The Champions: Richard Barrett, Craig Sterling, and Sharron Macready (L)
The New Avengers: Purdey, Mike Gambit, and John Steed (R)
A while back I started a new blog series about confluences between the 1968 British television series The Champions and the original Avengers series. (You can find the others by scrolling to the bottom of this post or by going to the category menu and selecting Themed Blog Series: The Champions Meet the Avengers.) Soon after I started that set of blogs, I got my copy of the complete New Avengers disks (SQUEE!!!) and started watching those episodes. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a TNA ep that had many points of confluence with a Champions story. On reflection this is unsurprising, partly because of the precedent already set by Champions in reflecting earlier Avengers stories, and partly because Dennis Spooner, one of the co-writers of the TNA episode, happens to have been one of the creators of Champions. (And now I also have the complete Champions DVDs—also SQUEE!!!—so I can make stills and gifs that actually have decent quality!)
Case Study #3: Facing the Mission
the mission: written by donald james; monty berman, producer; uk release date 29 january 1969
faces: written by brian clemens and dennis spooner; brian clemens and albert fennell, producers; uk release date 14 december 1976
♦ Champions: “The Mission”
Several highly placed criminal masterminds have disappeared into the ether, so Tremayne assigns the Champions to find out what happened to them. The trail of clues gathered thus far seems to lead to a plastic surgeon who does business out of a large house in the English countryside. Craig and Sharron are told to go under cover as an American Mafioso and his moll who are interested in hiring the surgeon, while Richard is to see what else he can find out about the surgeon and his cronies. Craig and Sharron arrive to great fanfare in London: part of their cover is that they’ve been deported from Italy, where they were hiding from American gangsters who think that Craig stole their money. They hope that the ruckus with the press will draw the surgeon’s attention, and it does.
The Champions discover that the surgery is run simultaneously as a mission for indigent men. But there’s a twist. The indigent men are tissue-matched to the people having plastic surgery. The homeless dudes are then killed and farmed for the necessary body parts.
When Sharron and Craig go in for the initial consult and bloodwork, Craig recognizes the surgeon, who is going by the name “Petersen,” as a wanted Nazi. He drops a hint that he knows the guy is actually a man named Dreuchman, who was a concentration camp commandant. Then the nurse discovers that there is something weird about Craig and Sharron’s blood. She shows it to the surgeon. Whatever happened to the Champions to give them their superpowers apparently is detectable by medical tests. Fortunately the surgeon doesn’t know what it is he’s looking at. But because he can’t match Craig and Sharron to an indigent guy, he won’t be able to do the surgery, which means they’ll have a motive to talk about who he really is. Therefore he’ll have to kill the both of them to prevent them talking about his business. Craig and Sharron buy themselves forty-eight hours to find someone with matching blood, and when Richard shows up to report in, they explain the situation.
Richard then goes undercover as an indigent. He makes friends with a homeless Irishman who tells him about the mission. Richard gets the Irish guy to take him there, but not before the forty-eight hours is up. While Richard is being examined, one of the surgeon’s goons takes Sharron and Craig outside with the intent that they should be driven to a remote location and shot. Sharron and Craig overpower the goon and sneak back into the house to do some more snooping. The surgeon walks in on them as they’re rifling his study and tells them that, mirabile dictu, someone with their exact blood group has shown up, so the surgeries can go ahead and their death sentence has been stayed.
The surgeon takes Sharron and Craig to view the indigents through a two-way mirror. He points out Richard and says that he will provide the needed materials for their surgeries. Richard seems to be aware that Sharron and Craig are on the other side of the mirror, and makes a great show of checking his teeth in the mirror and sticking out his tongue. He even not-so-subtly flips off the surgeon, who he suspects is also on the other side of the mirror.
(An aside: I love this bit. Richard is usually such a cynical and reserved guy, but he also has a puckish streak that’s fun to see when he does let it shine. His sense of humor is a lot like Steed’s, in some ways, even though his personality is much less warm.)
Richard is taken to a dungeon-like cell in the basement of the house, along with the homeless guy that originally told him about the mission. He calls to Craig and Sharron, but because of the thickness of the walls, Sharron and Craig can’t hear him, and he can’t hear them, even with their super-hearing engaged. And the clock is ticking: Sharron is called down to the surgery to have her operation done, so the Champions will have to act fast if they’re going to wrap up the case before either Sharron or Richard get hurt.
But the surgeon has his own problems: he himself is a Nazi who escaped prosecution and imprisonment after the war. He has been using an assumed name and operating on his fellow Nazis for free. But now he wants out of the business, and has operated on one last Nazi colleague, who is feeling constrained by his bandages. The colleague wants to be released so he can get on with his life. He confronts the surgeon and the nurse in the surgery as they are preparing to go to work on Sharron. The colleague demands that the bandages be removed, and when they are, he discovers to his horror that he has been turned into the surgeon’s twin. This, of course, was the plan all along: to turn this guy into a double of the surgeon and off him, as a way of faking the surgeon’s death. A fight ensues, in which the surgeon’s patient/double is killed.
Craig manages to find and free Richard. They go looking for Sharron. They hear a gunshot coming from the surgery. They break the door down, but when they get inside they find a man dressed in surgical scrubs who looks like Dreuchman. But it isn’t him: it’s Boder, one of the masterminds they were trying to find, who has been surgically altered to look exactly like Dreuchman.
They check on Sharron. She is still under anesthesia, but otherwise unharmed. Before they can leave, the surgeon’s goon comes into the room. Richard throws a scalpel and pins the goon’s gun arm to the wall. Then Craig knocks him out. The sound of a car engine from outside calls their attention. The two men leap out the window and find Dreuchman and the nurse speeding away. Richard and Craig take the mission’s van and follow them. A chase ensues, which ends when the surgeon’s car crashes into a tree.
♦ TNA: “Faces”
When Steed’s childhood friend passes him on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall without saying hello, Steed is puzzled and hurt. He calls to his friend, who turns and seems to recognize him, then collapses on the steps and dies from a massive heart attack. Steed begins investigating, and finds that his friend, Mark Clifford, a politician who expected to be elected Prime Minister in the near future, began behaving very strangely a few days before he died. Digging deeper, Steed discovers that other powerful, well-connected men have died and that their wives say the same thing: there was something that changed in their husbands, but they don’t know why that happened.
The clues lead to a mission for homeless men, and the plastic surgeon who is the resident medic there. It turns out that there’s a scheme to find homeless guys who look like men of importance, clean them up, do a little plastic surgery, and then train them to impersonate the man they look like and take his place, thus giving the baddies access to secrets that they can turn around and sell to the highest bidder. The mastermind who concocted this program is simultaneously a beneficiary of it. With the help of another homeless guy who is travelling with him, he takes the place of a highly placed Ministry wonk who by chance he discovered was his own twin. When they discover how well it works, they expand the operation.
Steed sends Gambit to the mission undercover as a homeless, alcoholic Irishman. As it turns out, Gambit is on the villains’ list of guys to duplicate, so Gambit has very little difficulty finding out what the bad guys are up to. They put him in a dungeon-like cell to dry out, then start training him to take Gambit’s place.
A problem arises when Purdey, who Steed wanted kept in the dark about Gambit going under cover, finds out that Gambit has been sent to “Station 47,” and that the station has been closed for some time. She becomes very concerned and starts looking for Gambit at the deserted station, where she is attacked by the baddie whose job it is to murder the original people who have been duplicated. She manages to fend him off, and he dies when he falls onto the point of an arrow he was trying to use to kill her.
Purdey finds a card in the man’s pocket that leads her to the mission where Gambit is being held. She disguises herself as a woman of low class who is trying to work herself free of her gangster boyfriend, then infiltrates the mission in much the same way that Gambit did. Since Purdey is also on the list of people to replicate, she has no trouble gaining the baddies’ confidence.
Gambit and Purdey aren’t the only Ministry employees that the villains are after. They’ve also found a double for Steed, and are busy getting him groomed (in every sense of the word) for his mission. As soon as he is deemed ready, he is sent to Steed’s home, pistol plus silencer in hand, to do the deed. He shoots Steed through the window. Steed collapses on the sofa.
The next time we see Steed (or is it the fake?) is in a corridor at the Ministry, where he walks right by a colleague he knows well, seeming not to know him. The colleague calls him on it, and asks what’s going on. Steed cryptically replies that “people change.” Later, Mark’s wife, Wendy, comes by to exchange a watch that she gave Steed by mistake. She thought she had given him Mark’s heirloom watch, but instead she gave him one that his political party gave him. When she asks Steed for the other one back, he seems not to know what she is talking about, and then says he misplaced it, and that he will call her when he finds it. Wendy thinks this odd and distressing, but there’s really nothing she can do about it, so she leaves empty-handed.
Purdey discovers that Gambit is at the mission, too, or at least a man who looks like him is there. She isn’t sure whether this is the real Mike Gambit, though, and he has no way of knowing for sure that she is, in fact, the real Purdey, so neither of them break cover to discuss the case. Instead, they pretend to be the Irishman and the moll practicing to be Purdey and Gambit.
Purdey finds out that part of taking her own place is that she has to kill the real her. In the course of her conversation about that with the surgeon, she learns that the real Gambit is about to be killed himself. The first thing she does after leaving the mission is to go to Gambit’s place, where she finds him coming out of his flat. But Gambit still doesn’t break cover. He assumes that Purdey is “Lolita,” and goes back to his Irish accent, telling her how easy it was to kill the real Gambit. Purdey is shocked by this, and terrified that Gambit has been killed for real. She goes to a telephone booth to call Steed, but as she’s waiting for him to pick up, she remembers something the plastic surgeon said, about Steed being easy to convince that she’s the real Purdey. She hangs up without saying anything, and goes to see the one person she thinks she can still trust. Unfortunately, this person is also the ringleader of the scheme.
Meanwhile, Gambit calls Steed and explains the situation to him. He doesn’t know that Steed is supposed to have a double of his own, and he also thinks that “Lolita” is now impersonating Purdey and has gone to her flat to kill her. Steed tells Gambit that he’ll take care of it, and tells him to come over right away. As soon as the call is over, Purdey walks in, followed by the ringleader. The ringleader thinks that Steed is the double, and he knows that Purdey is the real Purdey. He crows over his triumph and goes to stand next to Steed. Except it isn’t the fake Steed. It’s the real one, who puts the hurt on the ringleader and takes the gun away. Steed explains that the reason he wasn’t killed was because the watch that Wendy gave him stopped the bullet.
Then Gambit walks in, pistol in hand. Purdey thinks it’s the fake Gambit and starts chewing him out for killing the real one. Steed gives Gambit a nod, telling him to keep cover for now. Then when the ringleader, who also thinks this is fake Gambit, tells him, “Get on with it man; if you won’t do it, give it to me.” Gambit says, “Certainly,” and punches the ringleader. That done, there’s only one bit of mopping-up to do: the plastic surgeon. Steed, Purdey, and Gambit go to the mission together, and when the surgeon throws his arms out to greet him, Purdey and Gambit put him in an armlock they escort him out of the office.
common points between the mission and faces
- use of a mission for homeless men as a cover for what the baddies are doing
- the bad guys use plastic surgery to alter people and send them out into the world to pretend to be someone else
- homeless men as a source of raw materials for plastic surgery
- the homeless guys are kept in dungeon-like cells until they are needed
- one good guy goes undercover as a homeless dude
- one good guy goes undercover as a gangster’s moll
- the chief bad guy himself has a double, whom he kills
Random fun bonus fact: William Gaunt, who plays Champion Richard Barrett, did a guest appearance as a young Naval officer on Avengers, in the Season 2 episode “Traitor in Zebra.”