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.
A quick little recap: since the adventures of Young Indiana Jones were shown very haphazardly in this country, with some episodes never shown on American television and others made especially for the home video releases, the numbering you see in the titles for these stories doesn’t correspond to any TV season. “2.1” doesn’t mean “first episode of season two,” it means “the first hour of the second DVD set.”
So, I had promised our son that Young Indiana Jones would be much more exciting once Indy got to the front, and if you can get past Sean Patrick Flanery’s incredibly long hair for 1916, this is a breathtakingly wild hour of ugliness and carnage on the front lines. Previously, Indy had enrolled in the Belgian army under the name Henri Defense, and his company was decimated at Flanders shortly before this episode begins. All of their officers are dead, leaving Corporal Defense in charge, barely.
So they get shipped to a different set of trenches and get new French officers. Indy has a troublemaker in the ranks, played by Jonny Phillips, who may have murdered their old captain, and from there it’s forty-five minutes of machine guns, mustard gas, flamethrowers, and hand grenades, with two days’ leave in the middle to break up the bloodshed and let the Belgians play the British in tennis. A couple of familiar faces are in the cast this week, including Stevan Rimkus as the poet Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Petherbridge as a French major. Petherbridge had played Lord Peter Wimsey for the BBC a few years earlier. (Wimsey had also been a major in the war, and was probably stationed a few miles down the trenches from his French counterpart.)
Our son was much, much happier with this installment than the ones we’ve watched. It’s a terrific hour, with some unbelievable production values as mobs of extras get gunned down between the trenches and explosions are going off all over the place. It’s true that some of the visuals are pepped up a little bit with colorized stock footage, and you can tell every time, but it’s still remarkable that they put this much huge effort into an episode of a TV show.