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The Avengers 7.14 – Wish You Were Here

We resumed The Avengers tonight with a look at its celebrated pastiche of the ITC series The Prisoner. The notion of the earlier show so overpowered the actuality of the latter that our son immediately wanted to know more. The plot of tonight’s episode, “Wish You Were Here” by Tony Williamson, is that diabolical masterminds are running a hotel so remarkably charming that nobody can quite believe that it’s actually a prison for some of its guests, and they can’t leave without some accident waylaying them and returning them to the hotel in a stretcher. Really the only disappointment in the hour is the incredibly obvious and inevitable betrayal by a character that Tara shouldn’t have trusted, but Tara is capable enough to right things very quickly.

So I explained what The Prisoner was about, and how it had a guard balloon that the beach ball shown in the photo above was meant to evoke, and our son wanted to know more and more right now. I don’t actually enjoy The Prisoner all that much – that surprises a lot of people, I’ve found – but I do love the feem toon, so I showed our kid that much on YouTube. If he wants to see more, that show isn’t going anywhere.

The familiar faces this time out include a whole gang of actors who’d appeared in earlier episodes of the show. Dudley Foster is awesome as the impeccably mannered hotel desk clerk who sadly keeps delivering unfortunate news to his guests, and Derek Newark is his main muscle. Robert Urquhart is a fellow prisoner, and Louise Pajo’s a bit wasted in too small a role. I’d have liked this more, and it might have been a hair less obvious, if Pajo and Urquhart had switched characters.

A note on numbering: People don’t so much argue about how many seasons of The Avengers there are as choose a position and wish to be left alone. Earlier today on Twitter, Graeme Wood ( @woodg31 ) showed off an illustration that I enjoy, a TV listing from September 1967 that promoted “Return of the Cybernauts” as the first of a “new series.” That is, it’s the first episode of the new series six, and not the seventeenth episode of series five.

With that in mind, the format at this blog is that the first sixteen color episodes, with Diana Rigg, are the fifth series, the next fifteen episodes, first with Rigg and then with Linda Thorson, are the sixth, and the final 26 episodes are the seventh. This matches the American broadcast grouping, if not strictly the actual order of installments within them, because I contradict myself and contain multitudes.

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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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Catweazle 2.9 – The Ghost Hunters

Our son absolutely loved this episode. I thought it was pretty funny, but it never quite rises to a great bit early on. Lady Collingford has decided that their house, which has 184 rooms, is haunted, in part because she keeps hearing this peculiar sound. Elspet Gray then gives this hilarious impersonation of Geoffrey Bayldon’s “tch-tch-tch!” noise and I hooted.

This rapidly descends into the sort of “he went thataway” farce perfected on American Saturday morning shows. Lady Collingford hires famous ghost hunters, played by Dudley Foster and David Cook. They’re a couple of scam artists who have wired the house with speakers, and Cedric has decided to try and spook them with a bedsheet, and Catweazle has decided that tonight, of all nights, is the right night to ask the house’s spirits to help him find the hidden gold in the house. Our son was howling with laughter; this was clearly one of his all-time favorites. Moray Watson is playing an upper-class twit in this series, but he defines the term “long suffering” tonight.

Dudley Foster died in early 1973, only 48 years old, but he appeared in just about everything a fellow could possibly do in British film and TV before then. Foster was cast as the villain Caven in a 1969 Doctor Who serial, “The Space Pirates,” which is the last incomplete story of that program’s run. Bizarrely, Foster appears in the five episodes of that serial that are missing, and not in part two, the only episode that survives. That strikes me as a little karmically unfair.

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