I think there are one or two things about Brian Clemens’ “Hostage” that work, and our son enjoyed it more than the previous two episodes, but by and large I didn’t enjoy this one much at all. By far the best thing about it is the way it reintroduces and reemphasizes the rule that Steed always cheats. But tonight he doesn’t cheat nearly enough. This could have been a much more interesting story if, no matter how well-planned this week’s villains are, they had found themselves getting in way, way over their heads trying their scheme on their hero. It also would have been nice if Purdey, their hostage, would have used that great big length of chain they gave her to strangle one of her captors. Both Marie and I were waiting for that to happen.
So this is yet another instance where bad guys have a scheme to make Steed look like a traitor. That alone would be a bore – what are we, 180 episodes into this show, and we’re doing that again? – but it’s made more dreary by introducing a super-agent that we’ve never met before, played by Simon Oates, and expecting us to not see him as the only possible suspect. There’s also a new boss character called McKay, played by William Franklyn, who gets to introduce the big only-on-TV complication that Gambit needs to bring Steed in.
Could it have been done another way? Well, not easily, because this was actually the first episode that they filmed in the final thirteen. But just suppose that they had introduced Simon Oates’ character several episodes previously as a recurring good guy and a familiar face that we accepted as one of the heroes. And suppose that instead of a yet another brand new boss, they’d brought back somebody, anybody, that we’d seen before. Why not Patrick Newell, or even Linda Thorson, in this part? It might not have made this story great, but it would have made it less obvious.
This was a very satisfying little hour written by Dennis Spooner that sees our heroes globetrotting from Burma to Belgium to a Central African Nosuchlandia on the trail of several crates of rifles that are being sold to finance a civil war. Along for the ride, a mob of regular ITC guest stars that you see in all these shows: Anthony Chinn, William Franklyn, David Lodge, Paul Stassino. There are even giraffes in the jungle, thanks to the magic of rear-screen projection. It’s a really satisfying action hour where all our heroes get a spotlight superpower moment and a few little smiles of comedy.
Roger Marshall’s “Silent Dust” is certainly the weakest episode of The Avengers that we’ve watched so far, but in its favor, it has a lengthy chase and fight in the climax that kept our son very entertained. The problem seems to be that the writer was given a brief to do a story that ends with a big fox hunt, and there isn’t a lot of plot to get there. The villainous threat-of-the-week is about an experimental fertilizer that has the reverse effect and kills topsoil and livestock, but it might as well be a threat about anything. All that matters is getting the heroes and villains to don red coats and ride around with hounds at the end.
Amusingly, I’d forgotten that the last of the baddies gets his comeuppance when Steed picks up a “Down with Blood Sports” sign that a protester has discarded and uses it as a polo mallet on him. I realized that our son has no experience with fox hunting. So I paused it to give him a quick rundown, more of the iconography than the actual history, and mentioned that in the last several decades, this sort of hunting has become very controversial, and was finally banned in the UK about twelve years ago. Then I said something dopey: “When this was made, it was probably around the last time that hunts were organized without public protests.” Of course, the very next scene had four or six people milling around the toffs with protest signs. Had I looked at it before opening my big mouth, I’d have known that the RSPCA had been trying to put a stop to “cultural amusements” like this since the 1820s.
But other than the hunt, there’s not a lot of interest in this story. The villains are identified way too early, using the unusual approach of “every suspect is in on it,” and even though there are some recognizable faces like Charles Lloyd Pack, Norman Bird, Isobel Black, and William Franklyn, it’s really not one of the most engaging episodes.
Weirdo trivia: Oddly, this episode was among those not purchased by ABC for the American run, and it picked up an alternate name. American fans way back then who were curious about the unseen installments of the show inquired about it among 16mm film traders in the sixties and seventies and a bootleg copy was apparently doing the rounds under a working title: “Strictly For the Worms.” It was so well known by that name that you used to see this listed in guidebooks and tape trader lists as: “Silent Dust (Strictly For the Worms).”
We’ll take a few weeks’ break from The Avengers now, but stay tuned! Steed and Mrs. Peel will be back in December!