Monday, January 30, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 20. Immortal Clay

Rather a dull story here about two brothers, Allen (Gary 'Arthur Terrall' Watson) and Richard (Paul Eddington), their pottery, and a highly valuable unbreakable ceramic developed by Allen. Cue many scenes of very breakable ceramics being mistaken for the tile in question.

One Ten has perceived the material's military and industrial importance, and puts Steed on the case in the guise of a ceramics expert (a bit like Watson in The Illustrious Client).

Also interested in the tile is the sinister de Groot, who disappointed me by not being Paul Whitsun-Jones but Steve 'in The Tenth Planet' Plytas. James 'Security Chief' Bree does an accent which completely threw me at first, I thought it was supposed to be a foreign one and could not it work out. Then it clicked that it's meant to be a Potteries accent.

Something about this ep puzzled me: One Ten describes Cathy as an amateur, presumably in contrast to professional agents like Steed. But if that's the case, why was she assigned to work with Steed back in Death Dispatch? Were they just getting people in off the street that week?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 19. Warlock

This ought to be a great episode - John 'Sondergaard' Hollis paying Peter Arne's black magic practitioner to influence a scientist to hand over his propellant formula. But there's something unsatisfying about it. Perhaps it's the way that Cathy exposits the standard explanation about magic working psychologically on people who believe in it, but the story then basically goes on to have magic working like magic, on people who can't even know that it's being used on them.

There's some nice Cathy-Steed byplay when she finds him using palmistry to chat up the barmaid halfway through. He likes a drink, Steed, doesn't he? He's ordered a good few large brandies since I started this 'thon.

I like the superimposed sparkly charm effect when the magic's happening. It makes me think about the wide variety of stories that can, apparently, be told within the Avengers format - it's a long way from here to The Big Thinker. That variety is certainly one of the things that's kept me watching so far.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 18. Intercrime

Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke return, but they fail to grab me with this story about a businesslike approach to crime. Very straight plot about the girlfriend (Angela 'Number Eighty-six/Mrs Cuthbert' Browne) of the Chairman of Intercrime (Patrick 'Uncle Aquila' Holt) finding out how he earns his living, and having to be removed.

It's enlivened only by Cathy impersonating German hitwoman Hilda Stern (Julia Arnall, who I think must have been the incomprehensible German wife in Carry On Regardless). An excellent bit of tension in this subplot where Cathy, confronted by the real Hilda Stern, is invited to prove her identity by shooting a wayward Intercrime employee.

Alan 'almost Fenner' Browning and Jerome 'Dr Stevens' Willis as Intercrime henchmen.

Not so much for Steed to do again in this one, just a bit of rifle shooting at the range which Intercrime runs as a front, and a pretty lame final gag.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 17. The Big Thinker

Another Shallow-friendly ep, set around and indeed inside Plato, the very latest computer. Cathy visits the project hoping to use Plato to translate dead languages, only to hear that the computer is suffering from possible sabotage.

She and we witness an attention-demanding performance from Anthony 'Scouse git/Cherie's dad' Booth as brilliant young show-off programmer Dr Kearns. There are repeated scenes in which the other staff - Tenniel 'Major Daly' Evans and David 'Solicitor Grey/Mid-air Time Lord' Garth - complain to their boss about Kearns' rudeness. Watching those was just like being at work.

Steed (who's largely on the sidelines in this one) is interested to hear about Plato's problems, because of its strategic importance in performing ballistics calculations (this was indeed a major reason for funding of computers in the 50s and 60s). So he tells Cathy to keep an eye on Kearns.

This is easy because Kearns has weaknesses for gambling, drinking and women, the last splendidly illustrated by his abrupt loss of interest in Cathy when he hears she's Mrs Gale - and his abrupt resumption of interest when she tells him she's a widow. Cathy accompanies him to a poker game, where villains Broster and Clarissa get him drunk and fleece him for large sums.

The rest of the action is essentially misdirection as to whether Broster is just a high-class cardsharp, or an evil enemy agent, and whether Kearns or persons unknown are carrying out the sabotage. There's a nice scene where Cathy has to assure Kearns' doormat girlfriend Janet (Marina 'Drahvin One' Martin) that she isn't interested in him, and then warns her to stop him gambling if she wants to hang onto him. This is the sort of thing that makes Cathy such an interesting 60s character, they can write her as having this sort of conversation, or making the comment in Traitor in Zebra about how any woman would be interested in the biggest ruby in the world, and also on the other hand as the ruthless, icy professional agent, without the two kinds of characterisation seeming inconsistent.

I liked this episode a lot, both for the 60s computer setting and for Anthony Booth. It's in my 'best so far' list along with Dead on Course, Bullseye and The Mauritius Penny.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 16. Traitor in Zebra

Captain Nash (Noel 'General Smythe' Coleman) commands the HMS Zebra land base, where a new detector system is under test. (It sounds like it uses a laser but they never actually say the word). But it's being jammed by an enemy who seems to know exactly how and when to do so. Steed and Cathy adopt undercover roles at the base to find out who's leaking the information.

A Welsh setting for this one. Cue a couple of girls (including June 'Maggie Harris/Jane Blythe' Murphy) with the all-too-typical ambition of getting the f**k out of Wales. Also some indifferent Welsh accents; Richard 'Gatherer Hade' Leech as the local newspaperman does the best one, and definitely looks like a mad Welshman when the pressure's on. It's the hair.

William 'Orcini/The Champions' Gaunt as a keen young officer murdered with poisoned beer.

Steed's cover is as a naval psychiatrist; it suits him, but Cathy has to tell him not to wear his hat indoors. (This puzzled me as Captain Nash was wearing his when sitting at his desk in the opening scene).

We aren't kept guessing long about who the conspirators are. In any case, they've adopted a ludicrously conspicuous method of passing messages, involving an unaccompanied dog running into a sweetshop with messages tucked into its collar. But the lack of suspense earlier on is made up for by a tense finale with the chief conspirator locked by Steed in a room with his own bomb.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 15. Death on the Rocks

Someone's trying to take over the diamond trade with cheap smuggled stones, and they've got a murderous beautician on their side. Steed goes undercover as a diamond dealer, and Cathy assumes the role of Mrs Steed, leading to some nice by-play between the two. They began to remind me rather of Mulder and Scully in this episode, not least in the way that Mulder and Steed both enjoy the 'marriage' joke a lot more than Cathy and Scully do.

Hamilton 'Gen. Scobie' Dyce and Gerald 'Megara' Cross on show in this. Cross has just the right voice and manner for a cold, calculating, villainous diamond dealer.

Not the usual amount of misdirection in this episode, all but one of the crooks are made known to us almost from the start. It's enjoyable for the Steed/Cathy bits, and Steed's cool handling of incompetent threats from one of the villains, but it feels rather linear. Very badly staged final gag with a trophy head.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 14. Death of a Great Dane

A bit of misdirection right at the start with a funeral that turns out to be taking place in a pet cemetery. 'The dog it was that died' - or was it?

Steed's curiosity has been piqued, as well it might, by joke shop proprietor Miller dying in a car crash in Southend with a load of diamonds in his stomach. Mrs M tells Steed he also worked for the philanthropic investment firm the Litoff organisation, which, Steed exposits to Cathy, has been selling off assets at a phenomenal rate in recent weeks.

Steed visits the firm in the character of a blackmailer, encountering both Leslie 'the mathematician in Silver Nemesis' French as Gregory the butler, and Dancer the great dane. Gregory drops the vital clue that another of Litoff's dogs, Bellhound, died recently.

Steed's treated to some splendid hauteur on this and subsequent visits by Getz (Frederick 'Sorenson/Marius' Jaeger), Litoff's right-hand man. Litoff himself remains a mysterious presence in his private suite, but his doctor Sir James Arnell (John 'dooomed' Laurie) is only too happy to gossip about Litoff's illnesses, especially after Steed impresses him at a wine-tasting. (Patient confidentiality was taken less seriously fifty years ago, I can see).

When the supposedly dead Bellhound is discovered by Cathy alive and well, and Steed finds out just how ill Litoff is, it becomes clear why, and by whom, Litoff's investments have been liquidated in such a hurry. I've gradually assumed a no-spoilers policy in these reports so I won't say more than that.

Quite a peripheral role for Cathy in this, just a bit of theft, karate and impersonation (also as the target of sexism and comic misunderstanding at the wine-tasting).

I was a bit put off by the bizarre juxtaposition of the joke shop subplot and the financial shenanigans, it seemed a bit too silly and would knock off a star if I was doing star ratings. But Jaeger, Laurie and French are all excellent. Some particularly fine pathos from French in the final scene.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 13. The Mauritius Penny

It's almost as if they're going all out to please me with this one - an episode revolving around the twin worlds of fascist subversion and stamp collecting.

The fascists are using a stamp shop, unbeknownst to its owner, as a depot and cover for their takeover plans. The fun starts when the owner stumbles on one of their coded messages, which refer to their leader as 'The Mauritius Penny'.

As Cathy Gale, philatelist as well as anthropologist, points out, the Mauritius penny (1847 1d red-brown, POST OFFICE not POST PAID) is indeed extremely valuable, though there are now at least 12 known to exist rather than 2.

She also explains that the Maltese twopenny blue doesn't exist: I had a good look through the catalogue for Malta and found that, not counting British stamps used in the island up to 1885, there were no 2d blue Maltese stamps until SG307, 2d blue Great Siege Commemoration issued on Sep 7 1962. This episode went into production on Oct 18 1962, so this stamp fact would probably have been true at time of writing.

From here it's variations on the theme of Steed and/or Cathy infiltrating the fascists' activities, getting captured and then rescued, either by the other or by the world's most helpful lorry driver. But I'm coming to the conclusion that you watch The Avengers for the style, not the plots.

Richard 'Slartibartfast' Vernon in a prominent role. Also David 'Upstairs Downstairs' Langton, who confused me by looking uncannily like Tony Hancock's thin, authoritarian younger brother.

Interesting that in the closing gag Cathy tries to fool Steed into thinking she's found an example of the British Guiana 4c black, not the 1c which is unique and can't be priced.

By the way, when CG attends the fascist rally and gets rumbled, I thought 'This is just like Sarah at the SRS meeting in Robot.' Then what do I see in the closing credits but 'Teleplay by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks.'

Naive Avengersthon - 12. The Removal Men

Back to Venus Smith with this episode. She, along with the rest of the action, has temporarily relocated to the south of France.

Quite a simple plot: hitmen Siegel (Edwin 'Captain Hart' Richfield again) and Dragna have been engaged to assassinate very French film star Nicole Cauvin for political reasons. Steed carries out a daring theft of jewellery belonging to Dragna's wife in order to bring himself to their attention and join their gang.

His plan works so well that he himself is ordered to carry out the assassination - facing him with the twin problems of keeping Cauvin safe until the gang and their paymasters have been rounded up, and not having to kill Venus, who accidentally witnesses him 'abducting' her from the studios.

Extended set from Venus' backing group (the Dave Lee Trio from The Decapod) in this ep: some great fag-in-mouth percussion from the drummer.

The turps-nudging Mrs Dragna (Patricia 'in The Tomorrow People' Denys) is excellent, I really enjoyed the bit where Steed very wisely turns down her advances.

Steed makes a very convincing crook, both as suave cat-burglar and ruthless killer. I was quite shocked by his callous delivery of the 'it was a tight fit' line.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 11. Bullseye

Now I liked this one, almost as much as Dead On Course. Shareholders in gun-manufacturing firm Andersons are being killed off, so Steed provides Cathy Gale with a sizeable block of shares to get her onto the board and onto the case. Vulgar investor Cade (Ronald 'the Rook' Radd) is very much in the frame, as he's trying to acquire shares for a takeover bid.

Excellent pivotal meeting between Cade and Cathy where he throws her moralising back at her by reminding her exactly how the dead men made their living. This brings the alternative explanation for the murders right into the foreground, and Cathy has another rather good confrontation with the real killer.

CG is the real discovery of this marathon for me so far - I have to say again that she is quite unlike any other 60s female TV character that I'm familiar with. This isn't a woman who giggles or twists her ankle, and she has a steely amoral quality that makes her a bit frightening. Perhaps Barbara Wright would give her a run for her money, though.

Rather more typical 60s is the scene where dodgy director Young (not Commander Radnor or Gebek, though I was convinced he was one of the two) gets secretary Jean onto his boat for a spot of late working and sexual harrassment. I wasn't shocked by that so much as the way she, having carried out her threat to scream the place down, then calmly accompanies him back to the works as if nothing unusual has happened. So much for the good old days.

I managed to identify Cade as the Rook before the final credits, but smuggler Carl's name tantalisingly eluded me though I knew I'd seen him before. I thought perhaps he was the bloke from Tales of Sherwood Forest, but that was Pete Postlethwaite. He was of course Bernard 'Tyler/Caldwell' Kay.

Very little Steed in this, perhaps to balance CG's absence in the last story. Just a few phone calls and one or two appearances to help the story along.

While watching Cathy in this I thought 'She's got the exact same hairstyle as Professor Lasky in Terror of the Vervoids.' It's odd that I can know that Honor Blackman was in TotV and that Honor Blackman was in The Avengers, and yet fail to make the mental link between HB '62 and HB '86.

(earlier versions of this post contained completely wrong ramblings where I mixed up two actresses and then forgot that I was supposed to be talking about HB rather than either of them)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 10. The Decapod

Balkan dictator and wrestling fan Yakob Borb is in London for talks, but his secretary is 'mysteriously' killed by a masked wrestler. Steed's concern leads him to plant nightclub singer Venus Smith (Julie 'Jim Dale's girlfriend in Carry on Cleo' Stevens) as a replacement secretary. Classic early 60s diction from her, halfway between Joan Sims and Isobel Watkins. She's in the 'companion of the week' role, complete with opening credit, and I accidentally saw from the episode guide that she turns up in some later stories too.

Demanding our attention from the start is Philip 'Philip Madoc' Madoc as apparently sinister ambassador Stepan. There's a scene in part 3 where he and Steed confront each other, and Madoc's manner really makes me think of how a Madoc Master would have been a worthy successor to Delgado.

Also catching my eye: we're introduced to Borb first via his portrait in full uniform, and then a shot of his jackboots.

There's some complex wrestling-based plotting in this which it took me three viewings to unravel. I don't want to deprive you of the same deciphering fun, so I'll put it like this: Borb has set up wrestler Harry (Wolfe 'Padmasambhava' Morris) as the eponymous Decapod, who is seen to take on Borb's bodyguard in a wrestling match and kill him.

Then Borb's other bodyguards get mysteriously offed too, the suggestion being that Stepan is behind the killings with the ultimate aim of assassinating Borb. However, it's not so simple, and at the denouement we're confronted with two Decapods and an idealistic, gun-toting Stepan.

This is in the 'better once you understand it' category. If, like me on first viewing, you're just hoping Madoc will come back on, the other bits seem a bit dull and convoluted. Also, I was half-expecting some ten-legged alien beast to be the Decapod, it was a disappointment to see it was just some bloke dressed like the Karkus.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 9. Mr Teddy Bear

Now this is the sort of thing I expected The Avengers to come up with - mysterious super-criminals delivering speeches through teddy bears and luring the protagonists into sinister pre-prepared environments. Very much the atmosphere of The Girl Who Was Death, a good few years earlier.

Michael 'Arthur/Richard Mace' Robbins as ill-fated henchman Henry. His character doesn't really fit with the otherwise super-competent nature of Mr Teddy Bear's plans. Though he does get to be entertained at Steed's flat and treated to the latter's suave 'talking insincerely while chuckling' technique.

Tim Brinton is very convincing as the interviewer - not surprisingly, since it turns out he was a newsreader as well as an actor and subsequently a Tory MP turned UKIP nutter. Notice the contemporary over-the-shoulder interviewer's address to camera as seen on Python.

Cathy seems rather more subdued and professional compared to her holiday mood in Propellant 23. She does a good gasp when Steed, who she thinks dead, suddenly appears behind her. Though her 'Why aren't you dead?' line unfortunately reminded me of Vyvyan saying the same thing in The Young Ones.

One of my favourite episodes so far, and the first one that I felt some genuine suspense while watching. Mr Teddy Bear's apparent omnipotence makes him a very menacing villain. (I was also reminded of the arch-criminal Demon Princes in Jack Vance's series of novels, which none of you will have read).

Friday, January 06, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 8. Propellant 23

Positively packed with familiar faces, this one: Nicholas Courtney and Geoffrey Palmer, who are unmistakeable, and John 'BOSS' Dearth, Justine 'The Girl Who Was Death And Also The White Witch' Lord and John 'Mr Oak' Gill, none of whom I recognised at first.

Steed is in Marseilles (I think) expecting to collect a package from one Meyer, who however has collapsed on board Nicholas Courtney's plane. So the package has to be retrieved from Meyer's luggage: Steed is further hampered by not knowing exactly what he's looking for, just that it's in a container. Cue contest between Steed and Cathy Gale on the one hand, and Geoffrey Palmer on the other, to locate the candidate containers. A nice parallel here between Palmer's character sweet-talking the air-hostess, and CG covertly questioning the airport staff. Good bit when she gets a bit too overt in her interrogation and attracts the attention of the shrewdest of the three comedy gendarmes (and the only one who looks remotely French).

Like Death Despatch, at the denouement everyone takes turns to hold guns on each other, in a hotel bakery this time. A nice bit of Steedery here with him interrupting himself to say how delicious the smell of baking bread is.

Naive Avengersthon - 7. Death Despatch

My first encounter with Cathy Gale. She's very impressive, a real steely cold-eyed professional with a bit of surface glitter. I didn't know they had women like that in the 60s. Perhaps if the Village had deployed someone like her to be Number Six's girl of the week, instead of useless women in stripy tops, they might have got some information out of him.

Quite a simple plot where Steed has to find out who intercepted certain seemingly innocuous British diplomatic papers, and why. The answer is 'Senor Rosas', who intends to stage a coup in Chile; after some toing and froing Steed and Gale are brought before him and seize control of the situation by holding a gun to his innocent daughter's head. I was quite shocked by this but also pleased by the development of the idea that S & G aren't necessarily nice people. Number Six is an intelligence agent doing a similar job but I can't imagine him being written as doing that.

Rosas and his daughter are the weakest actors in this, some of his responses to the action are 'silent movie' quality. David Cargill as chief henchman is excellently sinister, he gives the impression that he's got an eyepatch and scar without actually having either.

There's also a great song/Spanish guitar accompaniment in the bar scenes. It's interesting that it can stick in my head even though the only words I could understand were 'No tengo dinero'.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 6. The Sell-out

Some good dramatic double-bluffing in this ep, where Steed is tasked with protecting a diplomat Roland from assassination, but warns his superior One Twelve (Arthur 'warm drink' Hewlett) that an informer is at work in their department. Suspicion is immediately thrown on a certain Harvey - who appears to be an architect in his spare time - who's come into a lot of money recently. We're then led to believe that One Twelve might be the traitor, but it turns out to be Harvey after all. This had me fooled as I thought the Harvey theory was too obvious to be the correct one.

There's a nice bit where Steed, who plans to act as a decoy for Roland, is tutored by the latter in how to do his characteristic walk.

I think this is the last time I'll be seeing Dr King, who just gets to complain a bit in this story and to rugby-tackle a villain. Btw, I should have referred to him in the first place as Dr Martin 'Harold Chorley' King.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 5. Dead On Course

I really enjoyed this one, it's a development of those stories about Cornish 'wreckers', except that here it's Irish crooks based in a convent wrecking aeroplanes to steal consignments of cash. Rather like the plot of an unmade Will Hay film.

I'm not sure whether to say that the Irish setting is made good use of, or that stereotypes abound; the evil Mother Superior neutralises Steed's threats to have the convent raided by telling him that the Gardai would never do such a thing, and Donal Donnelly plays a simple pub potman. Though the latter is inverted by the fact that it's a convincing act to conceal his role in the crimes.

Each successive episode has Steed in a more central role, and here he's unquestionably the main man. He gets to demonstrate aeronautical and piloting expertise too; like Bond and Number Six, he isn't just any secret agent.

I'm not rating the episodes because I have no idea how the upcoming ones will compare to them, but if I was, I'd give this 5/5, if only for the splendid image of the Mother Superior firing a machinegun at Steed through the ceiling of the convent belfry.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 4. Mission to Montreal

Such an interesting supporting cast in this one that it distracted me from the plot, which is a fairly simple one about smuggling microfilm of defence installations. John 'Chang' Bennett is prominent as minder Guido Marson, and Alan 'Major Green' Curtis is sinister eyepatched assassin Brand. (I also spotted Mark Eden from It's Your Funeral).

Dr Keel has disappeared since the previous surviving episode, and been replaced by the mostly interchangeable Dr Martin King. Steed has grown still more Steed-like - he's undercover as a ship's steward and there's a running gag where he's constantly being called on to serve passengers, capped at the end when, having discarded the disguise, he also has to suppress the instinct to carry on with the job.

Also catching my eye - the opening sequence where some rather stylised acting is revealed to be part of a film being made. It's a familiar device but I always enjoy seeing it.