The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 14 – The Interrogators

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Charles Crichton directs and Christopher Lee guest-stars in The Interrogators, so we’re expecting good things of this episode of The Avengers, right?

The plot is a good one – writer Richard Harris fleshing out an idea by Brian Clemens – and hinges on army chaps being tested to destruction by an interrogation outfit run by army chap Colonel Mannering (Christopher Lee). But if Mannering is absolutely on the level and on our side, why are there sadistic Chinese soldiers also on the scene, one of them holding the dreaded fly whisk?

Of course he’s not on the level. Why hire Christopher Lee otherwise?

Rewind a bit and we get a quick run-through of what’s going on in full. Lieutenant Caspar (Philip Bond) arrives at the army dentist, plonks himself down in the dentist’s chair and is then subjected to a proper interrogation with torture, all part of a programme to familiarise the interrogee with the sort of techniques he’s likely to encounter if captured, or so he’s told.

Authenticity is key (which explains the Chinese guys, I suppose). In fact the role play is so good that “everyone talks… eventually,” as Mannering puts it, though not – it is eventually revealed – for the reasons we might initially suspect.

Of course, this being a Britain designed for export and a show built on whimsy, everything stops for tea, with the desperate, bedraggled captive Lieutenant Caspar bucking up considerably when he’s offered a cup too.

To the Batcave, or Mother’s HQ of the week, accessed through a door in the rear of a red telephone box. It’s an underground bunker decked out in lots of flowers and with a drinks trolley piloted by the redoubtable Rhonda (still no utterances, still no screen credit), where Steed is soon brought up to speed by Mother.

Steed prepares to enter Mother's HQ
The only red telephone box not to smell like a public toilet

Agents, it seems, are dying in their droves, which casts suspicion on Caspar, the man who ran them. Now we know that Caspar blabbed to Mannering as part of the “phoney” interrogation, the irony being that this makes him even less likely to blab again to Steed and Mother when they start asking him questions after Tara brings him in – a neat twist.

From here things run on straight rails, Tara visiting the dwellings of the agents being targeted for an early death, before being hoodwinked by Mannering into accompanying him to a training course and eventually winding up in the dentist’s chair herself.

Steed meanwhile makes a number of too-late interventions (agents dying in eccentric manner, like the one man band in a quarry cruelly cut down while practising) before jumping into a helicopter to follow a pigeon heading for the facility where Tara is now about to be questioned/interrogated/hoodwinked.

It’s all a bit mad, very lively, fiendishly plotted and all the better for being based on a cross/double-cross plot that makes some kind of sense – details like the one man band and pigeon chase to one side.

The solid cast helps – Lee, of course, a stiff but charming army intelligence man (which is exactly what he was during the Second World War) – Glynn Edwards just right as the burly menacing dentist, John Laycock as one-man-band Izzy Pound, Cardew “the Cad” Robinson (again) as a balloon seller who somehow manages to keep a business going in a park devoid of people, and not forgetting Cecil Cheng as the sadistic (and entirely stereotypical) Chinese torturer Captain Soo.

So, yes, good things.

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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

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