENT: Astrid, you’ve come just in time.
ASTRID: It’s too late, Giles. I know everything.
COLIN: That’s him. That’s the man who took us down there in the first place.
MARY: Giles Kent. We thought you were dead.
KENT: Now look, I’ve never seen these people before in my life.
ASTRID: They’ve told me everything. You and Salamander were in it together.

The emergence of Astrid at just the right moment (and with two people who can confirm that Kent was Salamander’s partner) is more than a touch contrived, but it works in story terms as it finally strips away the lingering pretence that Giles Kent was on the side of the angels. The Doctor tells him that he was never convinced by him anyway, as “any man who resorts to murder as eagerly and as rapidly as you must be suspect. You didn’t just want to expose Salamander, you wanted to kill him and take his place.”  Although Kent may have been more convincing had Bill Kerr played him as a more reasonable and sympathetic character, it’s still a very watchable turn.  Best known as Tony Hancock’s idiot friend in the radio version of Hancock’s Half Hour, he also enjoyed a long and successful acting career (some of it spent in the UK) and once of the joys of the recovery of this serial was that we were able once more to enjoy his complete performance.

As previously touched upon, Doctor Who was still a long way away from out-of-order recording, so each episode has to mostly feature Troughton as either the Doctor or Salamander.  Since it was the concluding episode, it’s not a surprise that he’s mainly the Doctor, although this means that after building Salamander up throughout the serial, he rather fades away.  But he does get to confront his old associate Kent, before his first (and last) encounter with the Doctor.

Had there not been at least one meeting between the Doctor and Salamander, the audience would probably have felt a little cheated (although the Doctor and the Abbot never met in The Massacre).  Before that happens though, loose ends are tied up as Bruce and Astrid take charge.  Kent has apparently killed both himself and Salamander (via a huge explosion) and the Doctor leaves Astrid as she attempts to rescue the people trapped in the underground shelter.

The final scene is a bit of a cracker.  Salamander impersonates the Doctor and he asks Jamie to operate the TARDIS controls.  This naturally confuses the Scot, but when the real Doctor makes an appearance, all becomes clear.  The Doctor tells Salamander that “we’re going to put you outside, Salamander. No friends, no safety, nothing. You’ll run, but they’ll catch up with you.”  After a tussle, Salamander is flung out in the Space/Time vortex and (unusually for the Troughton era) the story closes on a cliff-hanger.

Although The Enemy of the World does have a few logistical issues, there’s plenty to enjoy (especially as it’s such a break from the norm).  It was a daring move to tackle a James Bond-type plot with the series’ usual budget (and especially since 95% of the story was shot in the studio) but, apart from the odd wobbly set, it all holds together.  Troughton’s great (no matter who he’s playing) and he’s surrounded by some familiar faces (Colin Douglas, George Pravda, Milton Johns) all of whom would appear in later Doctor Whos.  Hines and Watling have little involvement in the later part of the story, but Whitaker keeps the story bubbling away so nicely that this never becomes an issue.

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