The benign king deceived by his courtiers – a wicked grand vizier, a scheming cardinal, a treacherous brother – is a comforting story told and retold down the ages. The Avengers episode Pandora is Brian Clemens’s version of it: a man grieving for a lost love being fooled by his family into believing she is alive, the better to loosen his grip on the family fortune…
Pandora is that woman, dead 50 years but still mourned by maddened recluse Gregory (Peter Madden), around whom a massive deceit is daily confected that out in the wider world the First World War is still raging and Pandora is still alive.
All that bad guys Rupert (Julian Glover), Henry (James Cossins) and general factotum Miss Faversham (Kathleen Byron) need to complete the illusion is a Pandora.
Enter Tara King. Or exit Tara King, rather, from the antiques shop where she is meant to be picking up a clock but instead gets a dose of chloroform and wakes up seemingly back in 1915, dressed and coiffed in the style of the time.
While Tara is being persuaded/cajoled/threatened into playing along as Pandora, Steed is at the scene of the abduction where, handily, someone has dropped a piece of paper – a clue being always useful – with a name written on it.
Who is the Fierce Rabbit, he later asks Mother, who is tetchy at having to descend from his HQ of the Week, a hot air balloon (which we don’t see, but is a good joke about how absurd the series has become).
Seems Fierce Rabbit was “our man in Armentières”, a First World War-era agent eventually forced into reluctant retirement on account of his age. Steed tracks him down, starting at the agency’s records office where, flicking through to Fierce Rabbit, the files of Emma Peel and Cathy Gale are both glimpsed – those were the days, eh, Brian?
Fierce Rabbit turns out to be someone called Juniper, played by John Laurie at full-force nutjob, eyebrows waggling like crazy as he attempts to prove this superannuated spy has still got it by tracking down Tara, which he actually does in record time.
But there’s more. More cajoling of Tara, more huddled whispers about whether Gregory is going to buy into the deception, more vague nods towards the money he’s meant to have, where he’s likely to have hidden it and how Pandora fits into the whole scheme.
But never mind all that. This is, in fact, an episode that’s all about the performances – the plot feels like it’s being made up on the hoof and has an “oh, and another thing” quality to it, such as the revelation that Fierce Rabbit is not one but three different agents. As for the reveal about where the fortune is located… no spoilers.
While Tara King is being encouraged – with drugs – to play the role of bride-to-be Pandora, Linda Thorson is effectively given another benchwarming episode, leaving the stage clear for the likes of Laurie, Glover and in particular Kathleen Byron to wax gothic.
Byron was the deranged nun at the centre of the brilliant Powell/Pressburger film Black Narcissus and there are several visual references to that film by director Robert Fuest. That’s when he’s not vaguely alluding to another gothic masterpiece, Rebecca, with Byron standing in as a malign Mrs Danvers figure.
Brian Clemens’s story is a gender-flip of the much more likely situation – the First World War resulted in so many women losing their men, rather than vice versa. How many grieving widows, fianceés and girlfriends?
Fun is perhaps the wrong word to use, but for all its absurdities of plot, it’s an entertaining episode proving the enormous difference that can be made by the right faces in the right places.
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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