What would you do if a bin bag emerged from the sea and started walking towards you? I think most people would run in the opposite direction, or at least be a little alarmed, but the fisherman at the start of this episode doesn’t seem bothered about it at all, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to him. This is the opening sequence to the first episode of the fourth season of The Avengers, and nearly everything has changed from the show we knew before.
Just about the only element that remains the same is Steed, and it feels like the whole show has reshaped itself to better fit his personality, although Diana Rigg as Emma Peel seems to be little more than a recasting of Honor Blackman’s Cathy so far. Steed walks into her life as if he has known her for years, and they have a fencing match for the right to get cream from the kitchen. Emma is virtually a carbon copy of Cathy, a butt-kicking, leather-clad woman who is just as capable as Steed of looking after herself, although she does need saving by him at one point, whereas that worked in reverse with Cathy, more often than not. It’s too early to judge whether Emma will be as effective a character as Cathy, but initial indications are positive.
Apart from Steed and a very similar sidekick to Cathy, this is suddenly a fundamentally different show, where all the characters are larger than life and the story is completely absurd, and I have to say I’m delighted. I have always valued entertainment far higher than realism, and this episode is huge fun from beginning to end.
This is right up my street: Terence Alexander with the world’s most outrageous moustache, a pub called “The Inebriated Gremlin”, the ghoulish sight of a body hidden in the sand, a couple of big fight scenes that are so silly that one of them involves Emma dancing around her enemy in a circle until one of them spins away like she has been thrown from a merry-go-round, and nobody is what they seem to be. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Steed set fire to the pub landlord’s moustache. Now that’s entertainment.
But there’s more substance to this than just the silliness, because it’s built on an effective mystery, with everything designed to be off-putting and disturbing. Little Bazeley is a village where everyone treats visitors with the utmost suspicion, creepy people follow strangers around, windows are nailed shut, the church plays recordings of hymns and has no congregation, children are absent from school in term time, and their very violent artwork adorns the walls, footprints lead from the sea, and farm equipment rusts in the fields. The whole place is virtually deserted, and the real residents have had their places taken by imposters.
A mystery this big requires a big explanation, and it’s the kind of improbable dastardly plot that belongs in the pages of an Enid Blyton book. There’s even a map in the school that shows invasion plans with arrows spreading out across Britain from Little Bazeley and just one submarine. It seems like about 12 people are going to try to take over the country, until Steed deals with most of them with his fists. But none of that matters. Every element of this weird and wonderful episode is designed to surprise and delight us, everything from the eye that opens when Steed knocks on Emma’s door, to Steed’s armoured hat, to Emma’s inexplicable decision to change into a black leather catsuit and what looks like a target on the top of her head, when she’s still supposed to be undercover as a teacher. The sillier it gets, the better it gets. Please, please let this season continue the way it has started. If it does, what a treat awaits. RP
The view from across the pond:
Imagine my shock when this season opened in black and white. Well, let me color you shocked: I didn’t even notice. True story! I noticed a much-improved opening credit sequence with better music, but failed to connect that it was all in black and white! It took the better part of the episode before it dawned on me and that was for one very specific reason: this episode was immensely enjoyable. A few episodes ago, we had The Charmers and that episode did “fun” very well. I thought: “no chance we’ll get more of that anytime soon” and then this episode opens up with great panache! Now, I admit, I took some weeks off watching this series because it had worn on me, but had I pressed on one more episode, I might have stuck around.
The thing with this episode is that it floats effortlessly between comedy and an almost Lovecraftian horror. Let’s first talk comedy: between the bag Steed carries on the train with its boiling tea kettle or the full English Tea on display, or the dude who steps out of the ocean at the start of the episode in a plastic bag, unzips it and then walks off as if it were the most natural thing in the world… I found myself laughing over and over again. Little did I know, the threat was being telegraphed right from the outset of the episode! And who wouldn’t love that barkeep, with his marvelously forced laugh and ridiculous mustache?! I would love to have him as a regular.
On the other hand, there’s the seaside village that’s “just odd”; a strange little town right out of Arkham or Innsmouth. Empty, rain drenched streets that are a menace to “outsiders”. Had this been another series, I would have fully expected to see Shoggoths roaming the streets! To compound the horror, there’s children’s drawings that look like murders taking place. The people of the village are all using the name of dead residents. Oh, the eeriness was right up my alley. I couldn’t have been happier.
The plot, while unusual, was not convoluted in the way most of the episodes are. Unbelievable, perhaps, but not following the typical series of connect-the-dots the viewer has to go through in the vain hope of understanding the plot. No, this was understandable. Basically, there’s a submarine out at sea holding an army that comes into the country in drips and drabs with the intent of invading. Again, one wonders how many people can be on the sub at any time, but whatever… I can live with suspension of disbelief. Turn that into a spaceship and you might even have Invasion of the Body Snatchers!
If there were things to complain about, they were slight. Steed’s bowler hat made of metal? Come on… Emma Peel’s giant eye in front of her door: surreal but totally ridiculous. Oh yes, and then there’s Ms. Peel. Lord was Diana Rigg beautiful! But what was she wearing before getting attacked and why is it no one ever shoots these two? Like, we know these people have gone out of the way to kill an entire town; why do they just tie Emma up and wait for Steed to come in? Obviously to have him menaced by a horseshoe. It was during this sequence when our lunatic drummer reappeared that I noticed the black and white, but it sounded like he’d been given lessons. It wasn’t the jarring cacophony that I was used to. Speaking of sound, I will say Emma’s voice was not what I expected; it’s much deeper than I was ready for. I’m not complaining; she sounds fine, but it missed the mark of what I’d anticipated.
Overall, if we’re in for a season of this quality, I will be very happy indeed. The tongue in cheek approach definitely works for this series and for once, I am actually excited for more. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Gravediggers
I don’t remember if I saw this episode. But I remember the fencing sequence between Steed and Mrs. Peel and their first classic fight scene against the baddies thanks to YouTube clips. With the lack of believability that several of The Avengers episodes had, it was easy to get passed that and rightfully so thanks to how enjoyable Patrick and Diana were together. Several shows of the 60s may have been like that via our natural attractions to the families of actors. Speaking as the fan that I am of female action heroes, Mrs. Peel won my respect, even if female action roles have for obvious reasons become a lot more serious since her time. It’s more honorable to begin reading reviews of Mrs. Peel on International Women’s Day. Thank you both for that.
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Part of the reason the music is mostly different is that we now have a new composer working on the series, Laurie Johnson, with Johnny Dankworth now out. But yes, if you both liked this, things only get weirder and sillier in the weeks and months ahead, and it is glorious. You’re definitely now beginning the “imperial phase” of The Avengers.
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Oh, and I’m surprised you didn’t comment more on the inimitable Mrs. Peel! I know she may seem at first glance like Cathy Mk II, but she’s so much more. She is so much lighter and her chemistry with Steed is so much warmer than Cathy’s, it has a huge effect on the tone of the show writ large going forward.
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Hi Richard, and welcome to the Junkyard! At this stage in the game, when writing these articles, we had both only watched Emma’s first episode, so that’s why you’re getting a first glance opinion, because first glance is where we were, whereas you’re writing from the perspective of knowing what’s to come. Spoiler, I’ve now watched and pre-written my reviews right up to the end of Season 5, and I still don’t rate Emma ahead of Cathy (I realise I’m in a small minority, and I’m pretty sure Mike will provide the opposite view to me), and in fact I think Emma ended up doing damage to certain aspects of the series, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out about that!
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Thanks Roger! I’ve been lurking for a while. I’m a lifelong Avengers fan and it’s been so interesting to get your perspectives watching the series chronologically and without knowledge of what’s to come. I first watched it in syndication in the early ’90s; when I watched, here in the US they started the run of repeats with the Emma and Tara eps, and THEN went all the way back to Cathy Gale, so I watched those early seasons through the lens of knowing what was to come. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Emma fan admittedly, but I also realize the show’s balance of both menace and camp (which is pitch perfect at this point in the series IMO) goes way off balance and tips too far into camp the following year.
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I wish I could see more of the missing first season episodes. It was such a completely different show at the start. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a television show that has changed so dramatically from one year to the next.
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