Afraid our son wasn’t in the right frame of mind for tonight’s episode of The Saint. He said that he enjoyed all the fights – there’s a brawl about every six minutes – and didn’t like all the smooching, but he got lost in a plot detail. He’s done this before when he’s a little tired and overstimulated, but he convinced himself that the story’s macguffin was vitally important to his understanding of the plot. Plus he misheard “Process G” as something else, and stayed completely confused until he asked us to pause and explain why in the world some American company is going to pay an old man a million dollars for processed cheese.
Since he didn’t understand the macguffin, he decided the story was too complex for him and tuned out. It’s been a while, but I remember a New Avengers left him similarly stumped and bored. Interestingly, he realized afterward just where he misunderstood. He recited straight back to us a pretty good definition of a macguffin, that it’s merely the object that drives the plot and the action. Once he understood he was hung up on something unimportant, he conceded that he enjoyed the scraps.
And that’s a shame, because he could have enjoyed a good one, packed with great actors, with a very funny opening. It begins with Simon in a fancy hotel bar overhearing two young men mocking him, because he’s got the looks of a fellow upon whom damsels in distress throw themselves. Cue, immediately, a damsel in distress played by Annette Andre.
So Simon doesn’t give her story of death threats and macguffins any attention, congratulates the chaps on pulling a good gag, and has to run to her rescue because some villains, among them Peter Vaughan, Neil McCarthy, and Michael Robbins, really did send her that death threat because they want her father’s macguffin. McCarthy and Andre appeared together a few years later in a Randall and Hopkirk. Other familiar faces include Justine Lord as the maneater who wants to do all the smooching that bothered the kid, along with Ed Bishop, Geoffrey Keen, and David Jackson. That is a really terrific cast for a fun and entertaining story. Hopefully he’ll be less wired for the next episode, although I’m not expecting him to recognize Justine Lord in it since he tuned her out completely tonight.
We resumed Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) tonight after a few weeks on the shelf, but unfortunately Tony Williamson’s “Never Trust a Ghost” isn’t one of the strongest stories. Our son just flat out said it was the worst episode we’ve watched, probably because he doesn’t like seeing anybody not able to be believed. Marty stumbles on a killing and quickly gets Randall involved in some criminal scheme being played out by a trio of baddies – Peter Vaughan, Caroline Blakiston, and Philip Madoc – but Jeff can never get to the scenes of the crimes in time to actually see what Marty has seen. This doesn’t do him any good when the police get involved.
I think I wasn’t pleased because the bad guys act really “TV bad,” and time their scheme to the television hour. And for otherwise competent baddies, they seem to have overlooked that even the least competent policemen on Earth would notice that the room that they plan to leave for the cops will have one fresh corpse and two that had been shot about three days before. It’s always nice to see Philip Madoc, but this isn’t Williamson’s best script.
Surprisingly, just as soon as I mentioned it, the “conked on the head” flashback doesn’t appear in this morning’s episode, which was written by Richard Harris, but another recurring motif does. Adam Adamant has a complete blind spot to the possibility that any woman would be mixed up in the schemes of his enemies. I really hope the next time he wakes up in a cell with Georgie, who’s been in the cell for hours already, she hisses at him “WHEN will you learn to stop trusting women?!”
But speaking of enemies, today’s episode has a great one. It’s the wonderful actor Peter Vaughan as a doomsayer-type preacher who is organizing a fake nuclear attack to cause a mass panic while his men heist banks and jewelry stores. Our son really hated this guy. He got so irritated with him that he had to break out his trusty finger-pistols to start shooting at the screen. He also got so worried about Georgie investigating the enemy headquarters that he hid under his blanket, peeked out just long enough to see that she was getting away, and then gasped in total shock when the camera revealed Vaughan, showing that she wasn’t so lucky! Isobel Black plays the villain’s daughter, and Talfryn Thomas has a tiny walk-on part.
Thomas is only on screen during one of the filmed segments, and these are, again, completely beautiful. I’m always impressed by the restoration of black and white BBC material, but while the studio stuff looks very good – many of the same team worked on restoring Doctor Who – the film material looks like it was shot yesterday, with incredibly crisp blacks and resolution so fine you can marvel at the stonework on the old buildings in the London streets. There’s also a terrific scene shot at night where a man is surrounded by the doomsayer’s henchmen, each of whom is wearing one of those “The end is nigh!” sandwich-boards. There are probably people who saw this episode in 1966 and are certain it actually happened in an episode of The Avengers!
But two little elements just can’t help but remind you that you’re watching television and not the real world. One problem is that the studio set doesn’t match the exterior of the villain’s Mission Hall. The window that Georgie peeks through is on the opposite side of the front door when they cut from film to the studio. And the other problem is that Georgie’s fab scooter – is it a Vespa? – lies parked outside the hall for something like two days and nobody makes off with it!
(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.)
Hooray, Linda Thorson’s back to her spring 1968 hairstyle tonight… because weirdly, this was one of the first stories made for the final production run, if not the very first, but for some reason it was held back in both the UK and US until nearly the end of the series. It first aired in America in January 1969 and in various ITV regions in Britain three months after that.
I’ve never read why it was kept on the shelf for so long. It was director Robert Fuest’s first episode of the show, working from a Philip Levene script, and it’s visually thrilling, inventive, and clever. The script’s not at all bad, and I love how we’re given new surprises about the villains at regular intervals. Familiar faces Peter Vaughan and Philip Madoc have good parts… it’s a fine episode of The Avengers, and deserved to be shown off earlier. It’s not as though the producers could possibly have been able to predict that they’d need an episode this good to bring a little spice to the program’s final run of ten or so subpar hours.
Following our discussion two nights ago about recurring villains, I asked our son whether one of the reasons he enjoys The Avengers is that the bad guys never come back to bother our heroes, and he emphatically agreed. Except for the Cybernauts, I added. “Yeah, but those are robots, and they ALWAYS come back,” he grumbled. But overall he enjoyed this one quite a bit.
His mother added that tonight’s episode also had some very good fight scenes and he agreed. Linda Thorson and Tom Kempinksi, and their doubles, have a downright brutal one in a room filled with colored glass in small frames. You can tell that they made this one before deciding that Tara King is an expert fighter, because she tries desperately to escape, rather than beat her opponent. The Tara of “Take Me to Your Leader” would have stood her ground and clobbered the guy!