Jason King: A Deadly Line in Digits (1971)
Country: United Kingdom
Director: Jeremy Summers
Starring: Peter Wyngarde, Donald Houston, Dennis Price, Joanna Jones, Freddie Jones, Ronald Lacey
Music: Laurie Johnson

I find the Jason King television series to be a big step down from Department S, with too much time showing Jason King being, well Jason King, rather than solving crime. But having said that there is still a lot to enjoy in the series. A Deadly Line in Digits is the fourth episode in the series, and I would suggest it just sneaks in to the COBRAS ‘Man vs Machine’ Roundtable. Jason King doesn’t take on a Super Computer – he takes on a band on villains who use a Super Computer to plan and execute perfect crimes. But here’s the rub – these villains don’t even have their own Super Computer! They tap into Scotland Yard’s computer and use it to plan their crimes. How cheeky is that?

The episode starts with Jason holidaying in the Swiss Alps – recovering from what he describes as physical exhaustion. Despite his weakened condition, this doesn’t stop him from hitting the slopes. Waiting at the bottom of the run at the chalet are two hot looking birds – naturally – and one not so hot looking guy. This weedy fellow is named Rylands (Ronald Lacey), and he works for the Secret Service. He tries to convince Jason to do a job for him. Jason isn’t interested.

Later that evening, at a psychedelic dance club, called the Bird Cage, Rylands once again tries to convince Jason to take on this new, top secret mission. Once again, Jason refuses.

On the following day, Jason flies to London to meet with his publisher. Due to Britain’s crippling tax laws, Jason can only stay in the country for thirty-six hours. During his visit he is picked up by the Inland Revenue Department and held past the thirty-six hours, which means he can now be prosecuted for tax evasion. The Inland Revenue Department’s officer in charge of the case is Mr. Quirly (Freddie Jones), which Jason pronounces as ‘Queerly’. Quirly suggests that Jason owes a quarter of a million pounds in back taxes…or, he can instead participate in a mission for the Secret Service.

Jason isn’t happy about being blackmailed but has little choice. The head of the Secret Service, Sir Brian (Dennis Price) explains that recently four robberies have been committed with clockwork precision. Every agent that has so far taken on the mission to find out who is behind the robberies has come to a sticky end. Sir Brian believes that whoever is committing these crimes is tapping into Scotland Yard’s super-computer, and as all the police, CID, Special Branch and even British Intelligence operatives have had their details entered in to the computer, the men selected to combat the criminals activities have been ineffective.

That’s where Jason King comes in. He predates the computer system. As a free agent, no longer working for Department S, he is the perfect man to investigate these crimes. In today’s parlance you would say he is ‘off the grid’.

To solve the crime, Jason poses as a notorious Bulgarian criminal in order to draw the criminals in, which of course gives Wyngarde the opportunity to wear a false beard an adopt an outrageous European accent. It’s the kind of over-the-top flamboyance we have come to expect from Wyngarde and his character Jason King. And of course, it is extremely entertaining.

As Jason King is loosely (very loosely) based on Ian Fleming, it is not surprising that there are a few not-so-subtle Bond in-jokes during the episode. Firstly, Jason picks up a paperback copy of Goldfinger that the chief programmer, Julia Marsh (Joanna Jones) has been reading, and asks her if she has ‘read any good books lately’. Then later, he shows her his still active (?) high security clearance pass, which he assures her ‘could even get 007’s licence to kill revoked’. For a free agent, Jason still seems to wield quite a bit of power!

As the computer is controlled by a band on criminals, Jason doesn’t really have to battle a computer, but ingratiate himself with the criminal underworld and work his way along the chain until he gets to the man behind the scheme. I won’t tell you who it is, but as you watch the episode, if you don’t guess straight away, you’re not really paying attention.

A Deadly Line in Digits is a fine episode in the Jason King series. The series does have a few dud episodes, but this one has all the traits that made Jason King so popular in the first place, and Wyngarde appears to be having a ball with the over the top theatrics.

As this is a COBRAS roundtable, it would be remiss of me to mention some of my fellow COBRAS articles on Man Vs Machine. Firstly, Wes Britton has fascinating article about the history of “Spy-Fi” in film and literature on the Spy Wise Blog. To read more click here.

Next Armstrong at Mister 8 has taken a look at Johnny Quest and in particular the episode ‘The Robot Spy’. For more, click here.

At Spy Vibe, Jason has posted an article entitled Robots are Forever which looks at the evolution of the robot. To read more click here.

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