Peter Barkworth, Joss Ackland and Brian Blessed fortify The Morning After, a decent “abandoned town” caper with an egregious USP – Tara King isn’t in it.
It’s insult added to injury, given that the previous week Linda Thorson had been substituted by obvious try-out replacement Jennifer Croxton. This week Clemens has two stand-ins, Peter Barkworth and Jennifer Horner (attractive, blonde, posh), taking the place of King, who spends the entire episode “asleep”, thanks to some knockout gas administered by shifty quadruple agent Merlin (Barkworth) and which he unintentionally also falls victim to, along with Steed and King.
If we’re being kind, it’s Clemens returning to an earlier idea of The Avengers – Steed with a succession of amateur helpers.
But never mind that. Back to the plot. Steed and Merlin awaken “the morning after” to find the town they fell asleep in transformed. It’s abandoned and under martial law – anyone caught on the streets will be shot by a detail led by a barking Sergeant Hearn (Brian Blessed’s roar put to good use here), under the direct orders of Brigadier Hansing (ditto Ackland’s knack for portraying duplicity).
Steed and Merlin have soon been captured, leading to an escape that’s got to be up there in the all-time top ten. Up to now the episode has twinkled brilliantly, Macnee and Barkworth bouncing dialogue off each other like master farceurs, which is what they both are.
Change is in the wind though. Dynamic duo Steed and Merlin encounter an investigative TV journalist known only by her first name, Jenny (Penelope Horner) and her cameraman Yates (Philip Dunbar), known only by his last. And soon an outline of the truth is being hazily sketched, thanks to Merlin having spotted a man he insists is a foreign spy (if you can believe a quadruple agent) and Jenny and Yates filling in the background – the unexploded nuclear bomb the media are insisting has led to the evacuation of the town is in fact a front for something more sinister: the arming of a partially finished nuke, which Ackland and crew are going to use as part of some diabolical evil-mastermind plan.
That’s quite a lot to digest.
Swapping horses midstream, Clemens’s script throws Steed and Jenny together for some knockabout flirtatious interaction in an obvious on-screen audition to be Linda Thorson’s replacement.
None of which mattered, of course, because the series was in trouble in the US, where it had been scheduled against Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In and was being hammered in the ratings – make of Steed’s use of the expression “Sock it to me,” (a Laugh In catchphrase) what you will. Thorson would survive because there was no point in re-arranging the deck chairs once it was clear the ship was going down.
Poor Linda Thorson. You have to admire her perkiness, in what screen time she gets.
This injustice to one side, it’s a good episode, making great use of the empty streets of Hatfield (apparently), the town littered with old Triumph Heralds, Austin 1100s and Ford Anglias, and even better use of Barkworth and Horner.
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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