“When you say a star, you don’t mean a planet?”
“No, the word star gets used very loosely.”
Does it? If so, we’ve come a long way since the 60s. This is part of a conversation that once again demonstrates that Cathy is an expert in everything. This week she’s an astronomer, and Steed sends her to investigate a murder at an observatory.
I suspect the science here makes about as much sense as Earth’s twin planet returning home in Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet, which is to say probably not a lot, but I did find the idea of a white dwarf heading back to destroy the sun surprisingly troubling. I think that’s down to the skill of writer Malcolm Hulke, who does threats to the world very well. Here he focusses on the implications for “worldwide panic”, and the response of the government to that possibility, which is depressingly practical:
“The one thing the cabinet does agree on is that the world should learn its fate in a proper and orderly manner.”
Meanwhile, this is contrasted with the response of some real people, ranging from Steed’s flippant talk of enjoying himself while he can, to Luke’s depression (although he has just lost his dad as well), to Max’s suggestion to his brother about spending their final days in a villa, expressed in Hulke’s best and most chilling line of the episode:
“It’ll be summer all the way for all of us, until we melt.”
The motivation for the murder is a clever one, with people in the know gambling on a stock market collapse, with a quick recovery and therefore a huge profit when the news turns out to be a false alarm. At least, I think that was the motivation. It was Steed’s explanation, but at times I did find the story a bit confusing, and it seemed to me that the reality of the situation was more likely to be Max and his associates wanting to protect the value of stocks they already held. I don’t know. It would probably take another viewing of this to figure it all out, and it wasn’t helped by another typically rushed episode ending, which happens all too often in The Avengers. Although the culprits are revealed beyond doubt, I’m not sure it was made entirely clear who was right about the white dwarf. I have to assume that the intention was that Richter’s predictions of doom were incorrect, but I ended this with the nagging feeling that some important details had passed me by. That may be my fault, but equally it could be down to the rather opaque narrative.
Although it was rushed, the ending was a lot of fun, with Steed fighting the villain in a bit of rare location filming. Even better was the build up to that moment, with everyone waiting on tenterhooks for the observation of the star, comparing it to its previous position. The observation itself was the bit that really confused me, because the previous slide superimposed over the current position appeared to show that it hadn’t moved, and yet Cartwright reacted like he had just seen confirmation of the end of the world. Let me know in the comments section what I’m missing here, because I have the nagging feeling that I’ve misunderstood this one.
Apart from being a bit puzzled at times, I loved this episode: another interesting location, a sense of desperation and danger, and a great idea for a crime story. For fans of Doctor Who like myself, this is an absolute bonanza of Doctor Who alumni. At one point, when mulling over the likely candidates for the villains, I realised that I had a choice between Cherub (The Smugglers), Borusa (The Five Doctors) or Warlock (Pyramids of Mars), with Autloc (The Aztecs) and Jacko (The Underwater Menace) already deceased, and Captain Hopper (The Tomb of the Cybermen) proving that unfortunately George Roubicek is the weakest acting link in any production. But my star of the week had only a cameo appearance: Sheba the dog. If Steed really thought the world was ending, he seemed happy to see it out with a glass of wine and Sheba for company. That man has his priorities right. RP
The view from across the pond:
I hate to make anyone think I’m superstitious; I’m not… typically. I’ve had friends who would think that if someone mentioned ten dollars only to then find $10, they would be convinced of some supernatural influence. The issue I take with that is that people don’t take into account the odds. $10 is a very common amount of money so the law of averages doesn’t really imply divine intervention! Having said that, I came downstairs just in time for the start of Netflix’s new movie, Don’t Look Up! about a rogue comet that will create an extinction level event only to later watch the next episode of The Avengers, The White Dwarf, about a star that is heading for earth and will cause an extinction level event… Well, that’s weird! Now I do question the divine message because one would not expect that to be a common topic! These two shows were 60 years apart and I managed to find and watch both on the same day without planning. Believe me, I’m looking up!
But all that aside, this is one of those episodes that I was talking about where the plot is hideously complicated. Clever, perhaps, but wacky in its complicated idea. So the notion is that by tricking the world into thinking a cataclysmic event is coming, the stock market can be manipulated. Then when the disaster is proven to be a fake, and all is well, those who knew in advance could make loads of money n investments made during the panic. “The government must tell the people…” Well, news flash, guys: watch Don’t Look Up! I think that’s probably a more accurate assessment of what would really happen: no one would do a thing and we’d all be dead anyway.
The real problem with this story is that it talks about a sun heading for us. “The White Star will re-enter our solar system… in 15 months.” That’s a bit more disastrous than a comet and the thing is Cathy, once again the star of the show, knows all about astronomy. So her knowledge doesn’t really jive with the proposed threat. A white star was never in our solar system to begin with and if it were heading for us, it would be bringing an entire solar system with it. Nevertheless, she again wins the day while simultaneously making Steed look lazy. Cathy goes on a mission while steed “has a good time” while he still can. She does all the legwork. She also informs Steed on all the astronomical data he needs and consistently puts herself in danger. He’s going to be lost without her one day! In fairness he does prepare a meal for her in this one, so he’s good for something. (Besides having lovable dogs from time to time!)
The problem I had with this episode wasn’t just the plot – in fact, barring the proposed threat, I really liked this episode – but the initial murder had to be committed by only one man: Gallifreyan President Borusa, AKA Cartright played by Phillip Latham. He had to be the murderer; it was obvious becuase of what he did 25 years later in Doctor Who! (Ok, that logic might not hold up, but I ended up being right, so ha!) Then poor Dr Warlock from Doctor Who’s Pyramids of Mars; that poor sod has bad luck with siblings! And an episode about leaving the “world in a grave” can’t be complete without a Tomb of the Cyberman star, in the form of Luke Reichter. The funniest moment however came from the line “I won’t let you out of my sight” only for the camera to lose sight of the actor for the entire line. Sometimes you can’t plan these things…
The episode does give Steed a chance to redeem himself when he gets into the cap-gun fight – the gunfights in this series never look good – when he eventually throws the lead villain off a ladder. I admit, I had hoped he was going over the side of the building but you can’t have everything!
So yes, I liked this episode, but found so about it distracting. I did enjoy learning that the Earth actually started on October 26th, my dad’s birthday. No surprise. And it does make me think between that and the death from above concept, maybe there are supernatural forces at work. I’d better speed up my viewing of this series if I’m to get through it all before the end of the world comes. Or at the very least, wrap up the Cathy Gale episodes! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Man in the Mirror
The White Dwarf may be an even more intriguing Avengers episode to review in the wake of Don’t Look Up. Considering how down-to-Earth villains can exploit the situation, with the adventurous format for the heroes like John Steed and Cathy Gale, it’s a good reminder of how uniquely flexible the adventure genre could be for the 1960s. Thank you both for your reviews.
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