Series 1 — Episode 21
The Far Distant Dead
by John Lucarotti
Production No 3418, VTR unknown
Production completed: August 14 1961. First transmission: August 19 1961.
TV Times summary
A cyclone and a tin of cooking oil lead Dr Keel and a beautiful Mexican woman to a mass murder
The following episode summary is written from the published synopses, other previously published material and Leonard White’s scrapbook of notes and Tele-Snaps as this episode is now lost. There may have been changes made during filming. I have made a few assumptions, marked with footnotes, to try to explain gaps and plot holes. My breaks in the acts are based on when significant cliff-hanger events or changes of location happen and may not be completely accurate.
When a cyclone ravages Mexico, Dr Keel and Dr Sandoval travel to the region to treat the victims. They discover some people have died because donated cooking oil turns out to be hydraulic fluid in the wrong tins to avoid import duties. The two doctors track down the origin of the cans and discover that a French financier called Zeebrugge was responsible for the deal. Dr Sandoval tries to kill the financier, but Keel prefers to make an arrest.
PrologueIn his crowded, ramshackle shanty, a lobster fisherman (Bob Raymond) prepares his evening meal. He stirs the meat sizzling in a pan of oil then sips the juices to test the seasoning. A moment later he gasps and clutches his stomach; he collapses, writhing in pain at the burning sensation coursing through his body, and dies on the dirt floor of his shack.
A tropical cyclone smashes into the Gulf coast of Mexico, devastating the state of Veracruz and destroying roads and buildings in the capital of Xalapa-Enríquez and the villages along the coast to Heroica Veracruz. Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), travelling back to England from Chile, arrives in Mexico City and learns of the disaster, so travels to Xalapa-Enríquez to offer his services. In the Veracruz capital, 1 he visits the police chief, Luis Garcia (Reed de Rouen) who shows him a map of the affected areas and suggests a safe route to take to reach Veracruz and the surrounding villages. Another doctor has also arrived in Xalapa-Enríquez, a Mexican doctor by the name of Dr Ampara Alverez Sandoval (Katherine Blake). They strike up a friendship after Dr Keel offers her a cigarette 2 and they decide to travel to the villages together and see what help they can provide. Dr Sandoval is anxious to assist as so many of her fellow Mexicans are sick and injured; with the reports of some people dying in agony 3 she fears the next stage when disease will take hold and spread through the population with the lack of proper sanitation.
They make the precarious journey, skirting roads torn apart by mud slides 4 and devastated fields and villages, finally arriving in a small coastal fishing village where a makeshift emergency hospital is being built. The two doctors pitch in and help set up the medical tents and organise their equipment. Doing their rounds, they find a villager who has been brought in otherwise uninjured but displaying signs of abdominal pain and diarrhoea. He dies as Dr Keel is examining him. He’s not the first death like this 3 and, fearing an outbreak of dysentery - or worse still, cholera - they test samples from the dead villagers and are stunned to find they were suffering from food poisoning. They quickly test the cans and tins that had been delivered in the relief effort for the village and find that the cooking oil that had been flown in as part of the aid is in fact hydraulic fluid. Being a mineral oil rather than vegetable, it is poisonous and will do more harm than good.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a tall, thick-set businessman and art collector,Hercule Zeebrugge (Francis de Wolff), stands in his office which is profusely decorated by expensive art works. He asks his assistant Rayner (Tom Adams) if he has located their missing consignment yet. Rayner makes some telephone calls as he examines a large world map painted on a glass partition. 5 Thinking his field agent has located it, he passes the phone to his employer, who puffs heavily on a cigar as he listens to bad news about his consignment from his agent in Mexico. He orders his agent to keep a close eye on developments and stop anyone who discovers the truth... 6
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Dr Keel orders all the oil be collected to protect the villagers, then he and Dr Sandoval return to Xalapa-Enríquez to find out more about the oil. They visit Chief Garcia, who has brought in the warehouse manager Godoy (Andreas Malandrinos) for questioning. Godoy admits that he donated the oil but he didn’t know it was poisonous. It was a consignment of tin marked as cooking oil that had been sitting in his warehouse for a long time, unclaimed by an importer he’d never met. When the disaster struck, he thought it best to donate the oil and now wishes he’d never seen it. Realising Godoy is genuinely distraught to have caused more misery, Dr Keel goes to talk to Garcia, unaware that a reporter, Mateos (Michael Mellinger) - actually the field agent of the businessman - has been eavesdropping on the questioning and taking photographs of Keel and Godoy. Garcia and his sergeant are also convinced of Godoy’s innocence and the old man is let go.
Keel returns to his hotel to freshen up and finds a note has been slipped under his door, 7 telling him that two years earlier 8 a fisherman in another village nearby died in the same way. Keel rushes back to Garcia with this information but the police chief laughs off the suggestion, saying that investigation showed nothing of the sort. Nonetheless, he provides Dr Keel with directions to the fisherman’s house. Dr Keel 9 travels back to Veracruz and finds the shanty, where he talks with the fisherman’s widow. She is aghast when Dr Keel tells her about the deaths similar to her husband’s and confesses that her husband had stolen a tin of the tainted oil from the tramp steamer that delivered them to Veracruz. He was killed when he used it and she threw it away, afraid that she would be arrested for the theft. 10
Dr Keel visits the shipping company and finds a shipping manifest for the steamer that shows the oil had come from Marseilles. He returns to Garcia’s police station to show him the manifest and once again Mateos is eavesdropping on everything they discuss. Mateos rushes off to contact his boss when he hears Dr Keel and Dr Sandoval announce that they will travel to France to track down the source of the poisonous oil and stop it from killing any more people, much to the astonishment of Garcia 11 who thinks they could do more good by staying in Veracruz.
The two doctors travel to France and when they arrive in Marseilles they visit Inspector Gavreau (Guy Deghy) of the local police to show him the incriminating manifest. Gavreau is concerned that France could be the source of an international mass murder and searches his files but turns up nothing other than an investigation into a customs clerk who has been taking bribes to turn a blind eye to false reporting. The investigation petered out due to lack of evidence but it’s the only lead he can offer. When they leave the police station, they fail to notice the businessman’s assistant, Rayner, across the street in a public telephone box. He tells his boss they’ve seen Gavreau and follows them to a sordid hotel near the port. Inside, they find the corrupt clerk, Caron (Peter Hughes) drunk and asleep on his bed. 12 They shake him awake and wave the shipping manifest at him but he refuses to talk, staring at them insolently. Outside in the corridor, Rayner creeps up to Caron’s room, his pistol at the ready...
Tiring of being bullied by Dr Keel, Caron suddenly pulls a gun on them but Dr Keel easily disarms him. Keel then threatens him with his own pistol unless he tells them who was behind the fraudulent export of hydraulic oil. He manages to say “The oil came from Zeebrugge” before Rayner’s pistol cracks and he falls dead before them, Rayner making his escape before they realise what’s happened. 13 Inspector Gavreau and his men arrive at the hotel and things initially look bad for Dr Keel as Caron’s gun uses the same bullets he was killed with. The Inspector, however, trusts the doctors because of their previous meeting. When Dr Keel tells him Caron suggested the oil came from Zeebrugge and they intend to follow the trail to Belgium, he tells them there is a local entrepreneur called Hercule Zeebrugge who would be a more likely candidate.
Dr Sandoval is shaken by their experience and says she cannot chase the trail any longer; she intends to return to Mexico. However, as she leaves the hotel room, she surreptitiously pockets Caron’s pistol. 14 Rayner return to his boss - now revealed to be the financier Zeebrugge - and reports that Caron is dead. Dr Keel meanwhile makes some calls as he and Inspector Gavreau plan their visit to confront Zeebrugge. A while later, Dr Keel realises that Caron’s gun has gone missing and he sets off for the chateau with Gavreau and some of his gendarmes in his tow.
Dr Sandoval has already arrived at Zeebrugge’s mansion and enters Zeebrugge’s office cum art gallery by the French doors. Zeebrugge greets her, unaware of the danger she possesses, and tells Rayner to go outside to make sure they are not disturbed. She tells him she knows that his greed caused the death of many of her compatriots and pulls out Caron’s gun, saying he must pay for his crimes. Zeebrugge backs away, saying he never meant anyone to be killed by the oil, he was just trying to avoid paying taxes by hiding it in tins of cheap oil. 15 He offers her any of the priceless artworks in his house as atonement but she refuses.
Dr Keel meanwhile has wrestled his way past Rayner at the main gate and made his way up to the house. Ampara turns the gun on Keel as he enters the room but he resolutely walks towards her and grabs both her hands, disarming her in the process. He promises her that justice will be done, but not her way. In despair at having nearly taken a life herself in her anger, she turns, grabbing a gold cherub which she uses to smash one of Zeebrugge’s modernist sculptures. This makes the previously emotionless businessman sob in dismay - his artworks are more valuable to him than human life.
Justice is indeed swiftly done as Gavreau’s gendarmes enter the room and arrest Zeebrugge. The tax-dodging businessman is led away with his murderous assistant as Dr Keel hands Caron’s gun to one of the policemen.
- Some synopses have Luis Garcia being the police chief in ‘Vera Cruz’ but The Avengers by Dave Rogers (ITV Books/Michael Joseph 1984 paperback reprint, p. 21), based on original paperwork, states “En route, [Keel] meets a young Mexican woman doctor who is also going to help the disaster victims. Keel and the woman soon decide to continue their journey together.” As the Tele-Snaps show Dr Sandoval meeting Dr Keel in Garcia’s police station, this suggests to me that Chief Garcia is the police chief in the inland capital city of Veracruz, Xalapa-Enríquez, rather than the seaport of Heroica Veracruz. ⭮
- Doctors in the Sixties, huh? Dr Keel also offered Carol a cigarette to “calm her nerves” in Girl on the Trapeze and it nearly killed her. ⭮
- To explain the end of the episode, there must have been more than two deaths related to the mis-labelled oil. The TV Times summary refers to “a mass murder”. ⭮
- One of the Tele-Snaps is somewhat wasted on a shot of a road with huge cracks in it. ⭮
- This map is striking similar to the glass map used in Dead on Course and was probably the same prop. ⭮
- I am taking artistic licence here; the villainous boss may not have told his agent to stop anyone who gets too close but it makes a more dramatic cliff-hanger. ⭮
- This section is not supported by the Tele-Snaps, which seem to show Garcia simply telling Dr Keel about the dead fisherman. However, all other synopses agree on the hotel room anonymous letter narrative so I have used it here. ⭮
- Thank you to The Avengers by Dave Rogers (ITV Books/Michael Joseph 1984 paperback reprint, p. 21) for providing the timeframe. ⭮
- Dave Rogers’ synopsis says that both Dr Keel and Dr Sandoval visited the widow but the Tele-Snaps only show Dr Keel and the widow in the scenes in question. ⭮
- This is supposition on my part, she seems genuinely distressed and regretful in the Tele-Snaps, so I am assuming she covered up the theft of the oil. If she had told the police about the poisoning at the time, it might have been investigated two years earlier. ⭮
- And, presumably, the viewers at home. Yes, this is an adventure series but this is a very long bow to pull. ⭮
- McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes in Two Against the Underworld (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, p. 384) suggest that Caron breaks in to Ampara’s hotel room to steal the manifest from her bag. They based their assertion on a blurry Tele-Snap which shows Dr Sandoval grabbing Caron’s arm as it lies across a bed. ⭮
- There’s no Tele-Snap showing Caron being shot but there is a publicity still that suggests he may be dead. It would certainly explain why he couldn’t elaborate on what he meant by “Zeebrugge” or they couldn’t interrogate him further. ⭮
- This is not supported by pictorial evidence but where else would she have obtained the gun? ⭮
- McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes make a similar reason for the deliberately mis-labelled oil in Two Against the Underworld (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, pp. 385 & 387). ⭮