The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 3 – Super Secret Cypher Snatch

Window cleaners in white bowler hats and overalls

 

As mentioned briefly in the previous post (and explained much more fully on the Avengers Forever website), there was a brief interregnum in the final series of The Avengers, when John Bryce took over as producer, only for Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell to return to save the day after Bryce got hopelessly bogged down.

So in this series we’ve got a bunch of Bryce episodes and a whole lot more with Clemens as showrunner. Easiest way to distinguish is Tara King’s hair – if it’s blond, it’s Bryce.

Super Secret Cypher Snatch is not one of those blond episodes. In fact Clemens and Fennell made quite sure that it was “their” Tara who got onto screen first when they resumed control and so the second full-fat Tara King episode was the 12th to be made, when Clemens and Fennell had their feet firmly back under the table with the whole production running smoothly.

Though Tony Williamson wrote the episode, little bursts of Clemens stud this episode, right from the opening shot – a little old lady cycling across a field turns out to be a burly enemy agent heading towards a helicopter (imagine that in the Cathy Gale era!), which, mere seconds later, is spiriting super secret cyphers out of the country.

At first Steed and King are not brought in. Instead MI12 get the case – Steed and King’s noses severely out of joint. But then, after ballsing things up badly, MI12 is forced to hand the case back to Steed and King when one of their men is killed on the job while MI12 fellow agents else stood around glassy-eyed, seemingly hypnotised. If you want to see this as a fictional reworking of the Bryce/Clemens fiasco, please feel free.

 

Ivor Dean
Ivor Dean: a master of the bumbling cop act

Two meetings follow. One has the hallmarks of writer Williamson, the other of Clemens. The first is between our freewheeling agents and MI12 boss Ferret – played by Ivor Dean in full (and brilliant) bumbling cop mode, a role road-tested on The Saint, later perfected in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).

Against this real-world encounter (Cops?! In The Avengers?!) we have the clearly Clemens-inspired scene which takes place in one of Mother’s many eccentric makeshift HQs. This one is a field in the countryside, Mother in his modern Bentley, Tara King in her maroon AC Frua, Steed in his vintage Roller, while non-speaking assistant Rhonda (Rhonda Parker) hovers in the background. A strange “office” by any reckoning.

Anyhow, all this flim-flam and preamble out of the way, Steed and King are soon on a case that dives up another eccentric avenue as a team of assassinating window cleaners – who dress in what you’d call a Clockwork Orange-inspired outfit of white bowlers and jumpsuits if Clockwork Orange wasn’t three years in the future – are soon fingered as the vector of the leak.

In Tara goes as a dolly-bird typist at Cypher HQ, while Steed looks into Classy Glass Cleaning, an outfit run by a dithery man called Lather, and played by Nicholas Smith, a brilliant physical comedian best known for playing Mr Rumbold in the TV series Are You Being Served?

In short order the gig is up in an episode that for all its pluses in terms of character actors and locations, all its Avengers staples (British countryside, eccentrics and spycraft) lacks a certain spark, both in the exchanges between Steed and King and more generally.

Some of this is just bad decisions – having Steed as the sudden man of action while King is relegated to the role of glamorous assistant is a particularly bad idea if your leading man is beginning to creak a bit. Macnee even looks a bit stiff getting into and out of a car, for god’s sake.

And the plot fulcrum – paralysing psychoactive gas, hypnosis, amnesia – is too well flagged early on to really pull us through scenes that don’t shine on their own.

But, big plus, director John Hough has noticed Linda Thorson’s really quite remarkable grey eyes. Something’s sparkling at least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 2 – Game

Steed caught in a giant game

After new opening titles – a mix of the medieval (Steed’s swordplay with his brolly) and the modern (Tara King in sophisticated black evening dress and then action-girl attire) – we’re off into Game, the first proper Tara King era episode of The Avengers.

The excellent Robert Fuest (director of The Abominable Dr Phibes) is at the helm, directing a screenplay by Richard Harris which re-uses elements of his Winged Avenger episode in series 5.

That was a revenge plot built around a character getting payback for something that happened long ago. This is the same idea, though the way in which payback is given is more elaborate – here the men involved in a court-martial are made to play games in which the stake is their life.

First up, a man (Brian Badcoe) playing with a toy racing car – a Scalextric or something similar – when the car careens off the track and rolls over, the man dies in real life, his racing goggles filling up with jigsaw pieces.

Post-opening credits we get victim number two (Geoffrey Russell), playing a game of snakes and ladders, ascending a ladder for real until he’s startled by a snake and falls to his death. Again, the jigsaw pieces.

Luckily for our sleuthing duo, the murderer behind these fiendish deaths is the sort who likes to leave clues. And soon Tara is at the offices of the company that made the jigsaws, this encounter with eccentric jigsaw master (Desmond Walter-Ellis) as good a guide as any that this is a Brian Clemens-produced episode – Clemens and co-producer Fennell having been fired and replaced by John Bryce only to be hastily recalled when things went tits up (full story at Avengers Forever or Wikipedia).

 

Steed and King in the apartment
Ready for action: Steed and King

 

The killing continues. Another man – this time a stock market trader (Alex Scott) forced to play a finance game – is soon dead, and then another, a brigadier (Anthony Newlands), having met the villain of the piece, who goes by the joke name of Monte Bristow (the reliably sulphurous Peter Jeffrey), leading up to a big showcase finale, a chance for Fuest to show us what he can do, and for Patrick Macnee to remind us that he’s the star of the show.

Because Steed was also one of the men involved in the court-martial, he too is forced into playing a deadly game, in fact a series of games packaged together as one called Super Secret Agent – fight a fiendish Japanese wrestler, crack a safe and so on.

The prize being Tara King, who is now locked in the bottom half of an hourglass that’s quickly filling with sand.

Bait, victim, damsel in distress rather than super-capable karate-chopping buddy, that seems to be Tara King’s role, and Thorson plays her as less arch than Diana Rigg did, which is a welcome change, and with more liquid in the eyes, which is not. Even Tara’s odd combat scene is a bit below par, and Thorson’s body double is way too hefty to be plausible.

Director Fuest gets to play on one of those late 1960s sets full of oversized objects and his keen eye for a visual extracts the most out of what is still, for all its budget and exterior locations, a very studio-bound series.

It’s a good, brisk, well directed episode, and its decent cast includes Garfield Morgan as the mastermind’s supercilious butler, which is a bit of a bonus.

It’s a decent way to get to know Tara King better.

 

 

 

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 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

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 6, Episode 1 – The Forget-Me-Knot

Patrick Macnee and Lind Thorson

 

Exit Diana Rigg, enter Linda Thorson.

Out with the old, in with the new in The Forget-Me-Knot, a handover episode that saw Diana Rigg leave The Avengers and Linda Thorson join it.

Much has been said about Thorson – a good overview can be found here at Avengers Forever – and I’m not going to add to it here, except to say that I reckon she makes the best of what looks like a very bad situation. Departing/returning showrunner (all also detailed at Avengers Forever) Brian Clemens is clearly angling to ditch her as soon as he gets his feet back under the table and throughout this series again and again brings in obvious try-outs while “ill” or “injured” actionwoman King is forced to sit out one episode or another.

But on with this one. Steed and Peel, still, just about, and a story about amnesiac spies, with things getting going as Steed and Peel are about to enjoy an Irish coffee while doing a crossword. Enter a befuddled agent (Patrick Kavanagh) who remembers enough to have found the apartment but doesn’t really know much more than that, apart from the fact that a traitor is at work in the department.

Off Steed heads to HQ, to visit Mother, his wheelchair-using, fat, eccentric superior – a man (Patrick Newell) playing someone called Mother being a sign that there’s life in the series yet – pausing only to deflect an attack by an over-enthusiastic trainee (it’s Tara King) as he passes through the spy school.

Mrs Peel, meanwhile, is trying to shake loose some memories from the amnesiac’s mind, only to have her own compromised when a pair of thugs arrive and do to her what they’d done to him, rendering her blank too.

And that’s about it for her. Most of the rest of the episode Mr Peel spends locked up.

Emma Peel with gun
Farewell Emma Peel – cheekbones as deadly as her gun

 

Steed too ends up being struck by an amnesiac dart – three in fact, just for good measure – and wakes up in hospital where the doctor concludes that the man in front of him in the hospital bed has had a few drinks too many. Considering that Steed drinks in Mad Men fashion, that’s not a bad diagnosis, albeit the wrong one.

So who’s the traitor? Well, Tara King to one side, and assuming it’s not Mother, that leaves the only two others we meet – played by Jeremy Burnham and Jeremy Young. Choose your Jeremy.

Without detailing the entire plot, Tara does help save the day and order is restored, only for Emma Peel to discover that her husband has been found alive and well. And, too hastily to be credible (and surely that’s because this stuff was shot AFTER Rigg had actually left the series and she was doing everyone a favour by turning up at all for reshoots), Peel is gone, bidding Steed a touching farewell, Steed addressing her as “Emma” rather than Mrs Peel, the sudden drop of formality going off like an emotional depth charge.

Emma’s parting shot is to cross Tara on the stairs as Tara arrives, where Emma passes on some sexist information about the way Steed likes his tea.

And so a new chapter begins, with Tara King presented as an agent making up in pluck what she lacks in experience.

Notice Patrick Macnee’s physical bearing in this episode. He’s moving in the way you associate with an ageing stage farceur – the appearance of being lively rather than liveliness itself. Technique filling in the gap opened up by sadness – just a thought.

Another thought. Thorson pretty good. Acquitted herself well. Rigg a tough act to follow.

 

 

 

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 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