An episode of The Avengers with the name of director Charles Crichton on it is usually a good sign. A claim borne out by False Witness, a permutation on a favourite of showrunner Brian Clemens – mind control – scripted by Jeremy Burnham in such a way as to keep us guessing what’s going on for a quite a while.
But back to Crichton, whose Ealing films like The Lavender Hill Mob show a fondness for getting out of the studio when possible. He satisfies his urge here, adding a layer of fascination for anyone keen to have a look at London’s streets in the 1960s. So much of The Avengers was shot either in the studio or out in the leafy Home Counties and it’s really noticeable how much extra energy Crichton’s location footage brings to a story that’s actually fairly static on the page.
But to it, the story I mean. And we’re straight in to the dark stuff as a spy is killed because his lookout didn’t warn him that an assailant was on the way, even though the lookout clearly see danger on the horizon. What’s going on?
More is explained on the top deck of a London bus, Mother’s “office of the week” (the conceit of this series) for a briefing including cocktails, thanks to silent right-hand woman Rhonda, after which Steed’s task is to keep an eye (“two eyes” says the clearly suspicious Mother) on the man detailed to guard a key witness in a Very Important Trial.
We meet the criminal who’s the focus of the trial, a Lord Edgefield (William Job), and key witness Plummer (Michael Lees), a man who is bizarrely able to pass a lie-detector test even though he’s telling obvious, verifiable lies. What, again, is going on, apart from an early manifestation of fake news?
Tara, meanwhile, after giving chase to a suspicious milkman at Plummer’s place, ends up at Dreemykreem Dairies, where she accidentally swallows some milk and starts saying exactly the opposite of what she’s trying to say.
Now we know what’s going on. The mind control thing, with milk as a vector.
And, it being a dairy, it can only be a matter of time before the plot requires Tara to find herself in a butter-making machine, where things, obvs, take a churn for the worse.
Eagle eyes will spot all sorts of snags of logic in this dairy sequence – Tara is swimming in milk one second, dry the next, smashed milk bottles littering the place seem to have disappeared seconds later. Continuity is shot to shit. It doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things.
As I said, it’s a zippier episode on the screen than it could have been, thanks to Crichton’s decision to shoot on the streets as much as possible. Terry Nation (always associated with Dr Who) gets script editor credit and Laurie Johnson has the sole music credit this week, Howard Blake (later of The Snowman fame) having been given a rest now that Johnson was back from writing a musical.
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The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, 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