The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 4 – The See-Through Man

Steed and Pell with chemistry apparatus

 

After time travel in the previous week’s episode, Escape in Time, The Avengers’ augmented interest in sci-fi gets another workout in The See-Through Man, a plot all about invisibility and its dastardly uses.

 

Comedy is the overarching tone and self-parody the effect as first one person then another is killed by an invisible man (he is referred to throughout as “he”, even before it’s been established that he is a he). Indeed, before the opening credits have even rolled a factotum at the Ministry of Defence has been dispatched by an unseeable assailant, all very nicely done by director Robert Asher.

 

Two bits of minor but annoying Avengers furniture are then quickly dealt with, first the pithy subhead (Steed Makes a Bomb; Emma Is Put to Sleep), followed by the “Mrs Peel, We’re Needed” command/salutation/entreaty from Steed to Peel, delivered this week from down the lens of a microscope.

 

It’s all meant to be too, too witty but is in fact already, after only a few airings, too too tiresome. The new-style opening has also robbed viewers of what was one of the more enjoyable aspects of The Avengers – the plot explication data-dump handled as a cross between sparring and flirting by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.

 

Gripes aside, it’s a “proper” Avengers episode – fanciful and ludicrous, yet handled at speed and with wit. Warren Mitchell turns up again as Soviet ambassadorial operator Brodny  (third time, I think) and his scenes with Steed are again an object lesson in oneupmanship, between characters and actors, as the two opponents in spying weigh personal admiration against bigger loyalties.

 

Steed quizzes boffin Quilby (Roy Kinnear)

 

Mitchell has had another think about Brodny and plays him this time out as about one third Groucho Marx, Brodny’s frock coat adding to the impression.

 

In a good episode for proper character actors, it’s Roy Kinnear as the madly eccentric scientist who invented the invisibility formula, and Moira Lister – whose legs are made much of – as the steely wife of invisible assassin Major Vazin, Lister playing her as a cross between Mata Hari and Rosa Klebb.

 

Comedy, as I say, is the idea – everyone has a comical accent or eccentricity. Warren Mitchell even tries a bit of that old standby – comedy running.

 

The cinematography is noticeably better than it is in the usual run of episodes, DP Wilkie Cooper having had a career in the movies before arriving for this, his first TV job. There’s a car chase featuring an invisible driver, which is done pretty convincingly for 1960s TV and a big fight finish between Lister and Rigg, which is also handled well by director Asher, though some of the punches being thrown are a bit feeble.

 

Thanks to Philip Levene’s brisk script, it’s a very good episode in concept and delivery, though the series has now lost the darkness and mystery which were a key part of its makeup in the Cathy Gale era.

 

In other words, good though it is, if you’re looking for a “jumped the shark” episode, look no further than The See-Through Man.

 

 

 

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 4, Episode 12 – Two’s a Crowd

Steed dead-ringer Gordon Webster

 

Tricks are what Two’s a Crowd is about, and the 12th episode of series four starts with two quite good ones. First up, a shot of a plane. It’s not a real plane, but a model, and the trick is that the model plane is meant to be a model, not – as was so often the case back then – a model masquerading as a real plane.

 

Trick number two is played when Emma Peel arrives at Steed’s apartment to find him out unconscious on the floor. He’s not really out cold, it’s a test for Emma, which she passes with flying colours by attacking the mystery man who suddenly is attacking her.

 

A plane that looks like a model plane because it is, a mystery assailant who is nothing of the sort – the notion of things standing in for other things is completed by the plot, which revolves around Steed being replaced by a double, a male model who looks just like him.

 

But, as with the plane, is the reason why it looks so much like Steed because it is Steed, one step ahead of the enemy? And is he one step ahead of them because he’s realised they’re bugging his apartment?

 

The enemy comes in the shape of Warren Mitchell, so entertaining in one of the best Avengers episodes (Series 3’s The Charmers, with Fenella Fielding) that he’s been got back in to play a version of the same role. Here he’s the twitchy Russian ambassador rubber-stamping tactical decisions taken by a cold-hearted flunky played with his usual sneer by Julian Glover.

 

Patrick Macnee, Julian Glover, Warren Mitchell
Julian Glover (centre) warming up for Game of Thrones 50 years later, with Patrick Macnee and Warren Mitchell

 

But neither of these men is really calling the shots. Instead that’s the mysterious Colonel Psev, an international man of mystery whose name clearly means something to these operators, but whose inclusion as a plot detail makes very little difference to an episode that should be a lot better than it is.

 

That’s in spite of an excellent performance by Mitchell, as a small man constantly fretting about his status. It’s his third outing and Clemens and the gang were wise to book him. Mitchell had just shot the pilot for Till Death Us Do Part, the show that would make him a household name (and typecast him for ever as working-class bigot Alf Garnett).

 

And not forgetting Patrick Macnee, who has fun playing a model only too familiar with catalogue work.

 

It’s a Philip Levene script, and as in Man-Eater of Surrey Green, Levene takes a spytastic idea and puts a pantomime spin on it. Roy Ward Baker adds some directorial flourishes from behind the camera and the lighting is noticeably better than usual. Budgets are clearly on the up.

 

And we hear the first mention of Mother, who would prop up (and often be the saving of) the Tara King episodes to come.

 

A big meh, for all its pluses, which also include a noticeably smarter wardrobe for Diana Rigg. Because she’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 23 – The Charmers

Fenella Fielding publicity shot for The Charmers
  Charm, rather than grit or narrative or psychological coherence, are really what The Avengers are about, and in the appropriately titled The Charmers we get tons of it, thanks to a fine script by Brian Clemens and light, deft playing by the guest actors.     It’s also, more or less, the first of the properly jokey, larky Avengers, though it kicks off in familiar style – a death before the opening credits, by the sword.     1960s TV loved a “touché” and we learn that this killing of an enemy agent is the latest in a spate of them. While the enemy being murdered in quantity might ordinarily be a good thing, matters have got out of hand and the uneasy balance between spying organisations has been upset, leading to Steed being targeted in a tit-for-tat by a Soviet (we assume) hitman keen to even things up.     After a bit of flashing wit and swordplay – Steed offering to his would-be assassin, “But I haven’t killed anyone for at least a week,” and “But that was a foil; my weapon’s a rapier” – our man heads off to the foreign embassy to see if he can sort things out.     Here things start to become comedic, since Warren Mitchell plays the vaguely East European/Soviet envoy, Keller, a camp and hypochondriac worrier who is soon persuaded by Steed – in a nicely written back and forth in which each tries to out-charm the other (Steed wins, of course) – that what they need to do is find out who’s actually doing the killing. “You mean it wasn’t you?” “No, we thought it was you,” kind of thing.     To this end, and to demonstrate they’re dealing honestly, both men swap partners, Steed lending Keller Mrs Gale (bridling at being treated like a chattel) and Keller, devious as only a man who does not play cricket can be, sends Steed one of his “operatives”, who is actually an out-of-work actress picked at random. Keller tells her Steed is a writer and she needs to shadow him as background for a role.     For all its charm, the weakness of Clemens’s writing is that this bit of the plot is ridiculous – Steed would pick up instantly what was going on, as would the actress.     However, the two actors plug on at comedic cross-purposes, and since it’s Fenella Fielding playing the actress, much fun is had. Fielding spends all her screen time with her head up, eyelids fluttering, chest thrust forward and, when at all possible, legs crossed way too high on the thigh. The breathy vamp, in other words, which was her speciality in a long and unvaried career.     Mrs Gale, meanwhile, is stuck with Keller, who spends most of the episode with a Vick inhaler up his nose (watching Blackman trying not to corpse at Mitchell’s wild overplaying is one of this episode’s small joys).     The action shifts first to a dentist’s visited by the most recently dead spy, where Mrs Gale pretends she needs a check-up, while Steed ends up at an academy of charm for aspiring young gentlemen, where chaps are instructed on how to wear a bowler hat, carry a brolly and hail a cab. It is also, of course, a spy academy and the source of the problem.     As I say, the plot doesn’t matter too much; it’s the individual scenes, bantering, funny, fast, that make this such an enjoyable episode.     Though it’s almost sacrilege to say it, since the Mrs Peel era is often considered to be the finest, it’s tempting to suggest that The Avengers peaks around here, which might be why Clemens decided to reuse most of the plot, and some of the lines, in the season five episode The Correct Way to Kill.           The Avengers – Watch it/buy it at Amazon       © Steve Morrissey 2019