Closer co-operation between European countries is a good thing, right? That’s the idea driving Death’s Door, an episode with a mind-control theme and a jaunty spy-fi approach to what is essentially an espionage thriller plot.
But before the Europhobes get all steamed up, the co-operation, though never quite spelled out, appears to be more military than economic, more NATO than the EU (Common Market, EEC, EC – choose acronym according to vintage).
I’m going on the various badges and insignia on display at a conference where Sir Andrew Boyd (Clifford Evans) is about to crown his career by leading different European nations into some sort of unified treaty arrangement. He never quite gets there, instead turning tail and fleeing the scene just before his triumphal moment. Conference aborted.
Having mysteriously become psychic (or so he thinks), Sir Andrew apparently fears that he’s going to meet a grisly end at the conference. And when he actually dies at an attempt to reconvene, his deputy Lord Melford (the usually dastardly Allan Cuthbertson) steps in, a title obviously being de rigueur if you’re going to do anything important for your country.
Melford, too, is soon overcome by premonitions while sleeping. Cue a dream sequence in a style we could call Budget Dali – faceless men, giant objects, disembodied voices, portents of death and so on.
Steed suspects foul play rather than psychic forces. And when Melford recounts elements of his dream to Steed, one of them is the presence in the dream of an Eastern Bloc observer. Steed’s suspicions are reinforced.
Steed can see where this is going as clearly as anyone watching – mindfuckery is at work – and heads off to find out more about the man from behind the Iron Curtain and soon finds himself under fire.
This all leads to one of the most ludicrous but ingenious bits of impromptu counter-attack you’re ever likely to see, as a weaponless Steed (well, it’s not gentlemanly) defends himself against hostile bullets by doing something remarkable with a rock and a sharp stone. I won’t ruin it.
Later, Mrs Peel, too, gets a bit of rough-and-tumble. In a fight scene at her apartment clearly influenced by Adam West-era Batman, Laurie Johnson lays on the “biff” “pow” musical stabs while Mrs Peel does her stuff with an apprehended villain in a sequence too reliant on speeded-up film. Undercranking being one of the silent era’s more tiresome stand-bys.
The whole thing is a plot to wreck the conference, and thereby European unity, hatched behind the Iron Curtain (I’m sure Vladimir Putin would approve).
It’s a jolly enough jaunt, and the surreal excursions are a nice touch by director Sidney Hayers, but Philip Levene’s script (doubtless camped up a bit by producer Brian Clemens) feels as if it’s going through the motions.
However, this was the first episode of Diana Rigg’s final block to be shot (though Return of the Cybernauts was the first to be aired) after production recommenced, and Clemens has taken the opportunity to drop two annoying bits of show furniture – the two line teaser (Steed does this; Emma does that) and the “Mrs Peel we’re needed”.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020