The Champions

"Operation Deep Freeze" with Patrick Wymark

by Harry Dobermann

Filmed in March 1967, "Operation Deep Freeze" was the fourth episode in production order of "The Champions", an ITC series created by Dennis Spooner. The series starred Stuart Damon, William Gaunt and Alexandra Bastedo as agents of Nemesis, who have been given superpowers by an "unknown race of people from a lost city in Tibet". "Operation Deep Freeze" opens in Antarctica, where one of the 38 international scientific bases detect signs of a nuclear explosion in strict contravention of a 12 nation treaty banning radioactive waste in the South Pole.

Tremayne (Anthony Nichols), head of the international agency Nemesis, sends Craig Sterling (Stuart Damon) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) to Scott Base after three search parties have disappeared. On the transport plane, they meet up with Hemmings (The Plane Makers' Robert Urquhart) who fills them in on the freezing perils of Antarctica.

At Scott Base, Commander Gregson (Martin Boddey - Joan Collins' unfortunate husband in Tales From The Crypt) arranges for Hemming to take the Nemesis agents out with a dog team. Athough the Nemesis agents argue they work best alone, Gregson says they need someone who knows the territory.

Barrett (William Gaunt), Sterling (Stuart Damon), Gregson (Martin Boddey) and Hemmings (Robert Urquhart) peruse the map of Antarctica

Unknown to the Nemesis agents, they are being tracked by Jost (Walter Gotell) and Margoli (Peter Arne) whose underground base was responsible for the explosion. They have already disposed of the previous search parties and on an Ice Breaker, making its way towards the South Pole, their leader General Gomez (Patrick Wymark) is fuming over the unplanned detonation. "Under the snow we could have worked secretly for years!". And at their secret base, the author of the "criminal incompetence", Colonel Santos (George Pastell) hands a letter to Major Zorini (Derek Sydney) telling him to offer his apologies to the General. "Regret I'm unavoidably detained", he says, before shooting himself.

Producer Monty Berman was a former cameraman, renowned for cost-control, who had masterminded a technique of combining documentary footage with standing sets to deliver the illusion of high budget filming. Scriptwriter Gerald Kelsey, who had experience of ITC series such as "The Saint" and "The Prisoner" built his script around existing documentary footage of Antarctica and exterior-sets from the Tibet-based origin episode "The Beginning". Director Paul Dickson copes well with the challenging assignment (especially when the set is representing the empty Antarctic wastes). Unfortunately the first half is flightly marred by the choice of melodramatic stock music which would later appear on comedy shows and adverts (such as the first Tic Tac private-eye cartoon ads voiced by Paul Maxwell). However, while slightly jarring it doesn’t spoil enjoyment of the show, and the more familiar background music (including the weird oscillating noise accompanying the Champions super-senses) does appear towards the second half.

As General Gomez, Patrick Wymark pitches his performance to the reality of the series. With his underground base and stockpile of radioactive missiles, he has the grandeur of an Ian Fleming villain, tempered with the budget of an Alastair McLean villain. Filmed just a few months after the end of The Power Game with his hair now partially blonde, Wymark affects a Germanic delivery in his introductory scene although this softens later. Despite the fearsome effect he has on his men before he even arrives, Gomez finds time to share a drink with the Nemesis agents once they have been captured. Of his un-named South American nation he says, "We have been exploited, robbed, humiliated by foreigners who frowned on our way of Government. Throughout history, large rich nations have always bullied small poor ones." Of his looming nuclear capability he tells Sterling and Barrett that "a small man with a gun can be as dangerous as a big man." Unfortunately, the twists of the story mean that there is no actual "Plane Makers" reunion between Wymark and Robert Urquhart.

Kelsey is inventive in having Gomez devise a lingering doom for the heroes when they allow themselves to be captured. In order to lead further search parties away from their hidden base, he orders Gotell to have them frozen alive and lay a false trail with their bodies pointing in the opposite direction. The episode also has a stunning illustration of the Champions’ powers with Sharon suddenly experiencing the freezing torture of Richard and Craig when Tremayne offers her a glass of whisky with ice.

Sharon (Alexandra Bastedo)becomes aware of Richard and Craig, reflected in the ice of her drink

"Operation Deep Feeze" was broadcast by ATV and Yorkshire TV on 30 October 1968, although as it was not a "fully networked" show, the episode was screened at other dates and times by other ITV stations

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