I love The Avengers because it could so easily bend its format way past the point where lesser series would snap in two. At its core, regardless of the frequent trappings of espionage and spy business, this is a show about weird crimes. This time, it’s effortlessly an homage to the first two Quatermass serials, and there isn’t a diabolical mastermind. There’s a telepathic alien plant. It’s played totally straight and if you stuck this plot in just about any other, similar series, it would be an eye-rolling mess. The Saint did something similar once. It didn’t work.
So Philip Levene’s “Man-Eater of Surrey Green” is The Avengers played as sci-fi horror, and it’s unbelievably effective. Our son is typically more still and attentive with this series than anything else we watch; he really does enjoy it and works hard to understand the grown-up concepts. As with previous installments, he was patiently working through the new information and assembling it, and when it hit home that there’s a giant plant monster at work, it chilled him to the bone. He went behind the sofa with his security blanket and into our bedroom. Then the plant takes control of Mrs. Peel, and Steed has to fight her. This episode just downright betrayed him and stabbed him in the back. He choked back tears as he told us how much he didn’t like this one.
That said, even allowing for this show’s embrace of fancy, in a story about a mind-controlling plant the size of a country house, my suspension of belief still stumbled when Mrs. Peel explains that there’s thought to be vegetable life on Mars and the moon, and that “recent photographs show whole areas of vegetation” up there. You have to force yourself to remember that Avengerland looks a lot like our Earth, but it really isn’t. That’s the only way such a silly announcement can work!
Casting note: this is probably the first episode of the fourth season to boast only one face in the cast that I recognized. Joby Blanshard later played Colin Bradley, one of the Doomwatch team, in the early seventies. Everybody else was mostly unknown to me, although a couple of them, like Derek Farr, turned up again later in Avengerland in other small roles.