When a newly-elected Member of Parliament gets assassinated, Steed and Cathy get involved in the world of politics. It’s not a straightforward business, and these are not the easiest of people to deal with. For example, the picture on the right shows how Steed looks after trying to talk to a Tory MP.
I say Tory MP, although the political parties are never named, but with an attempted pact between the aristocratic Major Swinburne (David Langton) and working class Arthur Dove (David Davies), nobody watching could be in any doubt what parties they represent. That fact that Dove is the least corrupt of everyone involved in the story, and his wife is a genuinely nice, down to earth lady, perhaps indicates where the writer’s political preferences lay.
Despite staying well away from the debating chamber, this provides us with an interesting representation of the world of politics, because it questions where the real power base can be found. Behind the scenes of a successful political campaign is a man named Mark St. John, who is an expert in image and promoting politicians. This reflects a central issue with British politics that not only exists to this day, but has become even more problematic in recent years: who is the power behind the throne? How much sway do political advisors hold?
The storyline is hugely convoluted, involving the theft of a nuclear warhead, an attempt to blackmail the government, an attempt to bring down the government because of what has happened, and an attempt by an enemy power to actually set off the bomb. There are lots of different people with different agendas, some of whom remain unseen powers in the background, pulling the strings. It’s all a bit confusing, and the terrifying idea of a missing bomb that might be exploded loses some of its impact by being just one element of a complex story. However, this is one episode that fully justifies its running time. There are also three murders before any of the shoot-outs start happening… well, sort of. There is a huge twist in the tale, which I never saw coming and thought was very impressive.
Once again, the action is helped by darkened rooms, with a dummy that isn’t a dummy providing the creepiest moment of the episode. The set design is very impressive, particularly St. John’s office with its hidden doors. Needless to say, Cathy and Steed provide us with a huge amount of entertainment value as usual. Steed has a couple of old ladies working for him undercover in the Houses of Parliament, who are very amusing, and you can see how that would be a brilliant tactic. Nobody would think to suspect a couple of nosey old tourists. The edgy chemistry between Cathy and Steed is great as always, and they clearly delight in winding each other up. Just look how Cathy heckles Steed while he’s practising a speech he wrote for her, with a look of mischief on her face. Although Steed is often the butt of these jokes, he still gets moments where he is shown to be incredibly clever and quick-thinking, such as the following exchange:
“We served together during the war.”
“Oh, he’d have been about 15 at the time, wouldn’t he?”
“He was a boy bugler.”
… and he says that without missing a beat. This is an episode that shows politics not to be without honour, with bitter enemies from opposite sides of the political spectrum putting aside their differences for the good of the country. I fear that might just be a world that is as outdated now as Cathy’s bizarre headwear. RP
The view from across the pond:
Here’s a dopey title! Why not call it November Fifth? Or the Fifth of November? It’s not like I didn’t see the idea coming early on – it’s a British series after all and Guy Fawkes Night is known even to many on my side of the pond. I admit Alan Moore didn’t hurt the reputation by writing his superb V for Vendetta, but I think it’s known even outside of that circle, although I hardly qualify as a good representative of that crowd. Still, I think what we have here is closer to the earlier episodes of the season without quite hitting that high note. Again, I am holding my breath; I have hope but it is waning, if I’m being honest.
In November Five, we have a political assassination and a nuclear warhead that goes missing. Definitely has the makings of a strong episode! The first man murdered is a chap named Michael Dyter, who is shot seemingly in the face. He had just won an election and it seems whoever took him out wanted to eliminate a threat. We are then given some party members who are clearly at odds with one another being forced to work together in secrecy… only to have one of them, Arthur Dove, aware of the fact that they were being recorded so it looks like he’s up to no good. When his rival is found dead at the end of act one, it’s almost guaranteed… except for two things. First, it was too obvious and we had only just finished act one. And two, Dove reminded me immensely of Brian Cox. He’s not, of course, but there was something about him that just reminded me of Cox and I have a hard time seeing that guy as a bad one, even though he’s very good at playing them! Ok, I admit, this second line of reasoning is not, in fact, reasonable at all, but I ended up being right, so there! Take that, Reason!
Now, like most episodes, I am left questioning Steed. He infiltrates the enemy headquarters but leaves his umbrella behind. Would Cathy ever do something so ridiculous? (Well, maybe; she does smoke in this episode and that always puts me off!) Steed even makes a show of taking it back after he’s spent time with one of the key suspects. I also question the production crew who insist on having all fight scenes played with the most moronic and jarring drum work ever heard in television history. What’s wrong with these people? It makes Cathy’s awesome fights scenes almost unwatchable and that’s a shame. It’s like they let a madman loose in a drum store!
Where the episode gains points is the surprise double bluff of having the murdered man, Dyter, turn up again and murder one of his former allies. This ramps up the threat and subverts expectation in a way I didn’t see coming. Maybe I’m dim, or the earlier fight music numbed my brain. (Probably the latter!) I did pick up on the humorous comments by both husband and wife talking about the other, both expressing being “bored to tears” by the other. They do love one another, but have very different motivations. (I totally get this!)
As usual, the plot is resolved by some great photographic work from Cathy Gale who realizes what’s gone on, prevents the November 5th detonation of a warhead, and culminates with one of our favorite wrist-targeted shootouts. I imagine nurses are trained on how to treat wrist-shots in all British hospitals since it’s clearly the most targeted part of the anatomy. Great job Cathy. Not sure we should wait until the last few seconds of every episode to wrap up but what can you do?
The episode ends with Mrs. Dove saying, “be seeing ya” and I was right back to hoping we were in a bigger world. At this point, I don’t think we are. Well, clearly the bigger threat is gone and we’re in for more madmen in drum shops… oh well. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Gilded Cage
When a favourite franchise, in reflection of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin, has a story about an assassination, particularly in the 60s when real assassinations were tragically frequent, it may take a lot to separate the fiction from the reality. Reflecting the politics of the times has become integral to the secret agent genre. So I like how I have gotten specific educations from this form of entertainment. Interesting reference to V For Vendetta. Thank you both for your reviews.
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It’s not one of the best, and barely functional. A rare misfire from the usual reliable Eric Paice, though he does give us some good Steed/Cathy moments with Steed’s speech writing, and a great end of part two moment
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