Category Archives: avengers

The Avengers 4.26 – Honey For the Prince

Tonight’s little bit of confusing old technology: a steam bath cabinet, like the one that James Bond locks the fellow inside in Thunderball. The villain in Brian Clemens’ “Honey For the Prince” is played by George Pastell, who we all remember as the doomed wannabe super-baddie Eric Klieg in the Doctor Who adventure “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” This was not Pastell’s most rigorous and challenging acting assignment. He spends more than half his time onscreen being pampered and massaged by Carmen Dene.

Since this was made in those halcyon days when we hadn’t figured out that steam cabinets really aren’t as conducive to weight loss as we’d like, we briefly see Pastell’s head sticking out of the cabinet, and it was the strangest thing our son has seen in days. “Wha?! What is he in?!” he yelped. Part of me thinks he must have seen a steam cabinet somewhere before, maybe in season one of Batman?, but if he ever starts looking at 1960s TV and movies for any length of time on his own, he’ll definitely find others. Lucille Ball probably got locked in one or two.

We also caught a little bonus episode, a little three minute minisode, as it might be called these days, alerting viewers that when The Avengers would be seen next, it would be in color. Some dingbat in the dark days of fandom once claimed that “The Strange Case of the Missing Corpse” was twenty minutes long, when it’s really three minutes and ten seconds. It’s not clear when or where it was ever actually shown, though. It’s possible that it might have run alongside the last of the American ABC run in the late summer of 1966 before the show went on hiatus until January 1967.

I’ll tell you this for free: a lot of people wasted a lot of time trying to source a twenty minute version of this episode.

And speaking of hiatuses, that’s all from The Avengers for now, but stay tuned! Steed and Mrs. Peel will be back in March!

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The Avengers 4.25 – How to Succeed…. at Murder

Our son was a little taken aback when the peculiar Henrietta, a villain who’s leading a sexual revolution in the business world, is revealed. “Hey, she’s a nutcracking machine! This is weird. Weird weird!”

This is an entertaining episode, but it’s really dated. Not offensively so, certainly not as bad as the later Batman episode that skewered the new feminism of the sixties, but there’s still something a little bit meatheaded about a story that posits that the only real way that women can make it in the business world is by developing an inscrutable filing system, killing their immediate boss, and left to run the place because nobody else can figure out how. A ventriloquist doll is in charge of the gang.

There’s also a crushing inevitability about the revelation of the meek ventriloquist needing a doll to take charge of things. In fairness, it’s possible this might not have been quite so obvious in 1966, despite a couple of Twilight Zone installments that predate this, but certainly the constant reuse of this trope in TV, movies, and comics since 1966 made this one thunderously obvious.

It’s entertaining, but it would have been even better in 1966 than today, so it’s probably better to focus on everything else in the episode, especially Christopher Benjamin’s hilarious appearance as J.J. Hooter, a perfumier who can identify any fragrance, but only after rigorous preparation for his nose. There are also fine performances by familiar faces Sarah Lawson, Angela Browne, and Jerome Willis.

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The Avengers 4.24 – A Sense of History

“Some of that was kind of hard to understand,” our son told us. I agreed; British colleges and universities are pretty strange for us, too! I still can’t get over the downright palatial residence of fourth-year students in places like this. Patrick Mower’s character, who’s a really nasty piece of work, lives in a space that would have fit six or eight of us from my time at dear old Reed Hall.

I took a break from reading 2000 AD when I went to college; at least one of the students at St. Bode’s has kept up his subscription to the venerable Lion. Mrs. Peel’s checking out the latest adventure for Robot Archie in the issue in the lecture room. Archie was the spiritual antecedent for the Vision and Jocasta in those other, lesser Avengers.

But even if our son had been more familiar with the ins and outs of colleges like this, I think the central thesis of this adventure might have been a little over his head. I like the way that Martin Woodhouse’s script is very subtle about the issue between one set of economists who envision a future of “Europia” and the anonymous author of a paper called Economics and a Sense of History. Steed immediately sees something in the paper that brings the word “jackboots” to mind, and many of the students at St. Bode’s, including Mower and future star Jacqueline Pearce, are thugs-in-training. They’re downright awful to one of their lecturers, played by John Barron, who contends that no one person can alter the inevitable course of history.

The show was much more his speed when the students’ Rag Week festivities got violent. At one point, Steed and Nigel Stock’s character have to take refuge under a caravan in the woods while masked ruffians fire arrows at them. One flaming arrow pierces Steed’s bowler hat; that was the high point of the episode for him!

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The Avengers 4.23 – The House That Jack Built

“The House That Jack Built” is one of the high points of season four. It isn’t even a shame that it turns from a weird, creepy house story into a tale about another sixties supercomputer, because it’s so good, and so visually interesting. It’s one of Brian Clemens’ most entertaining scripts for the show, and really shows off how resourceful Mrs. Peel is. I watched this one more easily than a dozen times in the eighties, and all the years away from it haven’t dampened my enthusiasm at all.

Our son thought this one was really weird. He’s probably still struggling with the idea of computers that fill rooms and are programmed to be evil. This world is even stranger to him than the pioneers in the desert that we watched this morning!

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The Avengers 4.22 – What the Butler Saw

Happily, this episode of The Avengers was much more our son’s speed than some of the others that we have watched recently. It’s a light and fun story by Brian Clemens in which there are three suspects for some defense secrets going missing. There’s an admiral who gambles too much, a brigadier who drinks too much, and a group captain who likes the ladies too much, and all three are having staffing problems in their homes. Steed takes four undercover roles, two of them with remarkable facial hair, and signs on for a course in butling, and Mrs. Peel initiates Operation: Fascination to bewitch the group captain. I think it’s one of the lesser adventures from season four, but it was simple and silly enough for our son to really enjoy it.

In the cast, I was interested to see that Thorley Walters and Howard Marion-Crawford share an amusing career similarity: perhaps their best known roles were as the assistant partner to a well-known fictional detective. Walters played Dr. Watson in at least three different Sherlock Holmes films, and Marion-Crawford was Dr. Petrie, the confidante of Nayland Smith, in the five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies. John Le Mesurier is also here, as a butler who, we know from the pre-credits teaser, done it!

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The Avengers 4.21 – A Touch of Brimstone

Yes, I know, you were expecting a picture of Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Instead, here’s a picture of every man in Christendom upon seeing Mrs. Peel in her Queen of Sin getup. Enjoy!

The story goes that ABC declined to show this episode because of the Queen of Sin’s costume, along with the climactic fight with Peter Wyngarde, in which he starts lashing at her with a whip. I’ve contended all along that this episode wasn’t going to get shown on national American television before we got that far. There’s a scene with Wyngarde and Carol Cleveland pawing each other in bed, for starters, in an era when 99% of married couples on American TV had separate, single beds. (Gomez and Morticia Addams were the only exception I can think of, and while they were television’s most passionate couple, you may recall that they only ever kissed while standing up!)

Then we get to the “do what thou wilt being the whole of the law” ethos of the Hellfire Club and their incredibly bawdy parties, with drinking and “wenching.” They worship evil and women exist only as vessels for (sexual) pleasure. Writer Brian Clemens was pushing an envelope here.

There simply weren’t enough weeks in the calendar for ABC to show all 26 episodes from season four before they went all-color in the first week of September of 1966, so some of them weren’t going to be shown. “A Touch of Brimstone” was allegedly rejected on content grounds, and, that content spoken of in whispers, it immediately made the rounds of bootleg film prints. Some independent stations around the country bought the black and white package for local broadcasts, and some are said to have edited out most of the whipping scene. In short order, this episode became quite notorious. When I was a video trader in the mid-to-late eighties, you would occasionally see this one in lists and catalogs with notations like RARE AND UNCUT!!

At some point in the seventies, comic writer Chris Claremont landed a copy. He loved peppering his scripts with in-jokes from British film and TV, and, in 1980, reintroduced the Hellfire Club as characters in The Uncanny X-Men. One of the members looks like Peter Wyngarde as his later character, Jason King, and the evil women in their order wear variations on the Queen of Sin costume. In their 18th Century formal wear and their lingerie, they’ve been pestering the heroes of the Marvel Universe ever since, and were seen as the baddies in the 2011 film X-Men: First Class. (Though perhaps my favorite Claremont in-joke was using the Hobbs End tube station from the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit as a location for an issue of an X-Men spinoff comic.)

Our son didn’t understand this much at all, mercifully. It started with the great promise of bad guys who use exploding cigars, sneezing powder, whoopie cushions, and collapsing chairs, and then deteriorated into a lot of dumb men yelling and spilling their ale while smooching women in old-fashioned clothes. At least we can agree that Patrick Macnee, Jeremy Young, and their stunt doubles had a completely amazing swordfight. I’m not sure that Young even had a double. Colin Jeavons and Robert Cawdron are also in this one. Along with Wyngarde and Cleveland, it’s a great cast for a terrific episode: ABC’s audience in 1966 may or may not have been scandalized, but they definitely missed out.

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The Avengers 4.20 – The Danger Makers

Here’s another fourth season Avengers with a pile of great character actors from the period. This one features Nigel Davenport, Moray Watson, and the awesome Douglas Wilmer. Unfortunately, there’s that law about using a high-profile actor like Wilmer working against the writer’s intention here. Roger Marshall had scripted a few of these already, and we’ve become used to the stock character of a specialist doctor, usually employed by Steed’s branch of the ministry, not having an enormous amount to do with the plot. But Wilmer doesn’t play those kinds of characters, and there are exactly two suspects available who could be the mysterious “Apollo,” the leader of the Danger Makers. It’s probably going to be Douglas Wilmer.

This is the episode with the nailbiting scene where Mrs. Peel gets initiated into a society of thrillseeking military men by way of electrified poles and see-saws. It’s impossible to watch without holding your breath. The whole thing is hugely entertaining, but it required some more explanations than usual for our kid. We didn’t bother with one of the villains’ hobby of phrenology; we were already behind with explaining chicken runs and Russian roulette. We chose to emphasize that nobody really plays that, but he’s going to see an awful lot of it in movies and TV. At least I hope nobody really plays it.

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The Avengers 4.19 – Quick-Quick Slow Death

Well, here’s where all the extras and additional speaking parts that “The Thirteenth Hole” was missing went! They managed their resources really well, actually, because Robert Banks Stewart’s “Quick-Quick Slow Death” is a complete hoot. It is so fun, and so silly. The scheme to smuggle in foreign agents by way of a dance academy was a little too complicated for our son to understand at all, but he had several good laughs.

My favorite recurring bit is with that fine actor John Woodnutt, who plays a military captain. He gets injured early on, choked unconscious with a necktie. For the rest of the episode, he doesn’t actually speak, just coughs and gasps his answers to Steed’s questions. Then there’s Mrs. Peel getting some remarkably prurient-minded attention from a tattooist and from a shoemaker, and then there’s a bandleader who “composes” a “band” made up of full-sized photos of himself holding various instruments, the identity of a killer finding its way onto a garlic sausage… the whole story is a completely charming delight.

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