Escape in Time is a good chance to see what the great documentary maker John Krish can do when handed an episode of The Avengers to direct.
The results are a mixed bag: visually interesting but dramatically a little flat, though the premise – a time-travelling bolthole into another era to aid escaping master criminals – is a fascinating one if you’re on board with the whole time-travel idea.
And it gives the production team at The Avengers a chance to get the fancy-dress box out – a sure sign of a series that’s jumping the shark. On the upside, Peter Bowles is in it, and we meet him very early on after one of Steed’s colleagues has been whisked back in time (nice bit of Krish camera work) to the Elizabethan era, where he’s shot by Bowles, in ruff, Van Dyke beard and diabolical Bowles grin.
Washed up in the river – back in the 20th century – the man is soon on a pathologist’s slab, where his wound is identified by Emma Peel as having been caused by a Tudor weapon. It turns out he was investigating the disappearance of a lot of villains and, according to man-from-the-ministry Clapham (long, lean Geoffrey Bayldon, later Catweazle) was about to make a breakthrough.
This is a handy bit of “no time for investigation” exposition by writer Philip Levene, who knows he’s got a lot to pack into this episode, and it conveniently sends Peel and Steed up the most fruitful avenue first.
Fruitful for our sleuth/spies does not necessarily translate as interesting for the viewer, though. For too much of this episode Peel is getting into scrapes of her own outside a barber’s shop (Steed visits the barber; Emma has a close shave! is the episode subhead) as she follows the comings and goings of Josino (Ricardo Montez), a villain who is probably going to time-travel his way out of trouble.
On the street outside the barber’s is a newspaper billboard. “Where is Blake” it shouts. This rare intrusion of external reality in The Avengers refers to Soviet spy George Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 by climbing the wall and jumping down onto the roof of a waiting Ford Transit van – they raised the height of the walls after that – and stands as a counterweight to all the fantastical to-ing and fro-ing. A documentarist’s touch.
Thyssen (Bowles), after having killed a number of people in a variety of epochs, soon gets a visit from Steed, posing as a rich guy who needs to make a quick exit from the here and now. In short order Steed has been given a taster of an escape into the past, a trip to 1790.
For all its trips into the past, though, this is a very 1960s episode, psychedelically flavoured, full of blind alleys, weird stuff happening for no real reason and fashion that’s designed almost as a dare, it seems.
Krish shoots a lot of it almost like a silent film, which gives Bowles rein to play the Thyssens of various eras as men who are devious verging on the deviant. Judy Parfitt, as Thyssen’s right-hand woman, sadly doesn’t get much to do in her third outing in the series.
It should all work but it doesn’t – perhaps spies and time travel is just one bridge too far – and the obviousness of the studio sets doesn’t help very much.
But if you’ve ever wanted to see Steed’s brolly emitting gas – a Bond-like gadget! – this is for you. And Krish’s direction, and in particular his love of a wonky camera angle, is something to admire.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020