This was certainly our son’s least favorite episode of Jason King so far. It’s a very slow story in which a desperate and very stupid criminal, guilty of some awful elder abuse, murders a vacuum cleaner salesman for unclear motives. Norman Bird, Sylvia Coleridge, Dinsdale Landen, and Fiona Lewis all appear, and Lewis is wonderful as the girlfriend-of-the-week who can get Jason to cross the Channel for her with the help of a well-placed lie in the newspapers, but the only scene that our son honestly enjoyed features Jason advertising a hideous breakfast food that “tastes like rancid yogurt,” thinking better of it, and refunding the money.
Another sleeper agent, another super-TV-hypnosis, another one of Steed’s best friends, played by Terence Alexander, bites the dust. Nothing in “Angels of Death,” written by Terence Feely and Brian Clemens, is really all that new, but I still thought it was pretty entertaining. Purdey is as odd and weird as ever, and as Marie pointed out, only Purdey would break into the villains’ secret base at night wearing neon.
Our son was very, very restless for the first half, and I can’t say that I blame him. It is a bit by-the-numbers for a spy show, with perhaps the added bonus that these particular villains – led by Dinsdale Landen and Caroline Munro – have been breathtakingly, irrationally, effective for superspy bad guys. Their body count before our heroes start looking into the possibility that many recent deaths-by-natural-causes have an unnatural origin: 47.
I did think there were a couple of missed opportunities. Part of the bad guys’ programming is a huge, white, indoor labyrinth with locking doors and closing walls. Unfortunately, I think the studio simply wasn’t large enough to give a proper overhead shot looking down into the maze, which I kept waiting to see.
I also think they could have linked to the past of the show in a fun way. Dinsdale Landen had played a veteran agent called Watney in a very good Tara King adventure called “All Done With Mirrors.” Obviously the character he plays this time, Coldstream, is just a new-to-the-series villain who’s been killing people in the government and the military for years. But I kind of wish that once Landen was cast, they had changed his name to Watney, so he could be that guy from “Mirrors,” gone bad.
The episode opens in Paris, with the show’s first use of overseas filming. We’ll see a good bit more of France in the weeks to come.
A few chapters back, I mentioned how, from the fall of 1993 on, I didn’t go out and play in Athens GA as much as I should have. But I’d been living in Athens for four years at that point, and I went out and played as often as possible before (a) I started making calamitously stupid decisions about my living arrangements and my future and (b) American television finally started making shows that I really wanted to watch again. And because I’d largely stopped spending whacking great chunks of my time watching and rewatching and absorbing Doctor Who – I didn’t even have a television for a year there – I didn’t get incredibly familiar with “The Curse of Fenric.” I saw it once and maybe twice, enough to say “Wow, that was really, really good,” but then I had records to buy and bands to see and girls to chase.
And so, a few years later, sometime after the wrong chase and the calamitously stupid decision, I found myself going out far, far less and had more time to fall back in love with Doctor Who. “The Curse of Fenric” was released on VHS in a special edition extended by six minutes and I watched and rewatched and absorbed it. “Fenric” was what I showed people who had once enjoyed Who when Tom Baker was the Doctor but lamented how silly and/or stupid it got in the eighties. With maybe one exception, everybody who saw it with me agreed that dang, this truly was really, really good.
But then time moved on and formats changed and I still wish I’d have transferred that extended VHS to a DVD-R, because the officially-released DVD doesn’t have that. It has the as-broadcast four-part version, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and an even-more-extended movie with twelve minutes of additional material. So in 2006, when my older kids and I got to this story, I didn’t want to watch it as a movie, I wanted to see it in four parts. And knock me down, but the broadcast version of “Fenric” was borderline incoherent. Hot on the heels of “Ghost Light,” which the children hated, here’s another story which left them baffled and confused and mostly indignant that the show they loved had become such an impenetrable mess. It felt like those six minutes they cut for broadcast were pretty critical to anything and everything making sense.
Lesson learned. Tonight, we showed our son the movie version.
Our kid still doesn’t have anything nice to say about “Ghost Light,” but he liked this one and it gave him another great behind-the-sofa moment when the evacuee girls go swimming and something underwater is about to get them. It’s as technically flawed as everything else from the era – only the veterans among the guest stars, including Dinsdale Landen as a 1940s scientist and Janet Henfrey as a stuck-up old crone, know how to project their voices toward the microphones – and the script desperately needed less of Sylvester McCoy being otherworldly and mysterious and more of him providing the backstory directly instead of yammering on about “EVILevilsincethedawnoftime.” But the music is by leagues the best of its era, the director did one of the best location shoots in the whole of the series, and there’s an awesome performance by Nicholas Parsons, who was apparently a game show host of all things, as a vicar who’s lost his faith in God.
I like how this story is so full of gloom and foreboding. We were later getting back than planned, and the sun went down about a third of the way into the story. It’s a good one to watch in the evening with the lights out. Sure, it may work even better on an October night with the first winter chills blowing through, but even in a miserably hot July, “Fenric” is a very moody and effective story when seen in full.
“All Done With Mirrors” is one of the most celebrated stories from The Avengers‘ last run, since it’s mostly a solo outing for Linda Thorson as Tara. She’s ostensibly teamed with another ministry agent played by Dinsdale Landen, but she leaves him to waste time at a research establishment that’s got one of those regular Avengers problems of secrets leaking to “the other side” while she has the proper adventure. She has a terrific fight with an absolutely huge guy, gets thrown off a cliff, and kicks one of the villains down all 365 steps – a whole year’s worth – of a lighthouse. She allows Landen’s character to save her from one of the enemy agents, played by Edwin Richfield, which was generous of her. Otherwise, she’s got this one sewn up by herself. Other familiar faces this time: Peter Copley and Joanna Jones.
I’ve always thought this was a good, solid story with a fun and goofy Avengers twist with the pseudo-science of how the villains are stealing secrets. Looking at it now, the episode does feel like it’s done a little more “straight” than I remembered it. Other than the fantastic machine, the presentation is otherwise played like a contemporary adventure show. Our son enjoyed it even more than I did, though. He really liked the fights, and the tumble down all 365 stairs was one of the greatest things ever. Tara somehow manages to count the thumps, ending at 365, and when the thug stands up at the bottom of the stairwell and promptly collapses, she asks “Leap year?” to herself. He was still chuckling about that during the closing credits.