In September 1968, ITV launched a new series called The Champions, which was created by Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner. The Champions ran for only a single season (30 episodes), and starred Angela Bastedo as Sharron Macready, William Gaunt as Richard Barrett, and Stuart Damon as Craig Sterling. Macready, Barrett, and Sterling are highly trained agents of an international security service called Nemesis. Each of them has a unique skill set: Macready is a doctor and biochemist; Barrett an expert in ciphers and codes; Sterling is a former US Air Force pilot.
While Craig, Richard, and Sharron are escaping from the Chinese after completing a mission, their plane goes down in the Himalayas, where they are rescued by a lost civilization that not only mends their bodies but gives them a range of superpowers, among which are super strength, super hearing, telepathy, and precognition. When the three agents return to duty in Geneva, Switzerland, where Nemesis is based, they use their new powers to help them solve cases and stop the bad guys. But they also promised the lost people that they would keep the origin of these powers secret. Even though they sometimes have to display their abilities in front of others, they make light of them and always refuse to explain exactly how they were able to do what they did.
A handful of Champions episodes have themes, scenes, or premises that are similar to those seen in earlier Avengers episodes. I suspect this has more to do with the kinds of tropes that were of concern to television and film writers and audiences at the time than with actual copying, but nevertheless it makes for an interesting avenue of comparison for these two contemporary series, especially since some of the writers and producers of Avengers also worked on Champions.
Okay, you guys have me pegged. Really this is just an excuse for me to write about two of my favorite shows in the same blog. So.
There are probably going to be three or four of these. As usual, I will add links as posts come online.
Case Study #1: Experimenting on Superlative Super Agents
the superlative seven: written by Brian Clemens; Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, producers; UK release dates 5 and 8 April 1967
the experiment: written by Tony Williamson; Monty Berman, producer; UK release 16 October 1968
In the Season 5 Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven,” Steed dons fancy dress and boards an airplane in response to an invitation to a party. There are six other party-goers, each of whom has some special talent related to combat skills. But the party is bogus: they are kidnapped and flown to a desert island, where the partygoers are picked off one by one, until only Steed and the gun-slinging Miss Wild are left. The purpose of the exercise was to prove the superiority of the villain’s training school, which was intended to create super-soldiers who were supposed to be more or less invincible. A graduate of this training school has been planted among the party guests and is the one committing the murders, in order to prove the superiority of this training method to a buyer who is thinking of employing the villain to train his own army. Of course Steed turns out to be more than the so-called super-soldier can handle, but in the end even he needs the help of Mrs Peel before they’re finally able to dispatch him, partly because the bad guys are cheating. (I discussed this episode in detail in an earlier blog.) «««
»»» Episode 4 of The Champions, “The Experiment,” has some echoes with “Superlative Seven.” As with the Avengers episode, “The Experiment” focuses on a secret training program intended to create a kind of super-soldier. By using a kind of advanced neurological enhancement, Dr Glind, the master mind behind the project, is able to give his subjects super strength and speed, and a modicum of skill with precognition.
One of the graduates of Glind’s program manages to get into a highly guarded top-secret base in England. Except before the super-soldier can reach his target, something goes wrong, and he is found sitting on the floor of an elevator, his mind reduced to that of a very small child. The super-soldier is later murdered in the hospital by one of Dr Glind’s operators.
<singing “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” in childlike voice>
Tremayne, the head of Nemesis and the Champions’ direct supervisor, orders Sharron to take a vacation in England. When she arrives at the airport, she is picked up by a man who works for the master mind, and given the option to participate in the program. She cautiously agrees.
At the training center, Sharron is introduced to the other candidates, who have been hand-picked from agencies such as the CIA, DI6, and the Sûreté. All of them display super abilities similar to Sharron’s.
After undergoing some medical tests, Sharron has a conversation with Dr Glind in which she learns that he knows something about what she can do: he wants to know how she came by her abilities, and his intent is to compare her powers with those imparted by his program. Sharron later participates in some training activities with these other candidates, displaying her speed and quick reaction time in an accelerated game of catch. Dr Glind and his assistant watch them via closed-circuit television.
(And come on, people: I could throw faster than that when I was twelve, and that’s without the benefit of superpowers. Or speeded-up film. But I digress.)
While Sharron is getting settled at the training center, Richard and Craig also go to England, to meet with the doctor who is treating the incapacitated super-soldier and to find out as much about him as possible. Richard and Craig eventually learn that Sharron has been coopted into the program. They find her as she is playing catch with the other candidates. Hiding in the shrubbery outside the center, Richard and Craig use telepathy to tell Sharron to stay where she is and try to find out what she can, and that they’ll be back later that night.
Back in Geneva, Richard and Craig have an angry interview with Tremayne. They’re very upset with him for sending Sharron into danger under false pretenses, and demand an explanation. He tells them what he knows about the program and why he sent Sharron in that way: he knew that someone was following her, and he wanted to see whether they would continue to do so if she went on holiday. He did send some men to keep an eye on her, but they lost her. Tremayne also claims that he didn’t know that the thing Sharron got into was part of the super-soldier case that he asked Richard and Craig to work. Tremayne agrees that Richard and Craig should take control of the case and follow the leads they have. He is worried about how well the opposition are keeping ahead of Nemesis: “It’s almost as though we are being directed into something,” he says.
Later that night, Sharron decides to do a little snooping around the training center. She avoids being captured by the mastermind’s bodyguard, but she walks straight into a trap when she enters the computer center where Glind and his assistants are waiting. They zap her with knockout gas and tie her up. When she comes to, Glind explains that he knows all about her, Richard, and Craig, and that he is creating his super-soldiers to destroy the Champions so that he then can send his trainees out to do whatever he wants them to do without interference. He says he knows that Richard and Craig are coming back, and when they do, he’ll tell his trainees to attack and kill them using the data that has been fed into the computer.
Glind’s assistant says that if they activate the trainees the way Glind wants to do, they’ll only have fifteen minutes before they lose their minds the way the first super-soldier did. She asks why not give them guns and have them shoot the Champions. But Glind is too wedded to his computer program, and anyway, he says, he can always train more people.
Richard and Craig sneak into the training center, where they are met by the four activated trainees, and a big fight ensues. Although they are outnumbered two to one, Richard and Craig manage to fend off their attackers and retreat into another room. But Richard has been wounded, and soon the trainees start breaking into the room.
In the command center, Sharon breaks out of her restraints and forces her way over to the control board, where she switches on the PA system without Glind’s knowledge. Then she asks him what his trainees will think when they discover that he’s condemned them to a kind of living death. The trainees hear this, and then turn on their creator, killing him and his assistants before their brains burn out and they are reduced to a childlike, nearly mindless state.
Common points in these two episodes:
- a training program that creates super-soldiers
- one of the good guys is kidnapped by the bad guys
- the kidnapped good guy’s friends find out where he/she is and swoop in to help
- the master mind wants to use his soldiers to do whatever he wants
- the master mind tries to test his soldiers out on opponents whose abilities he thinks he understands
- the master mind underestimates his opponent and he and his minions pay the ultimate price
Random fun bonus fact: The village near the training center where Richard and Craig stop for a pint in “The Experiment” looks shockingly similar to Little Storping from “Murdersville,” complete with witch-ducking pond and all.
L: The village Richard and Craig go to in “The Experiment”
R: Little-Storping-in-the-Swuff, from “Murdersville”