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Mandrake, the Magician

D: Sam Nelson, Norman Deming / 19m

Cast: Warren Hull, Doris Weston, Al Kikume, Rex Downing, Edward Earle, Forbes Murray, Kenneth MacDonald, Don Beddoe, John Tyrrell, Sam Ash

With Betty in a lift that’s hurtling out of control, and Mandrake and Lothar left to face a room filling up with steam, it looks as if the Wasp has finally won. But Mandrake turns off the steam and the lift’s automatic brake kicks in. The man who tried to abduct Betty is captured and Mandrake takes him back to his apartment where he holds him captive. He returns to the home of Professor Houston where he tells Webster and Dr Bennett that he plans to interrogate the man the next morning; the Wasp’s men, led by Dirk (Tyrrell), learn of his plan via the transmitter they have placed at Houston’s home.

The next morning, Mandrake begins to interrogate the Wasp’s henchman with the use of some of his stage props, frightening the man into talking. But as he does he’s killed by a blowdart fired through the window by another of the Wasp’s gang. The Wasp then devises a plan to kidnap Mandrake by arranging for a man called Regan (Ash) to impersonate the famous stage hypnotist Professor Leland. He calls on Mandrake and hypnotises him. But Mandrake is aware of the deception and only pretends to be under  Regan’s influence. Through this he learns that Betty has been given news that if she goes to the RBS radio station control room she’ll gain some information about her father. It’s a trap, though, with the Wasp intending to use the radium machine to blow up the station.

Mandrake escapes from Regan with the aid of Lothar and they rush to the station. The magician makes it to the control room just as the Wasp targets it. As the building collapses around them, Mandrake and Betty are trapped in the control room with no way out.

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With three chapters down and nine more to go it’s obvious that the writers are going to be content to keep things ticking over, and that it’s likely to be some time before the storyline is advanced any further from where it is now. It seems that as long as Mandrake gets into at least a couple of punch-ups, and there’s a car chase that takes place outside the city on predictably deserted roads then all’s well and good. And yet, in a strange way, it is good. Already, watching each chapter is like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. And Hull has a deceptive charm about him that makes Mandrake’s cock-sure sincerity as pleasing to watch as it must have been to play.

There are some strange moments to be found, though. The main one is the Wasp’s decision to lure Betty to the radio station in order to kill her. There’s no attempt by the Wasp to put pressure on her father by threatening to do all this – the Wasp just does it (and with no preamble). And having the man with the blowdart clambering around on the ledge outside  Mandrake’s upper-storey apartment proves laughable rather than thrilling (and lucky for him that Mandrake always keeps a window open). Other questions remain: how long will it be before the transmitter is found, and when Betty and Mandrake escape from the collapsing radio station, will it be with barely a scuff mark between them? Stay tuned, folks, to find out!

Rating: 5/10 – a little more encouraging, though still keeping things in a holding pattern, Chapter 3: A City of Terror is another engaging episode full of unlikely twists and turns and crazy developments; worth watching if only for the “brilliant” scene where Mandrake outlines his plans to his male associates, while the lone woman (Betty) says nothing and is left to play with a pencil.

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