Friday, March 30, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 53. The Charmers

The charm of this story wore off very quickly - for about the first 5 minutes I enjoyed the 'Spy vs. Spy' type comedy, but it soon became very tiresome indeed. I hope this isn't the direction that the show is going to go in. I like straight stories with comic interludes, not this broad comedy where they aren't taking it seriously at all. One of my least favourites so far.

Perhaps Fenella Fielding prejudiced me against it - I love her in The Poetry Society, but when I see her in anything else she puts my teeth on edge.

Some of the comedy did appeal to me: the suggestion that Steed was annoyed not to find his picture on the evil spies' Most Wanted board for instance, and also the cab-hailing drill at the charm school run by Brian Oulton (who's crossed my viewing path before in everything from Hancock to The Young Ones via Carry On).

If you're going to have a childrens-TV-style comedy spy chief, then Warren Mitchell is a good choice to play him.

Also seen - Frank Mills, who was the radio telescope Director in Terror of the Autons and Peterson the commissionaire in the Granada Blue Carbuncle, as the dentist.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 52. The Outside-In Man

Ronald 'the Rook' Radd returns from Bullseye, as Quilpie, Steed's latest boss. He uses a butcher's shop as a front, which leads to fun as he keeps up the butcher's talk and accent until they're out of earshot of the shop, then abruptly assumes his proper persona with 'That's quite enough of that.'

He assigns Steed to prevent the assassination of one Sharp (later seen to be Philip 'Mars/Venus game' Anthony, returning from Man With Two Shadows) who defected to 'Aburania' but is about to visit Britain under diplomatic protection.

Their meeting is interrupted by the unexpected and coincidental return of agent Charter (James 'Jackson in Underworld' Maxwell) who was sent to Aburania to kill Sharp but has spent five years in prison there.

It soon becomes apparent that Charter is still intent on fulfilling his mission to kill Sharp, even though highly important arms sales will be imperilled if he does so. Steed and Cathy have to track him down before he succeeds.

Maxwell is pretty good as Charter - he seems fairly together at first, in the club scene, but gets increasingly edgy and fanatical as the story progresses. He's got one of those no-nonsense 40s George Orwell faces, which really helps sell the idea that he intends to carry out his original orders.

Basil 'Number Fourteen in Hammer Into Anvil' Hoskins as the Aburanian embassy attache, something of the manner of Philip Madoc about him. Ronald 'Dulcian councillor' Mansell as the club butler. The garage owner is Arthur Lovegrove, who was fairly inconspicuously in Carry on Cowboy.

I didn't spot this myself but various web sources point out that Quilpie's (and presumably Steed's) organisation is named PANSAC. I think this is the first time so far that a name has been put to it.

The story itself is a little bit reminiscent of The Decapod - even the twist is similar (but more complex) than the one in that. The problem for me was that I wasn't really that fussed if he killed Sharp, because early 60s Britain had plenty of other potential customers for armaments.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 51. Trojan Horse

The teaser scene suggests that this episode is going to be about a bookmaker with no-nonsense credit control methods. Then Steed's seen at the stables, representing the Foreign Office's concerns about the security of a sultan's horse - so it looks like doping is going into the mix. But the story then veers wildly off into the methods of a network of assassins, leaving all the racing stuff on the periphery.

Tony Heuston (T.P. 'Captain Cook' McKenna, not William 'Reegan' Dysart as I thought) is the bookmaker at the centre of the plot, Derek 'Greg Sutton' Newark as his head killer Johnson. I enjoyed Newark's toughly-delivered evening class about the use of poisons; he's not quite so good when he has to yell angrily about being treated like a serf.

It felt like there wasn't much Steed, or much Cathy in this - their main scenes (Steed chatting up women, Cathy dazzling Heuston with her ability to work out bets) are good, but feel like set pieces.

Geoffrey 'radio comedy' Whitehead as the aristocratic Fordsham, whose entrapment into the murder network by Heuston and Johnson is used to show us how the operation works. Basil 'the replacement Supervisor in Checkmate' Dignam as Heuston's ally at the stables.

Another episode with an uneasy combination of plot elements really.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 50. Mandrake

Tin-mining areas have a lot of arsenic in their soil - arsenic which is quickly absorbed by any body buried in it. Which makes it impossible to detect whether or not the deceased was killed by arsenic poisoning. Got that? Good.

We open (like Death of a Great Dane) at a burial service, conducted by the Rev Adrian Wyper (George Benson, who I think is the likeable civil servant in Free For All).

Steed is unobtrusively in the background, because it's an old friend of his being buried. And he has suspicions about how he came by his death, causing him to make some visits to the deceased's son (Robert 'Major Hunda in Traitor' Morris). On the second occasion he displays some unusual anger - which, like everything else Macnee does, nevertheless seems perfectly Steed-like.

We're shown exactly how Steed's friend ended up dead in the progress of the latest undertaking of Mandrake Investments - proprietors Roy Hopkins (Philip 'Bigon' Locke back again) and Dr Macombie (John Le Mesurier as the second bent doctor in as many episodes).

Cathy is despatched to the churchyard in Cornwall for some misdirection about exactly who's involved in the scheme at that end, while Steed visits Hopkins' Christmas cracker factory to sweet-talk Annette 'the watchmaker's daughter in It's Your Funeral' André. And from there it's not far to the compulsory winding-up of Mandrake Investments in the public interest.

Not a bad episode - Benson's playing in particular keeps us in doubt for as long as possible about whether or not the vicar is part of the scheme.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 49. The Little Wonders

This one falls into the Box of Tricks category of episodes which unsuccessfully mix very disparate plot elements. The conceit about criminals using clerical titles is amusing, if not very original, but it doesn't seem to fit with the strand about the dolls' hospital and hiding microfilm in dolls.

Steed's guise as 'Johnny the Horse' is quite pleasing, and Tony Steedman's suave bent doctor held my attention.

Lois 'Moneypenny' Maxwell as the 'Bishop of Winnipeg''s nurse/concubine. Frank 'again' Maher as Hasek the doll doctor. Kenneth J Warren, returning for a third appearance, Christopher 'Cyberleader/Karkus' Robbie and Mark 'Ralph in The Moonbase' Heath among the fake prelates.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 48. The Wringer

Steed is accused of sabotaging the Carinthia Pipeline, a secret transit route for spies out of Eastern Europe, by giving away information leading to the deaths of 6 agents. His colleague Anderson (Peter 'also Penley' Sallis) has all the evidence that Charles (Paul Whitsun-Jones - the first actor I've noted so far who's returned as the same character) needs to hear, and Steed is sent away to 'the unit'.

In charge of that facility is 'The Wringer' - a brilliantly punchable portrayal by Terence 'Orum' Lodge, returning from Man With Two Shadows. He and his colleagues proceed to subject Steed to psychological torture and brainwashing - thus suggesting where Anderson got his fixed ideas about Steed's guilt from.

Luckily Cathy comes to the rescue once again, first by using persuasion on Charles' sidekick Oliver (our own Barry Letts in his previous incarnation as an actor), then by bravely visiting the unit and engineering an escape. Anderson is deconditioned and Steed, presumably, restored to his position...

Lodge is the star of this one, no question. My only disappointment was that the unit was very quickly revealed to be a renegade operation; if their methods had been officially sanctioned, like in The Nutshell, it would have been a whole lot more sinister.

I liked the carthartic/purifying imagery of the escape via the drains into the rain-flooded ditch.

Also returning: Gerald Sim from Mission to Montreal, and Douglas Cummings from The Gilded Cage.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 47. Dressed to Kill

Someone is using jamming to create false alarms at Britain's missile radar stations. And someone has invited Steed and six other people to a mobile fancy dress New Year's Eve party on board a train - and then left them at an abandoned station in the middle of nowhere.

This is one of those 'Six Napoleons' stories, with a limited number of possible explanations - though the setup (the idea that six people would all have options on parcels of land in a particular area) is incredibly contrived. But it does feature a Napoleon, as well as a returning Richard 'Gatherer Hade' Leech as a Victorian peeler, and two prize catches in Leonard Rossiter as Robin Hood and our very own Anneke Wills in a sexy cat costume. You can see why the last two went on to better things - Rossiter in particular seems to jump off the screen demanding our attention.

The abandoned station is quite eerie, with things changing behind the characters' backs, people being killed or knocked out and a mysterious hooded friar hanging about. Mixed with this there's a 'New Year special' comedy feeling, with Steed's cowboy costume leading to a couple of enjoyable Western-style shots.

Leon 'Jabel' Eagles as the jammer, Frank Maher returning from November Five as the barman.

Quite enjoyed this one. I've made it sound as though the chills and the comedy didn't mix, but they do work together pretty well. Also there are plenty of reasons to suspect all the characters, so the identity of the villain comes as a surprise - most Avengers eps fail in this regard, it's usually blindingly obvious.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 46. The White Elephant

Zookeeper Martin Friend (back from The Gilded Cage) is upset to find that Snowy the white elephant has gone missing from the private zoo run by Noah Marshall (Godfrey 'film Dortmun' Quigley, returning from Hot Snow). Cathy's safari experience in Kenya is ideal for putting her onto the case as a potential new collector for the zoo.

Judy Parfitt returns from Bullseye as Noah's efficient - and therefore, instantly suspicious - secretary. Edwin 'Captain Hart' Richfield makes his third appearance as a supposedly missing anthropologist.

Rather like Second Sight, this story uses a lot of setup to tell what turns out to be a fairly simple story by about smuggling. John Lucarotti dresses it up with scenes at a gunsmith's (run by Bruno Barnabe, who was the BBC bloke in The Bowmans) and a supplier of human and animal restraints (principal saleslady, Rowena Gregory from Immortal Clay).

At least here the smuggled goods (ivory) have some connection with the rest of the plot. The actual reason for abstracting the elephant isn't very well explained: as far as I can work out, it's because she knew Lawrence and would have reacted to seeing him at the zoo, thus creating a disturbance not conducive to smuggling. But then, if it was so necessary for Lawrence to come to the zoo, why had the smuggling plan been able to operate successfully before now without him coming there?

There's some fairly good cold villainy from Richfield, and Scott Forbes as fellow-smuggler Conniston, and I liked Toke Townley's fussy gun craftsman. And you have to admire Quigley for being able to act with a real live parrot sitting on his shoulder in half the scenes.

The final scene is one of Cathy's rare but periodic disenchantments with her work with Steed: he presents her with an ivory carving, and she comments 'You always manage to win something, don't you?' Steed would probably understand the additional meaning of 'win' as an Army word for 'help oneself to'.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 45. The Medicine Men

When Malcolm Hulke's at the typewriter, business is never just business, and in this ep we're shown British commercial interests getting tangled up with anti-colonial elements in the country of Karim.

Peter 'Granada's Colonel Ross' Barkworth as Geoffrey Willis, the hard-working boss of Willis Sopwith Pharmaceuticals plagued by Far Eastern rip-off copies of his products. Steed once more assumes his civil servant cover to investigate, having been alerted by the death in a Turkish bath of one Tu Hsiu Yung. Macnee has some comic lines to deliver based on this amusing name, but handles them with a pleasing mixture of deprecation and embarrassment.

Cathy is also on the case as a business efficiency expert. A good scene between her and Willis, where she cunningly both gets his attention and wins his goodwill by using a sales technique from a manual written by his grandad.

Harold 'Gilbert M' Innocent as Leeson, an alcoholic avant-garde painter who's the British end of the fake goods operation. He has a wonderful line about Karim being 'the size of a postage stamp - and not worth much more.'

His artistic technique involves getting young women to bathe in paint, then rub themselves against the canvas. This sets up one of Cathy's best lines so far; Willis' secretary, Miss Dowell (Joy Wood) arrives at Leeson's studio and holds a gun on her. 'Have you come to roll in the oils too, Miss Dowell?' she asks in deliciously sarcastic tones.

John Crocker returns from Propellant 23 - I thought he was Brian Murphy.

Brenda Cowling, who I think is seen for about 10 seconds in the plaque-unveiling scene in Carry On Girls, appears as the chatty masseuse at the Turkish bath.

This is a great episode: there's an intriguing plot, and some wonderful playing by all the principals. I have only two criticisms. The treacherous employee trope has featured in almost all the 'business' episodes so far, it's becoming very predictable. And Willis, discovering Steed ferreting around in his offices, holds him at gunpoint, is shot, and then disappears from the story. I couldn't work out if he was part of the fake goods scam or not - he does have a suspicious-sounding exchange with Miss Dowell about printing in one scene, but it wasn't conclusive.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 44. The Gilded Cage

Steed plans to entrap retired villain Spagge (Patrick Magee, returning from Killer Whale) into a robbery, by putting Cathy forward with a carefully researched plan to rob a bullion vault.

It's impossible to say any more without spoiling a really good pull-back-and-reveal in the middle of the episode - I haven't been so completely taken in since I read The Magus.

Another Killer Whale actor, Fredric 'Potter' Abbott, returns as a gang member, likewise Alan 'Hector' Haywood from Chorus of Frogs and Geoff L'Cise from Death Dispatch. Martin 'Styggron' Friend is also in the gang.

Neil 'Sam Seeley' Wilson returns from The Frighteners as a guard.

Norman Chappell is great as Spagge's accomplished butler Fleming (Steed must like him too, as he lets him escape.)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 43. The Secrets Broker

This felt like rather a messy, tangled episode. There's Mrs Wilson (Avice Landon) and her seance/blackmail combo, there's Waller the wine merchant (Jack 'Théoden/General Hermack' May) and his secret microfilm darkroom and there's Bridlington's electronics research centre where Cliff Howard (John 'Ashe/Tlotoxl' Ringham) is working on advanced weapons. Secrets are moving along this chain of setups, powered by blackmail - Ronald 'Cornish/Rago' Allen as one of the main victims.

There are some great performances though, particularly Avice Landon's polite style of blackmail, and Jack May's thoroughly unpleasant wine merchant - although smartly dressed at all times, he manages to convey the impression that he's actually in Ken Shabby's costume. And it's fascinating to see Ronald Allen as a suave, manipulative lover.

Naive Avengersthon - 42. Second Sight

Peter Bowles is prominent here, looking extraordinarily like Rik Mayall as Richard Rich in a couple of shots. I couldn't believe the striking Judy Bruce, whose character he's having an affair with, wasn't in anything else after this, but the internet explains that she changed her name to Judith and settled for being a big name in musical theatre.

John 'Ambril' Carson, returning from Chorus of Frogs, is really good as blind millionaire Halvarssen, who we're led to assume is the intended graft recipient. His manner is as tightly controlled as his immaculate buttonhole and precision haircut. There's a good case of Chekhov's Gun here, with his custom audio-feedback firearm being introduced well before it's employed in the denouement.

A very chilling scene with Dr Spender, who Steed's persuaded to oversee the supposed corneal graft, surreptitiously examining the silent, immobile donor before meeting a sudden end.

I quite enjoyed this episode but it was the playing I appreciated, not the plot, which is basically 45 minutes of misdirection about corneal grafting, followed by a gunfight. Cathy assumes yet another cover as a doctor - and complains to Steed that she won't be able to carry it off. Even she's starting to find her multiplicity of roles implausible.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 41. November Five

Michael Dyter wins the South East Anglia by-election on a platform of exposing corruption, but is gunned down at the count by Frank Maher (the unknown stuntman who made The Prisoner and many other series look so fine).

Then top politicians Swinburne (David 'Granada's Sir James Damery' Langton, returning from The Mauritius Penny) (possibly Con.) and Arthur Dove (probably Lab.) are unwillingly getting together to deal with the very pressing matter of a nuclear warhead that went missing in South East Anglia.

Publicist Mark St John is happy to host their meeting at his 60s image consultancy - because he's conspiring with Fiona (Iris Russell returning from Mission to Montreal) and Max, who operate the high class gym frequented by Mrs Dove, who Cathy befriends.

Fill in the gaps yourself, the suggestion in the title is all you need. I get the impression that regular Avengers writer (and Mac Hulke crony) Eric Paice didn't appreciate the power of a 5-megaton nuclear warhead, which would have instantly vapourised everything in a radius of several miles. Anyone hoping to watch the fireworks would have learnt the hard way that the observer is part of the experiment.

This is the first episode that I failed to properly understand after three viewings - I still can't grasp why Dyter had to get shot, or indeed stand for election at all, the nuclear blackmail plot doesn't seem to need either of those elements.

Having said that, this episode rather grew on me; there was some decent pathos with the loveless Doves, and I always enjoy 60s political dramas where they can never be explicit about which party MPs belong to. Also there was what I took to be a bit of self-mockery: I've noticed that in series 3 the fight scenes have become increasingly formalised and stylised: Cathy is confronted by an opponent, the shot changes to show a convenient wide open space, the exciting fight music starts and she does a series of judo throws on her attacker. (Joss Whedon must have been watching). In this episode, there's a scene at the gym where all these cues are deployed - and then the action is interrupted by the return of Mrs Dove. The music stops and Cathy, Fiona and Max stand around looking sheepish. 'I just came back for me handbag,' says Mrs D.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 40. Build A Better Mousetrap

A village is faced with the twin problems of rowdy but harmless motorcyclists, and mysterious stoppages of mechanical equipment. The locals believe the latter is being caused either by witchcraft, or the local nuclear plant. Steed and Cathy are both on the scene, she as one of the motorcycle enthusiasts.

Not really keen on this one, it doesn't seem to want us to take it seriously. Steed's cover story about the 'National Distrust' is just silly. Some good points though: I like what's basically the double-bluff with the familiar not-so-harmless old ladies trope, Alison Seebohm caught my attention as Caroline and there's a good scene where Harold Goodwin as Harris, the pub landlord, tries to chat up young Jessy (Marian Diamond, who was Galadriel in the BBC radio production of LotR). It's just misdirection but I enjoyed the way we were led to expect some real unpleasantness, but actually just get pathos.

Three actors return to the show: Donald Webster from Intercrime, Allan McClelland from The Big Thinker and John Tate from Killer Whale.