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The New Avengers 2.4 – The Lion and the Unicorn

A couple of episodes ago, we got a snatch of filming in Paris. “The Lion and the Unicorn” is set in the city, the first of three episodes to be largely set in France, and sees our heroes capturing an international assassin. The Unicorn has been avoiding Steed for a decade, only to have the assassin’s incompetent associates – I mean “Lex Luthor keeping Otis around” incompetent – unwittingly shoot their boss dead from across the street while aiming for Steed. As long as the baddies don’t know that their boss is dead, everything’s fine. But then they kidnap some small-fry European royalty and demand an exchange.

Our son was incredibly pleased with this one, but the execution fumbled for me. It starts in England, with both a very good car chase and a small appearance by Gerald Sim before we move to Paris and a supporting cast of French actors.

In France, there’s another car chase which had our kid in stitches and me appreciating his good humor more than anything that made it onscreen. There’s nothing wrong with playing a car chase strictly for laughs, but without the budget and ability to close the Parisian streets like a Bond or a Bourne film, and risk any parked cars, we keep getting the silly after-effects of cars that have just sped by without us seeing them. Throw in a climactic explosion which only lacks a comedy womp-womp soundtrack, and you’ll probably wonder whether the director thought he was making a cheap Inspector Clouseau film instead of The New Avengers.

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.13 – The League of Uncharitable Ladies

Our son caught a not-even-24-hours bug and went home from school yesterday. Today he’s fully recovered, but I had to take a day to stay with him before he can get back to class. So he’s rewatched both Guardians of the Galaxy movies – I didn’t write about Vol. 2 because I strangely found myself not really enjoying it the second time around – and then we popped back in time for another episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, which my boy really liked.

“The League of Uncharitable Ladies” is mildly famous for being one of the earliest professional jobs for Ridley Scott as a director. He’d worked at the BBC for a few years, and unsurprisingly the corporation managed to wipe several of his TV episodes, including the other Adamant installments that he did in season two.

There’s a massive hole in this one’s plot, which ended up bothering me for most of the hour. There have been a number of mysterious deaths of important diplomats, and nobody can find the connection. It’s that all of the ones who were married have wives who are members of the same club, devoted to peace.

This is perhaps a little predictably male of me, but just as the story subverts the possibilities of an all-woman crew bent on evil by having a man running things from behind the scenes (an Avengers episode from earlier that year had much the same problem), I was more interested in the few male guest stars. The only woman in the cast that I recognized was Geraldine Moffat, but I spotted both John Carson and Gerald Sim. Carson’s role as the master villain hiding in plain sight as a servant is obvious from space, but there is a neat twist about the motive that I didn’t see coming.

But is there anything here that predicts Ridley Scott’s later cinematic success? I wouldn’t say so, but some of the film work in the opening, which sees the camera following a man across St. James’s Park, is first-rate, and he did coax some very good performances from his actors. I really enjoyed the somewhat dark flirtation between Moffat’s character and Adam, which, in a first, doesn’t end with Adam getting conked on the head. In fact, he sees the betrayal coming and avoids it! Good, our hero is learning! He doesn’t get to slay the criminal this time, either. It’s always nice to break from the traditional tropes.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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The Avengers 7.11 – The Rotters

Nobody likes “The Rotters.” It commits the cardinal sin of being boring. It’s Avengers by the numbers, using the same hoary old plot of the baddies killing all the old associates who could possibly identify them and their nefarious plan, and yet our heroes go through the motions like they haven’t experienced this episode many times before. Well, the bad guy schemes to actually destroy the world, which is much more grandiose than this show typically gets, but it’s also pretty stupid. Director Robert Fuest can’t save it, and nor can the admittedly amusing double-act of the posh gentle-henchmen Jerome Willis and Gerald Sim, who could have been deployed to better effect in a different episode instead of being wasted here.

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The Avengers 4.10 – Dial a Deadly Number

Another story by Roger Marshall, “Dial a Deadly Number” was almost impenetrable for our son, even after several pauses to broadly sketch what all this talk of shares and investments is all about. It’s definitely television from another world, as the murders are committed using these incredibly novel and modern “bleeps” that gentlemen carry in their breast pocket. You might remember such things as being called “pagers.”

Still, he says that he enjoyed it, and of course he isn’t shy in telling us when he doesn’t. It does end with a great fight and it features fun guest appearances by Peter Bowles, Clifford Evans, Anthony Newlands, and Gerald Sim, all of whom would return in later Avengers episodes. I didn’t realize that Bowles is still working. He’s the Duke of Wellington in the current Victoria series. When this was made, he still looked like a baby.

Strangely, my clearest memory of this episode is watching it on A&E, when that channel bought The Avengers in the early nineties and gave the videotape episodes their first American airing. For some insane reason, A&E just ignored the clear fade-to-black ad breaks in the episodes and just dropped commercials in whenever they felt like it. There’s a wonderful moment in a wine tasting contest where Steed identifies a Château Lafitte-Rothschild with hilarious specificity – “from the northern end of the vineyard” – and his opponent’s monocle pops out of his eye. There – there! – is where A&E decided to insert a commercial!

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