Tag Archives: dennis spooner

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!

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The Champions 1.29 – The Gun-Runners

This was a very satisfying little hour written by Dennis Spooner that sees our heroes globetrotting from Burma to Belgium to a Central African Nosuchlandia on the trail of several crates of rifles that are being sold to finance a civil war. Along for the ride, a mob of regular ITC guest stars that you see in all these shows: Anthony Chinn, William Franklyn, David Lodge, Paul Stassino. There are even giraffes in the jungle, thanks to the magic of rear-screen projection. It’s a really satisfying action hour where all our heroes get a spotlight superpower moment and a few little smiles of comedy.

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The New Avengers 1.10 – Gnaws

The first thing I was planning to say tonight was that, in the same way that it pleased me to introduce our son to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) with him having absolutely no idea that one of the characters was a ghost, it pleased me hugely to show my family the most infamous episode of the Avengers franchise, wherein our heroes hunt a giant rat in the sewers. They may have been the only people to have seen this episode to have no idea what writer Dennis Spooner was going to throw at them.

The second thing I was planning to say tonight was that, in much the same way that Spooner bent the Avengers format farther than it had ever gone before with his masterpiece “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…”, Spooner again took the format in a wild new direction with this story. Even with a familiar guest star like Jeremy Young at work here, this does not look or feel like The Avengers. There’s very little humor, and Steed doesn’t even don his bowler. This is a monster movie with three familiar characters in it.

And the third thing that I was planning to say tonight was that this is the episode where Purdey goes down in the sewers wearing the most hilariously unsuitable outfit for sewer-stalking that you’ve ever seen. Find yourself a woman who hunts giant rats in a Laura Ashley skirt, lads. She’ll never stop surprising you.

But then our son actually saw the story, or most of it anyway, and whatever I had to say stopped mattering so much. There’s a reason why everybody who saw this one as a kid remembers it. From the cold eyes of teenagerhood, this was “proof” that seventies Avengers was nowhere near as cool as sixties Avengers. From the colder eyes of adulthood, this was blah blah critical dissertation blah blah boring.

To a kid, this is the most terrifying hour of television ever made. Our son was scared out of his mind. Maybe when you’re an adult waiting for the rat, it’s just forty-five minutes of yeah, yeah, get on with it. When you don’t know what the heck the monster is – they tried to give the kids in the audience a billion clues, really, they did – then the director’s choices of reaction shots and screaming men about to get eaten are gobstompingly effective. At one point toward the end, Steed makes the decision between Purdey and a shotgun-wielding man he’s never seen before. Steed immediately sentences the man to death by throwing rat bait at him. By this point, our kid had already tried hiding in Mom’s lap, and behind the sofa, and leaving the room entirely. Knowing that guy’s fate was sealed was just about the living end for our son.

“That was NOT Godzilla-monster-scary, because that is a GOOD scary,” he told us. “That was a BAD-monster-scary. I will not watch ‘Gnaws’ again, not even for ten million dollars.” I assured him that none of the other sixteen episodes yet to come are anything even remotely as frightening as this. Marie sagely noted that even after he’s forgotten every other episode of this show, he will remember this one.

A few minutes later, safely tucked in for a good night’s sleep, a truck on the highway behind us let out a belching engine noise and our son rocketed out of bed and turned on every light in his room.

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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.

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The New Avengers 1.6 – Target!

If you’re as much a fan of familiar actors from the seventies as I am, then Dennis Spooner’s “Target!” is an absolute pleasure. You’ve got Keith Barron and Deep Roy as the villains, and Frederick Jaeger, John Paul, and Bruce Purchase in supporting roles. There’s a hint of the old Avengers spirit at play when Deep Roy disguises himself as a little kid on a tricycle, hiding a lethal hypodermic behind a bunch of balloons.

Our kid doesn’t care about actors, but there was plenty for him to enjoy in this one. The diabolical masterminds this week have rigged a shooting gallery survival course with darts filled with poisonous curare. Since The Avengers is very rarely about gunplay, or kill-or-be-killed shootouts, this is a pretty atypical story, not least in the sound department. It takes our heroes an eternity to figure out the link between all these apparently random agents, but the visuals of the survival course make for a hugely fun story to watch, and our son was on the edge of his seat.

My favorite moments were when Gambit kills two of the bad guys. He murders their inside man entirely by accident, thinking he’s just playing a cruel prank, but Deep Roy later gets one of the all-time great Avengers death scenes, and he totally had it coming.

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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.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.1 – My Late Lamented Friend and Partner

Disaster struck this afternoon. I’d been looking forward to finally digging into ITC’s famous Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) for ages and ages. I sent the kid upstairs while I put the disk in to make sure nothing in the menus or anything gave away the surprise that not only is the Hopkirk of the title deceased, he’s also a ghost. That’s right, our son may well be the first viewer in TV history that didn’t know that Marty Hopkirk is a ghost.

And I gingerly popped the DVD out of its spindle and the blasted disk snapped with a crack.

So since this is a show where the setup is a big part of the fun, we watched a copy on YouTube, and then – assuming disk two doesn’t snap (and here I pause to check… whew) – we’ll skip ahead to episode five next and circle back to the others once I get a replacement set! The YouTube copy was pretty crummy – it reminded me of what I could have expected from a third or fourth gen copy had I got this in a tape trade in the early nineties – but it did the trick. I’ve been wanting to watch this forever and it was worth the wait. This was such fun!

Assuming that the second, third, and possibly fourth viewers in TV history who didn’t know about Marty Hopkirk’s afterlife are reading this blog, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is a detective show where Jeff Randall, played by Mike Pratt, is a private eye and his partner Marty, played by Kenneth Cope, is murdered. As a ghost, Marty comes back to help his partner solve the murder and make sure that his beloved wife Jeannie, played by Annette Andre, is provided for. Marty stays out of his grave too long and gets on the receiving end of a century-long curse for ghosts who don’t follow the rules. This show was made in the spring of 1968, so Marty has another 49 years stuck here with us before he can return to the afterlife.

Speaking of the spring of 1968, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was made by many of the same talents and crew who had made The Champions the previous year, and who were making Department S at the same time as this. It was created by Dennis Spooner and produced by Monty Berman, and we’ll see lots of the same writers, directors, locations, and guest actors, including Frank Windsor and Ronald Lacey in this one. The script for this first episode was by Ralph Smart.

And it’s huge fun. I really enjoyed watching this with our son. He was admittedly a little restless at first, watching what appeared to be an ordinary detective show. I confess to having fun with the program’s name. He asked a few days ago why it had this name and I reminded him of Miles Archer’s death in The Maltese Falcon, and how Sam Spade might have chosen to rename his business Space and Archer (Deceased). He didn’t make the mental leap to “ghost,” of course, but he probably grumbled inside that this was going to be another moody program for grownups who’d have to explain everything to him.

He came around in a big way once Marty started figuring out his powers, and we all got a huge laugh when Ronald Lacey’s character tries to surprise Jeff, not knowing that our hero has a pretty amazing early warning system. Our son was in such good spirits (ha!) and enjoyed it so much that he was cracking jokes over the end credits, asking why they got a guy named Innocent – Harold Innocent – to play an assassin. If the rest of the show’s just half as entertaining as the first episode, I’ll be very pleased. Does it live up to the legend? So far, absolutely!

Photo credit: Stuff Limited

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The Champions 1.18 – The Interrogation

Well, this was not the best episode to watch when we were running very, very late and didn’t even press play until after our favorite eight year-old critic’s usual weekend bedtime. He didn’t like this at all; it’s the only episode of The Champions that he hasn’t enjoyed.

Dennis Spooner’s “The Interrogation” is a season cheapie. It’s almost entirely Stuart Damon engaged in a sweaty battle of wits with an unnamed interrogator, played by Colin Blakely, who wants details on his latest case. The interrogator has pumped our hero full of drugs, so in the way of old TV, Craig can hallucinate a few minutes’ worth of clips from other episodes.

Ha. I say “old TV,” but wouldn’t it be funny if they still did that? For future generations, I’m writing this post a couple of nights before the final episode of Game of Thrones. I don’t know what happened on that show last week, but people have been pissed off about it for five days now. Imagine how much angrier they’d be if they’d wheeled out a clip show instead.

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