According to imdb, this episode was first broadcast on the day of my tenth birthday. If I watched it then, and I have no reason to think that I didn’t, I am certain that most of it will have gone over my head. It doesn’t do that now. In fact, ‘Judgement Day’ is one of the most powerful episodes of Danger Man, both for its extraordinary final act, and for the subtlety with which the episode’s arc was shaped, to confuse and almost comically divert the audience before hitting it with a development that was inevitable, but far less crude than the show intimated at that point.
It began with an intriguing, silent open, somewhere in the Middle East. A bookshop, a hefty book (in German, a foreshadowing of which we are completely unaware) selected and bought, the cutting out of its interior and its replacement with a small chemical bomb, its boxing up and addressing to a Dr Garriga. Ok, let’s bide our time.
Cut then, after the title credits, to Aman airport where John Drake, returning to London, is intercepted by the unlikely figure of Ibrahim (Maurice Kauffman, a casting irony, or insensitivity if you want to take it that way), with instructions to fly Drake to the isolated Bir Azzad airport. Instructions from World Travel, London. Drake, suspicious, insists on phoning London but on a dodgy line only gets partial instructions abut ‘goods’ he’s to collect and deliver to London. Naturally, the goods are Dr Garriga.
First, there’s the book bomb. It arrives first but chance in the form of a cat (who escapes unharmed) sets it off whilst Garriga (Guy Delpy) has been called to the telephone. As a result, the Doctor is beyond paranoid when Drake arrives to escort him, though it’s clear that this exciteable, self-obsessed, vain man needs little in the way of pushing in that direction.
The episode is loose and deliberately obscure. We never find out why the British Government wants Garriga. Drake’s on the loose, without warning, briefing, back-up or time. Someone’s setting out to obstruct him, keep him off-balance. Ibrahim is bribed substantially, the plane’s engine develops a fault requiring an overnight stay, Garriga is a right royal pain-in-the-arse and prone to nightmares in which he shouts and tries to attack Drake. There is, however implausibly in this remote Arab outpost, a beautiful blonde woman calling herself Jessica (Alexandra Stewart) and claiming to be an archaeologist working in the desert and when the plane does leave, Drake is forced to accept her as a passenger or not fly at all.
It’s good fun watching our man trying to push water uphill, with Garriga constantly in his ear, yet grimly determined to do his job, all the while growing slowly suspicious of who and what Garriga is, because if one thing is evident, it is that he is not an innocent.
So we are not in the least surprised, any more than Garriga, when the plane develops ‘engine trouble’ and is forced to put down at an obscure but convenient abandoned airstrip, way out to hell and gone. Nor are we surproised when Jessica the Archaeologist slips a small purse out of her large purse and carefully slides it under the pilot’s seat. It’s a bomb, we all think, and indeed a bomb it is.
But this is where the episode changes gear, swiftly and without the least sign of strain. Jessica has friends coming, led by the calm, serious but judicious Shimon (John Woodvine). They are members of an Israeli terrorist group, banned by the Israeli Government, at risk simply by being here in Arab country. They have been pursuing Dr Ravel Garriga, or should we say Hans Christian Denker, a German, not a Spaniard. Garriga, for so we will continue calling him, was the Chief Medical Officer at Dortmund Prison Camp between 1941 and 1945. His speciality was experimental biology. If the next War isn’t fought with bombs it might be fought with viruses so, to be prepared, Garriga was searching for a cure, by infecting prisoners in the camp – Jewish prisoners, though it is never made quite so explicit – with bubonic plague. For what he has done, he was been tried and condemned to execution by the terrorists and that sentence is now to be carried out.
It’s an horrific scenario. Anyone who is not a moral imbecile, as Drake himself terms Garriga, will instantly sympathise with the Jewish terrorists. Drake, stalling for time to allow the badly wounded Ibrahim to get to the truck radio, condemns them as would-be murderers, no better morally than Garriga. He insists Garriga should face trial, with evidence and proper, legal punishment. The group conduct a dignified version of such a trial. It isn’t legal, it’s hardly possible to call it a trial, but it serves the episode’s greater purposes. For Garriga condemns himself out of his own mouth, progressing from ‘I was only following orders’ to boasting of the importance of his work, of himself, the inevitability of failures along the way, and, most horrifying of all, boasting that with an anticipated failure rate of 65%, he and his team managed to keep it down to 42%.
The conclusion is swift. Shimon discovers Ibrahim collapsed in the truck, asumes he’s sent an SOS. They have to make for the Israeli border immediately. But before they go they shoot Garriga. It’s not made clear which one of then but the odds are on the tall, stately, handsome Jessica. And by then who could blame her? There’s even the suspicion that Drake, for all his efforts to complete his mission, was not raging at the end of it all.
The terrorists claimed to be acting in the name of Justice: not legal Justice by any code, but a higher Justice. In the end, they murdered without regret. Whatever you think of the dead man, and the me that is no longer 10 thought lots, private Justice, murder by whim, cannot be acceptable. Garriga strained that principle. I would have shot him myself. The power of this episode left you with no easy answers. Even John Drake had no solutions, no exit from the moral conundrum.
And I would doubt anyone who claimed that it was obvious what was right.