Thursday, March 7, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: The Champions (1968)

The Champions
Debut: September 25, 1968
Created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman
Starring: Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo, William Gaunt, Anthony Nicholls
Synopsis: Three agents for the UN law enforcement division Nemesis get superhuman abilities after being rescued from a plane crash by a secret civilization in the Himalayas, and then use their abilities to take on threats to world peace.

Trey: The Champions is a British series broadcast in the UK on ITV during 1968–1969 and in the U.S. on NBC, starting in the summer of 1968. Dennis Spooner created the series, working with producer Monty Berman. The two would also be responsible for the later series Department S and Jason King. They would use writers on this series that had previously worked on The Avengers and Danger Man.

We watched the first episode, "The Beginning," on YouTube. It introduces the three Nemesis agents, Sharron MacReady, Craig Stirling and Richard Barrett, who crash in the Himalayas after an escape from a bioweapon facility in China. They awaken to find their injuries mysteriously healed. Soon, they learn they have had new abilities bestowed on them by their rescuers, the people from a hidden, ancient civilization. The evade capture by the Chinese military and return to Europe having completed their mission.

First thing, I was struck by a few parallels with the Challengers of the Unknown who debuted in 1957. A plane crash is the pivotal event that changes the course of their lives, and the Challengers' refrain that they are "living on borrowed time" is voiced by one of the Champions just after the crash. Then there's then names they are just similar but seem to fit together: the challenger takes on the champion, after all.

Jason: I noticed those similarities and perhaps a wee bit of the original Doom Patrol, if only in the manicured beard of their agency commander. Speaking of the names, I thought the three starring actors had better names for the genre than the characters!

For a spy-fi show with a touch of plain-clothes superheroes thrown in, I found it quite effective, despite budgetary limitations. 

The plane crash sequence was suspenseful despite the use of miniatures and a foregone conclusion. The fight scenes worked well despite the small soundstage and put me in mind of a less expensive Star Trek. 

Trey: I enjoyed the show quite a bit, too. It had the standard sort of groovy Brit style of the era and an intriguing concept. I'd be interested to see what more episodes are like. 

Jason: I especially like its successful threading the needle of earnest adventure story with its tongue positioned in precisely the right part of the cheek. 

Trey: My only quibbles might be there didn't seem to be enough of it! I think it would have been better served by a two-hour pilot, and maybe a central villain of the episode.

Jason: The production staff may have shared your concerns and sought to correct in future episodes. Perusing an online episode guide alerted me to the fact that episode 2's special guest antagonist was none other than Peter Wyngarde!

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