Technically I have not seen the film I’m about to review. As a film, it was released in 1983, but it wasn’t really a “new movie” at the time. I’ll explain: The Champions was a British television series which ran for 30 episodes in 1968. Fifteen years later, at a time when something called “videotapes” were all the latest craze, someone decided to make a movie out of two episodes. Kids those days couldn’t access the internet and look for old stuff on YouTube, so a “movie” was a good thing to lure a new crowd into an old show and also, at approximately 49 minutes an episode, you’d need at least ten tapes if you wanted to buy the entire series. That’s a lot of money (and space) for a series you might not have heard of.
The Champions was one of the many shows that tried to follow in the footsteps of other cult shows like The Avengers or, to a lesser extent, The Prisoner. The show is about three secret agents of the international organisation Nemesis. During one mission to Asia, their plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet and instead of dying, they’re saved by an ancient people… with magic abilities. As a result, the agents – two men and a woman – are now superhumans. Which is quite handy for a special agent. They can hear clicks from outside the wall, speak to each other by telepathy (which only works if they speak out loud – it’s never really clear from which distance they can communicate with each other, let’s just say “nearby”), have a vision when one of the others is in danger and they’re superstrong. There’s one condition: they’re not allowed to speak of the Tibetan people that gave them the abilities. The Champions is therefore less of an exciting series: you’ll know the agents will pull through, being superhuman and all. The real question is if they can use their powers without being caught, including by their boss Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls).
Tremayne’s office (and the entire headquarters of Nemesis) is in Geneva. Not that the show was taped there, but there’s nothing a bit of studio magic can’t solve. I haven’t seen a lot of shows that needed to rely on stock footage this much. In one episode, agent Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) finds himself “in Rome”. Read: someone used a couple of shots of Roman landmarks and put the actor (with sunglasses) in front of a blue screen. (The show’s titles used the same trick: have a good look at the caption at the top of this article to have a better idea of what I’m talking about.) The Champions is very much a poverty row series. Which is also why some episodes were based on a submarine. The prop was there, so why not use it more than once? Every time the submarine popped above water and the actor looked outside, the sky was always eerily blue and the sub completely dry, but let’s gloss over that one, shall we?
Because despite being not the most exciting show with cheap studio props, The Champions has certain things going for it. The actors are well cast: you’ll have seen Damon and William Gaunt (who plays Richard) in several other television shows, from small roles to leading parts, and Sharron Macready (which rhymes with “greedy” rather than “ready”) is played by none other than Alexandra Bastedo. She was also in many tv shows, but you may also remember her from William Castle‘s 13 Frightened Girls (reviewed earlier) or the cult classic The Blood-Spattered Bride. Also, like other shows of that era, you do get a chance to see interesting guest roles (Donald Pleasance is one example) and some episodes were directed by well-known people: the one guest-starring Pleasance was directed by Freddie Francis, at the time already an established name.
Can I make you more than lukewarm about The Champions? Not really. I was lucky enough to find the entire box set in a bargain bin for 6 euros, so at 20 cents an episode I’m having the time of my life watching an episode on nights I don’t have enough time for a full movie. One IMDb reviewer said he’d bought the show for 60 dollars. I wouldn’t recommend spending so much money on it though.
As for Legend of the Champions I can be brief: don’t spend any money on it if you catch it. Basically, it’s nothing but episode 1 and 19 glued together. In episode 19, Craig Stirling is interrogated about his latest mission and during the experiments Stirling suffers from flashbacks. A handy way to use some footage of previous episodes (and, erm, even one “flashback” from the next episode). Now if you rearrange the flashbacks a bit and add the rest of the material from the pilot episode, then you’ve got yourself a feature-length movie. Not only are there problems with the transaction from the flashbacks to the interrogation scenes, neither episode managed to show off the show’s fortes. Even the tone of those two episodes is a bit different from the other episodes. Bascially, it’s like The Avengers but without the comedy (so especially like the era of Cathy Gale then), but stuck in a format that cries for the eras of Emma Peel. As a result, it’s like watching the Tara King episodes.
Also, The Champions finds itself on the thinnest of ropes balancing between sci-fi and spy action and often falls with its face flat on the ground. Overall, it is a show about three secret agents and the sci-fi is just there to spice things up. A bit like the mildest curry also uses spices, that is. I’m struggling to think there’s anyone who might want to get the entire series after watching Legend of the Champions. Either they think the show is too bland or they will watch the other episodes and fail to get involved with the different tone. “The interrogation” (episode 19) seems to mimic the tone of The Prisoner.
Try to think of the success you’d have combining Misfits with The Prisoner and then hoping that’ll lure viewers into watching the Tara King episodes of The Avengers. Good luck with that!
(These are the show’s title, with the commercial teasers added as intro and outro.)