ORBzine - The Champions (1968) TV Review

The Champions

1st Series 1968

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 1] The Beginning
Shown 25 Sep 68
Reviewed 17th August 2006 [Thursday]

Our heroes are a trio of Secret Agents who steal evidence of illegal germ warfare experiments being carried out in Red China. However, their escape plane crashes in the Himalayas.

When they awaken, their injuries have healed. More, they have heightened scene and physical prowess, and a special psychic bond.

Richard goes off to discover the cause of all this. Turns out it was all a reference to Strange Horizon .

Evil Chinese officer Burt Kwouk ( Water Margin ) is on the prowl. They must escape him, and return to Geneva.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 2] The Invisible Man
Shown 2 Oct 68

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Richard (William Gaunt - La Femme Musketeer (2004) ) work out in the same gym as Dave Prowse ( Star Wars ). Then they are assigned to investigate suspicious goings-on in the International money market. This is decades before modern Money Laundering legislation, but they suspect someone is planning a major gold heist.

Peter Wyngarde ( Flash Gordon ) and his sidekick have already robbed the bank by convincing the manager that he is being stalked by an invisible man.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 3] Reply Box No. 666
Shown 9 Oct 68

A Soviet demolitions expert is murdered in Jamaica. Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) goes undercover as his replacement. The contact verification is a newspaper advert involving Reply Box No. 666.

Richard (William Gaunt - La Femme Musketeer (2004) ) and Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) are Craig's backup, though they do not do much to help him. Sharron has powers of hypnotism, though this is not enough to break the will of a well-trained agent.

The team are sent to the Cayman islands, off the coast of the USA. Their mission is to locate a crashed plane and retrieve a portable radar jamming device.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 4] The Experiment
Shown 16th Oct 1968
Reviewed 13th December 2005 [Tuesday]

There is no explanatory intro to this ep, but exposition can be picked up from the ep itself.

A super-strong acrobat breaks into a secret base in Salisbury Plain. However, his mind reverts to a childlike state before he can steal anything. He is placed in the care of Doctor Farley (Nicholas Courtney - Dr Who ).

To investigate, the British Government calls in Nemesis. They are based in Switzerland, but have British staff. Their two best men are called to investigate.

Meanwhile, the third member of their unit, Sharron Macready ( Alexandra Bastedo ), is sent to London for leave. She is redirected to a Safe House which looks like Grimm's Dyke, purportedly run by British Intelligence - DI6 rather than MI6. There, along with spies from other Western Agencies, she is given special tests. The people in charge have access to her file, and know she has special skills.

Sharron and her Nemesis colleagues were given their superpowers by the unknown race of Shangri-La. Now it seems that a scientist has discovered a way to replicate the powers. Unfortunately his process burns out its subjects after half an hour of use.

The story may seem to have a few plot holes, but all the threads are tied up with at the end. In other words, it is quite well done.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 5] Happening
Shown 23 Oct 68

Richard (William Gaunt - La Femme Musketeer (2004) ) has gone off on a solo mission. The good news is, he uncovers some enemy agents up to no good. The bad news is, he acts too soon - one of the enemy gets away, while Richard is left with amnesia. Worse, he is in the middle of the Australian outback.

It turns out that the characters are on a nuclear test site, at ground zero for a test that will happen in an hour or so.

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Sharron discover what has happened to Richard. Unfortunately Tremayne and the senior military staff do not pay any heed to the warnings that these top Intelligence agents provide. Yes, the fact of Richard's disappearance is in itself a strong indicator that the test has been sabotaged. But rather than delay it in order to investigate, the military want to plough on regardless. This leaves the Champions in the position of having to sabotage it themselves, to prevent the nuclear detonation going catastrophically wrong.

This is the first of two episodes written by Brian Clemens, creator of The Avengers .

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 6] Operation Deep-Freeze
Shown 30 Oct 68
Reviewed 21st September 2006 [Thursday]

A nuclear explosion is detected at the South Pole. Three search parties go to take a look, and none of them return alive. Finally, Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Richard are sent to investigate.

Walter Gotel, recognisable as KGB General Gogol in the James Bond series, stalks the men across the frozen icecap. Meanwhile, Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) sits around in Tremayne's office. At least she ignores the boss's dismissal of her instincts, and tries to send out a search party.

They discover a secret base, run by a hostile Third World country. General Gomez (Patrick Wymark - The Blood on Satan's Claw ), the man in charge, speaks with a Russian accent - but all the signs are written in English! Presumably the banana republic behind this operation is Argentina, whose fascist empire invaded the Falkland islands a decade later.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 7] The Survivors
Shown 6th Nov 1968
Reviewed 3rd January 2006 [Tuesday]

A group of SCUBA divers go exploring in a lake in the Austrian Alps. Unfortunately some middle-aged Germans with WW2-era weapons take a dislike to them.

Craig Stirling and Richard Barratt go exploring, hopeful to find a cache concealed by the SS in 1945.

Sharron Macready ( Alexandra Bastedo ) asks questions in the nearby town. The locals, of course, admit any Wehrmacht links but are keen to disassociate themselves from the SS. She is awfully mature for a 19-year-old, but the fight scenes are still unconvincing.

Though the subject may appear dated, the episode was originally broadcast in 1968 - less than twenty-five years after the end of the war!

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 8] To Trap a Rat
Shown 13th Nov 1968
Reviewed 10th January 2006 [Tuesday]

Nemesis are called in to stem the international drugs trade in London. Specifically, to intercept a new batch of pills that have been contaminated with deadly impurities. Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) goes undercover to follow junkie socialite Kate O'Mara back to her dealer.

This may seem a rather conventional plot for a scifi show. The villains' network uses secretive handover techniques usually seen in spy films. Small wonder that the script was originally written for Danger Man !

William Gaunt as a tough-guy? Patrick McGoohan would have carried it off much better! There is a camera-shot on a playground roundabout that is straight out of The Prisoner . And they discover the villain's HQ by phoning him and listening for ... The Chimes of Big Ben !

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) shows an extremely protective attitude towards Sharron. But she is the smart one of the trio!

And finally ... the boss gets suspicious over details left out of the final report. The trio make unconvincing excuses, no doubt making him even more suspicious.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 9] The Iron Man
Reviewed 17th January 2006 [Tuesday]

An exiled former South American dictator is targeted for assassination by his sucessor, an even NASTIER South American dictator. The Champions are sent in undercover to the villa near Barcelona. Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) as the bodyguard, Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) as the secretary and Richard as the chef!

Steven Berkoff ( Children of Dune ) has one of his earliest roles, as Carlos - the head assassin.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 10] The Ghost Plane
Shown 27 Nov 68
Reviewed 10th May 2007 [Thursday]

A US Navy aircraft carrier is on patrol in neutral waters off the coast of Red China. Their four-plane recon unit is attacked by a super-plane, and only one pilot makes it back to the carrier alive.

Unfortunately the British authorities in the shape of Mr Hardwick assume that the American pilot was halucinating. After all, the Chinese super-plane must have been travelling at Mach Five. This means that it had stainless steel construction, or a new design of cooling system, either of which would only come from Russia or the West. Has someone leaked one of these technologies to Red China? Tremayne has sent his team to investigate.

Richard and Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) go off as tourists in a ski resort, to meet a contact who may have some info on the ghost plane. Unfortunately some creepy hostiles are in town as well.

Craig hangs around in England, and uses his super-speed to publicly save some children. The next time he sees Treymayne, the boss takes pains to remind him that he is suspiciously good at his job. Yes, Craig is able to discover a major clue simply by reading a newspaper article, but his boss is still ever on the lookout for over-competence.

The team are sent to Cambridge, England, to investigate a scientist named Dr John Newman (Andrew Kier - Quatermass and the Pit ). Sharron gets in trouble, and uses telepathy to contact Richard - who is a hundred miles away, rather than Craig who is in the same town as her. It is Richard who then telepathically contacts Craig. Luckily there is a nearby public telephone.

In a typical 1970s trope, the protagonists do not fight against other super-powered individuals. Instead they use their powers to defeat a new technology that the super-villains have invented. Brawn over brains, in a manner of speaking.

The villains are shipping British-built technology to Germany, where it is then sold via Albania to China. Craig and Richard have to destroy the cargo in Albania, which is on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. All this raises a few questions. Nemesis is supposedly an International agency based in Geneva. So why is it working with NATO governments, of which Switzerland has never been a member, specifically against the government of Red China? And why do they not just get the Albanian authorities to intervene?

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 11] The Dark Island
Shown December 1968
Reviewed 31st January 2006 [Tuesday]

A US Navy search party is ambushed on a remote desert island. The trio are sent in to uncover the villains' plot and rescue any survivors. They encounter the mysterious Max Kellor (Vladek Sheybal - UFO ) who runs the island.

It turns out the villains are involved in a plot similar to The Dark Crusader, Dr No, You only Live Twice ... in other words, pretty generic stuff.

Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) gets involved in a couple of fight scenes, and even gets to use some judo on the henchmen. This is progressive for the Sixties, before the Womens' Lib movement of the Seventies. However, there is one scene that is a bit disappointing. Sharron picks up a carbine, but instead of taking the shot herself she merely throws it to Craig so that he can do the necessary.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 12] The Fanatics
Shown December 1968
Reviewed 7th February 2006 [Tuesday]

Richard (William Gaunt - La Femme Musketeer (2004) ) goes undercover as a convict, in the hope that the real convict's accomplices (including Julian Glover - For Your Eyes only ) will rescue him. Unfortunately, to verify his identity the accomplices decide to torture him!

This ep allows Tremayne the opportunity to do something interesting. He was always wasted in his little book-end appearances, and this fleshes him out a bit more.

This episode was written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks in Doctor Who ... and later, the co-creator of 1980s spy show MacGuyver.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 13] Twelve Hours
Shown December 1968
Reviewed 14th February 2006 [Tuesday]

Craig is hanging out in Greece - or at least on a set supplemented by some stock footage of Athens in 1968. He manages to carry some parcels up thirty flights of stairs in the same time it takes an elevator to cover the same the same distance. While he does this, the voice-over reminds the audience that Craig's super-powers must be concealed at all times.

A Third World country's Prime Minister, Drobnic, visits the Royal Navy base at Holy Loch in Scotland. As with a previous episode, Richard and Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) are responsible for his security. But unfortunately someone tries an assassination attempt - aboard a nuke sub!

The sub is trapped on the sea floor with twelve hours of oxygen. Sharron, despite being twenty years old, is a qualified doctor and must perform emergency surgery on the PM. Well, Richard is there to assist her. Meanwhile Chief Engineer Raven (Mike Pratt - Randal and Hopkirk, Deceased ), with his blonde hair and South African accent, plots mutiny. He and most of his crew are in civilian clothes, even though the sub is a military vessel.

Craig gets called in as backup, to find the saboteurs. He phones the office late at night, where Treymayne is hanging out in his pajamas. Yes, presumably his apartment is adjoining his office. Once again, Craig shows off his uncanny abilities - this time by reciting the detailed number of a secret file.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 14] The Search
Shown December 1968
Reviewed 21st February 2006 [Tuesday]

The show has a tendency to recycle plots and props. This episode is no exception, with Nazi WW2 veterans aboard a submarine! Ironically the director is Leslie Norman, best known as director of The Cruel Sea ... and father of BBC film critic Barry Norman.

Yet again, someone infiltrates a NATO submarine base. This time they hijack a NATO sub, equipped with nukes. And like James Bond in Thunderball , Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) is sent to recover the nukes!

When Craig runs into trouble, Richard and Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) must step in to save him. Sort of like the previous episode but in reverse.

The villain's weapon of preference is a Mauser with a telescopic sight, which is probably the prop that got re-used as Han Solo's blaster in Star Wars: A New Hope . To break it down into concealable sections he unscrews the barrel from the main body - despite the fact that the sight is not on the barrel, and thus accuracy would be adversely effected. A smarter move would be to keep the barrel fixed, and only remove extraneous items like the surpressor and shoulder stock.

Sharron's new superpower is to speed-read at a second per page. This allows her to read War and Peace in twenty minutes, although it is shocking that a Librarian would get stuck in conversation for so long. Craig's power is to calculate a missile's course correction faster than a 1968-era targetting computer could.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 15] The Gilded Cage
Shown 8 Jan 69

Richard is kidnapped and kept in a luxurious apartment. His captors somehow know that he once decoded a very difficult cypher. They want him to decode something for them ...

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) tracks Richard down single-handed. Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) pops up at the start, clad in a bikini, and delivers some good advice.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 16] Shadow of the Panther
Shown January 1969
Reviewed 21st March 2006 [Tuesday]

A Nemesis Agent dies mysteriously in a hotel in Haiti.

Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) is sent to investigate. She meets friendly Canadian Donald Sutherland ( Don't Look Now ).

When Sharron does not contact HQ, the boss sends in Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Richard.

A witch-doctor is hypnotising people. Can the Champions' superpowers save them?

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 17] A Case of Lemmings
Shown January 1969
Reviewed 11th April 2006 [Tuesday]

Three Interpol Agents commit suicide. Nemesis is called in to stage an impartial investigation.

The Champions discover that the dead Agents all participated in Mafia cases. However, they only have a couple of days to solve the mystery.

Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) goes undercover as a sexy gangster-groupie. She looks the part in a big-hair blonde wig.

Can Craig's superpowers defeat a suicide-inducing drug?.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 18] The Interrogation
Shown January 1969
Reviewed 18th April 2006 [Tuesday]

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) returns from a solo mission in Hong Kong. He wakes up in a cell, where he is interrogated by a masterful manipulator.

The interrogation, a mix of halucinogens and mind-f*cks, is excellent.

The ending is emotional and original, for its time. In these more cynical days, it feels slightly less powerful.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 19] The Mission
Shown January 1969
Reviewed 25th April 2006 [Tuesday]

Someone is running a face-change clinic (in an English Country mansion) for on-the-run crooks. Like ep The Champions [Season 1, Episode 7] The Survivors , this features Nazi War Criminals on the run.

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) go undercover as a gangster and his moll. Craig gets a creepy pencil-moustache, while 19-year-old Sharron looks a lot older when she has too much makeup on.

Richard poses as a tramp, and gets himself selected as organ-donor by the villains. After all, the mystical Tibetan procedure

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 20] The Silent Enemy
Shown February 1969
Reviewed 2nd May 2006 [Tuesday]

A US Navy nuclear-powered submarine is discovered off the west coast of Ireland. When the USN tows it to the NATO base at Holy Loch, Scotland, they discover that the entire crew has mysteriously died of heart failure. Tremayne sends the Champions aboard the submarine, with a fresh crew of seamen.

The antagonists this time are working for a nation that wants to create its own independent NBC deterrent - like in The Champions [Season 1, Episode 6] Operation Deep-Freeze. Their super-weapon is a nerve gas instead of a nuke. The name of the country is never given, but there are a few clues. Since Cuba and South Africa were fighting over Angola, this could be either one of them. However, the uniforms seem to be something out of Franco's fascist Spain.

Richard and Craig demonstrate a couple of new superpowers. They can withstand scalding steam without ill effect, and have limited immunity to the nerve gas.

Sharron is treated noticeably different from her male colleagues. As the only female aboard the submarine, she is certainly noticed by the male sailors - especially when she climbs down a ladder while wearing a skirt. Later she is dismissed as unimportant by the US Navy officers, perhaps because her role has been established as a medical specialist rather than a command function.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 21] The Body Snatchers
Shown February 1969
Reviewed 9th May 2006 [Tuesday]

Richard investigates mysterious goings-on at a remote mansion. Bernard Lee ( Dr No, Live and Let Die ) is behind an evil plot.

Illegal clinic in an English country mansion? This is just like The Champions [Season 1, Episode 19] The Mission .

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 22] Get Me Out of Here!
Shown February 1969
Reviewed 16th May 2006 [Tuesday]

A lady scientist is held under house arrest in a Spanish-speaking island that is clearly meant to be Cuba. The trio must bust her out and get her to the USA safely.

Except for some stock footage, this episode is filmed entirely in the greater London area. As a result, none of the actors playing Latino characters are actually real-life Cubans (or citizens of the fictional island that is standing in for Cuba). With the exception of one Welsh-sounding surname, most of the guest cast seem to be White English actors who put on what they think a Cuban accent might be like. Just as the episodes set in Germany do not feature many real German actors or locations, and so on.

This episode also seems to be a comentary on Latin America's gender politics. The ex-husband is proud of his status as the spouse of a powerful scientist, because this gives him a celebrity status of his own. If he were to agree to a divorce under local law, he would not be able to claim alimony from her - so he would have to get a job and work for a living.

To rescue the hostage, Richard and Craig absail from the roof and break in through a window. This is over a decade before the SAS did the same thing at the Prince's Gate Siege in London.

Despite being top operators of Nemesis, the Champions do not bother to try to blend in.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 23] The Night People
Shown March 1969
Reviewed 23rd May 2006 [Tuesday]

A poacher in the grounds of an English Country mansion is attacked by KKK men with a voodoo doll.

Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) does a one-woman architectural tour of Cornwall for her vacation. None of the locals speaks with a regional accent, but she does not seem to notice.

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) and Richard are in Haiti, perhaps cleaning up after The Champions [Season 1, Episode 16] Shadow of the Panther . They return to England and search for Sharron, but she is MIA ...

The locals fear that the rich folk in the mansion - including Adrienne Corri - are into witchcraft. Not Paganism, more of a 1960s flower-power white-witch thing. With voodoo dolls!

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 24] Project Zero
Shown March 1969
Reviewed 6th June 2006 [Tuesday]

Someone is recruiting top military scientists from the UK, for a secret project. A bit like in Dark Crusader by Alastair MacLean.

Richard goes undercover, posing as a scientist. But using his real name!

The villains' security is so good that Craig and Sharron cannot follow. So they go undercover themselves. Good job, too, since Richard gets an explosive collar ...

While Richard botched his end of things, it turns out that Sharron saves the day. She defeats a male assassin with her unarmed combat skills, and then sabotages the villain's super-weapon. A pity she does not get the prime role more often.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 25] Desert Journey
Shown March 1969
Reviewed 13th June 2006 [Tuesday]

A small landlocked country in the Sahara, bordered by Algeria and Libya, is victim of a terrorist plot. Well-organised agents attempt to assassinate government official Roger Delgado ( Dr Who ).

Sharron ( Alexandra Bastedo ) dresses as a party-girl, to seduce a playboy who is also the exiled King!

Sharron and Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) transport the playboy across the desert, facing treachery and ambush.

This ep has high production values, and though there may be stock footage it blends well with the primary scenes.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 26] Full Circle
Shown March 1969
Reviewed 27th June 2006 [Tuesday]

In England, a burglar (Patrick Allen - ) breaks into a foreign embassy and photographs some documents. When arrested a few minutes later, there is no sign of the film.

Craig (Stuart Damon - Space: 1999 ) goes undercover in prison to follow the burglar and find the film. Richard plays an Irish priest, who helps the convicts with their escape plan. But the ambassador has hired an evil Mr Steed and Mrs Peel duo to break the burglar out as well! Of note, the female villain is Gabrielle Drake .

Sharron's intro scene at the start comes from a previous ep. She gets a couple of scenes half way through - Tremayne sends her to help Richard, who then sends her back to HQ. In fact we see less of her than we do of the huge fountain in Geneva - the spray must be two hundred feet high!

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 27] Nutcracker
Shown 2 Apr 69
Reviewed 11th October 2007 [Thursday]

A British Government VIP is caught breaking into the M7 vault in London, trying to steal secret NATO files. M7 calls in the Champions to test the security of their vault. Strange coincidence, because the vault's security system is so complex that only the Champions' secret powers could possibly defeat it.

The Champions realise that the break-in was an inside job, so they start snooping around. And like so many other episodes, one gets captured and has to be rescued!

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 28] The Final Countdown
Shown 16 Apr 69
Reviewed 1st August 2006 [Tuesday]

A Lufwaffe Air Marshall is released from a Russian POW camp. He gets together with his hard-core Nazi buddies, and tries to get a WW2-era superweapon.

The Champions have to locate and defuse a nuclear bomb!

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 29] The Gun-Runners
Shown 23 Apr 69
Reviewed 8th August 2006 [Tuesday]

In the Burmese jungle (or a sound-stage with a few tropical plants) a police expedition to recover some WW2 rifles is massacred by schmeisser-wielding Mafiosos.

The Champions are sent to outsmart an English arms dealer who is betraying his country by arming Commie rebels.

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode 30] Autokill
Shown 30 Apr 69
Reviewed 15th August 2006 [Tuesday]

A sinister organisation is brainwashing Nemesis Agents, then sending them to kill the Agency's senior staff. This time Tremayne is not just the book-end exposition man, he is an important part of the plot!





The Champions

The Champions The Champions [Season 1, Episode ]
Reviewed th August 2006 [Thursday]

The Champions

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