“A bit crap,” is what I wrote in my notes towards the end of watching The Avengers episode Legacy of Death. Perhaps I was being too harsh. My memory of it now is of being a pleasingly entertaining episode, and that’s largely down to the work of Stratford Johns and Ronald Lacey, who do a knock-up and knockabout job of pastiching Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, Casablanca/Maltese Falcon era.
Pastiche is pretty much the watchword throughout, this being one of the banes of this farewell series (at what point did everyone realise that’s what it was?).
But on to the plot – written by Dr Who’s Daleks creator Terry Nation and opening with a man called Farrer (Richard Hurndall, who’d briefly play the time-travelling Doctor many years down the line) lowering himself into his coffin to avoid being killed by two assassins on their way in from the airport, according to his trusty aide Zoltan (John Hollis).
The men arrive – it is Sidney Street (Johns) and Humbert Green (Lacey) – but Farrer is already dead and Zoltan has hidden the dagger his master gave to him for safe-keeping before he croaked.
Soon, after a visit from the mysterious Zoltan, Steed has that same dagger, though he’s none the wiser about where it’s from. Tara arrives, keen to share some bubbly with her colleague. And soon after that the first of a string of rival comedy (ie foreign) assailants turns up, keen to relieve Steed of “the dagger of a thousand deaths”, as one of them puts it.
None really creates as much of an impression as Johns, who is excellent when pushed into caricature, as he is here, with much excessive mopping of his sweaty features with a hankie that was probably wrung out between takes.
The whole thing culminates back at the ranch (Farrer’s mansion) where the dagger is found to be the key to something eye-widening, which Steed and King will soon be getting their hands on if the villains, who have now all banded together, don’t get the dagger off them first.
Comedy is the intention, and everyone is overdoing it except Patrick Macnee, who has either taken it on his own shoulders to keep the brand pure, or has been instructed by director Don Chaffey to act as the pivot around which the carousel spins.
If you were to sum up the episode in a soundbite, it’s a case of an awful lot of people dying awfully casually. Yes, the law of diminishing returns does apply.
What’s it all about? The dagger leads to untold riches, or something. It doesn’t really matter, Nation fully understanding that this is an exercise in archness.
Things to look out for – a firm called Dickens, Dickens, Dickens, Dickens & Dickens (a sign that Brian Clemens was involved somewhere), a glimpse of Tara’s apartment (I didn’t know she even had one), and a late appearance of the Chinese water torture, which by this point in the 20th century had been done well and truly to death as a despicable way of extracting information (and of behaving, let’s face it). A relic.
Fans of Pink Panther style fist fights – no one looks like they’re getting hurt – will enjoy the finale, which also comes with an Agatha Christie-style reveal during which everything is explained.
Stylish enough, but with too much of an emphasis on a particularly arch sort of comedy. On second/third thoughts, still “a bit crap”.
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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