By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 693
Chris Jennings bemoans his culpability for Sabrina’s catatonia, deciding that he must again flee his home. Part man, part wolf, driven by forces he cannot control, Chris Jennings is a soul in need. Sensing this, a lone figure emerges from the drawing room. The figure may not know the details, but he knows when a tortured innocent needs help. Chris departs before learning just how powerful an ally the figure is, but Julia Hoffman understands. She approaches the figure with equal parts human relief and feminine arousal. The figure smiles with a tight confidence, all too used to such attention. He is a strutting stag of a man, with the body of a Greek god, the mind of a Mozart, and the heart of a lion. He removes his monocle and surveys a Collinwood possessed by the restless dead, knowing only one thing; evil will fall. He’ll see to it. The figure’s name? T. Eliot Stokes. His profession? Legend, and tonight… exorcist.
Stokes quickly deduces that David is secreted behind a panel in the drawing room and brings him out. Just as swiftly, the Professor leads David to confess that he is becoming possessed by Quentin Collins. In the garden, Chris attempts to leave, with Carolyn becoming distraught. Julia later explains that he has to stay for Amy’s sake. As a storm rages, electricity runs amok, and Quentin’s song saws away mockingly, Stokes, fearless and undaunted, performs a powerful exorcism. The house, it seems, is clean. Later, however, the jealous and cowardly ghost of Quentin Collins, furiously envious of the first real man he’s probably ever encountered, attempts to mock said man -- T. Eliot Stokes. The professor casually smokes a cigarette, cocking an eyebrow insouciantly, unimpressed at the laughing specter in the mirror, even as the room he’s in lights ablaze.
He’s seen worse.
For all of my strange fixation on Professor Stokes, Thayer David claims this episode like few other actors have on the show. Both the character and actor have continents of range, and that range is explored with precision and confidence. As theatre of the occult, 693 is as shameless as the above synopsis (which I imagine was written by Stokes) and goes the limit to thrill the viewers. It contains one of the show’s iconic images, as well, as Stokes faces down a laughing Quentin Collins in the mirror. Thayer David’s committed and delightful work on the episode seems to intensify everyone. David Henesy’s pained confession has a fantastic sense of heart, and Don Briscoe’s articulate “angry young manwolf” is particularly edgy in this one. Although the Quentin story had been intriguing up to this point, I think this episode is what introduces the apocalyptic power and sense of zest that is swiftly coming to the series with the 1897 story.
Speaking of zesty and over the top entertainment, Dean Martin’s superspy film, THE WRECKING CREW, was a hit in theaters at this time. His Matt Helm series has (almost) nothing to do with the books, and are a scream. Nigel Greene, who played the greatest Hercules ever (in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), is the villain, a man who says “shhhhedule” a lot. You got both Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate on hand. A helicopter lives in Matt’s car trunk. And look, there’s Chuck Norris!