Category Archives: avengers

The Avengers 7.21 – Thingumajig

A little-known fact about the final season of The Avengers is that they attempted to more effectively counter-program against Laugh-In on NBC by sending thieves to beautiful downtown Burbank to steal all of Jo Anne Worley’s clothes. You bet your bippy they did!

But seriously, we resume our look at The Avengers with the show’s final six episodes, and one which I’d never actually seen before tonight. If you think I’m eccentric, silly, and nitpicky in middle age, you should have known me in my twenties. I briefly went through this long phase where I deliberately didn’t watch one episode of every show I enjoyed, so that I’d have something to watch later on down the line, on a rainy day. Well, it’s rained in Tennessee all blasted week, so here we are with Terry Nation’s “Thingumajig,” and it was not really worth the thirty year wait.

On the other hand, while if I’d watched this by myself, I’d have noted Iain Cuthbertson and Edward Burnham, as well as Linda Thorson’s godawful clothes, and figured this was more evidence that whatever program Terry Nation actually wanted to write, it wasn’t The Avengers. This one’s about a strange, unknown thing creeping around an archaeological dig underneath a late-eleventh century church that kills people with electrical blasts. It’s not a bad hour of television, just an awfully dry one, without any of that Avengers sparkle.

But our kid just loved it. He wondered desperately what the thingumajig was, and was alternately hiding behind the sofa in mild fright or, fists clenched, on the floor in front of us enjoying the thrill as Tara battles a thingumajig in her flat. Sometimes Terry Nation judged his comedy perfectly for younger viewers. There’s this one quirky eccentric in the story who sweats profusely, has a bad cold, and is always cramming snuff up his nostrils. I’d have said the guy wasn’t even remotely funny, but our son chuckled all the time he was onscreen, and just howled with laughter when he accidentally destroys a cake that Tara’s made. So maybe watch this one with a kid; that seems to be for whom it was made!

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.6 – The Terribly Happy Embalmers

Last year, when we watched the terrific Avengers episode “A Touch of Brimstone”, I noted that Patrick Macnee had a terrific swordfight with Jeremy Young, and that I didn’t think that Young used a stunt double. Well, the villains in tonight’s Adam Adamant Lives! were played by John Le Mesurier and Jeremy Young, and I’m absolutely certain Young didn’t have a double. Young and Gerald Harper have an absolutely magnificent swordfight here, and under the unflattering eye of the BBC’s “taped-live” format, there wasn’t a chance for doubles to be used.

(It’s very unflattering this week, in fact. Shortly before the fight, an actress, Ilona Rodgers, has to dash off the set for a quick costume change and one of the cameras is unfortunately positioned to catch her running away.)

Anyway, “Brimstone” had also been written by Brian Clemens, and it was made about six months before this was. I wonder whether, when Clemens pitched this story to the team at the BBC, he said something like “And I think there could be a part for an expert fencer, just in case Jeremy Young’s free to play him…”

Actually, now that I look closely at things, you remember that Three Musketeers series that I mentioned last month, the one with BRIAN BLESSED as Porthos and Jeremy Brett as D’Artagnan? Jeremy Young played Athos. So yeah, the guy definitely knew how to use a sword. You can’t be a Musketeer without one!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com

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The Avengers 7.20 – Homicide and Old Lace

A couple of oddball coincidences tonight: that’s the star of Adam Adamant Lives!, Gerald Harper, in color tonight as one of the guest stars in tonight’s episode of The Avengers. It also features the late Edward Brayshaw as one of the villains, and today (October 18) would have been his 85th birthday. Both of these fine actors, not to mention Donald Pickering, another notable name, had the misfortune of appearing in what’s by miles the worst episode of this show.

To recap, toward the end of 1967, John Bryce had been assigned to produce The Avengers, and under his watch, three episodes were at least started: “Invasion of the Earthmen”, “Invitation to a Killing,” which became “Have Guns – Will Haggle”, and a story written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. It was called “The Great Great Britain Crime” and featured the return of an organization previously seen in season two’s “Intercrime.”

“The Great Great Britain Crime” was judged to be too far gone, too much of a lost cause, to save even with reshoots. But with deadlines looming, poor decisions were made, and, more than a year later, a good chunk of the episode was repurposed. “Homicide and Old Lace” is that most unfortunate beast: a clip show. There are fights and shootouts from five or six other color Avengers episodes, and the story is given an intrusive and very, very annoying framing sequence. Mother is recounting the adventure to two elderly aunts, who constantly interrupt and interject and ask questions and recap everything we’ve seen before.

It’s painful to watch. Even with only about twenty-five or so minutes of visuals from “Crime” to play with, the producers undermined even those by having Mother narrate over some the footage, obscuring the original dialogue. There’s inappropriate “Perils of Pauline” music, and even at least one comedy sound effect. At places, this doesn’t seem desperate so much as vindictive, like Brian Clemens decided to stick the knife in for Bryce daring to work on his show.

There’s a pace and look and, in particular, a color scheme that’s unique to what we can see of “The Great Great Britain Crime” and “Invitation to a Killing.” I’m fascinated by the road that the Associated British Corporation didn’t take. I wish these two episodes existed in full so we could compare them to the transmitted versions. I’m certain that “The Great Great Britain Crime” was lousy; nothing that was used here convinces me otherwise, but at the same time, I’m equally certain that there’s no way in the universe that the original production was anywhere as tedious and aggravating as “Homicide and Old Lace.” Sadly, the originals are believed to have been destroyed all those years ago.

And we’ll end on that sour note for now, and put The Avengers back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh. We’ll return to this series in November for the final six episodes of its original run, but stay tuned! There’s lots more to watch and talk about!

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The Avengers 7.19 – Who Was That Man I Saw You With?

As we get closer to the end of The Avengers, there’s a definite feeling of the wind leaving the sails. Jeremy Burnham’s “Who Was That Man I Saw You With?” isn’t really bad, but it’s just an ordinary espionage story that could have played on any other spy program. We’ve been here before, during the tail end of the Mrs. Peel years, but those adventures mostly still had that distinctive Avengers sparkle and wit, even if the villains weren’t grandiose or weird. This is just by-the-numbers, and a little dull. The very likable Alan MacNaughtan has a small role, but I found myself wishing he had played one of several other parts.

On the other hand, these villains absolutely infuriated our son. The plot this time is that some enemy agents are piling up circumstantial evidence to frame Tara as being in league with somebody from the other side. The more the evidence mounts, and the more Mother believes it, the angrier our son became, and as the bad guys gloated, he growled, furious and unhappy. Being reminded that Tara will get out of this didn’t quell the fury.

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The Avengers 7.18 – Fog

Well, since we’ve been talking about sword sticks and people trapped in the wrong time, here’s an Avengers episode about a mysterious murderer from 1888 suddenly stalking the fog-bound streets of the East End. Our son enjoyed this one a lot, and thought that the “Black Museum” of torture devices and old weapons was incredibly creepy.

I’m always happy when he enjoys something more than I do. I think Jeremy Burnham’s “Fog” is a disaster. It’s not the worst Avengers – join us for that next week – but it’s a show that commits the cardinal sin of being boring. In its defense, it has Nigel Green in it, and he makes everything a little better. And I like the stupid, yet incredibly believable, name for a pub that Mother concocts as he and Steed extemporize the details of a previously unknown murder by the hideous Gaslight Ghoul. The pub is called “Saddle of Mutton.” Oh, and Paul Whitsun-Jones is in it, briefly, and I like him, too.

I’ve been bothered for years about why “Fog” fails so badly. A lot of it is plainly obvious: the episode begins with some comedy that bombs like a lead balloon, as a “Russian” who doesn’t speak any English – he doesn’t speak any Russian, either – blathers and bumbles for agonizingly long minutes. Never a good idea to lead with your worst material. The stars seem like they’re sleepwalking through the production, the music is a dirge, and the plot is hopelessly predictable. It’s just not fun.

But I think there’s more to it than that. “Fog” reminds me a little of one element of the Doctor Who serial “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” It’s set in a London of old Victorian stereotypes: organ grinders, flower girls, cobblestone streets, a Jack the Ripper wannabe. It’s the London of fiction and memory, and not the real world, but it isn’t the London of The Avengers, either. There’s no sense of why they’re trying to tell a story about the murders of foreign diplomats while dressed with the trappings of some other show entirely.

It certainly doesn’t help that it’s all obviously made in the studio and so the entire environment feels fake, cheap, and phony, while the rest of the series luxuriates in being and feeling real, even at its most fanciful. It’s The Avengers doing a bad cover version of an inferior program. At least it isn’t a clip show.

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The Avengers 7.17 – Take Me to Your Leader

I’ve never much enjoyed Terry Nation’s “Take Me to Your Leader,” possibly because all the wit is crammed into two minutes in the middle of the story. Well, while it isn’t a favorite, it’s not too bad, and Robert Fuest got to work his magic all over London with a larger-than-usual amount of filming on city streets, but it does feel like it needs a break from the narrative, which is our heroes swiping an attache case in a chain from one endless courier after another in one long night. Well, there is a break of sorts, with Mother discussing the situation with a character who wouldn’t have been more obvious as the Secret Master Villain if he had been wearing a T-shirt.

But while our son really enjoyed the constant stream of new characters, several fights, and a specially-trained courier dog, by far the best part of the story is in the middle. It turns out that a dance teacher played by Penelope Keith is actually the minder for a conniving little courier who’s more than susceptible to taking bribes, because a little girl has her future to consider, and a £25 investment would buy an awful lot of lollipops.

She’s a great kid. She probably works out her nefarious schemes on the playground with Wednesday Addams.

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The Avengers 7.16 – Stay Tuned

I’ve picked up on a cute similarity between “Stay Tuned” and an earlier Avengers episode written by Tony Williamson, “Killer.” Both stories are completely perfect for younger viewers who haven’t been exposed to all this spy business for decades, and both of them feature really good, quick-thinking villains who improvise and change direction when needed. This won’t tax adult viewers very much – Steed has obviously been kidnapped and made into a “Manchurian candidate” and we’re even given the kill-word very, very early on – but our son was completely riveted and worked hard to figure out the mystery.

Even though this won’t tax grownups, particularly the jaded ones, it’s still a really entertaining story just because of how well it’s done, plus there’s the inclusion of some memorable guest stars, and there’s a sadly too-brief expansion to the world of Steed’s department. With Mother temporarily away, Steed reports to a blind woman called Father. She’s only in this one episode for about five minutes, but the character, played by Iris Russell, was also used in the ill-fated Avengers film of the late nineties, where she was played by Fiona Shaw as though she had been a major presence in the TV show.

As for the other guests, there’s Howard Marion-Crawford, in one of his last roles, as another agent from Steed and Tara’s department. It’s a throwaway part for a great actor, and he died less than a year after making this. But it’s best remembered by genre fans – huh, that term again – as featuring two future Doctor Who recurring villains, Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara, as two of the baddies. Sadly, as nice as it would have been to have the Master and the Rani share a scene together, they don’t get the chance. Weirdly, just a few years later, Kate O’Mara would appear in another production with a Master-of-the-future, Anthony Ainley. They’re both in the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of Clouds of Witness… and they don’t share a scene together, either!

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The Avengers 7.15 – Love All

I’ve never much cared for this story by Jeremy Burnham. There’s perhaps the silliest computer this show ever had – it looks like a piano and writes romance novels – and a played-mostly-straight plot that uses super-subliminal microdots to influence whoever reads them. I think the most interesting thing about it is the complete transformation of Veronica Strong from an attractive young woman into a frumpy, chain-smoking cleaning lady who nobody would suspect as a femme fatale extracting secrets from her many admirers. That’s quite a good performance.

On the other hand, our son was on the edge of his seat during a moment where Tara is persuaded by Terence Alexander, playing the man she’s been subliminally hypnotized into loving, to jump out a window because life is no longer worth living without him. Steed arrives in the nick of time, but it’s touch and go for enough of a minute to keep our kid absolutely riveted with fear and concern.

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