Tag Archives: patrick newell

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 7.12 – 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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The Avengers 7.10 – The Interrogators

I’ve always liked “The Interrogators” a lot. It’s just full of deliciously oddball gags used as punctuations for a strong and clever plot that could have been played straight in a more serious or poker-faced espionage show. The best of all of the gags comes when one of the clueless captives comes to the end of his interrogation when the colonel running the supposedly British Intelligence-approved course calls it a day and tells him that he’s passed. The dude tips his jailers. I’ve seen this many times, but I almost stopped breathing tonight.

Unfortunately, this is one of the episodes that our son didn’t enjoy much at all. Things improved toward the end, but he didn’t like how incredibly nasty and mean the villains were acting, even when they were played by familiar actors like Christopher Lee and Neil McCarthy. Glynn Edwards is also one of their gang, who are using bureaucracy, forged passes, and reams of paperwork to convince agents that they’re due for a random course in TOHE: Test of Human Endurance. This is one of those cases where the heroes are several steps behind the villains, and the combination of complexity and cruelty turned him off the adventure. Things only brightened when Steed hops into a waiting helicopter and tells the pilot “Follow that pigeon!”

Incidentally, I didn’t so much mention as strongly imply before, back when Patrick Newell’s character of Mother rejoined the show as a semi-regular character, that Steed and Tara really don’t need a boss figure except in those cases that specifically deal with their organization. This is one of the few that does. The story, by Richard Harris and Brian Clemens, wouldn’t work at all unless Tara was ordered by her superior to take this course. These are really good villains who’ve thought of everything, and fake his authorization. Mother’s base of the week is a flower-filled office accessible only by a pay phone, a little tip of the bowler to the American spy comedy Get Smart.

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The Avengers 7.9 – They Keep Killing Steed

It’s funny how the same episode of The Avengers can present two completely unbelievable and ridiculous scenarios and I process one of them as just part of the anything-can-happen nature of the program and the other as something going wrong with the suspension of disbelief. In “They Keep Killing Steed,” written by Brian Clemens and directed, brilliantly, by Robert Fuest, some villains invent an “instant plastic surgery” that, with the right mold, can change your appearance into anybody else’s. So we’ve got four lookalikes of Steed infiltrating a peace conference at the same time. So far, so good.

But the same show has Mother’s goofiest headquarters yet. It’s at the bottom of a lake. It doesn’t rise to the surface, you have to swim down to it. It’s kind of dumb. Well, so’s the “instant plastic surgery” idea, but I guess because that’s the plot and the business with Mother isn’t, I can excuse one and not the other.

Actually, they were on to a really good idea in “False Witness” to have Mother’s headquarters be a city bus. They should have kept that instead of trying to come up with a new location every time Mother appeared.

As for the guest stars this week, that’s Ray McAnally and Norman Jones in the photo above, and isn’t that just an amazing composition? Robert Fuest and his DP, Stephen Dade, were on fire this week. McAnally and Jones play the villains, and they’re really kind of forgettable, honestly. Both had done better work as baddies. Strange Report came up in the comments the other day, and McAnally plays a cult leader in one of my favorite episodes of that show, and Jones, of course, played a very different kind of cult leader as the awesome villain Hieronymous in the Doctor Who serial “The Masque of Mandragora”. One of my favorite character actors, Bernard Horsfall, also has a small role, but the story is really dominated by Ian Ogilvy playing a baron with an awful lot of local girlfriends. Ogilvy’s hair is an unfortunate peroxide blond, but he radiates star potential in every scene, just waiting for ITC to make him the lead in an adventure series. It only took the slowpokes nine years to cast him as Simon Templar in Return of the Saint, but in fairness, Roger Moore was still Templar when this episode was made!

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The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday (further thoughts)

Something about last night’s episode of The Avengers didn’t sit well with me, and I finally figured out why. In the episode, Steed is unbelievably patronizing to Tara, telling her that she needs to be locked away because the criminals are too dangerous. We saw a hint of this in “All Done With Mirrors,” but that really read more like “Tara’s a junior agent and not ready to lead an assignment,” despite the expected chauvinism displayed by the male characters of the period.

But in “Noon Doomsday,” Steed flat out says that Tara is actually a danger to him. He won’t be able to win a battle against Kafka because he’ll be unfocused and worried about her. That’s hogwash, and deeply poor characterization on the part of the writer, Terry Nation. If Steed’s not treating his partner as an equal when the chips are down, there’s a problem. Insanely, Nation actually returned to this exact same trope about five years later in part four of the Doctor Who story “Planet of the Daleks”, in which Bernard Horsfall’s character chews out his girlfriend, played by Jane How, for somehow placing the male lead in the same tough position. He can’t be a he-man while he’s worried about his pretty young co-star, so the pretty young co-stars should stay out of man’s work.

In “Noon Doomsday,” there’s a reason for it, at least. Because this is a parody of High Noon, Tara is shoehorned into the Grace Kelly role, and Gary Cooper’s marshal was correct – in the film – to tell his young bride this was too dangerous and she’d get them both killed. Bending this scenario to make it fit the structure of High Noon also explains why three of the agents who are recuperating in this remote facility refuse to assist Steed. They represent the cowards in New Mexico who wouldn’t help their marshal against the killers who were riding into town. We can really only excuse either of these huge rips in the fabric of the program’s internal logic – or plain common sense – because this wouldn’t be a parody of High Noon if the three killers were going to come riding into town against a hero who has four people standing up beside him.

So it works within the confines of the hour. It still doesn’t make the chauvinism that Steed displays any less palatable, and if this is where Nation got the idea that resurfaced in “Planet of the Daleks,” then it certainly was a huge mistake.

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The Avengers 7.8 – Noon Doomsday

I have this weird coincidence virus that runs through my life and the character actors that pop in and out of the shows that we watch. Of course I remembered that Anthony Ainley has a small role in Terry Nation’s “Noon Doomsday” – I think that this last run of The Avengers is unique in featuring two Masters as well as the Rani from Doctor Who – but I’d completely forgotten that Peter Halliday is also in it.

See, to give the most recent example, back on Sunday night, when I was fumbling for the name of an attractive actress who should have filled the role of a Mary Astor character in “Legacy of Death”, I came up with Valerie Leon just by glancing at the Hammer films on my shelf. An hour later, Marie and I sat down to watch an episode of Up Pompeii together, which we do every other week or so, and there was Valerie! She was wearing rather less than she did in her teeny part in “George / XR40?,” and I don’t think anybody complained.

And Halliday? Well, there was a funny bit of business on Twitter yesterday, when the actor Frazer Hines, who played Jamie in Doctor Who in the late sixties, identified the jacket that he wore in “The War Games” as being the very same jacket that Peter Halliday had worn a couple of months previously in “The Invasion.” I shared the cute anecdote with my family over dinner, knowing that neither of them cared even a hundredth as much as I do, and the very next British program we watch has Halliday in it.

I love this virus. I hope it never goes away. This cold I’ve had all week can scram, but I love my character actor coincidence virus.

Anyway, as for the actual content of “Noon Doomsday,” it’s pretty good! T.P. McKenna’s also in it, and Tara gets to do all kinds of fighting and investigating while Steed and a bunch of other wounded agents are convalescing in a remote top-security nursing home called Department S, which is cute. A new ITC adventure series by that name had only just gone into production about two months before they made this. We’ll be watching Department S a couple of years from now, so stick around with us for that.

And if our son enjoys Department S half as much as he enjoyed this episode, it’ll be a winner. He just about exploded with tension as Tara rushes to climb up out of a dangerous situation before the fellow she clobbered comes to his senses, and he loved the cat-and-mouse finale, with Tara battling three criminals. I thought it was a fun one, but he liked it even more than I did. “That was great,” he said in summary.

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