H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Picnic with Death

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Following a car accident, Brady’s invisible state becomes public knowledge.  Whilst he struggles to adjust to his new-found fame, one of Sally’s friends, Linda Norton (Margaret Court) approaches him with a strange story.  She claims that her stepfather and his sister are planning to kill her mother ….

Picnic with Death rehashes some material from the unaired pilot concerning Brady’s emergence as a public figure.  The reason for not keeping his invisible identity secret any longer is obvious in one way, since it widens the range of stories he can become involved in (as here, with Linda turning to him for help).

John Norton (Derek Bond) and his sister Carol (Faith Brook) are deeply attached to their family home, Foxgrange.  John’s wife, Janet (Maureen Prior), is a woman of independent means and John is hopeful that she’ll continue to pour more money into Foxgrange’s upkeep.  She refuses, as she can see there would never be enough money available to maintain it for any length of time.  Her refusal – and by this time we’re about half-way through the story – does seem to bear out Linda’s story, as John exits in a threatening manner.  But with Brady dismissing the tale as little more than adolescent jealousy, it falls to Sally to turn detective.

Margaret Court is remarkably squeaky and rather highly-strung as Linda, so it’s possibly not surprising that Brady dismisses her out of hand.  Sally’s decision to lurk around the bushes – where she overhears John and Carol plotting to murder Janet – is an unexpected turn of events but it’s nice that Deborah Watling is a little more involved in the story for once.

Derek Bond, the second Hunter (from Callan) to appear in the series, following Michael Goodliffe in Secret Experiment, glowers in a menacing fashion and helps to raise the story a little.  Part of the problem is that it’s hard not to believe that Brady will save the day once he’s been convinced that Linda and Sally know what they’re talking about.  Still, there’s an amusing cameo from Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper (“Eh Harry, that invisible man. He’s here!”) to sweeten the pill a little.

Of course, Brady turns up in the nick of time to prevent Janet from plummeting to her death over a cliff in a runaway car whilst Diane finds a gun from somewhere to keep John and Carol covered (this is odd, since Diane has never seemed the gun-toting type before).  A slightly messy tale then, but as with all the stories it clips along at a decent pace.

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Callan – Death of a Hunter

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Written by Michael Winder
Directed by Reginald Collin

The opposition want Hunter dead – and they decide that Callan is the man for the job.  He’s picked up, taken to a warehouse and pumped full of drugs at regular intervals.  These make him susceptible to suggestion and over a period of days they manage to convince him that Hunter is a double agent, involved in a plot to assassinate the Russian president.

Callan’s really put through the wringer in this episode and it’s very much a tour-de-force for Edward Woodward.  Whilst there’s a few brief cut-aways to show Meres and Hunter attempting to find him, the majority of the episode is firmly centered on Callan’s brainwashing.

It’s an elaborate plot – maybe too elaborate, you might say (especially since the last Hunter was picked off in the street).  One major niggle is that they pick up Lonely and tell Callan that they’re going to kill him.  We hear a shot off-screen and see Callan (already pretty far gone at this point) struggle to reach his friend.  It’s therefore odd, to say the least, that we later learn they faked his death and let him go free.  Logically, Lonely should have been killed (although it would have made a bleak episode even bleaker).

At the time this episode was transmitted, it wasn’t known if Callan would return for a third series, so there were reputably two endings shot – one where Callan died and one where he lived.  We know the answer to that now, but it doesn’t reduce the apocalyptic feeling of the final few minutes as Callan confronts Hunter and Meres is forced to shoot Callan.  The emotion in Meres’ voice clearly shows that he now considers Callan to be a friend – quite a change of events from the early episodes.

Most series wouldn’t have had the nerve to carry this storyline through to its logical conclusion, but then Callan wasn’t most series.  And whilst Callan’s final line is a sign that he’s not totally gone, it’ll be a long road to recovery.

Callan – The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw

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Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Robert Tronson

Since Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd) left the post of Hunter, he’s been working for the British government as an adviser on the Middle East.  One particular Middle Eastern country concerns him – it’s oil-rich, but there are indications that the Sultan is keen to expand his empire (which would mean encroaching on areas protected by the British).

The Sultan needs somebody to head his army though and he’s chosen Brigadier Pringle (Allan Cuthbertson).  This automatically puts Pringle in a red file and Callan is assigned to watch him.  He has a way in – it was Pringle who was responsible for Callan’s dismissal from the army.

Posing as a down-and-out, Callan catches the sympathy of Pringle’s daughter Sarah (Tessa Wyatt).  Pringle offers him a job as his valet, but he clearly could use a man like Callan in his new army.  Whilst Pringle might regard him as the worst solider he ever saw, that was only in peace-time.  In war, Callan would be a valuable asset.

The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw sheds some light on Callan’s life in the army.  Pringle’s description of him back then shows that he’s changed very little over the years.

SARAH: He must have been a very good soldier.
PRINGLE: Depends what you mean by a soldier. He was brave enough, certainly, but far too much of an individualist for the army. He always questioned orders, went his own way, that’s why he stayed a private. I made him up to corporal twice and I broke him twice. Finally I got him chucked out.
SARAH: So why do you bother now?
CALLAN: My dear, an army’s simply a device for killing the enemy. And as a killer, Callan was unequaled.

At the end of the episode, Callan is able to forcibly tell Pringle that “you bloody taught me how to kill, and when I got too rough, mate, you didn’t like it, did you?”.  The skills that Callan learnt in the army have subsequently been put to very good use by the Section.  This reinforces the notion that Callan is a man who’s trapped by his past and is therefore reluctantly forced to carry on fighting and killing (something he’s very good at).

Allan Cuthbertson was a familiar face from television and films and he’s characteristically solid as the autocratic Brigadier Pringle.  Tessa Wyatt is his idealistic daughter, who decides that she doesn’t want to follow him to the Middle East. Instead she’d sooner stay in Britain and help those less fortunate than herself.  They live in totally different worlds, he’s a solider through and through – as he admits, it’s the only thing he knows how to do – whilst she’s non-political and views the prospect of war with horror.  Their relationship helps to humanise Pringle as well as providing some dramatic tension.

The episode has some lighter moments – Edward Woodward is good value as a servile domestic who can’t help but let his more truculent nature shine though from time to time.  Anthony Valentine gets to play lower-class for a change, which is quite amusing.

Plot-wise, given that it’s clear from the outset that Pringle is keen to go to the Middle East, why didn’t the Section simply warn him off or take other, more permanent, measures?  As Meres says “there’s no need to speak to him nicely, he’s in a red file”.

The next episode (Nice People Die At Home) was held over from the first series, which explains why Ronald Radd pops up in this one.  As it would have been a bit odd to have a story where Radd returns as Hunter with no explanation, here he’s asked to take over temporarily whilst the current Hunter makes a trip to Russia.

This gives the episode a lovely final scene as Callan comes into the office and is confronted by his old nemesis. Callan’s relationship with Colonel Leslie was always very combative.  So as soon as he sees him, Callan asks for leave – which is refused.  Instead, he’s offered a choice of assignments – all of them in red files.

Callan – Death of a Friend

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Written by Ray Jenkins
Directed by Peter Duguid

Jean Coquet (Geoff Cheshire), a French agent and a friend of Callan’s, is killed on the way to London.  Hunter assigns him to guard Coquet’s wife Francine (Ann Lynn) who may also be in danger.  Callan has never had a very high opinion of her (“she’s too dedicated … to everything except her husband”).  And his minding job goes sour when he’s surprised by several intruders who spirit Francine away, whilst at the same time a man calling himself Marcel Latour (David Leland) turns up at Callan’s flat.

Lonely is there, tidying up after a break-in, and Latour pulls a gun on him, telling him he’s “the wife of Jean Coquet”.  Meres disarms Latour, but they are ambushed on the way to the Section.  Who attacked Latour and were they the same people who killed Coquet?  And how is Francine involved?

Death of a Friend offers a slight change of pace – whilst it has the usual intelligence trappings, it’s much more of a mystery story, as Callan attempts to find the reason for his friend’s death.  Given how few friends he seems to have, this does help to humanise him a little.

Russell Hunter has some lovely moments.  After he and Callan view the wreckage of Callan’s flat, Lonely looks around before solemnly intoning that “There’s somebody don’t like you, Mr Callan”.  He also seems to make the worst tea in the world.  “Blimey, it’s pigswill” says Callan, after tasting a mouthful.  Once he’s left, Lonely takes a sip (in the manner of a wine buff) and seems to enjoy it.  Just a little throw-away character beat, but it’s a nice one.

There’s some very decent actors (Rex Robinson, Jerome Willis) in supporting roles and the solution of the mystery is unexpected – although it does leave some questions unanswered, especially the reason why they chose to kill Coquet in England and in such a public way (surely they knew that British Intelligence would take a close interest?).

The relationship between Coquet and Latour is handled sensitively.  For Callan, it makes no difference, as he tells Francine “A man is dead, Francine.  A very good man”.  Francine counters that he was a “lover of boys” and this statement is at the heart of the story.

Callan – Heir Apparent

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Written by John Kershaw (as Hugh d’Allenger)
Directed by Peter Duguid

After Callan and Meres attend Hunter’s funeral, they are called to see Sir Michael Harvey (John Wentworth) at the Foreign Office.  As Meres says: “Hunters come and go but we go on forever”.  Sir Michael informs them that a new Hunter will be appointed on a temporary basis and it could be that if it works out he’ll be made permanent.

The new Hunter is John Ramsey (Derek Bond) – somebody that Callan knows well (they trained together).  Callan and Meres are set to fetch him, but the problem is that he’s been working in East Germany and doesn’t have the appropriate exit papers – so he’ll have to make an illegal border crossing.  It shouldn’t be too difficult (apart from a minefield to negotiate) – but when Callan and Meres make the rendezvous, they quickly become aware that the area is swarming with troops, making their job considerably more dangerous.

The death of Hunter seems to have hit Callan hard.

CALLAN: That’s just one more reason, isn’t it, for not getting married. Did you see her? Did you get a look at her face?
LIZ: He means Mrs Hunter
CALLAN: Smart, wasn’t she. I bet he had a nice house too. Did you see his boy? And how old was Hunter then? Fifty?
MERES: Well, it’s par for the course, old boy
CALLAN: Par for the course? You know, sometimes Toby your stupid platitudes really make me sick. Par for the course. I mean it could have been either of us, do you realise that? I didn’t even know his real name until this morning

But it’s not only Hunter’s death that’s affected him – it’s made him question his own existence in the Section.  “I am sick of it mate, I am sick of it. I mean week after week, month after month, year after year, living the way we live”.  The job of extracting the new Hunter from the East does give him something to focus on, but it’s not the last time that he’ll express doubts about the job.  It does seem that there’s only a finite amount of time anybody can work in the field before the strain becomes overwhelming.

Heir Apparent is a little different, as a large part of the story is shot on film and is more visual (Callan’s attempt to guide Ramsey to safety) than the regular episodes, which tend to be character and plot driven.  It gives us a chance to see how Callan and Meres work when teamed up – pretty well, it must be said.  They still manage to rub each other up the wrong way before they set off, but they’re professional enough not to let that interfere with the job in hand.

We also get a first look at the new Hunter.  As a contemporary of Callan, he seems sure to have a different management style to the older, more autocratic Hunters.  The episode also allows Liz a little more character time (and indeed this might be the first episode where she’s actually named, rather than just credited as Hunter’s secretary).

The King is dead, long live the King.