The Avengers tends to be at its best when each episode focusses on one good idea. In a self-contained 50 minute story there is not a huge amount of room for complexity, and when a writer tries to pack in a lot of elements to a script it tends to end up muddled and confusing. The Secrets Broker is a particularly bad example of that problem. It is Ludovic Peters’ only Avengers script, and he seems to have taken every idea for an Avengers story he had and thrown them all in to one episode. That’s not an unusual thing for a relatively inexperienced writer to attempt to do, but often less is more.
We have some very disparate strands here that do not fit together particularly well. The plot to break into a research centre is a story in itself, with a woman who works there agreeing to switch off the security system, because she is having an affair with a man who is being blackmailed… or something like that. Every synopsis I found on the internet is wrong, and that’s because the real motives of most of the main characters are a complicated mess. At stake are some plans for a new underwater detection system, and the crooks have already stolen plans for part of an anti-tank gun, which Steed finds hidden in a full stop on a wine list. That brings us to the base of operations for one of the leaders of the gang (it is never entirely clear who is in charge), a wine shop. That’s almost entirely arbitrary; any location could have been chosen for the criminals’ lair, but at least the wine cellar doubling up as a darkroom makes some kind of sense. Although if you are doing that on the side, would you really voluntarily have a party down there?
The bit that really doesn’t fit, and could have been edited out without changing much at all in terms of the main story, is the psychic scam, perpetrated by May Wilson and her daughter Julia. Mrs Wilson and Waller, who runs the wine shop, seem to be partners in crime, and they make for a very odd duo of co-conspirators indeed. It’s like the writer thought the wine shop and the psychic shows were both good ideas for an episode, so he stuck them both in together. He was right that they are in fact both good ideas, but wrong to crowd the episode with unnecessary complexity that achieves very little in terms of the plot, and it’s really the psychic scam story that suffers by being underdeveloped and never living up to its potential. The wine shop scenes work far better, thanks mainly to Patrick Macnee having great fun playing Steed as a wine connoisseur. I mentioned this a long time ago: Steed is a character who can manage to fit in anywhere, but rubbing shoulders with those who appreciate the finer things in life is really his forte. He fits in here effortlessly. Also helping those scenes is Jack May, who is excellent as Waller. Doctor Who fans will probably recognise his distinctive voice before they realise where they’ve heard it before (Hermack from the mostly-missing The Space Pirates). Meanwhile, back at the research station, John Ringham proves to anyone who saw Doctor Who’s The Aztecs the previous year that he is an incredibly versatile actor, able to turn his hand to just about any role.
It’s really the acting that saves this muddle of a story. Patricia English is memorable as Marion Howard, whose actions lead to the death of her husband, much to her horror. For the second week in a row, we have a strong theme of somebody getting drawn into a life of crime and then things spiralling out of control for them (last week it was Dr. Macombie). If we are being logical about things, it’s hard to have too much sympathy for Marion, as she is cheating on somebody who seems to be a nice chap and entirely innocent, and her actions get him killed, but her guilt and grief still evokes our sympathy. The moral of this one is that there is probably no such thing as a victimless crime. They can have unintended consequences, and in this instance the simple deed of turning off a security system ends in tragedy.
These episodes have become so formulaic that they always end with a fight scene and then a bit of light-hearted banter between Steed and Cathy. The Secrets Broker leaves us with our two heroes using wine tasting as a metaphor for Steed’s character, which is a lot of fun:
“No visible sparkle.”
It could also apply to the episode itself. The subtle strength is in the underlying moral message, but there is no sparkle beyond the handful of good performances. The blend of ideas is just too muddled. This one is thoroughly corked. RP
The view from across the pond:
Tonight on Bad guys who keep their doors unlocked we’ll explore the mysterious world of bad guys who keep their doors unlocked while storing dead bodies in barrels. Join our host, John Steed, as he wanders into dens of iniquity looking for a wine that he can talk about while sounding posh, while looking for dead bodies in wine barrels!
The Avengers is nothing short of utterly predictable by this point in its third season. When the pre-title scene came on and a man was handed a box, I said aloud, “how unexpected, a gun.” He then opened the box to reveal…want to guess? Yes, a gun! Wow, didn’t see that coming. Oh, wait… I sure did. Then later, when Steed breaks into the bad guy’s place of business, as one does when their doors are left unlocked, he decides to stop for a swig of more wine because he’ll need to guess at the year it was produced… and he finds a body. Guess what? The moment he tried to get a drink and nothing came out, you know what I did? I said aloud to the empty room, “there’s a body in the barrel!” Know what? I was right. Maybe it was that I picked up on the psychic powers of the young woman who was doing a lackluster job of secretly telling criminal secrets in earshot of everyone under the guise that it was all part of the event. No, it wasn’t that; it was definitely that it was damned predictable.
Oh, let’s delve into the special edition of Bad guys who keep their doors unlocked: Deep gravelly voices. This is a special issue for people who could one day play Batman in the movies. These people are the living definition of throat surgery. Surely that was an affected voice and not the actor’s real one! Also, was that Huey Lewis? No, that was the chap from the Doctor Who episode The Ambassadors of Death, Ronald Allen.
There are still a couple things that I was surprised by which did give me a moment’s pause. Alas, only a moment! The topless image was a surprise. Didn’t expect that. I guess if you say “anthropology” you can show what you like on the telly. I was also impressed with the “Open Sesame” line as Steed leaves Cathy’s flat. I’ve often wondered about her doors and consider her a beta tester for the ones on the Enterprise. They seem to know when to open. They even knew to leave Steed outside, because he’s a bonehead. So much so that he gets jumped in a wine cellar in a way Cathy Gale never would.
There we have “Wilson. Mrs. Wilson!” Um, sorry dear, I think you need to say a name to give it more meaning. Let me show you: “Bond. James Bond!” How lame would it have been had he said “Bond. Mr. Bond!”? And is now a good time to ask if Cathy has more outfits, since this is at least the third episode in a row where she wears that black one? Sure, she looks great in it, but it’s weird that she always has it on.
If I weren’t so close to the end of season 3, I would have to bail on the remaining episodes. Steed even gave me the perfect invitation. He said, “I don’t wanna be on your telly screen again. Not until you’ve got color!” Yeah, you’d be doing us a favor but I’ve only got 6 more to go, so I’ll push through until the color episodes get here. Oh look: Wine! Let’s talk about it and sound posh… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Trojan Horse