Tag Archives: brian clemens

The Champions 1.30 – Autokill

We recently watched “Gnaws,” where Dennis Spooner came on board with a script for Brian Clemens’ The New Avengers that everybody who saw it as a kid remembers more than any other episode. This was perhaps karmic retribution for “Autokill” eight years earlier, when Clemens came on board Spooner’s show with a script that pulled the rug out from every other installment. It’s the one where Richard and Craig have a brawl and the eyes of every child watching popped out of their heads.

We watched this episode earlier in the evening, since our son had a friend coming by after dinner. Marie was taking a nap and I didn’t want to wake her until we’d finished. So the kid gave her a breathless recap as she blinked the sleep away. “Richard got hypnotized into fighting Craig! It was AMAZING! They were knocking each other all over the place!” It’s quite a fight, that’s true. They get all kinds of battered and bruised like you just didn’t see on television in the late sixties. Our son described it this way: “Sharron held Richard down and then Craig gave him a sandwich. A KNUCKLE SANDWICH!” I vividly remember the shots of Richard’s mouth full of blood from when I first saw this one in 1987 because it’s so shocking.

So “Autokill” really is a memorable experience and overall a fine episode with which to end a show. Paul Eddington plays one of the villains, and he wouldn’t have been out of place in an Avengers. He’s fussy, fastidious, and obsessed with cleanliness. There’s almost a preview of the bloodshed to come when Craig smacks the villain and draws blood and the poor wretch almost passes out from fear that he’ll bleed on his uniform.

Sadly, that was it for The Champions. Like most ITC series, the program was made in the hopes of sales to international television markets, especially an American network sale. NBC picked up the series and gave ten of the installments a run in the summer of 1968. Remember last year when I talked about the roaring success of Laugh-In? Rather than risk overexposure for their surprise new hit, NBC rested it for the summer and ran The Champions in its place.

Unfortunately, The Champions sank without trace fifty-one summers ago, and NBC never bothered to run the other twenty episodes. I once read that this ended up hurting the show’s ability to find independent stations to pick it up. Local channels had purchased a few programs from ITC’s catalog, most notably The Saint, which was shown in enough markets to eventually make NBC interested in buying the two color seasons. But The Champions was tainted by its network failure and not often seen in American syndication. I’m really glad that I picked up Network’s DVD release. It’s got a great documentary about the show that reunites the three stars that I’m going to watch again soon.

One last stupid little anecdote about this episode. The first agent who gets brainwashed and drugged into becoming a killer leaves behind a wife who freaks out and cries while Sharron tries to ask her about the morning he vanished. I recognized her as someone I’d seen freaking out and crying in something else really recently, but couldn’t remember what. I didn’t recognize the name, Rachel Herbert. IMDB set me straight. The other morning, when I popped in the first episode of Lord Peter Wimsey to get a picture of the late Glyn Houston, I rewatched the scene where Herbert, playing Lady Mary, finds her brother standing over her dead fiance and freaks out, crying “Oh God, Gerald, you’ve killed him!” See, I knew I’d seen that freaked out, crying face recently.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under champions

The New Avengers 1.13 – Three Handed Game

I’m in the minority – the very, very small minority – of viewers whose favorite Avengers co-star is Purdey. Sure, Mrs. Peel is an icon, but the reason I honestly like Purdey even more is that she’s so delightfully, effortlessly, weird. Her eccentricities never feel forced, because she’s quietly dancing to the beat of her own drummer, and Joanna Lumley plays her with a smile and a wink so believably that she doesn’t feel like a TV character at all. She’s just a quirky, very intelligent oddball who can kick the living daylights out of her opponents.

And she cooks marshmallow pie for dinner, and when she’s left backstage on guard duty while her charge performs his mind-reading act, she gets restless and gives herself some clown makeup, like all sensible undercover spies do when they want to avoid attention.

I learned something new about The Avengers today. There’s a recurring character in the first season of this run. I thought I’d paid attention to this show in the past, and I know who the actor John Paul is – he was Spencer Quist in the BBC’s terrifically fun SF drama Doomwatch – and I knew that he was in an episode of this show, but all these years and it never registered that he’s in two episodes, this one and “Target!” He’s credited as Dr. Kendrick in that episode and just Doctor in this one, but it’s probably the same man. How weird that never registered with me.

Anyway, “Three Handed Game” was co-written by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner and it’s a fun story about a brain-drain machine and three operatives with photographic memories who have each been entrusted with every third word of a very long and sensitive document. In our son’s favorite scene, Steed races his Jaguar against a March Formula One car to flag down the driver, and I’m not sure what mine was, because I like this whole episode a lot. Other than “Gnaws,” our son enjoyed this whole series. This was the first time I’d watched them as one batch (well, clearly, because two of them I’d never sat down to see before) and I think they work incredibly well. I also think that the next batch won’t, but we’ll see how that goes.

That’s all from The New Avengers for now, but we’ll watch the second season of thirteen starting in September. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.12 – Sleeper

Brian Clemens’ “Sleeper” is certainly an entertaining story, but I bet the story of how they pulled it off would be even more fun. In this one, our heroes are given the antidote for a demonstration of a “sleeping dust,” leaving them the only people awake in a huge part of London after criminals dust the city with the stuff in order to pull off a grand series of bank and jewelry store robberies at the break of dawn on a Sunday morning. So they mixed some “nobody’s moving” establishing shots with some first-light filming on residential streets, some later-light filming in deserted areas, and some backlot shooting behind a studio and it’s altogether seamless.

I don’t think it’s quite as plausible as it pretends to be, because surely more than one police car would have driven into the affected area at some point this morning. I also quibble that Purdey didn’t think things through like she should. After knocking two henchmen, played by familiar seventies faces Prentis Hancock and Mark Jones, out cold, I think she probably should have disarmed them, because they come to and then start shooting at Steed and Gambit.

You might also make the argument that the comedy bit where Steed and Gambit get their turn to clobber Hancock and Jones is a bit out of place in a story that otherwise looks and feels deadly serious, but they knew what they were doing. It’s a bit broad, but our son loved the scene, and guffawed as our heroes reveal that they aren’t sleeping at all. So I think it’s just a hair shy of perfect, but it’s so fun to look at the sleeping city in all its mid-seventies grime and glory, and enjoy guessing where the plot would go next. And I have always loved how the only thing that gives the unflappable John Steed a moment’s pause in this crisis is that Gambit breaks into a pub to get the two of them beers as they ponder their next move, and since he didn’t pilfer any glasses, Steed has to drink straight from the bottle.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.11 – Dirtier By the Dozen

When interviewed in his later years, Patrick Macnee reflected that perhaps The New Avengers would have been more successful with less of him in it. He considered that he might have taken the role of Mother and left all the action stuff to his younger co-stars. Brian Clemens’ “Dirtier By the Dozen” shows what that might have looked like. Steed is only in the margins of this one; it’s Gambit and Purdey who tackle a British army regiment that’s been discreetly flying around the world acting as mercenaries. This is one of a handful of episodes I’d never seen before.

I quite liked it, and our son certainly did. It was filmed in a very wet autumn in 1976 and has lots of explosions at one point as the regiment uses a mortar cannon to kill one of their enemies, fleeing across a minefield. Not bad at all, but it needed more Steed in it, which suggests that Macnee might not have been correct.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.9 – Faces

Okay, so we had Roy Marsden last time, Edward Petherbridge this time, and Patrick Malahide next time. If you were a fan of the detective shows that made their way to PBS’s Mystery! anthology about a decade later, you can call that a hat trick: Commander Dalgliesh, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Chief Inspector Alleyn. Reckon John Thaw was a bit busy in 1976 to appear, but it’s a shame they couldn’t find parts for some other future ’80s teevee detectives like Jeremy Brett or James Warwick in this run!

Anyway, “Faces” is incredibly fun, but it’s very, very TV-stupid. It’s another doubles story, this time co-written by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner, and everybody gets to play other characters. It doesn’t do nearly enough with its neat premise, however. We learn this time that one of Steed’s Ministry superiors, played by Richard Leech, was killed by a lookalike who stepped into his shoes and built himself into a secrets broker. This happened five years previously. This show’s diabolical mastermind created that position for himself in 1971. They could have ran with that premise and built a much more interesting story than anything with doubles. There’s also a very rare onscreen confirmation of the class difference between Steed and Gambit, something this show never really addressed much.

Certainly the scene where Gareth Hunt and Joanna Lumley are – wait for it – playing Gambit and Purdey pretending to be Walter and Lolita pretending to be Gambit and Purdey while each thinks that the other is an imposter is hilariously entertaining. Lolita is really funny as well, knowwharrImean? And it’s always nice to see the awesome Petherbridge at work, and I love how his character murders people with a bow and arrow. But it’s dragged down by too many action TV cliches, like all of the doubles showing up to kill their targets while dressed identically, and Steed losing his oldest and best friend like he hasn’t lost his two oldest and best friends already. I’m not sure this oldest and best friend will be the last, either.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.8 – The Tale of the Big Why

Proof that times have changed for the Avengers: tonight’s episode is a treasure hunt story, with our heroes competing against two villains to track down a Macguffin that’s worth a lot to somebody. But these villains are just so characterless. They’re resourceful, violent, unpleasant, but they’re so disagreeably anonymous. They’re certainly no Street and Green. They’re not even the gentlemen chappies from “The Rotters.” They’re just seventies thugs.

I didn’t care for them, but “The Tale of the Big Why,” written by Brian Clemens and directed by Robert Fuest, is otherwise a pretty good chase story. There are several interested parties whose paths intersect with the Macguffin – one of them is played by Roy Marsden – and lots of great location filming. I loved Fuest’s decision to show the passing of time by letting the camera land on a glass of beer as different characters drive past a village pub. There’s also a hostage exchange which goes terribly wrong for the outclassed bad guys and is enormously fun.

Our son was rather less pleased than me. There are a few “back to square one” moments in the story, which just left him confused. Was this show over or not? By the time they revealed what the Macguffin is and why it’s important, the law of conservation of TV speaking parts has told the audience whose career is going to be ended by it. (Hint: surprisingly, it isn’t Geoffrey Toone, who’s playing some minister or other. He sensibly stays back at Whitehall, where the finger of suspicion stops pointing.) I suppose that’s why they quickly wrapped up the plot along with a last bit of violence in the final ninety seconds, which didn’t help an overtired kid up a little past his bedtime finally understand what all the fuss was about.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.5 – Cat Amongst the Pigeons

I’ve always thought it was interesting that writer Dennis Spooner only contributed one episode to the original run of The Avengers, probably because he was extremely busy writing for every other action-adventure program on British television in the late sixties and the man had to sleep sometime. But by 1976, he had enough time available to write several installments of The New Avengers. John Hough directed this one and he crams in more visual references to Hitchcock than any other hour I can think of. But everybody’s on board with this creepy little homage; the script even references that bit in The Birds where the chimney provides an unexpected hole in the defenses.

And talking of creepy, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting Vladek Sheybal’s downright twisted performance in this story anytime soon. Zarcardi is not like the typical grandiose and talkative villains that the Avengers face. He’s an isolated loner with an almost supernatural control of birds. (Well, there’s an explanation, but “any sufficiently advanced technology” and all that.) Familiar faces Peter Copley and Kevin Stoney are also here for a scene apiece, and an actor named Matthew Long has a very unusual role as an agent from another department who has a very antagonistic dislike of Steed’s blank check to do what he likes.

It’s all done with enough intensity to have kept our son worried. He really got into the spirit of things and curled up next to his mom for safety. He really loved the wonderfully entertaining climax, in which Steed and Gambit both have the exact same ideas, execution, and dumb jokes, and glare at each other for daring to steal the other’s thunder. The revelation of what those ideas are is a real treat.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers

The New Avengers 1.4 – The Midas Touch

Our son has entered that phase of a young boy’s life where skeletons are incredibly cool. It took me years to get out of that phase. Hopefully he won’t do anything so silly as buy a Tarot deck because there are skeletons on some of the cards. Anyway, the first few episodes of The New Avengers have a title sequence made from exciting scenes from the first few stories, including the bit shown above where a villain at a costume party, dressed in a skull mask and red robe, puts his infected hands in a bowl of punch. When he first saw that he shouted “Aw, that looks cool!” and while the reality of the situation did disappoint him a little – no, the Avengers did not get to fight a living skeleton this week – he did enjoy every tire-squealing moment of this story.

There are lots of reasons I’ve always liked this story. Earlier, I had said that one strike against The New Avengers for a lot of people is that it’s really tied to one time and place instead of in a nebulous, fantasy Avengerland. With that in mind, director Robert Fuest is back on the show after so many imaginatively-photographed stories in the original show’s last year, and he really nails this down to 1976 by staging an incredibly seventies car chase through many of the same streets and locations that every other British action show of the time used.

Almost inevitably, Purdey and Gambit end up in the iconic abandoned warehouses of the Southall Gas Works, where The Sweeney and Doctor Who had both filmed in the previous three years. I’ve always enjoyed how the script subverts the expectations of the car chase by having Purdey and Gambit discuss whether it was Walter or John Huston who directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre while bystanders drop crates of fruit on the windshield of their speeding car.

I was a little less keen on them casting Ronald Lacey as an allegedly Chinese character, “number one son” accent and all, especially when the character is called “Hong Kong Harry” and he might as well have been a Brit abroad instead of a silly stereotype. John Carson is also here, as a disgraced former agent who stumbles on a secret plot and, by the law of this sort of show, signs his own death warrant.

Leave a comment

Filed under avengers