The bizarre rotating door of associates for Steed continues with the introduction of Dr Martin King. I always insist on watching any series for the first time in the original broadcast order, but I am really beginning to understand the thinking behind the DVD release going with the production order instead, because the way these episodes were broadcast is a mess. Presumably nobody had any confidence in this episode as a debut for a new series, which is odd because I thought it was a very strong opener, and it really does feel like an Episode One of a new season. Perhaps somebody got cold feet about started the series with an episode where Steed doesn’t appear for the first 20 minutes, which therefore relies on the story holding your attention well enough not to miss the Season One regulars, which it certainly did in my case.
We are now into the third iteration of a doctor getting involved in the unofficial (or at least secret service) fight against crime, if you count the sort-of-prototype-Avengers Police Surgeon. For the first time the doctor isn’t played by Ian Hendry, although I have to say I didn’t miss him much, because Jon Rollason is brilliant as King. I’ve seen nothing but negative reviews of Rollason and of this episode, and all I can say is I must have been watching something different, because King is a square-jawed hero who commands our attention every second that he is on the screen, and shares a very entertaining, teasing working relationship with Steed, who is having great fun here undercover as a waiter on a cruise ship. I was already familiar with the actor from Doctor Who (Harold Chorley in The Web of Fear), but I think playing the hero suits Rollason much better, although he was clearly a very versatile actor. By the way, anyone playing the game of spotting the Doctor Who actors will have a field day here, with Marco Polo himself popping up as Alec Nicholson (Mark Eden), Alan Curtis (Major Green in The War Machines), as A.G. Brand, Pamela Ann Davy (Janley in Power of the Daleks) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as Carla’s short-lived acting double Peggy, and best of all John Bennett (Chang in The Talons of Weng-Chiang) as bodyguard Guido Marson, who provides an impenetrable barrier to anyone who wants to invade the privacy of screen star Carla, until a very amusing drunkard turns up. In fact, it’s probably the weirdest portrayal of a drunkard I’ve ever seen, but I can’t deny that it’s entertaining.
As for the story itself, the shenanigans surrounding some stolen microfilm are really just background noise, with the main focus on Carla Berotti, and her miserable life of fame. I found Patricia English’s melodramatic performance a bit hard to stomach, and Carla doesn’t exactly endear herself to the viewers with her hysterical, crying, violent, drunken behaviour, plus she is clearly a drug addict who is in denial. But it’s a fascinating look at the price of fame.
“I was nobody. I sold gloves in a down town store in Montreal.”
“Perhaps you’d have been happier if you had stayed there.”
“Oh yes. Oh yes indeed. I was only a little mixed up then.”
There’s also the suggestion that Carla is little more than a pawn in the games of others, despite her huge success, and very sadly the most significant manipulator in her life appears to be her husband.
“I’m your husband. I know what’s best for you.”
“Do you? I’m beginning to wonder about that too.”
It almost felt like this episode needed Cathy Gale to turn up, to show Carla what it means to be a woman in charge of her own destiny, rather than buffeted about like a cruise ship on the stock footage seas.
So what’s not to like here? Another great location for an episode, especially when people are sneaking around the darkened ship, a fantastic cast, two charismatic heroes, and plenty of food for thought. If somebody bottled on the idea of starting the season with this episode, they really shouldn’t have worried. I’m just sorry we never got a full season of the adventures of John Steed and Dr Martin King. RP
The view from across the pond…
Was he punched or stabbed? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today on Punch or Stab, you can be the lucky winner of a cruise to Canada, if you guess correctly!
I would hope that actors don’t really know how to stab someone but it’s amazing how many times the same action used to show that someone has been punched can be used equally to show that someone has been stabbed. It’s such an odd action the way they do it. Maybe it’s because the Brits (at least in 60’s TV) go for an up close gut punch. It’s sort of like saying, “oh, sorry old chap, wot! Needed to kick your arse, but didn’t want to be rude about it, tally ho!” By contrast, American TV typically goes for the face, as if to say “Fuhgeddaboudit, I’m gonna kick your ass, and if I make you spit out teeth in the process, you’ll be able to afford a dentist later!” (Unless you’re Captain Kirk; then you do that double-fisted punch of awesomeness.) So we have a number of gut punches that I wasn’t sure if the people we doubled over, winded… or dead. And that was a really strange thing to become fixated on but at least it added entertainment to another slow episode for me.
This is a strange episode too and I really think it’s because we’re again missing out on Cathy Gale, which is a big loss to the episode. Steed also doesn’t show up until a full 20 minutes into the story. The story itself has Steed trying to find some microfilm that a neurotic actress, Carla Berotti, has on her person while taking a cruise to Canada. I really didn’t care, because she was so tough to watch. She’s a piece of work, looking for every drug or drink she can get her hands on to calm herself down. In fairness, I’m not a keen flyer so I sort of understand, but I haven’t taken anything for a flight in years. (Having seen comedian John Mullaney’s stand-up, I also have thoughts on even mentioning it to a doctor…) And while Carla is a train wreck, I didn’t like hearing a reporter call her both a sex symbol and frigid in one breath. It seemed, well, not British, really! (I guess the fact that they had been coming over to our side of the pond meant they could be a bit more womanizing than we typically see on British shows of the 60’s. I’m just speculating!)
Steed’s an interesting fellow too. We’ve seen him taking great pleasure talking about murder and how people meet their fate during season 1. Watch how he reacts when Dr Martin King tells him that Carla slapped him, twice! He laughs! I mean, this is the hero right? He’s also the worst porter in the history of cabin crews. He walks around filling up glasses with precisely one drop of liquid per guest. I mean, that’s one way to make the bottle last, but the guests might throw him overboard.
Overall, I found this episode mildly interesting but still harder to enjoy than Bullseye. It made more sense than that Decapod rubbish but it still doesn’t feel like we’re seeing the same quality that we’d seen before and I think it really is the absence of Cathy. And I don’t mean that Cathy is some great player in the game, but when Steed had Keel to work with, it worked just as well. I think shows like this need a duo. It’s why Sherlock and Watson work so well; those few stories missing Watson is like a different series. Batman and Robin, Kirk and Spock, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy… I mean, duo’s make the show better. Steed manages to have a duo-like relationship with King, but it never feels right. There’s no chemistry. But I do think the series makes a good case for why to carry an umbrella or wear a bowler hat; I wonder if I can rekindle a fashion trend….
I don’t really feel the episode gets a proper ending. At least one of the bad guys is caught (when Steed apparently grips a knife by the blade!) but he was one of a handful of villains and I never really felt they got their comeuppance. I don’t know what to make of the series; it fluctuates wildly. I do imagine the time it was made though, especially during those awful opening credits. I imagine not much going on at night, sitting down to one of only a few channels and putting on a spy show, and I realize this would have been extremely fun at the time. It doesn’t quite cut it for me today, but I suspect when we get more of that dynamic duo, I will find a lot more positive things to say about the show. This one was just a mission to humdrumville. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Removal Men