I’m getting cautiously hopeful that the run of naff episodes were merely a mid-series blip, because Danger Man is finishing its third, and sadly final full series, on a high. This somewhat awkwardly titled episode – it’s a code phrase – was a taut, mysterious affair, beginning with an unusually detailed open made all the more effective by being conducted in complete silence.
A man leaves a long blonde-haired woman at a stylish chateau. He drives off, but is intercepted by a professional and elaborate trap. He is injected with something whilst his ring is removed and transferred to the finger of a dead body that looks startlingly like him. His car is crashed, the body put behind the wheel and the wreck is fired. Obviously, the set-up is to make it look as if he is dead, but who is he, why has he been taken and who hasset this up?
For once, we don’t learn this until almost halfway through the episode. We’re in Switzerland, Geneva to be precise, there’s that wonderfully absurd fountain in the background underneath the credits. If it’s an airport, we know one of the pasengers will be John Drake, but here he is having his passport confiscated and being taken before the local security chief, Colonel Schulman (Paul Eddington, looking very young), who addresses him as Canton, and refuses to believe his guise.
Because for once Drake is alone, without allies, and without someone to discuss the set-up with for the edification of the reader. Instead, we have to make do with the Captain’s suspicions, which are that the ‘dead man’, Alexander Standfast, was a British agent, and so too is ‘Canton’. Drake’s all amusement at the very idea but Schulman makes it clear that foreign agents are not welcome, and that they believe Standfast to have been a spymaster, running a ring of confidants in various Embassies. This is, of course, completely correct.
The Captain is good at his suspicions because he accuses Drake of identifying the body as that of Standfast, even though it’s the wrong man (the fillings don’t match), but after an altercation in Standfast’s apartment with two heavies searching the place, not only does Drake come away with the precious microfilm with the agents’ contact details, he successfully maintains his cover story whilst doing so, much to the frustration of Schulman (who promptly disappears from the episode, much to the frustration of me).
The second phase consists of Drake contacting each of the agents in turn, summoning them to a meeting in a secluded space and allowing the betrayer to set a trap for him. Neither the rotund and cynically intelligent Leontine nor the timid and fearful Aurel do so and as soon as we see that the third, Leanka (Jeanne Moody), is the blonde from the open, we knpow it must be her and so it is.
Miss Moody puts in a good hypocrital performance. She claims to have been very close to Standfast, to have been in love with him, but she was found out and gave him up to save her own life. It’s a lie, of course, and you can see Drake not falling for it. Instead, he bugs her phone, enabling him to find where Standfast is being held and being tortured to get him to spill.
He then conducts a one man raid on this isolated villa and, despite the overwhelming odds and the impenetrability of the tortute chsmber, uses his wits, and Leanka, to get everyone out into the open where he can pick them off one at a time, and speed off with Standfast in a stolen car.
That’s the episode’s only flaw, and it’s one the series has been guilty of before, going for a melodramatic ending and leaving the logistical nightmare of the aftermath for the reader to fill in. No wonder Schulman was dropped, but he’s still got ‘Canton’s passport, not to mention his suspicions of both him and how do you think he’s going to react to a dead man appearing out of the blue, hale and whole?
But these are not and never were considerations for an audience of 1966, though they persist, like the memory ofan amputated limb.
There’s a lot of action this week, a constant level of tension and the usual spy gadgetry, but ultimately it was a better episode to watch, taking that in, than to write about afterwards. It seems like the series is going out with a bang: can it sustain this over the three remaining weeks?