Here we are, Invasion of the Earthmen, the first Tara King episode shot by returning showrunner John Bryce, one of three he managed to get in the can before Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell again resumed control of The Avengers.
This is not Bryce’s vision of the episode. Clemens has had a hack at it, and who knows what the Bryce version was originally like, but there’s a reason why this was slipped out 16 episodes into the final season, let’s just say.
Star Trek is the obvious inspiration – from the clothes to the polystyrene boulders – and writer Terry Nation (the Dr Who writer no stranger to sci-fi) sets up an interesting WTF premise from the off, as a man snooping in the grounds of a large house gets his foot caught in a man-trap and is then attacked by a giant snake.
The snake is fake, laughably so, but it’s symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with this episode: it makes no sense on any level.
I forgot to mention that the entire man/trap/snake scenario is watched over by three clean-limbed people who look like they have just beamed down from the Starship Enterprise, and react as if the man’s distress has been laid on for their entertainment.
Roll opening credits.
It being the first episode, Tara King sports bleach-blond hair – for the Clemens reshoots she wore a blond wig, which makes a “who did what?” investigation easier. Steed meanwhile is in a fancy modern car rather than some absurd vintage crate that would have meant he was wet half the time. He’s in full mentor mode; she is scared of everything, even cobwebs at one point.
Process all that as we move into the episode proper, as Steed and King arrive at the Alpha Academy (Knebworth House, apparently) posing as a married couple who are looking for a school for their son.
They’re given the tour by Brigadier Brett, a headmaster whose charges are all unsmiling and stiff, and include Warren Clark, later of A Clockwork Orange (and TV’s Dalziel and Pascoe) but here still in his sleek, svelte and fairly pretty years, before the entering the angy bulldog phase of his later career.
“Young men and women at their physical peak,” is what it’s all about, which to 21st-century ears sounds like the blurb from the advertising rate card for a busy porn site. The words are spoken by our madman of the week, who has a plan to populate the galaxy with Aryan astronauts who, until the technology is fully ready, must lie in cryogenic slumber.
Think Dr Who and you’re pretty much there – Steed as the Doctor, Tara (referred to as “Miss King”, echoing “Mrs Peel”) as the game but wet-nellie assistant, corridors, rushing about, silver foil as the sci-fi material of choice. Though why Linda Thorson is dressed as a pantomime principal boy is a mystery.
The sci-fi mood is emphasised by the whistling Theremins on the soundtrack and, at some level, you can see what producer Bryce is after – the late-era Cathy Gale episodes which managed to weld tech and espionage into something much more satisfying.
Whether the Clemens reshoot/recut/rewrite is responsible for what is one of the weakest episodes of the entire run is moot. One thing we can say for sure is that, while wresting this back from Bryce and co, Clemens and co didn’t manage to slather on any of The Avengers special sauce – the wit, the banter, the humour.
Both Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson look like they’re having a hard time of it. And, most tellingly, neither King nor Steed seems that smart.
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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