• title card: white text reading ‘Dead On Course’ superimposed on the burning wreck of an aeroplane
  • Steed talks to Dr King, who is gazing at the see-through air controller’s map that is between the camera and them. He taps his chin with some papers
  • Sister Isobel keeps a vigil by Margot’s bedside
  • Deidre in close-up, being questioned by Steed (off-screen)
  • Dr King finds molotov cocktails in the crate of holy wine that Vincent opens for him
  • The Mother Superior fires a hail of bullets from her submachinegun up the ladder

Series 2 — Episode 14
Dead on Course

Teleplay by Eric Paice
Directed by Richmond Harding

Production completed: 26 May 1962. First transmission: 29 December 1962

TV Times summary

A mysterious plane crash takes Steed to a remote convent where he has one of the strangest adventures of his career

Plot summary

When a plane mysteriously crashes on the Irish coast, Steed investigates the loss of some on-board currency. Dr King examines the dead and discovers that the hostess is still alive, but she is murdered, apparently by a nun, before she can reveal anything. Dr Kings discovers the Mother Superior is a stranger and in cahoots with the ringleader, Vincent, who pretends to be a simple peasant. Another crash is successfully averted by substituting the incoming flight with one which has Vincent on board.

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

A pilot (Trevor Reid) approaching Shamrock Airport is contacted by ground control just after he’s told the stewardess, Margot (Margo Jenkins), they’re twenty minutes from touch-down. He is advised of heavy fog and is offered ground assistance. Bob Slade (Bruce Boa), the co-pilot, says ground control must know better than they, and they home in on the landing beacon. They’re told they are above the flight path and must descend as they are nearing touchdown. To the pilot’s horror, the fog bank is a headland and they crash.

Act 1

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) visits Freedman (John McLaren), the Irish airline manager, and finds that the crash occurred on a headland 20 miles north of the flight path. Freedman says the pilot was very experienced and ought to have contacted control if he were in trouble.

Dr Martin King (Jon Rollason) is shown in by Deidre O’Connor (Elisabeth Murray) and Steed tells him the plane crashed in a remote area inhabited only by a convent of nuns. Dr King asks why it’s special enough to get Steed out of bed at 3am and is told the same airline lost a plane within five miles of the crash three months ago. Steed asks him to examine the victims as the local doctor was concerned about the cause of death and Martin sets off.

Dr King arrives at St Mary’s Convent, Ballynock where Sister Isobel (Janet Hargreaves) answers the door but doesn’t answer when he speaks to her. The Mother Superior (Peggy Marshall) enters and explains they’re a silent order except for herself.

King examines a body lying on a gurney and the Mother Superior tells him that while they were close to the crash they were too late to save any lives. Two ambulance men bring in Margot on a stretcher, saying she was some way away from the main site. King orders her taken near the fireplace, as she’s still alive. One of the men says she must have escaped before the plane exploded and asks if they should take her on to Shamrock, but Dr King decides she would be better off in the warm convent.

AMBULANCE MAN: Then as soon as you’re finished we’ll carry on searching for the other one, sir.
KING: What other one?
AMBULANCE MAN: The co-pilot. Sure, we had an identity check this morning and found two of the crew were missing. We’re still looking for the other one.

Freedman takes Steed to see Hughes (Nigel Arkwright), an aeronautical researcher, and discovers the fire was further back and hotter than would be normal. Steed asks for the cargo manifest and then the box containing the consignment of £250,000 from the Canadian Bank. The box is badly burnt and the notes inside charred - but there’s only £500. Freedman says it’s all they found, the rest must have burnt - “And left no ash?” asks Steed.

Meanwhile, Dr King arrives at the Ballynock Inn. The landlord, Michael Joyce (Liam Gaffney), tells his simple assistant Vincent O’Brien (Donal Donnelly) to take Dr King’s bags while he puts through a call to Shamrock for the doctor; Vincent tells Dr King he lives only a mile from the convent and saw the crash - he ran all the way to the village to raise the alarm and adds he could tell him some queer things about it. Joyce calls King to the phone and warns him not to believe all that Vincent says.

Martin tells Steed the air hostess has been found and is still alive.

KING: (DISTORT) No, she’s unconscious. She may not come round for several hours —
STEED: (INTERRUPTING) I’m counting on you to keep her alive.
KING: (DISTORT) Oh, thanks for reminding me!

Dr King adds that the co-pilot missing but the call is briefly interrupted when Gerry (Edward Kelsey) patches himself in at the switchboard - Gerry hears Steed will be joining King at the convent in two hours and makes a call to relay what he’s just heard.

Steed arrives at the convent and is let in by a man disguised as a nun (Wilfred Grove). Dr King tells him that Margot still can’t be moved then leads Steed out, not wanting to talk in front of Sister Isobel. He tells Steed most of the victims died on impact when the plane hit the ground, two from shock, the rest from concussion, burns and asphyxiation. The crew, who landed on softer ground are a different story: the wireless operator died from concussion, the co-pilot is missing, and the pilot was strangled!1

Act 2

The next morning, Dr King finds Steed having breakfast at the pub and Vincent serves them Irish coffees, laced with spirits. Deidre arrives from Shamrock, saying she heard Margot was still alive. King agrees to take her to the convent but Steed pulls him back and tells him yesterday’s phone call was tapped - Martin tells him he should talk to Vincent. Vincent returns and Steed tips him, telling him to have a drink without the coffee. Vincent conspiratorially tells him to meet him in the cellar in half an hour and they’ll share a whiskey.

Dr King and Deidre arrive at the convent and discover that Margot’s improving under Isobel’s care. Deidre says she’d flown with the pilot a few times, but not Slade - she met him a few times but doesn’t really know him that well. She asks if his body has been found which makes King suspicious of her but she says goes on to say she assumed he was dead as he was missing - and the Garda stopped her car, looking for him.

Deidre asks if the police have searched the convent and the Mother Superior enters, saying the Garda are not allowed in. She assures them she’s searched the convent herself, and invites Deidre to join her in prayers for Margot. King heads back to the village, asking Isobel to write down anything Margot says if she regains consciousness.

Meanwhile, in the cellar, Vincent repeats his crash story to Steed and adds that Mr Joyce told him to stay at the pub for the rescue workers.

VINCENT: So I stayed here till after the feller came.
STEED: What fellow?
VINCENT: Well, now sir, I promised Michael Joyce on my mother’s grave I – I’d not say a word about this.
STEED: On your mother’s grave?
VINCENT: Yes!
STEED: How much will it take to break a promise?
(HOLDS OUT A FOLDED BANK NOTE)
VINCENT: Well, now sir, seeing as how me mother isn’t actually dead yet – but I couldn’t take all that sir.

Vincent says a young man in an airman’s uniform came to the inn and gave Joyce a lot of money then asked the way to Dublin - Steed is openly sceptical and laughs in Vincent’s face, asking if he is sure he isn’t making it all up. Joyce comes looking for Vincent and Steed intercepts him, making Vincent mutter, “a very clever fellow indeed.”

Steed returns to Shamrock and tells Freedman to make the details of the next money flight widely known and asks him to summon Deidre. Steed tells her that he knows she married Slade eleven months ago in Manitoba and mentions the missing money but Deidre swears Bob would never do a thing like that.

After she leaves, Steed asks Freedman to have Deidre followed and he hands Steed an envelope - inside is one of the stolen notes, which had been tendered in the airport. He asks Freedman to see if they can find out where while he phones Ballynock. Vincent answers - Dr King has returned to the convent - and Steed tells him to make sure King stays there until he arrives. Gerry overhears again and tells someone not to take any more chances.

At the convent, Margot has come to. She tells King she remembers entering the cabin just before the crash and waking after the crash. She’s about to make a revelation when the Mother Superior enters and tells him Steed has arrived, but men are forbidden inside the convent except for medical reasons. Margot passes out again so Martin asks Isobel to keep her relaxed until he returns. He leaves and a nun sneaks into the cell and strangles Margot with a twisted cord belt.

Act 3

Steed tells Dr King to contact Vincent after the body is removed. The Mother Superior enters and tells them that Isobel had left Margot’s side to fetch her some water and Margot was killed while she was away. Steed wants to search the convent for the killer, and says he’ll have the Garda surround the building. She tells him no Irish policeman would enter a convent unbidden.

Deidre meanwhile rings the Ballynock exchange and tells Gerry she wants the convent - he says there’s no line but she quotes the number 42320. She asks to “attend evening mass” at 10:15.

A short time later, Steed plays a tape of the call to Freedman, who confirms that the money flight is crossing the Irish coast at 10:15pm. Freed man wants to pull her in but Steed asks him to hold off until they have better evidence. A woman from a cigarette kiosk (Mollie Maureen) is sent in and tells them that it was Steed who tendered the stolen note.

WOMAN: If I remember rightly, it was that gentleman there.
FREEDMAN: You! Where did you get hold of one of these pound notes?
STEED: I can’t imagine ... I must have picked it up in a pub somewhere ...

At Ballynock, King asks for a soda water and Joyce tells him to go to the cellar, where Vincent is supposed to be fetching some. Vincent tells King that he’s checked everything except the crate of holy wine for the convent - “They have a special arrangement with Michael Joyce”. They open it and King discovers soda siphons inside - filled with petrol, miniature flamethrowers which would burn out a plane in five minutes. King tells Vincent to drive to Shamrock and tell Steed what they’ve found, while he stays and has a word with someone. Vincent leaves and King finds a nun’s habit in the crate as well.

Gerry meanwhile rings someone to say that tonight is dangerous because of the doctor snooping around the pub but they’ll make it the last and then clear out. At the airport, Steed thanks Vincent, who says he won’t return to Ballynock, “not if I had half the Irish army along with me”. He asks if his roll of cash is enough to get him to his brother in America. Steed tells him it’s not enough and he’s crestfallen - but Freedman agrees to cover the passage to Montreal and they’ll send him on from there.

Vincent asks to go straight away - and has packed a bag with his few possessions. Steed looks at him sharply, and asks Freedman when the next flight is. Steed raises the question of a passport, and Vincent produces one he’d got twelve months beforehand.

Vincent leaves to go and have a meal and Steed, now very suspicious of Vincent, muses he’s not as simple as he looks, then asks Freedman to put Deidre on Vincent’s plane. He adds that the phone number Deidre mentioned doesn’t work - they check the dial of Freedman’s phone to convert it to letters and Freedman realises it’s the call-sign of the incoming 10:15 flight, GCDB0...

At the convent, King convinces Isobel to break her vow of silence and she tells him that most of the sisters and the Mother Superior went to Rome six months ago, the new Mother Superior joined them three days later. At first she kept apart, and seemed to not know the routine of convent life. She also reveals that the Mother Superior asked her to leave Margot’s side. The Mother Superior enters and orders Isobel out, then apprehends King at gunpoint.

Steed and Freedman pilot the ‘Montreal flight’ and at 2210 Steed says it’s time to turn back, telling Freedman the incoming flight had been diverted south ten minutes ago. They take over the scheduled flight’s path and lock in on the homing beacon; Freedman realises they’re on the wrong vector and Steed points out there’s a false beacon in the headland.

They receive a radio transmission from ‘Shamrock Ground Control’ and Freedman knows immediately it’s not Shamrock. He says they’re probably using a low-powered transmitter with a 12 mile range so Shamrock doesn’t hear the transmissions. They accept the talkdown and Gerry is the post office gives them the orders.

Dr King meanwhile is in the belfry with Bob Slade, guarded by the Mother Superior and the man dressed as a nun. Slade tells him it’s just the two of them, plus the man at the post office and the ringleader.

Deidre enters the cabin, wanting to know why they’re landing and Steed says she has forty seconds to tell them anything she knows, but she remains silent. Vincent rushes in and, realising he’s on the flight fated to crash, shouts into Freedman’s microphone for them to stop the talkdown.

Steed wrestles Vincent to the ground and he confesses he’s the ringleader. Joyce is innocent and the money is in his baggage. Steed thought Deidre would crack first and she reveals she’d been forced to act because Bob was being held captive; Margot had supplied the information for the previous flights, but had thought it was for the insurance assessors. Deidre thinks Bob must now be dead, as they said they’d kill him if anything went wrong.

Gerry tells the convent that Vincent must have been double-crossing them. Sister Isobel spots the Mother Superior and nun leaving the belfry and frees the captives before they return. The crooks hear them being freed and the male nun climbs the ladder but is kicked back down by Bob. The Mother Superior fires a hail of bullets from her submachinegun up the ladder, demanding they surrender. Dr King grabs one of the soda bottles and throws the makeshift bomb at her, and she’s killed.

Later on, Steed and Dr King leave the convent to return to London...

DR KING: I take it we’re not flying back.
STEED: (LAUGHS) No, I don’t think so.

  1. Despite being strangled, the pilot blinks when the camera zooms in on him.

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