As we get to the two surviving episodes from the second season of Adam Adamant Lives!, I’m afraid the quality of the picture and the sound has fallen completely off a cliff. Worse, there’s one character who speaks in a rasping whisper, and we could make out maybe every fifteenth word: adamant, trap, pleasure, possibly empire. After we’d ejected the DVD, my wife mentioned there may be a subtitles option. There is; we watched it again. The word was indeed empire.
And it’s a real shame that this print is in such sore shape, because it’s amazing! This time, the Ministry Twit of the Week are a pair of bankers played by the wonderful Donald Eccles and Peter Bathurst, who I’m sure was also wonderful, but I only know him as that awful blowhard Chinn in “The Claws of Axos,” poor guy. They want Adam to confirm the identity of somebody claiming to be a Romanov, a Grand Duchess from Saint Petersburg who Adam knew in 1901 as a young lady and who is now 87 years old.
From time to time, people have suggested the BBC should remake Adam Adamant Lives!. I’m totally in favor of such a thing in principle, but tonight’s story is one that they couldn’t do in 2019. Back in ’66, there would have been a few people around the age of 87 who knew Adam from his past. Come to think of it, it’s kind of odd they didn’t hit on such a plot before now.
Now, I’d argue that there are a couple of magnificent twists in this story, but Marie figured one of them out instantly. The Grand Duchess is played by the excellent actress Gladys Cooper – I reminded our son of her knockout good episodes of The Twilight Zone – and her granddaughter by Judy Parfitt. They’re hiding a secret in the cellar so horrifying that it turned a deliveryman’s hair white. So there’s a lot going on in this adventure, and with a brilliant fight scene and one hell of a payoff at the end, it’s worth struggling through the muddy sound to appreciate.
(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.)
Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com
The Avengers has dated less badly than many shows of its period, but the goofball depiction of a computer in such distress that it requires surgery – like “medical series” surgery, with clamps and forceps and masks – pretty much nails this down to the mercifully distant past. George / XR40 is an example of a visible trend in the late sixties making computers less threatening by making them silly.
We saw one of the stupidest examples when we watched Batman and practically every script that Charles Hoffman contributed had some dumb gag about the Batcomputer belching up spaghetti or something. This really isn’t much better. Maybe it could’ve been one throwaway gag in the closing tag scene. But Tony Williamson structures the entire episode around George’s surgery and brain transplant while our heroes take turns looking for a traitor and coming back to the operating room to ask “How is he, doctor?”
For the first time, The Avengers was ponderous. The only spark at all is Tara getting called in on her way to a fancy dress party and declining to change out of her cat costume and mask for the show’s first ten minutes.
Speaking of computers, there’s a reminder that language is always in flux at the very beginning and we see the word spelled as “computor” on a sign. That’s not a typo. Well into the 1960s, either spelling could be used, although I would say that by this time, a “computer” could also be used to refer to the human operator of a “computor” hardware. Some eggheads at Georgia Tech were still using “computor” in their dissertations as recently as 2001, although you really just can’t expect linguistic precision from a bunch of damn Yellow Jackets. (More here.)
On the human side, Frank Windsor, who was very well known at the time for his role of Detective Inspector John Watt in Z Cars and Softly Softly, is here as one of the traitors. It looks like this episode was made just a few weeks after production on Softly Softly‘s third series finished. Judy Parfitt and Arthur Cox also appear.
I’d like to think we do a good job teaching our son to be quiet and respectful when we watch TV together, and say as little as possible, but one of this episode’s first scenes features our heroes meeting up with a man from the ministry, and I thought that was probably Geoffrey Bayldon. “I think that’s the man who played Catweazle,” I said, and, after a beat, he replied “It IS Catweazle! I recognize his voice!” And he was so pleased that he just kept talking and we had to go back and watch the scene again.
Philip Levene’s “Escape in Time” has another great collection of familiar faces. The great Peter Bowles is the main villain, and his accomplices include Judy Parfitt, who’s known to contemporary audiences as Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife, and known to classic TV fans as appearing in darn near everything else, Imogen Hassall, who died at the stupidly young age of 38, and Nicholas Smith. I said that I didn’t know who that guy was, but he was definitely in an episode of Spyder’s Web. I was right, but he’s probably best known for seventy-some episodes of Are You Being Served?.
I think this is an episode more about the iconography than the story, which is about a supposed time corridor that is said to allow criminals on the run to escape into one of four previous time zones. The script is kind of humdrum, especially once the audience figures that the corridor’s a fraud, but it just looks so good! The corridor effect is a really great bit of trick photography, Peter Bowles gets to have fun as the cruel Elizabethan-period ancestor of his main character, and there’s a great scene where Mrs. Peel, carrying a stuffed crocodile, is menaced by a guy on a motorcycle wearing fox hunting gear. I think comic book writer Grant Morrison saw this episode as a child and had nightmares about it for years. His series The Invisibles definitely has a little “Escape in Time” in its DNA.
Our son enjoyed it, too. Once we got the confusion of what they were after sorted, I thought that he was finding that the story was incredibly easy to follow, with the escape route revisited twice and the enemy agents very easy to differentiate. On the other hand, he somehow didn’t understand that the escape route is a big hoax, and thought that Steed was actually traveling through time in the climax, rather than just walking from one set-dressed room to the next!