by Benjamin Pollack
Featuring: James, I.Q., Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Trevor, Mr Milbanks, Coach Mitchell, Dr Derange, Skullcap.
Synopsis: Somewhere near Warfield, top British defence expert Bernard Chaplan is out walking his dog one day, when Skullcap and a band of henchmen leap out of a van and begin to pursue him. As they approach, Chaplan opens a secret compartment in his suitcase, from which he takes a small capsule and tucks it into his dog's collar - before telling the dog to run away. As the crooks abduct Chaplan, James, who is out riding his bicycle, almost crashes into the dog, and instead ends up head first in a pile of garbage. As the crooks' van drives past, the villains fire lasers at James, but miss. His bike wrecked, James opts to walk back to Warfield - but the dog follows him. He gets back just in time to hear Milbanks (who has been tipped off by Trevor) telling the guards to activate the electrical fence, so that James can't sneak back into school grounds. Trevor begins sneezing, as he's allergic to animals, but can't see the dog as it's on the other side of the wall.
Despite James's best efforts to get the dog to go away, it simply sits there and pines. James uses one of I.Q.'s gadgets to temporarily neutralise the electric fence and climb over - but drops the gizmo as he does so. Helpfully, the dog picks up the remote in its mouth and passes it to James, preventing James from breaking the alarm system and from getting in trouble with Milbanks should the remote be found by the guards. But he leaves the dog outside, as pets are strictly not allowed at Warfield. Back in the dorms, James rejoins a puzzled Gordo and I.Q., who are wondering who might have attacked James. At that moment, Phoebe and Tracy come in; they've found the dog hanging around outside the Academy. It leaps on James, licking him all over. Though the others have already begun to fall for the dog, and even name him Charlie, James is adamant he can't stay - until I.Q. suggests Charlie may have something to do with the attack. James agrees he can stay temporarily to help them investigate, but he's soon putting them under pressure, as Trevor's allergy is beginning to make him suspicious.
The situation takes a turn for the worse when Charlie escapes the dorms and leaps on an increasingly hostile James in the canteen, in full view of Milbanks. As James explains what happened to Coach Mitchell, the teacher says he's heard that Bernard Chaplan was kidnapped around the same area, and the same time, as James was shot at. James spots the capsule under the dog's collar and realises it's microfilm. They rush to see what's on it. Meanwhile, in the London Underground, Dr Derange has Mr Chaplan tied up at a junction between two tube lines, trying to force him to tell them where the other half of the microfilm is (Chaplan had one half). Derange threatens to involve Chaplan's family if he doesn't talk. Back in the vicinity of Warfield, James has found that the microfilm contains security plans for Scotland Yard - so he, Gordo and I.Q. have come back to the site of the kidnap to investigate.
As Charlie begins to sniff out a trail, he soon accosts a woman in the street who's just bought an ice-cream. Assuming it's because he's hungry, James apologises for the dog and introduces himself. Her name is Heather - and as James and the boys rush off again to follow Charlie, she takes a walkie-talkie from her bag and reports to an unseen contact that she's 'spotted the dog, and he's with young Bond'. Shortly afterwards, Charlie leads the gang to the very same van that fired lasers at James the other day; and Skullcap and his goons leap out, capturing the dog in a net, and driving off with him. Luckily, I.Q. has put a homing device on the dog's collar, and they pursue in James's car, following the signal. One of Skullcap's henchmen tries to stop James by pouring tacks on the road, followed by blue paint on the windscreen. The magnetic vacuum and windscreen washer functions put paid to those respectively, but the crooks gain a lead and escape. Back at Warfield, Trevor listens in as James contacts his friends on the radio, and resolves to tell Milbanks. But when the headmaster arrives on the scene, he's more interested in why Trevor isn't in maths class!
The gang follows Charlie's signal into London, but watch with horror as the van they're chasing clears an opening bridge, leaving them stuck on the wrong side of the river. They lose the homing signal temporarily, but fortunately regain it soon after. Meanwhile, Skullcap calls Derange and tells him they have the dog, but the microfilm has gone. Derange tells him to release the dog, then explains his plan to Mr Chaplan using a scale model. Using the plans from the microfilm, Derange wants to break into Scotland Yard and destroy it with an 'acid bomb'. Back on the surface, James, Gordo and I.Q. catch up with the van - but only find Charlie's collar there, with the homing device still intact. Charlie soon shows up again, though, slobbering all over James, who's still petending he isn't glad to see him. As they explore a nearby train yard, Charlie spots a dark figure with sunglasses running down into the underground, and the gang follows his lead. Heather is watching them, and tells her unseen associate via walkie-talkie that they've gone into the tube network.
Underground, Charlie hears something in one of the tunnels and runs off into the darkness. The gang follow but come to a junction with three tunnels, and are unsure which one Charlie took. They opt to take the central tunnel, but it soon begins to shake, and a cave-in occurs, blocking their path ahead. A tube train pulls up; it's Skullcap. He takes them aboard, at gunpoint. Back at Warfield, Phoebe, Tracy and Coach Mitchell are worried about James, as he hasn't reported in on the radio. Mitchell resolves to call the police, as under London, Dr Derange demands to know where the microfilm is. James denies all knowledge, and the trio are locked in a rail carriage until they decide to cooperate. Inside they find an incarcerated Bernard Chaplan, who explains what Derange is planning to do. James uses I.Q.'s hologram ring to project an image of himself outside the carriage to fool the S.C.U.M. guards, then uses another device to release the carriage's brakes, so it begins to move.
The carriage blasts through a bricked-up tunnel, causing a hole to be ripped in its underside. As James, Chaplan and the others escape, the police turn up to arrest Dr Derange and his henchmen. Derange decides that if he can't use his acid to melt Scotland Yard, he'll use it to melt James and his friends. But just as he's about to throw a container of it over them, Charlie turns up and leaps at Derange, knocking the jar from his hands where it smashes harmlessly on the floor. As Derange escapes with Skullcap and the police round up the other S.C.U.M. agents, we learn that Charlie's real name is Regis - and that Heather, who has been following James, is none other than Chaplan's daughter, explaining why the dog recognised her earlier. Back at Warfield, Heather explains she's also an undercover police officer, and was using her walkie to radio colleagues for backup. James, who has finally admitted his fondness for the dog, says a sad farewell to Charlie/Regis, who leaps on him once again.
Review: A bit of a mixed bag of an episode, this. Generally speaking, the plot is fairly dire; on S.C.U.M.'s side of things, Derange's plan is insultingly crude and straightforward, and frankly beneath him. He spends most of the episode wandering round posturing with a beaker of bubbling green acid in his hand, and even Skullcap isn't as amusing as usual. That said, this episode isn't really about the villains to the usual extent - at heart it's a character piece about James, and his determination not to become attached to Charlie the dog in the wake of all his friends becoming besotted with the animal. It's not made clear why he doesn't at first want to like (or be seen to like) the dog - but perhaps we can make an educated guess. Maybe as a child he had a cherished pet who was lost or died, and he vowed never to get attached again. Or maybe the malaise runs deeper: perhaps this is simply an extension of James's inability to get too attached to anyone. Look at the string of love interests he's attracted throughout the series; with the semi-exception of Tracy, he never sees any of them again. Look at the absence of his parents - could this have anything to do with his unwillingness to show affection? Indeed, his uncaring attitude towards the dog at first is somewhat reminiscent of his lack of care for his own safety in the previous episode Never Lose Hope - not surprising perhaps, as both very much centre on James's character, and both were written by the same person. In the end, however, he's just about won over - yet just as he accepts his concern for the dog, the animal's owner takes him away again. So in conclusion, while this episode's very much below average in terms of plot complexity, it's a good deal more character-complex than usual - and marks James out, despite his popularity at Warfield, as essentially fairly lonely.
Highs: It's interesting to see James's friends all disagreeing with him for once - even if it's about a dog.
Lows: Dr Derange's acid bomb. Since there's more or less no explanation of how he intends to use it to melt the police headquarters, and why he's lurking around in the underground in the interim, it's really rather a redundant device.
Lines to Remember: James, on Trevor's accusation that he has an animal in his room: "The only animals in Warfield are the ones on the rugby team!"
Lines to Forget: Trevor, sneezing: "Okay. Who's got an animal in here?" James: "A what?" Tracy: "A cannibal?" Phoebe: "Now why would we have a cannibal in here?"
Gadgets & Gizmos: I.Q. creates an electronic disruptor which helps James clear Warfield grounds. He also crafts a holographic ring which can project images of James into the air. A doggy homing device, electromagnetic belt buckle and shortwave radio attachment for the watch are also on today's menu. On James's sports car, meanwhile, we see demonstrated a magnetic vacuum for hoovering up tacks.
Buzz Books: Caryn Jenner adapted this episode for the Buzz Books series under the name 'Tunnel of Doom'.
Notes: This is the first of two consecutive episodes to (a) occur in London and (b) feature both Doctor Derange and Skullcap.
Unusually, Trevor overhears a conversation about James's exploits in which Coach Mitchell is a co-conspirator. He doesn't act on what he's heard as regards the teacher, though.
Even more unusually, Coach Mitchell actually shows concern for his pupils' wellbeing - even calling the police when they don't report in over the radio.
Who is the man that Charlie sees entering the underground? He appears to be semi-transparent and wearing dark sunglasses! He certainly isn't Skullcap or Derange, so why would his entry into the underground be of itself suspicious?