After a couple of Tara-lite outings, a Steed-lite one for fans of Linda Thorson, who rises to the occasion in a fairly jokey episode, Wish You Were Here, which sees The Avengers doffing its hat to The Prisoner, whose 13 episodes had blazed across 1967 and 1968 (and continue to be talked about all these decades later).
The premise behind Tony Williamson’s screenplay is laid out neatly in the opening sequence – two men, Brevitt and Merrydale (played by David Garth and Liam Redmond) discussing what appears to be a jailbreak. But when the camera pulls back… ta daaa… it turns out they are in fact guests at what looks like a high-class boutique hotel. Or it does until Brevitt tries to leave, leading to an unfortunate “accident” which prevents him.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave is how the Eagles framed it in the song Hotel California eight years later. Here, director Don Chaffey doesn’t quite summon the atmosphere of dangerous decadence, more genteel restraint (in every sense of the word).
Plotwise, Wish You Were Here flits from this opening reveal, to Tara and Steed discussing her worries about her uncle (Redmond), before she heads off to check out the swank “hotel” he’s staying at. And, soon, she too is a victim of its no-checkout policy.
Steed, meanwhile, heads off for a few scenes with Mother in his HQ of the week, a jockey’s weighing-in room (faintly reminiscent of No 2’s nerve centre in The Prisoner), where a subplot consisting almost entirely of filler fails to hold the interest.
But it does lead somewhere: Mother’s nice but dim nephew Basil (Brook Williams), having infuriated his uncle, ends up at the “hotel” with Tara, where she is on the point of putting a stop to the incarceration shenanigans by attacking the place’s nerve centre – its kitchen.
It’s a woeful episode, done in the style of a second rate West End farce – pratfalls, slow comic turns, raised eyebrows, stumbles – complete with comedy incidental music by Howard Blake to nudge us in the right direction. Notice director Don Chaffey (who directed a lot of The Prisoner) attempting to squeeze four separate laughs out of Basil pitching a golf ball into Mother’s drink.
But at least Linda Thorson gets an episode of her own, right? Yes, though the suspicion lurks that it was from a necessity to speed up production, which had become badly behind schedule, rather than out of any great desire to give Thorson her head. Whatever the explanation, she grabs the episode with both hands and makes the most of it.
The Prisoner stuff? In spite of the fact that this episode’s working title was itself The Prisoner (thanks to The Avengers Declassified for that info), you could watch the entire episode blithely unaware that anything seriously parodic was going on. Certainly The Prisoner’s real gift to drama – that sense of psychedelic paranoia – is almost entirely absent.
A mixed bag, then. Linda Thorson’s mettle is tested – test passed! It’s just such a shame it was on an episode a bit light on bite.
The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission
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