London was still notorious for its fog in 1969 when The Avengers episode Fog aired, even though the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 had largely consigned all-enveloping, life-shortening meteorological damp blankets to history.
No matter, fog is what’s called for and so fog is what we get, a thick pea-souper so dense that it seems to have transported the world back to the late Victorian era – an organ grinder, a blind man tap-tap-tapping his way through the street and a knife sharpener all turn up in the opening moments of an episode that’s actually about members of a disarmament delegation arriving in London, only to start turning up dead, one by one.
Hold on to that plot detail – members of a committee being killed – because Jeremy Burnham’s script seems to have trouble with it, instead focusing (in a woolly, foggy way) on the machinations of a strange secret society, the Gaslight Ghoul Club, whose members dress in Victorian garb, ride penny-farthings and gather to discuss the unsolved mystery of the Gaslight Ghoul, a Jack the Ripper-style killer.
Is he walking abroad again, this Gaslight Ghoul, laying low visiting foreign dignitaries? It certainly looks like it after one of the committee is murdered by a gentleman with a swordstick, who makes good his escape in a hansom cab.
No, it makes no sense, unless time travel is part of the plot. But, putting objections to one side for a moment, the familiar plot structure eventually starts to assert itself – it seems the killer has dropped his cape. A clue! Tara is soon ensconced with a dithery theatrical costumier (Norman Chappell), whose information leads her and Steed to the Gaslight Ghoul gang, whose president – known as The President – is played by Nigel Green, the star of The Ipcress File. He’s a fine edition to the episode, and a man who looks good in top hat, beard, cape and all the accoutrements of the Victorian gent.
But back to the disarmament committee, who we barely meet. Steed tells us that another one of them has died – off camera, as if to rub home the point about the script being barely interested. Enter Mother, in a Mini Moke (the defining vehicle of the 1960s) driven by Rhonda, to drop a bit more explication into the episode.
Even this can’t quite yank the episode into the present tense though, or tie the visiting committee convincingly into what’s less a plot than a mood – fog does seem an appropriate metaphor here.
Whodunit? You won’t care, and nor does writer Burnham, who has to furnish his killer with one of those dastardly explains-it-all speeches which more or less introduces him to us, fills us in with a bit of his backstory and then reveals him as the murderer all in one fell swoop.
It is unsatisfactory on pretty much every level – even the fight stand-ins stand out. The fog doesn’t hide quite as many sins as perhaps director John Hough expects, especially on a remastered dvd.
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