“I have seen this Jason King in the newspapers… always a different woman!” Yes, and this time it’s Penelope Horner.
Well, I was saying last time that the kid runs hot and cold on King, and this was another very, very cold one. Quizzing him afterward, his main objection to this story by Philip Broadley was that neither he nor Jason had any idea what was going on. Jason is trying to enjoy some kissy time with the girlfriend-of-the-week – which our son didn’t like either – and is oblivious to British and Russian intelligence storming around Italy trying to swipe a cigarette lighter from a chain of Mafia types. Eventually, we paused to ask why he couldn’t concentrate on the story. “I don’t understand why everybody wants the lighter,” he said, and we replied that we didn’t either; the story hadn’t yet told us. “But there’s probably microfilm in it,” Marie added, guessing correctly.
I’ll agree that this was not a particularly strong outing, and I can see the kid’s point. It is a really odd adventure in that Jason is so removed from the action. Earlier in the run, in the story “As Easy as A.B.C.”, the difference was more obvious: we were watching the villains as the main characters in that episode. In this outing, the time is split equally between the Mafia pipeline and their business, and Jason doing his romancing, so he was front and center most of the time, but unaware of the situation. In fact, we knew much more about it than he did until the last eight or nine minutes.
Five more to go; I really think he’ll enjoy the final one, but I hope he gets some satisfaction from at least a couple more.
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!