The Avengers: Esprit de Corps

The Avengers DVD releaseBrigadier General Sir Ian Stuart-Bollinger and his underling Captain Trench have an absurd plan to overthrow the monarchy and replace the Queen with a descendant of the Stuart Dynasty. That descendant happens to be Cathy Gale, thanks to some faked lineage she organised, making her second in line to the throne. First in line would have been the General’s own son, although he has said no to the idea. Presumably he thinks his father is insane.

He would be right, of course, because the General appears to have a grand total of about seven men under his command, and one of those is an undercover Major Steed. His troop numbers are also shrinking thanks to his bad habit of putting people he doesn’t like in front of a firing squad, a fate that befalls Steed. It’s a dramatic moment, but he survives thanks to the loveable Private Jessop’s willingness to take bribes. Jessop is played by Roy Kinnear, a wonderful actor who steals every scene. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen him before, he had a prolific career, but he’s probably best remembered for playing Mr Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Most people reading this will also be familiar with his son Rory, another highly talented and prolific actor.

The silliness of an apparently tiny group of bribe-takers and double-crossers trying to march on London somehow works as an episode, and that’s thanks to two factors. Firstly, the two lead actors play it dead straight: Duncan Macrae as the General and John Thaw as the thoroughly nasty Captain Trench. The intensity of their confidence sells the idea, or at least convinces us that they genuinely believe it could work. Secondly, the scenario generates a huge amount of entertainment. We have Cathy proving herself to a bunch of male soldiers…

“Do you know anything at all about unarmed combat?”
“A little.”

We have some twists and turns in the narrative to keep us interested, particularly when the General appears to have just been playing along to gather evidence against Trench, or possibly has simply turned against him when he could see the way things were going, and then all that turns out to be a fiendishly clever ruse to put London under martial law by invitation.

We have the friendly exchanges between captive Steed and his guard Jessop, the one of them unflappable in a dangerous situation, and the other instantly likeable despite working for the wrong side, and amusingly pragmatic:

“Never mind. It’s dead quick.”

I liked Jessop so much that it was a joy to see him become the hero in the end. He says “I didn’t have much choice, did I?”, but of course he did have a choice, and he did the right thing. In lieu of the almost obligatory punch up that ends virtually all Avengers episodes, we instead have Jessop coming good to save the day, and the General tricked and ensnared by Cathy. It’s a much more satisfying way to end an episode, and it really makes you realise the big flaw in the usual format, which unsatisfyingly ends 50 minutes of plot twists with a few punches. This is far superior because the conclusion flows naturally from the narrative, rather than being about who is the best fighter. And we already know who is the best fighter, in any situation, don’t we: Queen Anne II, otherwise known as Cathy Gale.   RP

The view from across the pond:

I recently had a tooth extraction.  It’s not one of those things one is proud of, but life happens, things go wrong and you have to get those things fixed.  The dentist said there’d be a lot of drilling as part of the work requires him to drill into the jawbone.  Then they do a bit with a human cadaver bone graft done followed by stitches.  This whole thing takes about 90 minutes, in my case, maybe a bit longer because they tried doing an implant first, but 2 hours max.  Then I was told I could take 3 Advil capsules several times through the next 24-48 hours depending on the pain.  Luckily I only needed 2 pills a few hours after the operation as the Novocain wore off. 

What does this have to do with the Avengers episode, Esprit De Corp, you ask?  I am glad you asked, actually.   You see, the time in the dentist chair was an absolute hoot by comparison to this episode and the drill was musical while the constant bagpipes in this episode gave me a toothache.  At one point, the sound designers deigned it appropriate to have the bagpipes start during a conversation between Cathy and Steed and I struggled to make out some of what she had to say.  Steed comes in clear enough but he’s closer to the mic.  Then the plot has the lead baddie, Brigadier Stuart-Bollinger, wanting to overthrow the government and… wait for it… put Cathy on the throne!  I mean, we’re an episode away from Cathy’s final adventure and all I could think is, she might as well leave now and rule a country.  There won’t be a better offer in the season finale. 

The thing is, we’ve just come off two really good episodes.  To have another setback was a real downer.  Worse, I thought we were in “origin territory” after the previous episode reminded me so much of Kingsmen: The Secret Service.  This story starts with an execution that is being covered up by the military.  I thought: holy cow, is this where A Few Good Men got its start?  I mean, there’s a trial and a guy named Jessop!  This was undoubtedly the seed that sprouted that movie – true story!  “You can’t handle the truth!”  Ok, maybe not.  No one watched this and came up with A Few Good Men.  (Although Jessop is actually the best part of the episode – still, that’s just one good man, not a few!) 

Let me kvetch a bit more because, why not?  We get a first act cliffhanger with Steed under arrest.  Act two opens with him sitting comfortably at home chatting it up with Gale.  I mean when Farscape did that I was mad as hell but that was a full season later, and decades after this travesty took place.  This would have been, presumably, after a commercial break.  Would people have forgotten?  It’s a dreadful thing to do to a viewer.  It’s like baiting a person to keep watching only to admit it was a trick right after the commercial break finishes.  It’s deplorable.  Why bother?  Can’t you write a better cliffhanger?  (I guess Eric Paice wasn’t asked to write cliffhangers for Doctor Who, huh?  I checked!)

Oh I wish I could say that’s the extent of the embarrassment!  Steed, the trained spy, hides behind a regular chair and no one spots him.  Quick, see that stop sign?  Hide behind it!  What are we, cartoon characters?  I remember that with Heckle and Jeckle when I was a kid!  It was embarrassing to watch that in this live action series.  But my favorite bit of cringe-worthiness was when the Brigadier was talking to Cathy about her lineage.  He goes on about the Ronalds of clan McDonald.  That was a whopper!  Oh lord, sorry… bad pun!  That would be Steed’s family, obviously.  He’s clearly the King of Burger.  Everyone knows Steed is the big mac.  Hey, they did it for an entire nation who was watching; I just write for a website.    (And yes, I am well aware that it’s MacDonald, but still…)

Overall this was about the worst offender of the third season, or if there were worse offenders, this erased my mind and I can’t recall!  My tooth extraction wasn’t as painful and was over much faster than this.  When I go back to my dentist for a follow up, I might thank them for giving me something less uncomfortable than this episode.  Of course, they are all too young to remember this series, and after this episode, anyone who wants to forget this show is probably of sounder mind than I…    ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Lobster Quadrille

About Roger Pocock

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

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