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 – Crisis in the Desert

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Brady is approached by Colonel Warren (Douglas Wilmer) of Military Intelligence as one of their top agents, Jack Howard (Howard Pays), is being held prisoner in a Middle Eastern country.  Howard, badly injured after an abortive escape attempt, is being guarded in a high security hospital and only the Invisible Man – along with the alluring local assistance of Yolanda (Adrienne Corri) – has any chance of freeing him ….

Fictitious Middle Eastern countries, forever teetering on the edge of instability, would be a staple of ITC adventure series during the next decade or so and Crisis in the Desert is an early example of this genre.  Naturally, foreign location filming was beyond the series’ budget, so instead we have a reasonably dressed backlot (which doesn’t look too shabby, it must be said).

Ethnic actors would also tend to be in short supply whenever an ITC series headed abroad, so it’s no surprise to see British performers in all the main roles.  The eagle-eyed will spot Derren Nesbitt in the background, but the bulk of the action is divided between Corri as Yolanda, Eric Pohlmann as Yolanda’s associate Hassan and Martin Benson as the villainous Colonel Hassan.

These three, along with Wilmer, make Crisis in the Desert a very enjoyable watch.  Wilmer oozes charm as he persuades Brady (rather easily it must be said) to undertake a dangerous mission in the Middle East.  It’s interesting that Warren reacts with horror when Brady tells him he thinks he’s close to reversing his invisibility – it’s obvious that Warren needs an invisible man to rescue Howard, but it’s odd that he doesn’t seem to have considered the possibility that once Brady has perfected his formula it could be duplicated.  Creating a whole army of invisible agents would have obvious benefits.  Given this, it seems a little foolhardy to risk Brady’s life (and the knowledge that only he has) on this jaunt abroad.

Corri had already racked up an impressive list of credits before appearing here as the glamourous freedom-fighter Yolanda.  She looks very nice in a nurse’s uniform as well.  Pohlmann has less to do, only react to Yolanda, but he’s effective enough.  Benson is great fun as the sadistic Hassan – he opens the story by slapping Howard about and later suggests to an unfortunate surgeon (played by Derek Sydney) that he performs a little brain operation on Howard in order to make him more pliant.

Several actors black up – most notably Peter Sallis as Nesib, the ambulance driver.  This probably isn’t a performance that’s going to be at the top of his cv, but for a working actor of this era playing the most unlikely nationalities was an occupational hazard (Sallis would later appear as an equally unconvincing Chinaman in an episode of Sergeant Cork).

The main problem with Crisis in the Desert is that there’s no real need for Brady to be there at all, as although he sneaks around the hospital in his invisible state, Nurse Yolanda is in plain sight all the time.  As we’ll see, this proves to be something of a problem for the writers – often the gimmick of having an invisible man tends to be sidelined as Brady is shoehorned into plots that don’t require his invisibility skills to be utilised.

Gideon’s Way – The Tin God

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Commander George Gideon was created by John Creasey (writing as J.J. Marric) and he featured in a series of novels published between the mid fifties and mid seventies.  Gideon appeared on the big screen in 1959 (Gideon’s Day, starring Jack Hawkins, directed by John Ford) and a few years later the character would transfer to the small screen – in this twenty-six episode ITC series starring John Gregson.

Although Gideon’s Way was filmed in the mid sixties and made use of extensive location filming in and around London, it’s notable that this is very much a pre “swinging” London.  The stark black and white camerawork helps with this, plus there’s also an occasional sense of decay and desolation – especially when locations still devastated from the war some twenty years earlier are used.  Location filming also gives the series something of a documentary feel and there’s an undoubted interest in seeing a very different London to the one that exists today.

John Gregson played Commander George Gideon.  A familiar face from both films and television, Gregson was perfect casting as the reassuring, dependable Gideon.  Gideon’s Way was very much a series like Dixon of Dock Green that took it for granted that the police were incorruptible and incapable of making mistakes.  Later programmes, such as The Sweeney, would cynically chip away at this reputation, which does mean that Gideon’s Way can seem rather old-fashioned.  But this is undoubtedly part of the series’ continuing appeal, as there’s something very comforting in watching a show where there’s clearly defined moral absolutes and crime is always shown not to pay.

Another joy of Gideon’s Way is the sheer quality of the guest casts.  The Tin God is a good example, as it features Derren Nesbitt (a familiar face from many an ITC series) as John “Benny” Benson and a young John Hurt as Freddy Tisdale,  They play escaped convicts and their first appearance provides us with some evocative location work – a high shot zooming into them as they run into a train yard.  Nesbitt specialised in playing unstable characters and Benny is no different – and within a matter of minutes it’s also clear he’s the dominant personality out of the two (even before he’s pulled out a knife).

The news that Benny was one of the two escapees instantly piques Gideon’s interest.  It’s slightly incredible that Gideon knows exactly how long Benny’s been inside, the name of his wife and how many children he has (but such feats of memory are par for the course in police fiction).

We’ve already had a demonstration of how ruthless Benny can be (he casually murders a car-park attendant called Taffy Jones) and because his wife Ruby (Jennifer Wilson) informed on him, revenge is now the only thing on his mind.  The news that he’s escaped fills her with dread, although her young son Syd (Michael Cashman) is ecstatic.  Syd doesn’t believe that his father is a vicious criminal and instead directs his anger towards his mother and Gideon (as he was the copper who put him inside).

Cashman would later become a familiar television face in series like The Sandbaggers and most famously Eastenders.   Syd becomes the lynchpin in Benny’s plan to exact his revenge on Ruby, although it’s only when he finally meets his father again that he realises his mother was right all along.

The type of story (escaped convict) means that Gideon and his number two, DCI David Kean (Alexander Davion), don’t have a great deal of interaction with many characters – there’s no suspects to interrogate, for example.  But this is only a minor quibble and there’s plenty of incidental pleasures – location filming around the London docks and the sight of a policeman using a Police Box (a reminder that personal radios weren’t common at the time) are just two.

Benny’s plan to revenge himself on his wife is more subtle than might have been expected from what we’ve seen of his character so far.  He plans to take his son abroad and leave Ruby in a constant state of anxiety about Syd’s whereabouts – even if he’s alive or dead.

Benny, Freddy and Syd are hiding out in a warehouse, but it’s not long before the police surround them.  This allows John Hurt a great final scene as he realises too late just how mad Benny has become (and therefore dies in a dramatic fashion).  It also gives Derren Nesbitt an opportunity to ramp up his own performance as Benny loses the last few shreds of his sanity.

Thanks to a cracking performance by Nesbitt, The Tin God is a memorable episode.