This is an odd one-off TV drama whose title I’ve known for years but which I hadn’t seen until this week. The Incredible Robert Baldick was broadcast in 1972 in a slot used by the BBC to test dramas that might later become series. The writer was Terry Nation, creator of Doctor Who and the dour post-apocalypse series, Survivors. Robert Hardy plays Robert Baldick, an aristocratic occult detective who we’re informed “cannot resist the inexplicable”. We’re also told he’s one of the finest scientific minds in 19th-century Britain. The exact period is vague but we first see Baldick and cohorts playing with an “electrical telepathy” communication device which would fix the time around the turn of the century. Baldick has a country estate, a bulletproof Russian train (“The Tsar”), a valet who is also an expert in Classics and ancient languages, a gamekeeper with preternatural senses, and a pet owl named Cosmo.
The one-and-only 50-minute episode is entitled Never Come Night, and plays like something Nigel Kneale might have written, a combination of supernatural horror, suspicious yokels and archaeology, with an abrupt swerve into outright science fiction at the end. The cast features many familiar faces from film and television of the period: James Cossins as a fearful clergyman, Barry Andrews playing the same type of rustic he also played in Blood on Satan’s Claw, Julian Holloway as Thomas the valet, and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings) as Caleb the gamekeeper. All the ingredients are in place for what might have been a promising series along the lines of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, the first season of which had been running on another channel the year before, and which may have been an inspiration. A shame that the only women in the cast are a couple of barely visible servants and a corpse; even Holmes and Watson had Mrs Hudson. The timecoded copy on YouTube has evidently been hijacked from the BBC archives but it’s watchable enough.