When this episode opened with a man going for a ride on a ghost train and not coming off the other end, I thought we were in for a great episode. We have already seen a circus as a backdrop for criminality in Girl on the Trapeze, and a funfair makes for a similarly unusual and interesting setting.
We continue the conceit of Keel getting involved in the world of crime by accident each week, although his job does provide a reasonable excuse for that to happen. This week an escaped prisoner turns up at Keel’s door, needing treatment, and insisting that he was wrongly convicted. I liked how intuition led Keel to give Harry a chance and investigate his case before calling the police, and not just his intuition. Carol has a gut feeling about Harry, and so, too does Steed’s dog, who is a good judge of character and therefore “very unpopular around Westminster”! Steed and Keel go off to do their individual investigations on the funfair, which are both a lot of fun.
Keel deals with the more serious side of things, recreating the crime with Harry, which is good quality detective fiction stuff. They piece together what happened, bit by bit, first establishing that the robbery Harry was accused of was a two person job (somebody needed to keep the alarm terminals connected while the other person muffled the bell), and then figuring out that Harry was hypnotised at the time, tying in very nicely with the setting of the crime.
Steed’s investigations are a lot more fun, and he makes for a great double act with Harry’s mother. It shows the extent to which Steed is a social chameleon. He appears to hail from the upper classes himself, but can get along well with anyone, and I think that’s because he never behaves as if anyone is inferior to himself. He treats Mary as an equal and a potential drinking buddy, genuinely befriending her and indulging her when she wants to show him the family photo album. He is rewarded for his kindness, when the album offers another piece in the puzzle of the case he is investigating. I also loved his scene with the fortune teller, who “can’t even order a pint without making a riddle of it”, and who decides Steed’s future isn’t worth much.
The one part of this adventure I wasn’t keen on was Steed’s interactions with the dancing girls. I wasn’t quite sure what he thought he was achieving when he was coming on to somebody else’s girlfriend and then getting into a fight with her boyfriend. At that point it was almost as if he had lost sight of why he was there, and was just looking for a conquest. Every so often this series reminds me of how close it is to a slightly more genteel version of James Bond, with heroes who are far from angelic. We even had the Bond-esque gadgetry this week, with the computer typing away on its own, recording what it hears, and best of all Steed’s allegedly exploding cigarette, which seems like a wonderful bluff, similar to Keel’s syringe of witch hazel, until Steed hints that it was actually real. With Steed you can never quite tell.
Until 2016 this episode was assumed to be lost forever, but was discovered in the hands of a private collector. For that reason you won’t find it included on the complete Avengers DVD box set, which was released prior to the discovery of the episode, and will have to purchase it separately if you want to buy it. You won’t be disappointed in terms of the value for money though, because there are also reconstructions of most of the missing Season One episodes, and a sizeable booklet with information, photos and a comic strip. The recons consist of descriptions of the action, paired with photos, which give a flavour of each episode. Unlike Doctor Who, the missing episodes unfortunately don’t exist as off-air soundtrack recordings, so this is the best we can hope for unless more missing episodes turn up. For an alternative way to experience the missing episodes, you can buy audio recreations of them from Big Finish, and the one they made for Tunnel of Fear is included on the DVD set, providing an interesting comparison of how close they got to the original, before the episode was returned. So that’s our Season One journey at an end, at least visually. I might write about the missing episodes at some point in future, but for now I’m keen to move on to the second season, with all episodes in existence from that point onwards. I have enjoyed these glimpses into the first season, and the three and a third episodes I have been able to watch have all been solid entertainment. We are at the end of the Keel/Steed double act, and I will be sorry to see Ian Hendry gone from the series from now on. He fully deserves to be remembered as the original Avenger. RP
The view from across the pond…
I have to say this is a frustrating thing for me. Roger reached out to tell me I’d missed a review for Tunnel of Fear. I went through the DVD set and saw that I hadn’t missed anything; it wasn’t there. Did the Brits really release an episode on their set that was missing on mine? Luckily no but Roger said I’d have to get it off Amazon. Off I went to Amazon.com, and found I couldn’t watch any episodes from before season 4. That struck me as galling and idiotic; who starts watching something on season 4? Was this some deranged commentary about black and white television in America? I mean, to my horror, I’ve known people who said they would not watch anything that wasn’t in color. I’ll leave that statement to readers to form their own opinions. I know what it made me feel. But I had a revelation: go to Amazon.co.uk! Sure enough, it was there. I didn’t think twice: I hit buy. Then an error popped up and said due to region restrictions, I couldn’t view it. Imagine that! In a world where everything is digital and boundaries should mean next to nothing, I still can’t watch the episode. So, I was content to sit it out but I did have one last idea. I went to YouTube to see what existed from this episode and it’s a damned shame I can’t watch the whole story…
The first sequence I watched shows Steed under hypnosis. It’s an eerie setting featuring 4 characters; 3 living and one skeleton without a neck. The sequence is highly reminiscent of The Prisoner, asking Steed “who do you work for”; it’s very evident where the Prisoner may have pulled some of its influences. Steed’s answer might have come from #6 himself; if I didn’t know better, I’d be convince the two series take place in the same “universe”. Unfortunately, the sequence gets a little weird when the hypnotist asks about Keel and Steed gets caught up the idea that he is “very fond of children”. I felt a bit weird about that, truth be told. Then before the clip ends, we see Keel being lead away at shotgun point, only to have the villain bunked upside the head by a woman with a stick. The result made me laugh because it’s clear that I couldn’t convince my cat to get off the counter with such a light tap! But it fells the villain and the scene cuts. The next sequence was less impressive, showing Keel making an escape from a carnival with Harry Black, but without the full context, barring the little I read, it holds little meaning. The best I could take from this sequence is that the cinematography of the time still was amazing, using shadows on white curtains to fantastic effect. That’s what those anti-black-and-white TV viewers don’t realize: without the same level of special effects, the production crew had to be more creative and that often pays off in spades!
Reading about the episode really had me intrigued. I love a good carnival and remember the Ray Bradbury tale, Something Wicked This Way Comes, with fondness. It’s amazing how easy it is to turn a happy thing like a funhouse into something terrifying. In this story, there’s a ghost train that is certainly scarier than it should be. Hypnosis, fun houses, creepy rides and neckless skeletons make this an episode I’ll be keeping an eye out for. I’m sorry I can’t contribute more to what was sure to be an excellent episode, but it definitely seems like one worth collecting if and when it comes to the US… even if it has to wait until American’s can see the value in black and white television! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Mr. Teddy Bear