Tag Archives: robert fuest

The New Avengers 1.4 – The Midas Touch

Our son has entered that phase of a young boy’s life where skeletons are incredibly cool. It took me years to get out of that phase. Hopefully he won’t do anything so silly as buy a Tarot deck because there are skeletons on some of the cards. Anyway, the first few episodes of The New Avengers have a title sequence made from exciting scenes from the first few stories, including the bit shown above where a villain at a costume party, dressed in a skull mask and red robe, puts his infected hands in a bowl of punch. When he first saw that he shouted “Aw, that looks cool!” and while the reality of the situation did disappoint him a little – no, the Avengers did not get to fight a living skeleton this week – he did enjoy every tire-squealing moment of this story.

There are lots of reasons I’ve always liked this story. Earlier, I had said that one strike against The New Avengers for a lot of people is that it’s really tied to one time and place instead of in a nebulous, fantasy Avengerland. With that in mind, director Robert Fuest is back on the show after so many imaginatively-photographed stories in the original show’s last year, and he really nails this down to 1976 by staging an incredibly seventies car chase through many of the same streets and locations that every other British action show of the time used.

Almost inevitably, Purdey and Gambit end up in the iconic abandoned warehouses of the Southall Gas Works, where The Sweeney and Doctor Who had both filmed in the previous three years. I’ve always enjoyed how the script subverts the expectations of the car chase by having Purdey and Gambit discuss whether it was Walter or John Huston who directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre while bystanders drop crates of fruit on the windshield of their speeding car.

I was a little less keen on them casting Ronald Lacey as an allegedly Chinese character, “number one son” accent and all, especially when the character is called “Hong Kong Harry” and he might as well have been a Brit abroad instead of a silly stereotype. John Carson is also here, as a disgraced former agent who stumbles on a secret plot and, by the law of this sort of show, signs his own death warrant.

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The Avengers 7.25 – Pandora

For most of the early to mid-seventies, Brian Clemens was busy writing and producing an incredibly curious anthology series for ATV called Thriller. It’s a weird format of 65-minute episodes. Some of them – not very many, but some – are tremendously good, with twists that rival anything else from The Twilight Zone to a cracking Alan Moore Future Shock, but they are all hampered a little bit by the weird running time. The show was made for quick, cheap sales to ABC, who’d give each episode very, very long “movie of the week” credits and, with twenty minutes of ads, run them in a ninety-minute late-night slot.

What happens in a typical episode of Thriller is that the plot starts immediately, before we really spend any time getting to know the characters. And then the main character, frequently a woman, frequently the lone American in the cast, is stuck in a plot that usually has them kept in the dark by some villain for freaking ever until a darn-near-the-last-minute revelation. With good enough actors, I’m willing to sit still to see the bad guy’s plan through its conclusion and, often, its backfiring. The first episode of Thriller actually stars Linda Thorson, alongside Doomwatch‘s Robert Powell and Get Smart‘s Barbara Feldon. I’d probably watch the three of them read the phone book. Once.

But Thriller doesn’t have a lot of repeat pleasure, and neither does “Pandora,” the next-to-last Avengers episode from the original run, which is practically a pilot for Thriller. I found myself thinking that this could have been so much better with a wild fantasy element. There’s a glimmer of a chance that the criminals in this story have time-traveled to the present day from 1915 to kidnap Tara, but no, it’s far more mundane than that. Also, it requires that Tara be drugged into a stupor so that she’s a completely passive player in the bad guys’ story.

Our son absolutely loathed these villains, one of whom is played by Julian Glover in his umpteenth and final Avengers appearance. “I hope she punches them in the face!” he yelled. Bizarrely, she doesn’t get the chance. Steed arrives at the end, but he doesn’t quite get to make the rescue. It’s the villains’ story, and their greed ensures their destruction.

Robert Fuest makes it look terrific and he lines up his usual fun shots with mirrors and hidden characters, but it’s a very difficult story to watch without wanting to skip to the end. Several Thriller stories are like that, too.

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The Avengers 7.24 – Take-Over

I have to say that our son has taken to The Avengers far more than I first thought. I did worry that he was a little young at first, but he’s really enjoyed the show a lot. There have been a few exceptions, but none have aggravated and frustrated him anywhere near as much as Terry Nation’s “Take-Over.” I think Nation might have been inspired by the 1967 film Wait Until Dark, but honestly, just about the entire genre of “home invasion” horror films came after this, so I think it’s really ahead of its time, and very atypically unpleasant for The Avengers.

Worse still, Steed gets a more serious injury than I think we’ve ever seen before. He was shot once in season four, but he never spent an entire day unconscious in the forest, feeling the wound like he does in this episode. Even when he occasionally gets clobbered, Steed typically remains superhuman. Here, he suffers. Our kid didn’t start growling, but he really, really didn’t enjoy this one.

Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of this one either, but I have an irrational soft spot for it for a dumb reason. When A&E was running the Tara King stories in the early 1990s, unlike their very nice prints of the Mrs. Peel years, they had a big batch of old, zoomed-in 16mm prints to work from. I remember “Take-Over” being one of maybe three that came from a fresh source and it looked so good. It does feature some marvelous cat-and-mouse dialogue between Steed and the main villain. He’s played by Tom Adams, who had found international B-movie fame as super-agent Charles Vine in a trio of 007 cash-ins, and who we’ll see again in Doctor Who in about a month. Garfield Morgan takes another turn as one of the henchmen.

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The Avengers 7.22 – My Wildest Dream

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!

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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 7.11 – 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 7.9 – 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 7.1 – Game

Quick little recap: We subscribe to the heretical-but-factual breakdown of The Avengers into seven seasons. For this final run, we will use the UK broadcast order, omitting the installments that had already been shown in America. That said, I have to agree that the admittedly more sensible people who watch and write about the show in production order have one big advantage: the first episode that was made after “Look – (stop me if you’ve heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers…” was not actually shown in either the US or the UK until very nearly the end of the run. It is called “My Wildest Dream” and it was literally shelved for an entire year in Britain.

The mildly aggravating thing about that is “My Wildest Dream” was actually the first episode of the show directed by Robert Fuest, who I think is by leagues the most interesting visual stylist in a show just full of very good directors. This sort of messes up a goofball claim I’d made a time or ten, that “Game” was almost a statement of principles by a vibrant and stunning new director. That simply isn’t true. He wasn’t to know that his first effort would collect dust for a long time.

Strangely, even though it was made sixth in this batch, “Game” looks and feels like it was planned as an almost modern season premiere. It’s a very entertaining, simple, and straightforward story full of familiar faces like Alex Scott, Anthony Newlands, and Peter Jeffrey, but it’s visually amazing. I love the sets and the giant props, and some of Fuest’s camera tricks are just wild. There’s one great shot in a playground where Steed and Tara discover the first of several bodies. They go to a swingset, and the cameraman is sitting on one swing and the actor playing the corpse is in the one next to him, and the swings are moving at different speeds. It takes my breath away every time. Our son really enjoyed this one, especially the fantastic fight at the climax.

Here’s a very weird coincidence for you: earlier this year, I confessed that I once had screenwriting aspirations, and pilfered the villains from “The Fear Merchants” for a series I was trying to develop. Well, I also needed a lot of practice and experience in actually writing scripts, and along with my own humble fumbles, I was writing episodes of defunct programs, to see whether I could ape their formats successfully. I figured very early on that what Richard Harris was doing with his script for “Game” was basically writing an episode of Batman, and so I cut to the chase and rewrote “Game” as a Batman script using a villain called Mr. Monopoly. (I actually have a Monopoly-themed jacket and vest, made from fabric intended for children’s bedsheets. It’s kind of a fragile suit, but I haul it out every odd Halloween and sneer like Vincent Price – or Peter Jeffrey – at trick-or-treaters and co-workers.)

Anyway, I won’t say whether I thought my script was any good or not, but I learned a lot from the effort, and disappointed myself some time later when I realized it was pretty darn close to the first Mad Hatter story, “The Thirteenth Hat.” But here’s the weird coincidence: I stole from The Avengers twice as I was trying my hand at writing, and both of those episodes I robbed feature Garfield Morgan as one of the villains!

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