Sunday, 5 November 2017

Danger Man: Judgement Day

There are two subjects I keep returning to in my witterings here. One is the way in which these 1960s TV shows encapsulate the interests and concerns of their time. The other is the way in which their production is dictated by the technology of the time.
Both are points which have great impact on this episode of Danger Man. Let's face it, if Judgement Day were to be remade nowadays it would look radically different, and the fact it is as convincing as it is, is a great testimony to the TV makers of the time. The opening scenes of the making of the bomb are completely studio-bound, and then stock footage is used for the externals of the airport, before returning to the studio for Drake's encounter with an 'official' who changes his travel plans abruptly. At the time this was the ordinary technology used in so many of these shows and in the restored boxed set I have, the seam between studio and stock footage is seamless.
Similarly the subject is very much of the time. I have a feeling that no TV espionage show would set something in the Middle East nowadays, without mentioning the endlessly sensitive subject of Islamisation. Rather there is a terrorist group here, but its interests are based on events in the regios of 70 years ago now. That isn't to say that the Arab world depicted here isn't a European stereotype of what Arabs are like - the country is carefully depicted as a nest of intrigue, instability and corruption! While Garriga is afterwards revealed to be Spanish, he must be a British subject or at least British sympathiser to be rushed out of the country because of being at such risk. Here it isn't apparent what the scientist is doing in Bir Azhad, but I love the touch that he is not in the room when the bomb explodes and even the cat escapes. (Phew!) There is a remarkable economy in this story - it just happens and there is no need felt to explain the reason for what is happening.
Further contemporary limits of communication are seen in the show. Drake has his phone line to London cut off by the weather - of course bad weather may still take down the internet or whatever, but nowadays he would go through several failing communication methods before being obliged to give up. It is so redolent of the 1960s espionage craze that of course his call is in code and he subsequently has to translate it using a key - I wonder whether they still do that? Once he and Garriga arrive at the hotel he wants a telegram sent and is quite happy to wait for the boy to come back to send it. Nowadays of course he would log onto the hotel's wifi and even in the back of beyond would probably find an internet cafe he could queue at. Naturally the telegram never actually goes.
There is another theme running through this Danger Man episode, which is the desert and life in the desert. The nature of this life is depicted in the isolation of the people, both from 'civilisation' by reason of the collapse of travel methods, and from each other by reason of cultural and linguistic barriers. The first thing Jessica Shore comments on is that after weeks in the desert she wants to hear English spoken again. The things that the desert does to people aren't really explicitly mentioned but the theme is always there - that the people are surrounded by something which isolates them and makes them vulnerable, while they are always surrounded by other people well used to the world of the desert. Even the mysterious Dr Garriga is emblematic of the mystery of the desert - he is alone, as it were an oasis of modern scientific learning in the middle of the desert.
I love the super-cool Drake depicted in this episode. He is positively Steed-like in his confrontation of the ridiculous difficulties put in his way. My absolutely favourite bit is where he demands to see the regulations which tell him he must take Jessica Shore in his flight, only to discover that they are in Arabic! He does, however, lack Steed's charm in his attempts to stop her flying with them - Drake makes it very apparent he doesn't want her but I think Steed would have been much more subtle. Steed may even have flirted with her until she didn't want to travel with the dirty old man! I also love the way that when it looks as if all is lost Drake still manages to look moody and smokes a small cigar while he enlists the pilot's aid.
One of the reasons I wanted to write about this episode is that I have always lost my interest in the show at the same point, which I think marks a distinct turning point in the plot. It is the point at which the plane is forced to land, and as I write this I've just paused the show at 28 minutes and nine seconds in - just over halfway into the episode, and the point at which I have always tended to lose interest. The reason I've always lost interest is that I think this plot device introduces something new at such a late stage in the story that it is obvious what is happening. It is obvious that the pilot has been bribed, and it is obvious that Shore is a wrong 'un. The forced landing turns the plot into a sort of 'locked room' mystery and it becomes obvious that the protagonists are going to get out of this rather than end up dead. Drake does, after all, have the rest of the series to film and a Village to investigate later in the decade - this creation of expectations is perhaps the reason I have always lost interest in this episode here. It is unfortunate to my mind, that the time up until about the 46 minute mark is filled by what amounts to a moral discussion of Nazi research into bacteriology. That's most of the approximately 18 minutes from when the plane landed, and I sense a filler. The ending is an anticlimax.
My conclusion on this episode is that it starts off with a promising plot which is weakened by an abrupt change of direction in the middle. I feel that this is an episode which could have made a decent half hour episode, but has been over-stretched to the fifty minute slot. Obviously I don't think it's a complete dud because it appears on this blog, but in an otherwise quality series it's a weak offering which fails to maintain its interest.

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