Monday, April 30, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 69. The Hour That Never Was

Mrs Peel and Steed are on their way to a decommissioning party at his old airfield, but things don't go smoothly. Their car crashes, and when they walk onto the base they find it deserted. This starts off in vaguely Prisoner territory - then veers off into what's made to seem like Sapphire & Steel-style timeslips, with stopped clocks and sequences of events repeating themselves invisibly. It's great to see that the Mrs Peel era can do 'serious' if it wants to.

The pacing of this episode is again excellent - there's a very long stretch where Steed and Mrs Peel are the only living people we see; then the silence is broken by the terrible vibrations, then the personable tramp Hickey (Roy Kinnear returning from Esprit de Corps) appears. And then suddenly the base bursts into life with the long-expected party, which excellently seems unbearably raucous by comparison.

And then, once again, having shown its hand and had the chief villain do his exposition, the ep has nothing else to show except a big fight. Quite an amusing fight, with laughing gas etc, but still just another big fight.

Steed's war service has changed rather since Death of a Batman - back then he was just in the despised I Corps army of occupation in 1945, now he was not only serving during the real war, but he was explicitly an agent in training then.

Ray Austin returns from The Gravediggers, Gerald Harper from Death Dispatch, Daniel Moynihan from Man With Two Shadows. Fred Haggerty, who plays the milkman, is briefly in Hammer Into Anvil.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 68. Silent Dust

Some further early eco-concern with this one, first establishing the concept that a particular fertiliser can 'go wrong' and poison whole areas, then showing us a group of people intent on doing this in order to hold the country to ransom.

Unfortunately this is all defused by rampant silliness, in the shape of characters like a Simon Quinlank-esque ornithologist (Aubrey 'Nero in Dance of the Dead' Morris), a hunting, shooting and drawling posho and a gamekeeper called Mellors (Conrad 'briefly in The General' Phillips). To continue the DH Lawrence theme there's Juggins, an appalling brutish Northerner who wanders round with a jug of scrumpy, talking about slitting sows' throats. And the climactic scene is a slapstick chase where he gets poked up the arse with an anti-hunt placard, then has it smashed over his head.

One good thing about the preceding stuff is that by contrast it makes the buckshot-riddled Steed's hallucination of Mrs Peel as a redeye-addled Western doctor seem strangely charming.

All in all a disappointment. The early part of the episode is a steadily-paced, effective buildup to showing us the effects of the silent dust: but it's all wasted by the subsequent komedy.

Also seen: Norman 'Bakshi's Bilbo' Bird as an embittered rose grower.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 67. The Man-eater of Surrey Green

This was the other episode of The Avengers that I'd heard of before I started this 'thon. And it's even more similar to its Doctor Who counterpart than The Cybernauts.

A plant that came from space (ahem) has mind-control powers (cough) and is influencing Sir Lyle Petersen, a plant fanatic (yep) to bring it to germination (aha). Our heroes are besieged by the plant in a country house (right), and deal with it using pesticide. The RAF don't have to bomb the place although they are involved in the discovery of the seed. (They don't function in the story like UNIT do, but they certainly reminded me of them).

Further similarities to The Seeds of Doom are seen in eccentric old lady Dr Sheldon (though she's a botanist here) and the mistaken initial assumption that there was only one extraterrestrial seed.

I enjoyed this one though I thought that the scenes inside the house, with Steed battling a mind-controlled Mrs Peel to deploy the pesticide, went on too long. Though perhaps that was just tension induced by the number of times he almost manages to use the chemical, only to be stopped at the last second. It was interesting that he only succeeds in putting her out of action when they accidentally bang their heads together - presumably it wouldn't have looked good to have him purposely knocking her out.

Athene Seyler (Dr Sheldon) returns from Build A Better Mousetrap. Derek Farr (Sir Lyle) was the original voice of Orac. Also seen: Edwin 'the landlord in Reign of Terror' Finn, Harry Shacklock returning from The Mauritius Penny.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 66. Two's A Crowd

A couple of good bits - notably a clever reveal in the teaser, and another Steed double, who excellently has to learn the part a bit before he's completely convincing. But otherwise this is another spy komedy episode in the vein of The Charmers - with Warren Mitchell again. As such it wasn't for me. Though I did enjoy Mrs Peel immobilising an opponent by standing on his hands. (That makes it sound sadistic and unpleasant. It wasn't, it had a saving element of cheekiness).

Julian Glover, Alec Mango from Conspiracy of Silence and Wolfe 'Padmasambhava' Morris from The Decapod as parts of the 'Psev' gestalt.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 65. A Surfeit of H20

I enjoyed this a lot - it reminded me of 70s schools TV classic Cloudburst. Some lovely summer meadow scenes, with sudden mysterious deluges of rain drowning people. Wasn't quite so keen on the subplot about the mad flood prophet, and his mad Welsh follower (Talfryn 'Llanfairfach here' Thomas), or the extremely mundane motivation for Dr Sturm (!) devising his weather control machine. But I loved the Gilbert Ratchet-style control lever: 'Drizzle', 'Shower', 'Storm', 'Tempest'.

Sue Lloyd is strangely charismatic as Sturm's secretary, and Geoffrey Palmer making his third appearance.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 64. Room Without A View

Physicist John Wadkin disappeared, and has returned semi-catatonic, and in his livelier moments he's filled with hatred and fear of Chinese people, which is unfortunate as his wife comes from Singapore. Steed and Mrs Peel are on the case, as is keen Ministry man Varnals (a young Peter 'Count Grendel' Jeffreys). Some nice by-play between him and Mrs Peel: he starts off putting her down, and has the tables turned on him.

I do like the chess-themed chain of Chessman Hotels to which the action next moves: Philip 'Five Doctors Borusa' Latham is the maitre d', rather Mesurieresque I thought. Paul Whitsun-Jones making his third appearance as the eponymous Chessman: he's got more than letting rooms on his mind, what with his Ipcress File-style contracted-out interrogation service, to which Wadkin has fallen victim and which he's enterprisingly trying to flog to dour Russian Pushkin (Vernon 'Chief Scientist' Dobtcheff).

It's the unusual hotel theme that kept me watching, which is interesting as it has no connection with the actual plot. The idea of making the interrogation victims think they're in China, Russia etc would be clever if it didn't have the very obvious antecedent previously mentioned.

Peter Arne makes his third appearance btw, a bit of a waste I thought, if you're going to have him you should give him something interesting to do.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 63. The Gravediggers

The radar sabotage theme returns from Traitor in Zebra and Dressed to Kill, but, in keeping with the less serious style of this series, it's based on equipment hidden in graves (and interred with all due ceremony). Mrs Peel is undercover as a nurse, and Steed visits Sir Horace Winslip (Ronald 'Joseph C' Fraser), a rich eccentric railway fanatic. The link is pretty tenuous (Sir Horace is funding the hospital because he thinks it's being used to treat railwaymen) but somehow the two 'this will look great' concepts don't jar at all.

The scenes at 'Winslip Junction' are delightful, with Sir Horace's butler rolling scenery past the static carriage windows and playing locomotive sound effects discs. It's a lot more convincing than some of the back projections we've seen in this series.

But even better is the chase on Sir Horace's railway, with Mrs Peel tied to the tracks, villains looking as grim as anyone can when perched on a 1/6 scale train, all set to plinky-plonky silent movie piano. I even wondered if the film had been speeded up a bit for real authenticity. Now this is the kind of 'not taking it seriously' that I can enjoy. It made me quite forget the way that the maintenance of the jamming electronics is performed with all the trappings of a surgical operation, for no-one's benefit but the viewer.

An extra pleasure to find that Malcolm Hulke was at the typewriter.

Previously seen: Aubrey 'Professor Parry' Richards, Wanda 'Thea Ransome' Ventham as the lovely Nurse Spray, Steven 'yes apparently it is him' Berkoff. Victor Platt, who I think is the radar expert in Checkmate. And blink and you'll miss him, but Bryan 'Alf Roberts' Mosley.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 62. The Cybernauts

This is one of the two Avengers episodes that I'd heard of before I started this 'thon. I had high hopes of it, and at first I wasn't disappointed, with a series of electronics industry bigwigs getting offed by an unseen, possibly mechanical visitor, and an obvious but stylish red herring in the form of John 'Sondergaard' Hollis (returning from Warlock) and his karate class. Katherine 'Sabetha' Schofield gets a good karate-ing at the hands of Mrs Peel, which I enjoyed.

Then we have a great meeting between Steed and the wheelchair-using Dr Armstrong (Michael 'Toymaker' Gough), head of United Automation in his computerised office. He even sends Steed away with a present that isn't what it seems - it's as if Tobias Vaughn is impersonating Davros in order to carry out the evil scheme in Robot.

But, like The Master Minds, once the story has shown its hand, it doesn't do much with it except give us runaround and fighting. So I went away unsatisfied in terms of the episode itself, though it was good to confirm its vaunted similarity with least two major Doctor Who stories.

Previously seen - lots of people: Burt 'Lin Futu' Kwouk from Lobster Quadrille, Bernard 'Gulliver' Horsfall, Ronald 'Commander Radnor' Leigh-Hunt, Frederick 'Sorenson' Jaeger from Death of a Great Dane, John 'the Time Lord in Genesis of the Daleks' Franklyn-Robbins and Gordon Whiting from The Golden Eggs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 61. Too Many Christmas Trees

Steed is having surreal Christmas-themed nightmares, and when he accompanies Mrs Peel to a Christmas house party he finds them becoming reality. This episode failed to grab me - the dream images were so bizarre that the rest of the story couldn't really live up to them, it was just a gradual reveal of who induced the nightmares, and some vague suggestions as to why (presumably they were hoping to probe his mind for official secrets). There's also the same confusion between hypnosis, magic, spiritualism and psychology that we saw in Warlock - the 'fluence worked in whatever way the plot demanded at any given point.

One good thing was Jeanette Sterke as the chief mesmerist, very callous and sinister.

Although someone has kindly explained the reason for the pre-closing credit scenes that this series has, with Steed and Mrs Peel on various forms of transport in front of back projections, I still don't like them, I'm starting to think 'If you're not going to take this seriously, why should I?'

Previously seen: Edwin 'Captain Hart' Richfield making his fourth appearance, and his first as a white hat. Robert 'Lesterson' James as the butler, returning from Death a la Carte.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 60. Death At Bargain Prices

I got the feeling that this was really an excuse to put Steed and Mrs Peel into the 'high class department store' setting, one as a customer, one as an assistant, so that he could be gentlemanly and make suggestive remarks, and she could treat them coolly. The plot about the atom bomb feels like it was constructed to provide a reason for those scenes to happen. But I liked Kane's motivation - he's been left behind the times, so he's going to use modernity's own weapons against it.

There's a good pull-back and reveal at one point, it's done as throwaway comedy but it's clever. Also note the model Dalek on the display when Mrs Peel is working in the futuristic toy department.

This episode waits longer than the previous one before showing its hand - but it still does it too early, leaving the last 15 minutes to be filled up with another stylish but overlong fight/chase. Steed's impersonation of a mannequin was good, but open to satirical comment.

The final scene is quite bizarre, with Mrs Peel and Steed on bikes (obviously on a trailer) and then on real bikes. They carefully explain where they got them from, but as to where they're going and why...

Familiar faces: Peter 'Saruman/The Professor/The Investigator' Howell as - the Professor. Arthur Gross, who I think gets ordered to take over the control room during one of Number Two's paranoia fits in Hammer into Anvil. George 'Frank and/or George Meadows in Faceless Ones' Selway.

Previously seen: T.P. McKenna returning from Trojan Horse, John Cater from The Nutshell, Andre Morell from Death of a Batman and Harvey Ashby from The Decapod.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 59. Dial A Deadly Number

This starts excitingly, with cutting edge transistorised pagers being used to assassinate people for financial advantage, but tails off disappointingly into a series of wine tastings, dinner parties and gunfights. On the plus side, there's an excitingly shot scene where Steed is attacked by motorcyclists; I liked the reminder that for all his languid charm, when things get tough he doesn't hesitate to get his shooter out. And the pager killings are accompanied by eerie shots of automatic phone exchange equipment clicking away inexorably.

John 'Ambril' Carson is pretty good as the sinister Fitch - making his third appearance. Gerald Sim also gets his hat-trick, and there's a fine haul of other familiar faces: Tina 'Ann Travers' Packer, Clifford 'Number Two in Do Not Forsake Me' who also played one of my ancestors in Kilvert's Diary, John 'Edward Waterfield' Bailey returning from Killer Whale, Peter Bowles from Second Sight, Norman Chappell from The Gilded Cage, Jan Holden from The Undertakers and also Alan Chuntz, who was the chauffeur in Seeds of Doom.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 58. The Master Minds

Now this is much more like it. Divided into two distinct parts: the first part invites us (and Steed and Mrs Peel) to consider how a cabinet minister came to be shot during a secrets-related burglary, and to lose his memory of the event. Fun with Mrs Peel assuming the role of nurse, though she doesn't have the job for long as the patient is offed by psychiatrist Dr Campbell (Ian M[a]cnaughton of Python direction fame), who appears to be under some kind of hypnotic influence.

The dead man and Campbell are, it seems, both members of high-IQ group RANSACK, whose director Desmond Leeming (Bernard 'Marcus Scarman' Archard) is conveniently on the scene to lead our heroes into part two, which centres around the RANSACK summer school. Patricia Haines returns from The Nutshell, she's extraordinary fruity during the archery practice scene here.

The familiar trope of sleep hypnosis (and one protagonist escaping its influence while the other succumbs) quickly appears, and as soon as it's clear that RANSACK members are being used to carry out the sort of raid seen in the teaser, everything is resolved with a big, stylish fight. I found the combination of foreground fisticuffs and background military film oddly reminiscent of Fall Out; it was also fun to have this scene, with fighting taking place in front of, behind and indeed through the projection screen, immediately followed by some very obvious back projection for the final gag.

The 'elitist society' theme reminded me rather of Robot, and the 'work under hypnosis' idea of The War Machines. I found Robert Banks Stewart at the typewriter rather than Terrance Dicks or Ian Stuart Black, though.

Archard is excellent as Desmond Leeming. I warmed to Mrs Peel a bit more in this one, there wasn't so much of the irritating coyness seen in the last two episodes. The more she's like Cathy Gale, the more I'll be pleased.

Also seen: Martin 'Watchmaker/Kublai Khan' Miller as Prof Spencer, who has nothing to do with the story as far as I can work out. And John 'Sir Charles in Do Not Forsake Me' Wentworth returns from Six Hands Across A Table as Sir Jeremy. Two Sir Charles and one Sir Jeremy, this man's at it knight after knight after knight.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 57. The Murder Market

Oh dear, I think they're losing me with this series. It's not so much like jumping from season 7 to season 10 of Doctor Who, it's like jumping from Doctor Who to the 2005 parody remake. The plot concerns an exclusive marriage bureau that is actually a front for arranging murders, but that just seems to be an excuse for a series of visually striking sets and a lot of highly stylised acting and fighting. Like Town of No Return, it was nice to look at but it didn't engage me.

What I most enjoyed looking at was Mrs Peel's tipsy dance around the crypt (and hurried return to her coffin) and the funeral procession, which was the best thing in the episode; some really grim faces and doomy organ music.

It was also fun to see the visual style of the later 60s taking over; we're definitely in War Machines territory now, whereas series 1 and 2 were constantly reminding me of Planet of the Giants or Unearthly Child.

Seen elsewhere: Patrick 'Hammer into Anvil' Cargill, and John 'The Marshall' Woodvine.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 56. The Town of No Return

New credits, new 'companion' Emma Peel and new, incredibly intrusive incidental music. I didn't like this episode at all, which is unfortunate because I think it's the way the show is going to go from now on.

Steed and Mrs Peel visit sinister village Little Bazeley and discover a ludicrous, Pythonesque plot to invade Britain by replacing the population, person by person and town by town. I was warned that this series was more 'stylised' and that warning was justified: we've moved away from realism and more towards Prisoner-style surrealism. Some of it is nice to look at - Steed producing an entire tea service from his carpet bag on the train, an immaculately dressed man emerging out of the sea in a plastic bag - but it didn't engage me, it didn't draw me into the action or make me care what happened.

I'm not keen on Mrs Peel so far. Cathy would never have let Steed wrap her up in a curtain during a fencing bout, nor been so coy with him when she emerged. Steed himself has become more of a joke character, he appears to have an armoured bowler hat in one scene.

Also appearing: Robert 'M apparently' Brown, Patrick Newell, who was Col. Faraday and is also the second Avengers actor to end up in the 'bored shitless with interesting things' bit in The Young Ones. Terence 'Lord Ravensworth' Alexander as a cartoon pub landlord and Juliet 'nearly in Carry On Matron' Harmer.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 55. Lobster Quadrille

Bit of a let-down this one, a dull tale about heroin being smuggled in lobsters via a chess shop run by Bert 'Lin Futu' Kwouk.

Corin Redgrave on show, also Norman Scace, who I think is the psychiatrist in Hammer Into Anvil who gets fooled by Number Six and ranted at by Number Two. Also appearing: Gary 'Arthur Terrall' Watson returning from Immortal Clay, and Jennie 'film Barbara' Linden.

I detected some of the 'stylisation' I'd heard about in this, with the chess-themed sets (why is a pathology lab decorated in chessboard squares?) and Alice In Wonderland references. Readers will recall that the object of the original Lobster Quadrille was to throw the lobsters as far out to sea as you can - treatment which I'd feel like giving the DVD if it didn't also have Esprit de Corps on it.

Perhaps that's a bit harsh, there are one or two good moments, like Kwouk's character cutting off Cathy's Confucius quote by saying that all that sort of thing just sounds pompous in these modern times. And I did feel rather sad at Cathy's clearly delineated departure. Her final experience is a traumatic and narrow escape from a conflagration, which makes it believable that she would now decide to refuse any future missions.

There's a quiet moment after she's gone, and I was strongly reminded of the inter-companion bits in the Fourth Doctor era, at the end of Invasion of Time and the start of The Ribos Operation, or the start of Destiny of the Daleks.

Steed however wastes no time in getting on the phone to sort himself out with a new 'companion'. Who will it be I wonder?...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Naive Avengersthon - 54. Esprit de Corps

The old 'Jacobite insurrection' plot, updated and with the general of a Highland regiment (Duncan 'Napoleon in Dance of the Dead' Macrae) at the head of it. He has a very clever plan to make it seem like an innocent military exercise - with an even cleverer twist.

John Thaw is his right-hand man Captain Trench, who not only tries to strangle Cathy but also puts Steed in front of a firing squad. Roy Kinnear providing blackly comic relief as Corporal Jessop.

Also to be seen: Douglas Robinson making his 4th appearance.

Macrae, Thaw and Kinnear are all excellent. Macrae outshines all the renegade generals of the Pertwee years, he even convinces when he tells Cathy that she is to take the throne as Queen Anne II. Thaw is by turns quietly sardonic and quietly sinister. And Kinnear's scenes with Steed are a delight - sarcastic eye-rolling at the court-martial, ironic sympathy during the last meal. Even in their first scene, the way he wordlessly conveys that he's waiting for a tip is brilliant.

One of my favourites so far, up there with The Big Thinker, Dressed to Kill and School for Traitors, and with some of the best acting since Death of a Great Dane.