Category Archives: avengers

The Avengers 5.14 – Something Nasty in the Nursery

In a TV series full of great death scenes, Clive Dunn’s murder at the hand of a jack-in-the-box is one of the all-time best. The story, by Philip Levene, is not honestly among my favorites, but I love this moment!

“Something Nasty in the Nursery” was one of the first color Avengers episodes that we’d got our hands on in the mid-eighties. Like “Never, Never Say Die,” everybody we knew got a copy of this one. I was thinking about those video trading days earlier this week and it really was such a strange time. I guess in part because there were so many bootleg outlets churning out allegedly legit copies to legit outlets, it was a show that everybody could pick up an episode here or there for five or ten dollars. In fact, we’d occasionally flip right past tapes of color episodes, thinking we’d come back to them, in the hopes of finding an Honor Blackman tape at Blockbuster or Camelot Music.

I’m not sure why “Something Nasty in the Nursery” entered our orbit so quickly or where I got my first copy of this one. I didn’t see some of the other color Mrs. Peel stories, notably the next two and “You Have Just Been Murdered,” for years and years, but those old days seem so strange from a modern perspective. I’d find somebody who had twenty random Avengers episodes, including four I didn’t have, and I’d have twenty-two of them, including six he needed. I’d offer the fellow three tapes with those six episodes in return for three tapes with the four I needed on two, and maybe a Champions or a Saint on the third. Weird times.

Anyway, some other familiar Avengers faces are in the cast this time, including Paul Eddington, Dudley Foster, and Patrick Newell. A guy named Geoffrey Sumner, probably best known from The Army Game, plays a general. In the late nineties, I had a silly website, either on Geocities or the old NEGIA thing in Athens, that pretended to be an episode guide to Professor X / Colonel X, an old Who fan in-joke. I “cast” Sumner as the first Professor X. Funny how I can forget about all the other Professors in favor of work they actually did, but Sumner is forever the William Hartnell analog in a silly fan joke I ran into the ground, and nothing more.

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The Avengers 5.13 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station

“Hard to follow, but fun to watch!” That’s our son’s verdict on this story, which I think is the only episode of The Avengers to go out under a pseudonym. Roger Marshall wrote the original story, Brian Clemens reworked it, and the final credit goes to “Brian Sheriff.” There aren’t too many familiar-to-me faces in the story. John Laurie plays a railroad enthusiast, and Isla Blair is one of the members of the criminal gang.

Since we have next to no experience with inter-city train travel in the southeast US, I’ve always been a little bit interested in stories that feature railway lines and timetables and disused stations. Sure, anybody reading Christie or Sayers’ novels where somebody’s alibi is established by the sound of the tunnel that the 4:50 from Walthamstow enters blowing the horn twice has a considerable advantage over me, but I make do. Of course, our son has even less experience than me. He’s taken the subway in Atlanta a few times, that’s about it. So we had to pause and explain a little more of this than usual. The concept that the ticket collector is punching out a special microdot from counterfeit tickets just sailed over his head.

He was also so confused by the name of the derelict station, Chase Halt, that it didn’t even sound like a place to him. I reminded him that there’s an episode of The Secret Service with a similarly-named station, and of course in his second series, Catweazle lived in an abandoned station called Duck Halt. It turns out that a “halt” is, or was, a very small station with limited service and few amenities, and most of the railways stopped using them in the 1950s, which is why they kept turning up as locations in 1960s and 1970s television. I always like it when we learn something together.

Unless I’m mistaken, “The Correct Way to Kill” was the first episode of The Avengers from its color era where somebody shows up at Steed’s apartment (# 3 Stable Mews) intending to murder him. At least Philip Madoc survived that encounter. Tonight’s might be the first time that the wannabe killer ends up dead himself. That’s going to start happening a lot more frequently!

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The Avengers 5.12 – The Superlative Seven

“The Superlative Seven” loses a little of its luster when the story turns into And Then There Were None on a mysterious island, because most of the seven in question act incredibly illogically. It’s still a very fun mystery, and everything getting to the island is fabulous. Seven experts in physical combat have all been invited to a fancy dress party on an airplane, only to learn that they’ve accepted invitations from different people. And then the plane takes off with nobody at the controls.

The episode is best known for its amazing cast, which includes Charlotte Rampling, BRIAN BLESSED, and Donald Sutherland. Sutherland had been doing a lot of work in the UK in the mid-sixties before he became a big-name film star. In another one of those odd coincidences, Marie and I saw him in the last episode of The Saint that we watched together, just last week. Sutherland and John Hollis play the two villains behind the cat-and-mouse game.

Our son really got into this one, and he was completely convinced that Charlotte Rampling’s character was the mystery killer. He enjoyed it tremendously, and was a little disappointed that he was mistaken. In fairness, however, the villains did cheat.

Oh, one last note: our son didn’t know what the word superlative meant. I told him that it meant magnificent.

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The Avengers 5.11 – Epic

No program’s perfect. I’ve never enjoyed “Epic,” because it feels like everybody’s in on a joke that they’re hell-bent on running into the ground. Peter Wyngarde’s in it, and he seems to be having fun, at least.

Our son enjoyed it more than I did, although he was a little confused by some of it. He was very excited and worried by the conveyor belt-sawblade climax – an old deathtrap of silent movies that had infuriated him in a Batman episode that had been shown about a year before this – and went upstairs humming Laurie Johnson’s Avengers theme.

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The Avengers 5.10 – Never, Never Say Die

Back in the days of VHS tape trading, “Never, Never Say Die” was one that pretty much everybody had, in part because I made certain that everybody I ever ran across had a copy. “Oh, you’ve never seen The Avengers? Hang on, I’ll copy you a tape…”

This must have been a huge thrill for American audiences in 1967. All of the show’s television competitors – The Man From UNCLE, Mission: Impossible, errr… Amos Burke, I guess – could dig into our deep bench of great guest stars, but none of them were getting Christopher Lee.

This episode was made in February 1967 and shown about five weeks later. Lee was phenomenally busy then making movies for Hammer and Amicus and whoever it was that made the Fu Manchu films. And sure, Rasputin the Mad Monk wasn’t breaking box office records or anything, but the young audiences who were loving his Dracula, his Frankenstein’s Monster, his Rasputin, and I suppose his Fu Manchu definitely tuned in to The Avengers that week. The show was already the coolest thing on Friday nights; this fun homage to all of Lee’s famous film work just cemented it. When he came back to play a different character in 1969, they gave him a chance to stretch a little bit more than they did here!

Also starring this time, there’s Jeremy Young in a nice, meaty part as Professor Frank N. Stone’s assistant, along with Christopher Benjamin and John Junkin in small roles. The script is by Philip Levene, and while there are certainly better and funnier episodes of the show, I found that this was a very good starter episode for newcomers. It hooked several of my friends in the eighties.

The episode also gave me a chance to introduce our son to the brain teaser about what’s on television in all the fictional worlds of television shows. Seinfeld once did a series about a potential TV series “about nothing” for the character of Jerry to play, but that still didn’t answer the question of what NBC would have been showing Thursdays at 9 if Jerry, George, and Elaine tuned in one evening. Doctor Who fandom used to have a long-running gag about the BBC of the Doctor’s world having a Saturday evening serial called either Professor X or Colonel X, following the successful Nightshade stories of the 1950s. But because Steed and Mrs. Peel play by their own rules, the show that occupies The Avengers‘ timeslot in their world is… The Avengers! How else to explain Mrs. Peel starting the story by sitting back in her living room to watch “The Cybernauts” from season four?

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The Avengers 5.9 – The Correct Way to Kill

In the early days of color TV, producers would often remake black and white episodes. It showed a little bit of foresight – in time, many channels would stop running black and white TV – but it sometimes felt like a cheat. I think that Bewitched and Gunsmoke may hold the booby prize for most color remakes. With The Avengers, it made a little sense. The three videotaped seasons were not shown in America for many years, so the audience never had the chance to see “The Charmers,” which had used a largely similar script as this a few years before.

“The Charmers” is witty, but “The Correct Way to Kill,” Brian Clemens’ rewrite, is completely hilarious. It’s one of my all-time favorites, just full of sight gags and double entendres. Steed’s partner for much of the episode is Comrade Olga Volowski, played by Anna Quayle, while Mrs. Peel is briefly teamed with another agent from “the other side” played by Philip Madoc.

The plot is hilariously, or perhaps uncomfortably, topical. Some third party, their agents dressed as London “city gents,” is murdering foreign agents on British soil. Steed is outraged, in his unflappable way. Surely “the other side” would have the decency to recall their agents and kill them at home instead of doing it in Britain! Maybe in the sixties, Comrade Steed. These days, agents from “the other side” drop dead in London every month or so.

Anyway, Clemens just has a hoot with Olga’s dialogue as she tries to understand Steed’s decadent, subtle ways, while Mrs. Peel learns the hard way that a little cheating in espionage, even when there’s meant to be a truce, is to be expected. The episode’s full of great familiar faces like Terence Alexander, Peter Barkworth, Michael Gough, and Joanna Jones, and it climaxes with a downright amazing swordfight. It’s a great, great episode, and if you’ve never seen it, you should check it out.

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The Avengers 5.8 – The Hidden Tiger

Mood affects enjoyment so much, and a bad mood can knock even a favorite thing down six or seven notches. My “favorite” example is an visit about a decade ago to Dave Poe’s BBQ in Marietta GA. It’s one of my ten or eleven favorite Atlanta-area barbecue places, and the sibling squabbling of my two oldest kids ruined the meal so much that I didn’t bother returning for at least three years.

Last night, I was preoccupied with some business as we watched Philip Levene’s “The Hidden Tiger,” which is one of everybody’s favorite color Avengers episodes. I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it, maybe thirty years ago, and because it was the wrong darn night to watch a great episode of television, it all fell flat to me. Bah. We should have postponed everything and tried again later.

On the other hand, our son really enjoyed the story and says that it’s also one of his favorites, so I’m glad he got the chance to see it as soon as possible. I like the way there’s such an effective shift in tone about halfway through. It’s a played-straight hunt for a large wild animal for about twenty minutes, and then it becomes a whimsical investigation into three criminals with cat names, Mr. Cheshire, Miss Angora, and Dr. Manx, played by Ronnie Barker, Gabrielle Drake, and Lyndon Brook. I think our son appreciated some villains who weren’t at all scary. I know he really loved Mr. Cheshire’s silly habit of drinking milk by lapping it gently with his tongue! Add in some awful puns and lots of cats roaming the corridors of the PURRR organization, and you’ve got a silly hour that kids are guaranteed to enjoy more than any grouchy grownups on the sofa.

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The Avengers 5.7 – The Living Dead

It’s not much of a downside, I’ll grant you, but one downside to planning ahead a couple of weeks for this blog is that I start overthinking about certain episodes, or I get the title stuck in my head, which will often get a song with the same name stuck in my head. So I’ve had Suede’s “The Living Dead” playing in my brain for weeks. There are worse fates, I guess. Still, I’ll be glad now that we’ve moved on, and hopefully the song’s been exorcised.

Well, our son really enjoyed this one. “The Living Dead” is a Brian Clemens script from a story by Anthony Marriott. This is the second time this season that somebody who’d worked with Gerry Anderson’s team got an idea going and Clemens finished it. Marriott was at the time working on the hugely successful detective series Public Eye for the Associated British Corporation. It does have a very off-kilter climax, though. He loved the tension as Steed stoically faces a firing squad while Mrs. Peel is beating the daylights out of three different people and rushing to the rescue. Then she mows nine people down with a machine gun! You certainly didn’t see very many women on TV in the sixties doing that!

“The Living Dead” is a good story, but not one of my favorites. There’s not quite enough wit and fun in it for my liking, but the only real flaw in the production is the same one that stood out in “The Hour That Never Was”. We’re shown a photo of a man who’s been dead for five years, and it’s a photo of actor Edward Underdown. If you guess that the character isn’t actually dead, you’re right! Other famous faces in the story include Pamela Ann Davy, Julian Glover, and Howard Marion-Crawford.

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