The Avengers: Series 2, Episode 18 – Warlock

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Woo hoo, the suggestion of nudity and all sorts of pagan goings-on are all over the screen in the opening sequence of Warlock, as groovy hipsters gyrate themselves into a frenzy around a photo of… a middle aged man.

All is soon explained as we join John Steed, arriving at the home of scientist Peter Neville (Alban Blakelock), where the housekeeper is as bright as a button but the man himself in a bug-eyed catatonic funk.

Hooray – mind control, the big theme of The Avengers (and much 1960s cultural output) in years to come – has finally berthed, the idea being that the scientist’s mind has been somehow stolen by a group of occultists after he himself foolishly dabbled in necromancy.

Seeking answers, Steed heads to the Natural History Museum, where Mrs Gale gives him and us an overview – the influence of the occult is very strong, she avers, if you believe in that sort of thing.

And off we go again, in a fast moving episode written by Doreen Montgomery (whose career stretching back to the 1930s included a co-credit on Fanny by Gaslight) to the lair of the occultists, where scientist Peter Neville is just arriving, trancelike and intoning Aleister Crowley’s maxim “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” thus tapping into another two of the 1960s great obsessions – freedom and Crowley himself. The devil has nothing to do with it, of course, instead it’s foreign powers seeking to wrest from Neville’s hand the formula for a revolutionary fuel which the scientist has spent his formidable brain power working on.

Peter Arne plays occultist-in-chief Cosmo Gallion (great name), a paranormalist by day who goes to the dark side by night and practises arcane rituals described helpfully by his assistant as “dangerous”.

It wouldn’t be an episode of The Avengers without a bit of undercover work, and in short order Mrs Gale has inserted herself into Gallion’s orbit and waits for him to take the bait. Which he does.

This was supposed to be the episode that first introduced the public to Mrs Gale – hence the “getting to know you” dialogue at the Natural History Museum, and the fact that Honor Blackman’s accent is so sharp it could etch glass. She’d knock it back a couple of notches as she eased into the character and became more familiar with Macnee’s jolly  return-of-volley style of reading lines.

No more needs be said about the plot of this rather saucy, flavoursome episode, which some take issue with because it deals with the supernatural, though in fact it really deals with human credulity and suggestibility.

It probably had real power when it was first broadcast in the dog days of January 1963, as Britain lay locked in the icy grip of the worst winter for 200 years. Outside the sea might have been freezing, but on TV there was the suggestion of lusts unbridled as the members of Gallion’s coven (most of whom move like the trained dancers they are) do an early 1960s version of letting it all hang out.

Austin Powers, eat your heart out.

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© Steve Morrissey 2018

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