Presumably as a result of the messed up episode order, Cathy has disappeared without explanation, and Steed instead enlists the help of a club singer called Venus Smith, played by Julie Stevens. She’s a great singer too, and the episode treats us to the best part of two whole performances from her. I can’t imagine so much of a television episode of anything at all being given over to one of the main characters singing nowadays. OK, maybe The X Factor, but that aside there’s a lost art here of allowing moments for the drama to breathe, little pauses in the flow of the narrative. It’s not time wasted.
Venus is an interesting choice of ally for Steed, and there’s a very different dynamic to his working relationship with Cathy. Venus is obviously chosen as a woman who will appeal to Yakob Borb, an ambassador from the “Balkan Republic” (i.e. a standard 60s television version of a generic Eastern European creep), and Steed throws her right in the lion’s den. She seems to genuinely develop feelings for Borb, and as much as we already feel that we can rely on Steed’s abilities to save the day, Venus is placed in a lot of danger here, so seeing Steed make use of her in this way is a little uncomfortable to watch. You can’t help but get the impression that he is taking advantage of her in a way that Cathy would certainly never stand for.
Leaving aside the ethics, Steed’s plan works a treat, with Borb attracted to Venus and eventually even trying to get her to move in with him, and then go abroad with him.
“I shall buy you the most expensive outfit in Geneva.”
A new wig might be a bigger priority. Despite the great singing voice, I found it hard to warm to Venus. Compared to Cathy she’s a bit stressy and moody…
“What do you want now? A biscuit?”
… and odd. But Borb certainly warms to her, very quickly. In fact, she seems to cloud his judgement right from the start:
“I see you have no hidden weapons.”
How? They would be hidden. Venus and Steed end up getting drawn into the very strange world of wrestling, looking for the identity of a masked attacker. It’s all a bit confusing at the end, with two masked wrestlers showing up, but this is quite an unusual and interesting world for The Avengers to explore. This seems to be a series that really thrives on atypical settings for thrillers: a circus, a fun fair, a wrestling match. And it’s actually quite shocking to see a wrestler start attacking his opponent for real, rather than the usual acting and acrobatics that the spectators of this bizarre sport enjoy. I’m not sure they practice the groin thrust attack in wrestling any more.
Our red herring for the masked attacker is Raymond Adamson as Harry Ramsden, presumably in his pre- chip shop days, but once again this episode didn’t disappoint for the familiar actor spotters, with the wonderful Philip Madoc delivering a nicely understated performance as Stepan. James Bond fans will enjoy Paul Stassino’s memorable turn as Borb, while Doctor Who fans will be pleased to see Padmasambhava himself, Wolfe Morris as Ito, if you can stomach the Japanese impersonation. At least he does it well, and was a go-to actor for that kind of thing at the time.
The Decapod left me slightly confused as to where the titular character had misplaced his other eight legs, but this was another entertaining episode. I loved Venus’s songs, but I’ll be happy if Cathy comes back soon. At least she seems like a woman in charge of her own destiny. RP
The view from across the pond…
I know it was the 1960’s. I know the production and the writing won’t be like what we know today. I also know I’ve watched tons of 60’s TV shows in my life and I find this one the most bizarre. Typically it’s the ultra-close-up shots that make me feel uneasy about germs but this time it’s dialogue that bugs me. I find the dialogue so weirdly fast in a way that feels totally unnatural. Know this: I’m speak fast and yet the dialogue in this show comes off so fast, I don’t even think the words would have time to register in a person’s head before the next person replies. It’s like someone said “get all the lines in fast, we may get cut…” To compound this issue, the scene with the announcer was nearly impossible to make out for me. I have surround sound in my room and that didn’t help either. If anything, it made me think the announcer was auditioning for the future role of Davros in Doctor Who. Go on, listen to it again and think of Davros…
Speaking of sound, Venus Smith sings a song that… let’s just say my head tried to detach from my body and scuttle off across the floor. What was that song? I wanted to come up with something for this write-up but it would never be read the right way. What made it even funnier, in a way that it should never have been, is that Venus is so happy singing it! And it’s not just the sound that put me off in this episode, depressingly. Watching Steed smack a girl’s bottom was a bit of a surprise. But that was nothing compared to the murder of a young woman getting out of the shower by none other than Nacho Libre! What the hell was I watching?!?!
The story is around a Balken President that Steed has to protect from an assassin, potentially the titular Decapod. Unfortunately I’d seen the big reveal coming and it didn’t have the punch it should have. It’s not the only punch that didn’t connect. The security guards hiding in the room made me laugh because it was more Kato from The Pink Panther than any really believable secret agents. Would Steed not have spotted them standing behind columns in the room? Good secret agent, Mr. Steed! The bodyguard fight was hilarious too especially watching one continually twist the others foot. Was the direction, “do some random fighting, repeat whatever you are comfortable with!” I was actually laughing out loud throughout the scene. And speaking of the bodyguards, I love how folding ones arms in front of a door denotes your role. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever need to interview for a bodyguard position.
One punch that did land correctly was the game of “spot the Doctor Who actor”. Seeing Dr. Solon years before he became the savior of Morbius was thrilling. I was amazed at how different he looked as Stepan. Philip Madoc will always be Solon to me, but I still enjoyed seeing him in this story. The biggest thing that was missing however was Cathy Gale. We needed her; Venus just didn’t have the power Cathy does. I think that was probably a major reason this episode doesn’t work for me: Steed and Gale are just terrific together and watching an episode without the duo is like watching Sherlock Holmes without Watson! It can work, but never going to be as good as when they are together.
The Decapod ends part one by running off with a chair. I think that sums up the episode; it’s about as exciting as running off with a folding chair. I have been enjoying the show, but this one was a dud. A shame, because I was really hoping for a knock-out! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Bullseye
Steed is a real bastard to Venus here, and to compound matters worse there’s no real confrontation about it all. Venus angrily sums it but, but then leaves it with “don’t do it again”. That should have gone back to Eric Paice for a bit of tweaking, particularly as Venus shows much more spunk earlier on snapping at Borb’s bodyguard (“what do you want now, a biscuit?”), and later jokingly ordering one to walk to heel. On the whole this a fairly solid, if unremarkable episode.
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The more I learn about Steed from before his episodes with Emma Peel, the less I like him. I haven’t seen this episode yet. But with Philip Madoc in the cast, I imagine that he could help make such an unremarkable episode watchable enough via his presence, as he could for Dr. Who’s The Power Of Kroll as Fenner.
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I would suggest these are atypical issues with his characterisation Mike and you might be better served watching and deciding for yourself if you can. I’m nearly at the end of Season 3 and he’s almost always a decent and very likeable person in the episodes I’ve seen so far. I’m yet to get to the Emma Peel episodes.
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Thanks, Rog. Steed was indeed mostly a decent and likeable hero as I remembered from the episodes I saw.
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Philip Madoc was such a great actor, I find him to be watchable in pretty much anything. He definitely was one of the high points of this episode.
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It’s a bit difficult to be certain since so few episodes from the first season still exist, but I get the impression that Steed initially started out as a somewhat ruthless & untrustworthy companion to Dr. Keel. I suspect that when Ian Hendry left the series and Patrick Macnee became the new starring actor it took the writers some time to shift Steed’s characterization from being a dodgy, manipulative government agent to a dashing, heroic lead character. Having watched the Steed & Mrs. Peel and Steed & Tara King episodes during my teenage years, it was a shock a couple of decades later to finally be able to finally see the earlier episodes, where the relationship between Steed and his various partners was much less cozy, and often adversarial.
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It was a similar shock for me when I finally got round to knowing William Hartnell’s Doctor Who.
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