After new opening titles – a mix of the medieval (Steed’s swordplay with his brolly) and the modern (Tara King in sophisticated black evening dress and then action-girl attire) – we’re off into Game, the first proper Tara King era episode of The Avengers.
The excellent Robert Fuest (director of The Abominable Dr Phibes) is at the helm, directing a screenplay by Richard Harris which re-uses elements of his Winged Avenger episode in series 5.
That was a revenge plot built around a character getting payback for something that happened long ago. This is the same idea, though the way in which payback is given is more elaborate – here the men involved in a court-martial are made to play games in which the stake is their life.
First up, a man (Brian Badcoe) playing with a toy racing car – a Scalextric or something similar – when the car careens off the track and rolls over, the man dies in real life, his racing goggles filling up with jigsaw pieces.
Post-opening credits we get victim number two (Geoffrey Russell), playing a game of snakes and ladders, ascending a ladder for real until he’s startled by a snake and falls to his death. Again, the jigsaw pieces.
Luckily for our sleuthing duo, the murderer behind these fiendish deaths is the sort who likes to leave clues. And soon Tara is at the offices of the company that made the jigsaws, this encounter with eccentric jigsaw master (Desmond Walter-Ellis) as good a guide as any that this is a Brian Clemens-produced episode – Clemens and co-producer Fennell having been fired and replaced by John Bryce only to be hastily recalled when things went tits up (full story at Avengers Forever or Wikipedia).
The killing continues. Another man – this time a stock market trader (Alex Scott) forced to play a finance game – is soon dead, and then another, a brigadier (Anthony Newlands), having met the villain of the piece, who goes by the joke name of Monte Bristow (the reliably sulphurous Peter Jeffrey), leading up to a big showcase finale, a chance for Fuest to show us what he can do, and for Patrick Macnee to remind us that he’s the star of the show.
Because Steed was also one of the men involved in the court-martial, he too is forced into playing a deadly game, in fact a series of games packaged together as one called Super Secret Agent – fight a fiendish Japanese wrestler, crack a safe and so on.
The prize being Tara King, who is now locked in the bottom half of an hourglass that’s quickly filling with sand.
Bait, victim, damsel in distress rather than super-capable karate-chopping buddy, that seems to be Tara King’s role, and Thorson plays her as less arch than Diana Rigg did, which is a welcome change, and with more liquid in the eyes, which is not. Even Tara’s odd combat scene is a bit below par, and Thorson’s body double is way too hefty to be plausible.
Director Fuest gets to play on one of those late 1960s sets full of oversized objects and his keen eye for a visual extracts the most out of what is still, for all its budget and exterior locations, a very studio-bound series.
It’s a good, brisk, well directed episode, and its decent cast includes Garfield Morgan as the mastermind’s supercilious butler, which is a bit of a bonus.
It’s a decent way to get to know Tara King better.
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The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.
© Steve Morrissey 2020