Something has clicked into gear for the fourth season of The Avengers and there is a confidence and polish to these episodes that was rarely present before. We’ve gone from a series that was solid, watchable entertainment, to a show that is top-notch every week. In particular, the opening sequences to each episode have been remarkably efficient hooks to draw us into the stories. This week we start with a man looking very nervous in a department store, all by himself. There is something disturbing about that, which I discussed for the Twilight Zone episode The After Hours:
“If you’ve ever been in a shopping arcade, a school, a hospital or an airport, for example, during hours they are less frequented, you will probably have experienced that feeling of wrongness, like you’re the only person around and shouldn’t be there, and then maybe you start to get that feeling of not being alone.”
The first victim is not alone, either, because a killer played by T.P. McKenna (what a treat the guest casts are for these episodes) steps out from behind a giant Yogi Bear and shoots him. Just how long was he hiding there for? At least Yogi looks quite amused by it all.
As well as T.P. McKenna, we also have the ever-reliable Allan Cuthbertson, an actor who seemed to turn up in just about every British television show and film in the 60s, and Andre Morell as our second wheelchair-bound villain in two weeks. I wonder if any viewers who needed to use wheelchairs at the time felt a bit targeted by this. But it was long before the days when any writer was thinking about the problematical trend for genre television and film to demonise disability. I’m not sure if many people are even conscious of the problem today. Doctor Who offered us what felt like a straight up remake of The Cybernauts in 2006, and I don’t think much has changed since then.
We are probably getting used to a brilliant cast for each episode of The Avengers, but the biggest star here is the department store itself. At a couple of points, particularly the shots from above, I could hardly believe this was all filmed in a studio, but it was indeed accomplished with very clever redressing of the same sets to portray different floors, and a working lift that only really travelled between two floors. The very sight of a store like this is cause for nostalgia nowadays, with 85% of department stores closed down since the demise of BHS in 2016, and I don’t suppose the few that remain will last much longer. Shopping simply isn’t like this any more, and the sight of some of the items on display are another reminder of how much things have changed since this episode was made.
The plot that Steed and Emma have to foil is another deeply silly one, but this has become a show where that really doesn’t matter. These two are a joy to watch. Steed just keeps getting more and more fun. There’s a famous quip here where he says he was told that “Mrs Peel is in Ladies Underwear,” and so he “rattled up the stairs three at a time,” but for me the most entertaining scene was his attempt to chat up the assistant behind the food counter, ending up sharing some cheese while they chat, although the sight of two people in a shop picking bits of Stilton off a wheel of cheese with their fingers might disturb any germophobes among the viewers! I love how Steed effortlessly becomes the centre of attention wherever he goes. In one scene, there’s an assistant in a cowgirl outfit in the background, and she gives Steed her best come-hither look as he approaches, only for him to bypass her to speak to the manager. The look of resentment on her face is hilarious. Even the extras were magnificent in this show. Steed is an easy hero to root for. The moment when he defeats a man with a gun by using a child’s toy, firing ping pong balls at him, says it all really. The Avengers offered us a better class of hero in Steed, in more ways than one. RP
The view from across the pond:
While Season 4 of The Avengers is feeling very much like a continuation of the series, it’s still got enough new things going for it that it’s reignited my curiosity to see more. The most obvious change is the lovely Emma Peel. She’s what Lalla Ward was to Romana in Doctor Who. Nothing against Mary Tamm’s version; she was great… until Lalla came in and was greater. Like Cathy, Emma knows plenty about plenty. She’s writing a paper on thermodynamics. For what? No idea. Night school?? She’s certainly young enough. The big difference between the two that still gives Gale greater potential as one of “The Avengers” is that she whooped a lot of people and usually didn’t get caught. Steed got caught a lot more than Gale did. Emma is definitely getting caught more; every episode in fact. I guess someone felt Steed needed to be the lead and without Honor Blackman there, it was easier to make him look good. But did you see Emma in that Sara Kingdom space outfit? She looked amazing. And she was selling Daleks, which has to count for something. (Maybe it was a way of giving Sara Kingdom her chance to be more powerful than the Daleks??)
Another thing that has improved is the music. Gone (so far) is the nutcase in the drum shop; we now have hints of Henry Mancini when we get all “snazzy jazzy”. Of course, that’s when we’re not having the incredibly atmospheric incidental music. That captures the mood as effectively as the abandoned department store. So far this season, we’ve had a lot more creepiness than we’ve had almost all previous series long, so I’m impressed. In Death at Bargain Prices, we have a lunatic who turns a department store into a bomb because he’s sick of being the head of “The Department of Discontinued Lines.” Good lord, if there needed to be a poster-child for disgruntled employees, Horatio Kane is our man. Bitter, much? Retirement package a bit too accommodating? This guy thinks wiping out London is a good move and if he can’t do it, by God, he’ll wipe himself out with everyone else! Ok, this season still has that in common with the previous ones: loons with grandiose ideas.
While this was a much better episode than the bulk of season 3, there are still some complaints. I loved the opening, but man was Moran an idiot? He’s sneaking around a department store using an elevator that is so loud it could be heard in Ipswich. Then we get that brilliant Detective Stupido who, while watching the bad guys, slips away to call Emma but does it with his back turned away from where he left the baddies. Was there really any surprise he was found dead later? And what’s the deal with henchmen in this series? Does no one have family? I mean, Kane’s idea to wipe out London… do none of the henchmen say, “But boss, my niece lives down the road!”? Also, why is it that when Steed beats a bad guy, he never takes the gun left next to the prone body. Tempting fate, I say! And why don’t the villains ever shoot Cathy, Emma or Steed? In this one, 3 people train guns on Emma and decide instead to gag her and … roll her in a carpet?!? Are you kidding me?? Not that I want her dead, but it was definitely inspired when Mike Myers panned Austin Powers to be about a dude from the 60’s with equally bad planning on his part! But I’d ignore all of those things if someone could just explain to me why no one thinks to hit the elevator button as it’s going down where, if Kane gets his way, it will kick off the nuclear detonation? Let’s review…
The building is 5 stories and we see the elevator is on the 5th floor and going down. If it gets to the basement: boom! Steed and Peel need to stop it so they try to pry open the metal gate. We see it descending 4, 3, 2, 1, G, B. First, it never seems to pass the two heroes, but moreover, why open the door instead of just hitting the button so the elevator stops, then they can jimmy the door open so it doesn’t move again until the bomb squad arrives? Why I ask? Because even if it’s better than it was, this is still The Avengers: a show that has a 50 minute quota and hardly the material to cover it.
The one thing I will give it as an extra was that, when Steed takes a serious punch to the face as he enters the elevator early in the episode, it looked REALLY painful and REALLY legit. All I could think was that I wanted Steed to get his revenge on that guy. A sucker punch is never cool. But even with my quibbles, the episode held up exceptionally well and kept me entertained throughout. I never had to clock-watch and that’s a damned sight better than what we dealt with in seasons 2 and 3. So hey… progress. We can leave those previous season in the Department of Discontinued Lines. Sounds like a good plan to me. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Castle De’ath
Always curious when the baddies have the chance to shoot the goodies but somehow don’t. It may be nostalgic compared to the blunt realism that most shows must endure in this generation. But it makes the heroes of The Avengers, Doctor Who and Star Trek seemed blessed, which fans can find their natural appreciation for. As for the specific disturbances of a department store in such tales, with The Twilight Zone’s The After Hours as a most pivotal reference, it’s indeed the most familiar environments that are most disturbing for potentially dangerous confrontations. Like the TARDIS in The Edge Of Destruction or the Enterprise-D in Phantasms. Certainly when the adversary turns out to be a disgruntled employee who decides to lash out, which may be painfully familiar in light of so many real world tragedies. Thank you both for your reviews.
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