'A RACE AGAINST DISASTER'
by Jeffrey Scott
I.Q., Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Trevor, Mr Milbanks, Coach Mitchell,
evening somewhere in the French countryside, world-renowned British
racing driver Miles Prower gets some practice in before the imminent
24-hour Le Mans race. But when his teammates are bound and gagged by
two unsavoury villains called Torque and Lug, Prower is lured straight
into a trap. The crooks steal the team's lorry and drive it in front of
Prower's car, causing him to drive into the back of it - before locking
him inside and hurtling away. Coincidentally, it's a Warfield Academy
tradition to attend the Le Mans race, but only five pupils in the whole
school can go. Trevor engineers his own place by writing his name on
the label of Milbanks' bowler hat before offering to draw the lots
himself. The other lucky pupils are James, I.Q., Gordo and Phoebe -
Tracy begs to be allowed to go too, but to no avail.
Together with Coach Mitchell, the gang travels to France in the
Warfield van - and Trevor sets about collecting autographs of all the
famous racing car drivers, but isn't having much success. But trouble's
afoot when James quickly spots a young lady sobbing in the pit stop
area. It's Miles Prower's daughter, Heather, who's upset that her
father hasn't shown up, and is afraid something awful has happened to
him. At the next garage along, James notices two grease monkeys arguing
- it's Torque and Lug, the men who kidnapped Prower. Soon, Doctor
Derange appears, demanding to know whether his car's ready - it's
Prower's vehicle! Derange plans to enter the race in it, but they can't
figure out why. So James decides he'll pretend to be Prower and enter
the race himself in the team's spare car. Coach Mitchell reluctantly
The race begins and Derange spots James in the line-up. He goes over
his plan over the radio with his henchmen: Derange aims to steal liquid
plutonium from a nuclear reactor site near the race track. He'll then
convene with Torque and Lug at a disused vineyard, where they'll bottle
the plutonium and smuggle it out of France so that Derange can create
his own nuclear reactor. As James pursues him, Derange tries to force
him off the road with an oil slick, tyre-shredders and a smokescreen -
which finally sends James's car plunging off a cliff. Luckily I.Q. has
installed retractable rings in James's car - but they snap off
mid-fall, and he's forced to land on some telephone cables, followed by
the back of a passing cart.
Meanwhile, Derange makes his way to the nuclear plant while James
returns to the pit stop for repairs. They notice Torque and Lug leaving
for the rendezvous point in the lorry, and James and Heather decide to
follow them. Derange arrives at the plant, pretending to crash and
feigning unconsciouness in order to use sleeping gas on the guards.
Blasting through the door, he then gasses everyone inside too, before
pumping the liquid plutonium directly into his fuel tank! James and
Heather tail the goons to an old winery, meanwhile. They find Heather's
father tied and gagged in the basement, and release him. Prower
explains about the nuclear plant where Derange is headed, but they're
interrupted by Torque and Lug who hold them at gunpoint.
The three are put into a wine press by the crooks and left to be
pulverised. But James bursts them out using the inflatable airbag I.Q.
has sewn into his racing suit, then floats outside to where the crooks
are and throws grapes at them. They shoot him down, deflating the suit,
but drop the gun and Heather grabs it. They imprison the goons in the
back of the truck and head to the nuclear facility to confront Derange.
But when they get there Derange makes a break for it, and the doors
seal behind him. The plutonium is reaching a critical state, meaning
the tubes it's housed in are about to blow. Unable to turn the reactor
off, James calls I.Q., who instructs him to retract the control rods -
which averts the crisis. But they're not out of the woods yet: before
leaving, Derange has filled the tank of their lorry with the plutonium
- if it reaches a certain temperature, it will explode.
The gang set off in the truck, rejoining the race. Prower is convinced
the truck won't go over 80 miles per hour, but the liquid plutonium in
the fuel tank means they're soon doing over 200! They catch up with
Derange, and he tries to fire missiles at them but misses, and they
trap him, driving directly over his racing car. Convinced the truck is
about to blow, Derange shrieks - but the finish line approaches as
James wins the race in the truck. Derange somehow escapes from under
the truck, but leaves the car and the rest of the liquid plutonium so
he can't complete his scheme. Trevor approaches Miles Prower, whom he
presumes to be the winner, and asks for his autograph. But when he's
told James has won the race, he's forced to endure an autograph from
his arch-enemy instead!
tortuous chain of logic which leads from Dr Derange's (barely
explained) requirement for liquid plutonium to his subsequent theft of
a racing car and entry into the Le Mans competition appears to have
become hopelessly severed somewhere between the initial glint in the
scriptwriter's eye and the final cut - there appears to be no remotely
credible reasoning for his actions (unless we are to assume that the
nuclear facility is only accessible from the racetrack, which would in
itself make no sense whatsoever). On the contrary, there appear to be
at least two very good reasons for him not to enter the race: firstly,
the fact that Prower's car has miraculously reappeared following his
kidnap would almost certainly put everybody on alert; secondly, the
presumably extensive video coverage of the race would identify the
perpetrator beyond reasonable doubt. Evidently these fairly glaring
plotholes were not deemed large enough to address, although it must be
said that they don't prohibitively distract from an otherwise very
enjoyable episode which is successful largely because of the sustained
action sequences. While characterisation is scant throughout as a
result, Dr Derange is the exception: he plays a blinder, and more than
meets his usual standards of insanity.
Highs: The extent of Dr Derange's
bare-faced cheek in
this episode is highlighted by the fact that he enters the race under
the team name of 'Derange Racing'. Very inconspicuous.
rather offputting habit of summarising the progress of his crimes for
(understandably confused) viewers by talking to himself goes a bit too
far in this story, as he helpfully provides something tantamount to a
complete director's commentary - and we're still none the wiser as a
Lines to Remember: Derange,
to his grease monkeys, after seeing James: 'We've got an
unexpected entry in the race! Did you load my car with the optional
extras?' Lug: 'Sure did, boss. Infrared
missiles, tyre shredders, AM/FM stereo...'
Derange to James: 'If you're not willing to
quit the road race, I'll have to eliminate you from the human
Lines to Forget: James,
as the wine press descends on him, Heather and Prower: 'I
believe we've got a very pressing engagement.'
Gadgets & Gizmos: I.Q.
modifies the spare racing car to include an auxiliary jet for enhanced
speed, and retractable wings; but Derange's car takes the cake, with an
oil slick function, missiles and tyre-shredders. There's also an airbag
sewn into James's racing suit.
S.C.U.M. on the Surface: There's
no specific mention of the organisation in this episode.
Loco Parenthesis: 'You're definitely going to be
voted Most Likely to Succeed, James,' quips Coach Mitchell,
you live to graduate.' Well, if he does
live to graduate, it will be no thanks to Mitchell, that's for
VHS Vault: A Race Against Disaster
featured on a three-episode VHS release for the UK, alongside The
Beginning and Red Star One - as well
as on a standalone release in the US.
Sticker Story: Retitled
'A Crushing Victory', this episode was among those adapted for use in the
Merlin sticker album.
This is only Derange's second appearance in the show, and his first
without Skullcap as accomplice. Both villains would appear in the
following episode, however.