The Avengers: Don’t Look Behind You

The Avengers DVD releaseIn the introduction to this episode on the DVD, Patrick Macnee describes it as “the best television show of the entire series”, and that’s despite having very little to do with the story himself. He can’t have formed that opinion just because he got to drive a fancy car, but when the opening shot is of a man cutting up a photo of Cathy and putting her eyes and mouth back upside down it feels like we are watching something very different to anything we have seen before. This is creepy and surreal, and leans far more towards horror than any of the previous episodes.

There is a very slow build-up before we get to the good stuff, and I think that’s inevitable when the story consists of a man trying to mentally torture Cathy and not much else. Delaying tactics are provided by two secondary characters. Ola is the least relevant to the story. In fact, there is no purpose to her inclusion in the episode other than to make the viewer uneasy and prime us for the weirdness that is to come. Ola is obviously not right in the head. She laughs at her own name, and that’s just the start. Her oddness is entertaining at first:

“Do you play tennis?”
“I hate tennis.”

… but it all starts to wear a bit thin by the time we’ve had basically twenty minutes of Cathy and a weird girl doing nothing of any significance. She then drops out of the narrative, to be replaced by another oddball, the unnamed man who comes to the door. He is clearly unhinged as well (“I’m Alfred Hitchcock in disguise”), and this sequence is frustrating because Cathy is far too patient with him, but he provides a useful red herring. Until he shows up dead, we can’t be sure whether he’s messing with Cathy or not. His knowledge of Ola and his actions in general are highly suspicious. His death serves to raise the threat level, because whoever is messing with Cathy really means business.

The threat posed by her tormentor is far more effective before he appears on screen, even as a mysterious pair of hands. From Cathy’s point of view (and she is our audience identification character, of course), there is an air of the supernatural about what happens, with a rocking horse moving on its own, a radio turning on, and a phone ringing which was supposed to be cut. Then his voice starts appearing from all over the house.

The thing is, we know Cathy very well by this point, and we know she is capable of looking after herself. Only last week we saw her win a fight with a soldier, but this is different. She is in a creepy house with an unseen foe doing creepy things. It’s not easy to fight an enemy who won’t come out of the shadows, and we can see that this is really getting to her. That’s incredibly rare, because Cathy is normally unflappable, so her reaction alone makes it all feel much more dangerous. In the DVD introduction, Honor Blackman mentions that the director wanted her to remain strong and defiant throughout, but she felt so vulnerable that she couldn’t stop herself from acting visibly scared and upset. For the sake of the episode, I think she had it right and the director had it wrong, because Cathy’s distress really sells the jeopardy, whereas normally we would probably be thinking that she will find him, throw him over her shoulder, and job done.

As soon as her tormentor appears on screen, the feeling of fear fades away, because we know in any straight fight that Cathy will win, although an element of doubt remains because of their history together. Cathy is clearly rattled by the identity of her enemy. His backstory is one of horrendous crimes and betrayal by the woman he loved, who of course did the right thing when she found out what he was up to. This episode leans far more towards placing Cathy in the traditional damsel in distress role than usual, but it doesn’t feel like a backwards step because the danger is so personal and so unnerving. I can see why Patrick Macnee thought this was their best work. On the strength of the final act, if nothing else, I don’t think he was far wrong about that.   RP

The view from across the pond:

FINALLY!!!  Good lord, its taken forever but we had a really enjoyable episode without an over-the-top plot.  Just a straight up revenge story in a nightmare house.  What makes that funny is that two interesting things happened the day I watched this.  Co-writer and blog partner Roger asked me if I’m enjoying writing about these episode.  I said yes, but the challenge was watching them!  So to find one that was so eminently watchable on the same day was really ironic timing.  I was all set to rip into this episode but it surprised me!   Then on my drive home from work, I had a discussion about head cannon and that’s where I think I had a better ending for this.  I’m disappointed that the writers didn’t see the potential.

So let’s start off with the pros.  Opening with a nutjob cutting up images of Cathy Gale then trying to make some weird artwork out of it was disturbing in a good way, although at the time I was reasonably certain it would be some mad kindergarten teacher’s opening gambit to take over the world using papier mache or some other warped Avengers plot, but when the truth is revealed, it was so much better.   Then we meet Ola and things really became fun.  She’s as quirky as the fight music is annoying.  She bounces around like a loon, talks about dentistry, loves the dark, enjoys eeriness and flings herself at closed doors with wild abandon.  She was great!   And that house, with all the candelabra and mannequins and faces and statues… it was a dream house!   Ok, maybe I’m a bit off, but it was a dream house in my mind!

Then Speed Talker McDoodle shows up and talks non-stop and somehow ingratiates himself into the house which seemed like a silly sidestep, but since the haunted house idea was already winning me over, McDoodle wasn’t an issue.  Plus he mentions the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.  He’s got to get some points for that!  But then he dies and we get one of those terrible moments where the typically awesome Cathy Gale clasps her ears closed.  Guess you can’t expect greatness when she started her visit by lighting a cigarette!  What did she hope to achieve?  Reverse time to before Speed Talker died?  I thought she would have been delighted.

This is almost completely a Cathy Gale episode so it gets loads of points for that alone!  Steed, though likable, detracts.  In fact, it’s his return that gives the episode such a quick and lackluster ending.  He knocks out the baddie and then quips that he scared the guy and that was it!  Damn it Steed, the episode was going so well.  It was all about the bad guy threatening Gale, who had broken his heart in Berlin years ago, so he stages this macabre house for her benefit.  Some people are so warped!

But it was the baddie, Martin Goodman, that gave me my head cannon moment.  With the story and the allusions to a love between him and Gale, I thought it would have been a far better surprise to find this was Cathy’s “deceased” husband.  Creating some deeper backstory about her former spouse would have been a real surprise for the audience.  It could have been so unexpected: Gale’s confession that she tried to kill him because, as she said, he was selling people… that would have been a shocker!  But the writer Brian Clemens, fails to make that final leap and I think that was a big loss.  Maybe it was because back in the early 60’s, there was no continuity to speak of between episodes… except that this one opened with Steed looking at some old Roman armor and commenting that it was making a comeback!  Considering last week’s episode, that was timely.  But I guess references to dead ex-husbands fall into a different category, eh?

So a seriously solid entry into the series.  No vast plots, just a creepy house full of things that go bump in the night and hardly any drum music to speak of.  What more could one ask for?  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Death a la Carte

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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