The Avengers: Concerto

The Avengers DVD releaseIf there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s 60s television shows with stock footage. Nigel Stock footage, to be precise. It’s a name that sends shivers down the spine of any Prisoner fan, for a start. In Concerto, he provides us with the worst example I can recall of an actor forgetting his lines. Even when Patrick Macnee tries to prompt him he struggles. It’s a good job he’s got a bottle and a glass to play with, so it looks like something is happening. To be fair, line forgetting aside, Stock does put in a memorable performance as Zalenko, the second foreign agent in two weeks to become friendly with Steed. Once again, the two sides have to work together against a common foe.

That common foe is a particularly nasty one. We open the episode with a would-be blackmailer getting brutally murdered. Blackmail is of course the shortest career choice in crime dramas. It never ends well, and here it ends before it has even got started. Strangler Burns is a horrible piece of work, smiling smugly when he tells his victim’s friend that she “won’t be back tonight”. His ultimate fate provides us with an unusual moment of brutality from Steed. The moment is fudged, because Macnee clearly slams the phone down beside Burns’ head (his eye line really betrays that), but the intention is clear. This is Steed at his most Bond-like. He’s not the kind of hero who needs to keep his hands clean; he has just found Cathy tied up and subjected to a game of Russian Roulette with a gun to her head, and the villain was an unrepentant murderer, so Steed’s actions, although slightly uncomfortable to watch, do not seem entirely unjustified.

The focus of everyone’s attentions is visiting pianist Stefan Veliko, who is being blackmailed into killing a visiting diplomat. He is putting on a very important performance, his first ever in Britain, for an audience of… six people. And there are only enough chairs for five of them. Sometimes the budget for this series really showed the strain. It’s obvious where the money was spent though: that amazing revolving table, which flips over to reveal a telephone underneath. It’s a good job there weren’t drinks on the table, like there are in the closing scene. It’s the most silly, impractical table I’ve ever seen, and I definitely want one. We are also treated to a very 1960s representation of spy equipment, with the cutest little spinning tapes I’ve ever seen. I want one of those too. Oh, and I want a dog like Steed’s as well, although her food bill for the day’s filming probably used up what was left of the budget.

With this episode, we’ve finally reached episode 1 of disk 1 on the DVD set, which randomises the order of episodes for no apparent reason. Maybe whoever sorted out these disks followed Zalenko’s example and had a bit too much of the old firewater. The highlight of the episode was Zalenko’s cosy chats with Steed, despite Stock’s momentary forgetfulness. Like the previous episode, it’s fun to see how friendly these enemies are with each other when they are actually in a room together, which perhaps hints at an important lesson for international relations: it’s much more difficult to dehumanise an enemy when you’re face to face and having a drink together. Once again, it’s clear that the spy game really is a game to these competitors. The cover stories for their espionage activities are very funny: Zalenko just happened to spend his holidays on a cycling tour of American bases, while an “amiable British hiker” with a telescopic camera took photos of him. All perfectly innocent, of course. Zalenko and Steed part company with a friendly exchange of hats, proving that Zalenko was something of a pinhead compared to Steed. It’s no wonder he couldn’t think what to say next.   RP

The view from across the pond:

I had been playing a frustrating game when I decided to stop and watch another episode of The Avengers.  This might not have been the best strategy because I was already flustered with the game and this show has a tendency to irritate me.  Sometimes our decisions don’t make sense.  However, within the first few minutes of Concerto, I was hooked.  We open with what appears to be a blackmail attempt: a woman walks into a room, claiming to be present for an interview.  Once she’s alone, she tears her clothing and dishevels herself to look like she’s been attacked.  She calls hotel reception to get help and when a man arrives, claiming to be from reception, he strangles her.  The stage was set and I applauded such a powerful opener.  My odd decision to watch might have paid off…

I do think the writer(s) made one mistake: the two main characters (outside of our regulars) are Zalenko and Veliko.  When Steed and Gale give their opening briefing right after the murder, I thought there was an issue with the way they were saying the same name or that I had misheard it the first time.  When you’re dealing with unfamiliar names, having two people with such similar sounding names can be confusing.  I remember meeting a Pablo and a Pedro in the same day and I kept getting their names reverse when I was talking to them.  It’s clearly a different name, but the brain plays tricks.  Why not have names as different as, say, Mike and Roger?  Less confusing for the audience.   However, where the writer succeeds is in the character of Zalenko.  So amazingly enjoyable is this character, that I wanted him to become a regular.  Hey, he walks out wearing Steed’s hat!  Maybe??    In fact, I was so enjoying every scene he was in, that I looked up who wrote this story and found a double dose of surprise waiting for me: Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke!  These were two of the most prolific writers of classic Doctor Who, responsible for many of my earliest childhood memories.  I wonder how much television influenced them growing up.  Perhaps this exchange could offer some insight.  (The opening is brilliant too!)

Zalenko: I must congratulate you on the use of your umbrella.
Steed: Thank you. And may I compliment you?  What was it you were trying to do to your friend?
Zalenko: Disjoint his left arm from its socket over my right shoulder.
Steed: And where did you learn that particular piece of nastiness?
Zalenko: Saturday afternoons, British television, last time I was here. You should watch.

I don’t know which of these writers came up with the character, but they need to bring him back.  The sequence with Zalenko and Steed sharing a drink is also incredibly fun to watch as both take to filling the other’s glass over and over again.  Plus, Zalenko is written almost like Sherlock Holmes, piecing things together in a way Steed and Gale seldom pull off.  Incidentally, the Doctor Who connection doesn’t end with the writers.  Zalenko is played by Nigel Stock who some of you might remember as the professor in the Doctor Who episode Time-Flight.  I guess he’s good at playing brainy types!

Now, I did feel I’d seen this plot before, and recently too.  Get a bunch of people in a room, have one plan to shoot another, have Steed help stop one while Gale stops the other… didn’t we just see this happen 2 weeks ago in The Outside-In Man?  I’d say so!  Weirdly, it’s written by someone else entirely but I still feel we had a regurgitated idea a little too soon after the last time they tried it.  However this one is far superior because of Zalenko and the stakes.  Cathy is tied to a chair and the main villain of the piece plays Russian Roulette with her.  Never have the stakes felt so high and we know we’re coming to the end of season 3, so… could it have actually happened?  I’d have been stunned, but I did believe it for a moment probably because I have that little bit of foreknowledge that Cathy is not in season 4.  It definitely upped the stakes in a great way and made this episode stand out.  Not to mention, having Steed save Gale and smash in the bad guy’s face with a phone was perhaps a bridge too far and yet so well deserved that I was very willing to turn a blind eye to his methods. 

I know I’m going to regret saying this because every single time I have said it, without fail, I get stiffed by the following episode, but this one really gave me hope that the last two might just be winners after all.  I haven’t been this excited about a season finale in some time!  Now would someone just refill my drink so I can start the next episode?  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Esprit de Corps

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s