We start this episode with a nasty murder, using a very fast setting mud pack. The murderer has a niche speciality; she’s a killer beautician. I’ve not seen one of those in a murder mystery or a thriller before. It’s certainly inventive, although I thought the coroner’s verdict of “accidental death” was somewhat unlikely. I’m not sure how anyone would accidentally seal up their own nose and mouth with plaster, while attempting a beauty treatment on their own face.
Jackie Ross’s unpleasant fate is a “form of persuasion” to get London jewellers to co-operate with diamond smugglers, whose modus operandi is to threaten their relatives. Steed therefore sets himself up as a dealer, hoping that the smugglers will approach him to do business, but that’s not sufficient. He also needs a family member for them to threaten, so he asks Cathy to pretend to be his wife. This is great fun, as is the comedy side story with Cathy happy to escape from her flat, where the world’s worst painter is working (“It’s a striped one now, innit.”). The sexual tension between the Cathy and Steed gets turned up to eleven as a result (OK, seven or eight, maybe). Steed walking between Cathy’s legs while she is standing on some furniture, and giving her a piggy back ride (is it called a piggy back ride when it’s on the shoulders?), is all gloriously inappropriate. But the plan shows Steed’s ruthless side, because Cathy has obviously been placed in the position of the target for the smugglers, when Steed says no to a dodgy deal with them.
“I’m a clay pigeon for someone to take a pot shot at.”
We know that Cathy doesn’t mind being placed in danger. That has happened in every one of her episodes so far, but the problem here is that Steed doesn’t level with her. He knows that the gang goes after the wives, and doesn’t warn her in advance, which is a shocking omission, and increases the danger for Cathy because she is kept in ignorance. He’s not playing fair, and it’s a good job that Steed is so likeable and charming because otherwise behaviour like this would make him a hard character to warm to.
The villains are a mixed bunch. Nicky has been drawn into the criminal underground by accident, trying to pay off a debt that wasn’t entirely his fault, beyond the naivety of youth, but it’s hard to feel sympathetic for him because he’s such an idiot, and often an arrogant idiot as well. Instead I sympathised strongly with Samuel Ross (a great performance from Meier Tzelniker), whose daughter has taken up with this no-hoper. Nicky never seems like a credible threat to Steed, and when he tries to threaten him, Steed immediately makes him look a fool by pointing out that he is sweating. Nicky is displaying weakness, and that’s an elementary mistake in his shady line of work. In contrast, Fenton is cool as a cucumber. I thought he was a great character, a very polite criminal, but also unflappable and completely ruthless.
Our Cathy fight of the week was a double bill this time. Her first fight ended in a draw, which must surely be the first fight that didn’t end with her opponent unconscious on the ground, but she made up for that by winning the gun fight later in the episode, thanks to either her expertise in identifying guns, or her bravery in taking a risk; it’s not quite clear which it is. Both these fights are much better than the big showdown with Fenton and the other crims, which is an absolute mess. There are too many people in the room fighting each other and the cameraman struggles to keep up with the action (or even keep the camera steady and focussed on an actor’s head instead of his chest), so it’s difficult to follow what’s actually going on. But the fight scenes are always the least important parts of these episodes. Instead, The Avengers thrives on interactions between some great characters, and Death on the Rocks doesn’t disappoint in that respect.
I’m never having a mud pack, though. Better safe than sorry. I’ll keep the wrinkles, thanks.* RP
* I don’t have any wrinkles.
The view from across the pond…
Well, I’m convinced that the writers of The Avengers are pretty anti-banking. And anti-diamonds. This episode is another of those “bad guys smuggling diamonds” stories. Were there a lot of heists in the 60’s? Diamonds a big source of fun for the criminal fraternity? I’m not knocking the idea, but it feels like we’re going through a checklist and we’ve run out of items. Banking? Check. Diamonds? Check. Secret organizations? Check. Diamonds? Um… yeah, check. I mean, look, I got to see General Scobie from Doctor Who’s Spearhead from Space and my god, Hamilton Dyce looks precisely the same as he does a decade later with the Doctor. He must be using some damned fine anti-aging cream. Unlike the one used at the start of the episode. Goodness me, that was a horrible death. I mean, we might be going through a fairly uneventful checklist of spy ideas, but the methods of dispatching people is creative as ever. When Mrs. Ross is killed at the start of the episode with what is effectively fast setting concrete over her nose and mouth, I was horrified. But I have to credit a damned engrossing opening!!
I also have to say, the episodes with Cathy Gale are miles ahead of those without her. And I mentioned in my last review that I like the extended world the series is creating. That’s improved upon here with more talk of Cathy’s time in East Africa. I wonder if that will play a bigger part in the future. Interestingly, I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and noticed an Avengers box set that was different than what I have. It was called the Honor Blackman collection. While I don’t understand why someone would only buy a small portion of the overall series, I understand why someone would select her era. She’s great; enticing, confident, highly skilled. She’s certainly a rival for Steed. Ironically she seems to fight more than he does, and competently at that, hurling around bigger adversaries like rag dolls. Her casual fighting style is truly one to behold. (I took a fighting course in Starfleet called Kirk Fu and mastered the “box lunch”, but I have none of the grace of Cathy Gale! I mean, who does?!) When she is asked by Steed to play the role of his wife, I laughed. Oh, it’s a perfect pairing, but she’s well outside of his class. That’s not to say Steed isn’t good at what he does. He clearly knows how to play the villains. I adored the way he wouldn’t take the bait when Fenton’s henchman tries to entice him. Then he even calls him out on it: “you’re sweating!” Steed typically has the upper hand even when he doesn’t. And I also love the way Patrick Macnee plays Steed. There are so many little touches he will do: a raised eyebrow to someone off-screen, a wave, a smile… none of that matters, but it feels real! Macnee creates an atmosphere, and Blackman steals it. They are a great duo.
On the other hand, when Fenton pulls a gun on a man to wrap up act one, I imagined this being an episode of Police Squad. The episode would have read, “Overact 1, underact 2”. “Don’t be a fool”, the man screams in full on ham-mode, totally incongruous with the cunning that Fenton had shown up until then. Fenton then reacts based on the scream and shoots twice, his target, who dies in full underact mode, mouth open like someone just pulled a prank on him. He dies in the lamest way a man can die on screen. (Well, short of Jim Kirk’s death in Generations.) Surely you can’t be serious, I thought. They are serious, and sadly, there is no Shirley! That sequence was awful. That guy should never be hired to die onscreen again.
The best part of this episode is the denouement where Steed saves Mr. Ross and his daughter. It looks like things will go bad when Ross is shot, but the henchman with a conscience comes in and helps defeat Fenton. It’s all rather quick but it still worked. We then flash back to Cathy’s apartment where Steed is helping hang a lion’s head; one of her trophies from her time in East Africa. Just as he makes a comment to her about being married, the lion head flops, no longer straight. I laughed out loud.
The episodes are feeling a bit repetitive at this point and it’s down to the characters to interest me, because the plots are already feeling recycled, but a show won’t last 6 seasons based on repeat ideas. I know there’s magic to be found here. I just hope to find more of it soon. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Traitor in Zebra