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.

The Avengers 7.2 – Super Secret Cypher Snatch

Halfway through Tony Williamson’s “Super Secret Cypher Snatch,” the stuntmen put on one of my all-time favorite car chase scenes, albeit a criminally short one. The villains are in a window cleaning van with a long ladder and go after Steed, who’s driving an open-top 1920s Rolls Royce. The stunt team excelled themselves at several points in this story, including some terrific fights and a barely-connected-to-the-plot teaser pre-credits scene in which one fellow jumps off a motorbike to tackle another dude while a helicopter hovers over them, but that bit with the Rolls is my favorite. That’s terrific driving, speeding right on the lead car’s rear bumper while bringing a ladder down on its driver.

I’ve always liked this episode, in part because the guest cast is, as always, just so terrific. Recognizable faces this time: Allan Cuthbertson, Ivor Dean, Donald Gee, Simon Oates, and Nicholas Smith. Although Ivor Dean kind of lets everybody down by forgetting to hold his breath when he’s supposed to be playing a corpse. But it’s also just a fine story, structured well enough to give the audience plenty of clues how the villains are breaking into a top-security establishment while we wait for the heroes to figure it out.

Also this time: it’s the return of Patrick Newell as Mother, who we met in “The Forget-Me-Knot.” I think here’s one point where The Avengers starts to fumble. Steed and his associate do not need a boss. Back in the videotape days, Steed occasionally reported to a character called One-Ten, played by Douglas Muir. Another boss figure, Charles, appeared twice in season three. Steed reports to a colonel by telephone once in season four, and there was Major B, head of “the floral network,” in “Who’s Who???” For the most part, these characters only appeared when there was one of those very rare plots that dealt specifically with Steed’s organization. That’s the case when we first met Mother.

Unfortunately, we can blame the American network for Mother becoming a semi-regular. He appears in 19 of the last 26 episodes. Some muckity-mucks at ABC apparently decided that they really liked the character in “The Forget-Me-Knot” and asked the producers to keep him around as a semi-regular. Since ABC had, against expectations, renewed the series for a full run, I guess that humoring them and hiring Newell was the least the producers could do!

About those expectations… I’m a little overdue in talking about this here, but the renewal of this show really was unexpected. Next time, I’ll talk about the nearly unique set of circumstances that led to these 26 episodes being made at all… and why everybody kind of knew up front that they’d be the last episodes they’d make for quite some time.