Don’t Look Behind You is Brian Clemens’s second script for this series of The Avengers, and his fourth to date. And it’s a cheeky lift of the Old Dark House story.
Put another way, there is no typical Avengers setup of a corpse before the episode title has come up, and little in the way of bantering exposition while Steed and/or Gale fiddle with something, drink something or parade around the flat they seem increasingly to share.
Instead it’s a story about characters gathered together in “an old dark house”, where forces known or unknown set about their malevolent business. Here things have a modern resonance, because before Steed drives Mrs Gale in his new Lagonda – this is otherwise a very Gale-centric episode – to spend the weekend at the stately home of some aristocrat, we have seen a mystery hand cutting Mrs Gale’s picture out from a magazine, and then cutting the picture into bits. This hand clearly belongs to the 1960s incarnation of a vindictive troll, one with perhaps a #MeToo interest in Cathy.
Steed leaves Gale to her own devices once she arrives at the big house, allowing Clemens to do what he seems to love best: write eccentric characters.
First up is Ola (a rather good and appropriately scenery-chewing Janine Gray), a melodramatic proto-hippie who is the adopted niece of the absent aristo and who claims to be studying to be an actress – she wants to be able to make mannequins cry with her performance, she says (and not with laughter).
Later, fulfilling her duties as a hostess, Ola makes something to eat and shows her disconnectedness from the world of etiquette and manners by offering Gale red wine (“blood red”) to go with the fish. The very idea.
One nutjob is clearly not enough, and Clemens soon whisks Ola offstage, to replace her with Kenneth Colley, as a young man claiming to be a film director, dressed in hipster shades, leather and regulation dark gear. His car is out of fuel, he says, and we’re left wondering if this is the mystery man who cut up Cathy’s picture.
Without spoiling things too much, another man later arrives on the scene, claiming to be an ex of Mrs Gale’s, who even now carries a torch for her and wants, well, we’re not sure what, but Maurice Good as Martin Goodman makes it three fruit loops in a row for Clemens, and Good gives back in spades the juicy lines that Clemens has written for him.
Steed? He does return at the end, just to remind us that he’s the star of the show, though he’s done little to nothing this time out – as this episode was shot in July 1963, maybe Macnee had a couple of days summer holiday. As it happens, the ever-gallant Macnee at one point claimed this was his favourite episode.
Production-wise, though it’s still mostly shot “as live” on tape, things are moving into classic Avengers territory. More use is made of John Dankworth’s incidental music, which seems to be episode-specific now, and there’s a creeping sense that Dankworth been listening to John Barry’s work on the James Bond films.
Director Peter Hammond’s camera is less rigid than we’re used to, and there’s even some proto-psychedelic camera trickery towards the end, as Mrs Gale finally works out what her mystery “admirer” wants from her.
It’s a mad cat-and-mouser, really. But nicely written, well played and well made. The excellent Avengers Forever website says that the episode was reused almost word for word in the Emma Peel era, as The Joker. I look forward to watching it.
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© Steve Morrissey 2019