Tag Archives: linda thorson

The Avengers 7.18 – Fog

Well, since we’ve been talking about sword sticks and people trapped in the wrong time, here’s an Avengers episode about a mysterious murderer from 1888 suddenly stalking the fog-bound streets of the East End. Our son enjoyed this one a lot, and thought that the “Black Museum” of torture devices and old weapons was incredibly creepy.

I’m always happy when he enjoys something more than I do. I think Jeremy Burnham’s “Fog” is a disaster. It’s not the worst Avengers – join us for that next week – but it’s a show that commits the cardinal sin of being boring. In its defense, it has Nigel Green in it, and he makes everything a little better. And I like the stupid, yet incredibly believable, name for a pub that Mother concocts as he and Steed extemporize the details of a previously unknown murder by the hideous Gaslight Ghoul. The pub is called “Saddle of Mutton.” Oh, and Paul Whitsun-Jones is in it, briefly, and I like him, too.

I’ve been bothered for years about why “Fog” fails so badly. A lot of it is plainly obvious: the episode begins with some comedy that bombs like a lead balloon, as a “Russian” who doesn’t speak any English – he doesn’t speak any Russian, either – blathers and bumbles for agonizingly long minutes. Never a good idea to lead with your worst material. The stars seem like they’re sleepwalking through the production, the music is a dirge, and the plot is hopelessly predictable. It’s just not fun.

But I think there’s more to it than that. “Fog” reminds me a little of one element of the Doctor Who serial “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” It’s set in a London of old Victorian stereotypes: organ grinders, flower girls, cobblestone streets, a Jack the Ripper wannabe. It’s the London of fiction and memory, and not the real world, but it isn’t the London of The Avengers, either. There’s no sense of why they’re trying to tell a story about the murders of foreign diplomats while dressed with the trappings of some other show entirely.

It certainly doesn’t help that it’s all obviously made in the studio and so the entire environment feels fake, cheap, and phony, while the rest of the series luxuriates in being and feeling real, even at its most fanciful. It’s The Avengers doing a bad cover version of an inferior program. At least it isn’t a clip show.

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The Avengers 7.17 – Take Me to Your Leader

I’ve never much enjoyed Terry Nation’s “Take Me to Your Leader,” possibly because all the wit is crammed into two minutes in the middle of the story. Well, while it isn’t a favorite, it’s not too bad, and Robert Fuest got to work his magic all over London with a larger-than-usual amount of filming on city streets, but it does feel like it needs a break from the narrative, which is our heroes swiping an attache case in a chain from one endless courier after another in one long night. Well, there is a break of sorts, with Mother discussing the situation with a character who wouldn’t have been more obvious as the Secret Master Villain if he had been wearing a T-shirt.

But while our son really enjoyed the constant stream of new characters, several fights, and a specially-trained courier dog, by far the best part of the story is in the middle. It turns out that a dance teacher played by Penelope Keith is actually the minder for a conniving little courier who’s more than susceptible to taking bribes, because a little girl has her future to consider, and a £25 investment would buy an awful lot of lollipops.

She’s a great kid. She probably works out her nefarious schemes on the playground with Wednesday Addams.

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The Avengers 7.16 – Stay Tuned

I’ve picked up on a cute similarity between “Stay Tuned” and an earlier Avengers episode written by Tony Williamson, “Killer.” Both stories are completely perfect for younger viewers who haven’t been exposed to all this spy business for decades, and both of them feature really good, quick-thinking villains who improvise and change direction when needed. This won’t tax adult viewers very much – Steed has obviously been kidnapped and made into a “Manchurian candidate” and we’re even given the kill-word very, very early on – but our son was completely riveted and worked hard to figure out the mystery.

Even though this won’t tax grownups, particularly the jaded ones, it’s still a really entertaining story just because of how well it’s done, plus there’s the inclusion of some memorable guest stars, and there’s a sadly too-brief expansion to the world of Steed’s department. With Mother temporarily away, Steed reports to a blind woman called Father. She’s only in this one episode for about five minutes, but the character, played by Iris Russell, was also used in the ill-fated Avengers film of the late nineties, where she was played by Fiona Shaw as though she had been a major presence in the TV show.

As for the other guests, there’s Howard Marion-Crawford, in one of his last roles, as another agent from Steed and Tara’s department. It’s a throwaway part for a great actor, and he died less than a year after making this. But it’s best remembered by genre fans – huh, that term again – as featuring two future Doctor Who recurring villains, Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara, as two of the baddies. Sadly, as nice as it would have been to have the Master and the Rani share a scene together, they don’t get the chance. Weirdly, just a few years later, Kate O’Mara would appear in another production with a Master-of-the-future, Anthony Ainley. They’re both in the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of Clouds of Witness… and they don’t share a scene together, either!

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The Avengers 7.15 – Love All

I’ve never much cared for this story by Jeremy Burnham. There’s perhaps the silliest computer this show ever had – it looks like a piano and writes romance novels – and a played-mostly-straight plot that uses super-subliminal microdots to influence whoever reads them. I think the most interesting thing about it is the complete transformation of Veronica Strong from an attractive young woman into a frumpy, chain-smoking cleaning lady who nobody would suspect as a femme fatale extracting secrets from her many admirers. That’s quite a good performance.

On the other hand, our son was on the edge of his seat during a moment where Tara is persuaded by Terence Alexander, playing the man she’s been subliminally hypnotized into loving, to jump out a window because life is no longer worth living without him. Steed arrives in the nick of time, but it’s touch and go for enough of a minute to keep our kid absolutely riveted with fear and concern.

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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 7.13 – The Morning After

Linda Thorson’s vacation continued into the production of Brian Clemens’ terrific “The Morning After.” She seems to have only been present for a single day’s filming, leaving Steed to carry the story in the company of his prisoner, a quadruple-agent called Merlin. Our heroes and Merlin slept for twenty-four hours after a grenade of sleeping gas went off in their faces. The next day, Tara is still out cold, and Steed and Merlin find the streets of this “middle English town” completely deserted, except for angry troops who instantly convene firing squads to execute any “looters” on sight.

I think this is one of the most interesting episodes of the series. It’s a huge departure from the sort of stories that The Avengers usually tells, but it’s played straight instead of going for spoofs and parodies like, say, “Legacy of Death.” This isn’t a by-the-numbers adventure at all, there are lots of surprises and twists as the story unfolds. It’s shot beautifully. Lots of it is on a backlot, of course, but they did a huge amount of location filming in the town of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, whose residents happily cooperated for a couple of days and left their roads vacant to play the abandoned city. The scenes with Steed and Merlin walking the silent streets are downright eerie. Merlin’s a great character, by the way. It’s a shame he only made this one appearance.

“The Morning After” sports one of the show’s best guest casts. There are three big names that just about everybody in the UK would have recognized when this story first aired in 1968. Merlin is played by Peter Barkworth, who had been one of the stars of the hit drama The Power Game. The brigadier in charge of the evacuation is the legendary Joss Ackland, and a particularly bloodthirsty sergeant is none other than BRIAN BLESSED, who had left the cop show Z Cars after a hundred-some installments a couple of years before and had played Porthos in a couple of Three Musketeers series for the BBC in 1966-67. We’d seen BLESSED in the season five episode “The Superlative Seven,” which had been made between the two Musketeers series. Interestingly, Ackland took over the role of D’Artagnan in the second series from Jeremy Brett. Plus there’s Penelope Horner, who was never a big star, but she made guest appearances in everything in those days.

Our son loved it. The fights and the action and the real sense of danger and mystery kept him intrigued and excited. I’m glad that he enjoyed it so much, so I felt kind of bad telling him we’re going to take a short break from The Avengers and rotate a couple more shows in to keep things fresh. We’ll be back for more at the end of the month, so stay tuned!

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The Avengers 7.12 – Killer

Time hasn’t been kind to “Killer.” Technology has advanced so much that the episode sticks out as nowhere near as timeless as most of The Avengers. Still, it remains a mostly very entertaining episode with a couple of caveats, and it’s clever enough to make me wish that I could have seen it in 1968, before we all knew that you can’t make an evil supercomputer self-destruct the way that TV kept showing us!

Here’s what I dislike the most: Steed’s fellow agents are idiots. Four of them get killed by the mysterious foreign agent Remak, who turns out to be an entire factory programmed to murder anybody who wanders down its corridors. But these agents are so stupid and so gullible that the villains could have found a much easier way than this. It’s no wonder Steed is the top secret agent in Britain if these are his co-workers.

On the other hand, these villains are great. I really enjoy situations where the bad guys have to change direction and improvise. As Steed and his partner, Forbes, get closer, and as they get a surprise visit from a blackmailer who’s onto them, the villains have to change their plans on the fly, and it’s incredibly engaging. Forbes, an agent recently transferred into Steed’s unit from another department, is played by Jennifer Croxton. She’s here because the episode was made while Linda Thorson had a week off, and I quite like her. She provides a nice change of pace. Maybe they could have given Thorson one more week off so we could have had a second Forbes adventure later in the season!

Anyway, while the mystery of Remak would certainly not tax any adult brain in this day and age, “Killer” remains a perfect puzzle for kids. Our son had no idea who Remak could possibly be to arrange all these bizarre killings, and it was a silly reminder of both the last episode of MacGyver we watched, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, to see Steed navigate Remak’s corridors of traps. The final revelation was a big surprise to him, and he was really excited by Forbes programming Remak to explode.

Well, “programming” is a bit strong. She just types the command and it obeys. TV writers in this era just had no idea how computers worked, did they?

Another oddball coincidence for anybody who’s counting: in the last episode of The Avengers, Mother has an office full of trendy inflatable furniture. I asked our son, “Do you remember in ‘Terror of the Autons’ how there was that inflatable chair that ate that guy?” And he nodded and said “Yeah!” Well, you know who plays one of the villains this time? Only Harry Towb, the guy who got eaten by that inflatable chair! 186 credits on IMDB, and he’ll always be the guy who got smothered by a black plastic chair to me.

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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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