The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 3 – The Cybernauts

cybernaut with Steed and Peel

The sixth of the Diana Rigg episodes to be made, though the third to be shown, The Cybernauts looks vaguely back to the Honor Blackman era – Mrs Peel still in leather and a bit helmet-haired – but in other respects it’s the most forward-looking episode we’ve yet seen. Perhaps that’s what you’d expect with a sci-fi flavoured episode title with a ring of Doctor Who about it.

 

Or are we in the realm of the supernatural? In the traditional opening “death scene” we see a man in his house being attacked by some big creature impervious to bullets, strong enough to bend a rifle barrel with a swipe of the hand and clearly intent on murder.

 

And, after the episode title has appeared, we meet blithe spirits Steed and Peel as they quip away about a run of murders they seem unable to solve. However… a lead. The latest victim has been killed by a karate blow known only to a handful of people in Europe. So off Mrs Peel heads to a dojo, where she is complimented on her fighting skills with a “fights like a man” level remark, while Steed, Patrick Macnee easing into middle age, poses as the dead man’s replacement, sent in by Industrial Deployments, some British government quango, to negotiate with a representative (Burt Kwouk) of a Japanese electronics firm.

 

Interesting stuff here – not because Kwouk was hot off Goldfinger (with Honor Blackman) and the second Pink Panther film, A Shot in the Dark. And not because Kwouk is ethnically Chinese (though born in Warrington he was raised in Shanghai) rather than Japanese, since Kwouk’s career saw him sliding all over the oriental ethnosphere. Interesting instead because of how precisely this episode is delineating the future. Not only are the Japanese shown as leaders in electronics technology – at the time they were popularly seen as good for making tinny transistor radios and not much else – but Kwouk’s Mr Tusamo also informs a boggle-eyed Steed that in the future there will be computers the size of a cigarette packet (an iPhone, in other words).

 

Meanwhile, checking out a British company in the same field, Mrs Peel is treated to a demonstration of British hi-tech – a robot dog that comes when you call. Except it doesn’t, when company boss Jephcott (Bernard Horsfall) beckons. Over at another British tech company, run by a Dr Armstrong from his Dr Strangelove-inspired wheelchair (and played by the fabulously stately Michael Gough, who’d wind up as Alfred in the 1980s/90s Batman movies), Steed is horrified as Armstrong tells him about artificial intelligence, the robot workforce of the future and a machine that can answer any question you ask it (sounds a bit like Wikipedia).

 

Three suspects – the foreigner with the best tech, the Brit whose stuff doesn’t work, and another Brit whose vision of the future is unsettling at the very least. Who’s the wrong’un?

 

bandaged cybernaut in chair
Nothing sinister about this one at all

 

Unusually for The Avengers, writer Philip Levene spends quite a lot of energy misdirecting us – red herrings are not the usual way for this series. And it’s not the only innovation. The camerawork is noticeably crisper and more fluid than in the previous two episodes and a vast amount of care and attention has gone into Mrs Peel’s look – never a hair out of place, lippy seemingly laser-applied.

 

One hangover from the Cathy Gale era is that Mrs Peel seems to be in leather gear just in time for the fights, which is vaguely absurd, though there is a very nice late sequence when Steed is showing off his fighting skills to the sound of Laurie Johnson’s soundtrack playing The Avengers second theme in a string quartet arrangement – Hong Kong director John Woo would later use this contrast between all-action visuals and stately soundtrack repeatedly, and you wonder if he saw it here first.

 

As for the whodunit aspect, the reveal is ingenious – Levene is good at this sort of thing – and wouldn’t be out of keeping among Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot stories, if that isn’t too much of a giveaway.

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 26 – Lobster Quadrille

Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman publicity shot

 

Episodes of The Avengers were often not shown in production order. But Lobster Quadrille was both the last one broadcast and the last one made in series three, going out on 21 March 1964, a day after it had been finished.

 

It’s also Honor Blackman’s farewell episode, before she headed off to be Pussy Galore to Sean Connery’s 007 in Goldfinger. And so you’d be tempted to think the production team might give her a good send-off. But in fact it’s a very John Steed-focused adventure, all about lobster fisherman, a dastardly plot to flood the country with heroin and a mystery Chinaman who connects the first with the second.

 

No, Chinaman is not the PC term for someone from China these days, but Burt Kwouk, of Pink Panther fame, is very definitely giving it the full Inscrutable Oriental as Mason, the owner of a chess shop visited by Mrs Gale after a couple of hoods (Gary Watson, Corin Redgrave) club a “journalist” (a spy, in other words) to death and the dead man’s burned body is found with an exotic chess piece on his person.

 

Watson and Redgrave are a pair of Cornish fishermen – lobsters a speciality – and are entirely unconvincing in their roles. Redgrave’s character name is Quentin Slim, for god’s sake, and he utters the phrase “listen, baby” at one point, about as unCornish-fisherman a formulation as you can imagine.

 

But then this is an odd episode, cobbled together by two writers – Richard Bates and Brian Clemens says the imdb, though it was just Clemens says the knowledgeable Avengers Forever website, under the pseudonym of Richard Lucas, which is backed up by the closing credits (I’ve just double-checked). Whether it’s one writer or two, it feels like two writers’ work, the grit of early scenes giving way to a much more phantasmagoric 1960s Alice in Wonderland vibe as the action shifts from Cornwall (ahem) to a London nightclub/restaurant decorated with giant blow-ups of Tenniel’s illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Bates to Clemens, in my mental shorthand, if not in fact.

 

So, returning to the plot, while Mrs Gale is quizzing Mason, Steed is down in Cornwall talking to lobster kingpin Captain Slim (Leslie Sands) and the wife of his dead son, played by Jennie Linden, Her naturalness in front of the camera really gives the episode a lift, and helps enormously as more issue-driven Play for Today waters are charted as she tries to tell the big fella the real truth about his son.

 

As I said, Honor Blackman is barely in the episode and spends a fair chunk of it tied up. Though she does get a judo scene towards the end, to remind us that she’s still here. That’s just before Steed and Gale have a prolonged farewell chat during which she announces she’s off on holiday to the Bahamas, where, Steed suggests, she’ll be “pussyfooting” about. Mrs Gale assures Steed she’ll be doing more than that. “Not pussyfooting?” he muses, after she’s left. “I must have been misinformed,” he says, Macnee just about resisting the urge to wink to camera.

 

After which it’s goodbye Mrs Gale, Steed wasting no time before picking up the phone and calling a mystery woman (we assume it’s Mrs Peel) who he addresses flirtily as “my dear”.

 

It’s been a good run for Blackman, who has transformed not just her character from a helpmeet to co-equal but also her billing and with it the role of women on TV. With the exit of Mrs Gale, one version of The Avengers ends and another begins.

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2019