We start this week with an excruciatingly slow pan around a castle dungeon to the sound of some excruciating bagpipes music. When the camera lens finally reaches its destination, somebody is having an excruciating time on a rack, being stretched. No, we haven’t time travelled back into the middle ages. This is an average night at Castle De’ath.
By the way, that is actually a real surname. I went to school with somebody by the same name (well, his first name wasn’t Castle, but you get what I mean). It is, however, a very appropriate name for the episode, because this one is a tale of torture and death, with none of the credited cast surviving the end of the story. For any other show this would be a gruesome hour of television, but The Avengers in its fourth season seems only interested in absurdity and silly fun. I’m still not complaining about that, but for the first time the new approach falls a little short. It perhaps leans a bit too much into all the old clichés without offering much that’s new.
Some of those clichés are clichés because they are entertaining, though. The castle is supposedly haunted by a traitor to the De’ath clan, who was walled up in the castle and “at dead of night his ghostly piping is still heard.” The reason for the villains making use of a legend like that is eventually integrated very nicely into the main plot. You have to question Emma’s wisdom when she goes wandering around and starts looking closely at an iron maiden in the middle of the night, but it turns out to conceal a secret door, like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon. Again, that’s not a criticism as such. I like Scooby Doo. Similarly Scooby-ish is the ceiling descending in Steed’s bedroom, crushing his hat, but I love how he just turns up at breakfast the next day unscathed, without fanfare, much to the astonishment of the all-too-obvious culprit. We need no explanation. It’s Steed.
The castle is owned by the laird of the De’ath clan, and his cousin is a thorn in his side. They have very different ideas about how the castle should be run, with one more interested in tradition and the other taking perhaps a rather more pragmatic approach to the need to bring in funds. Naturally, for a story like this, their servants are all a very shifty bunch, so it is quite fun to try to figure out how everyone fits into the picture and who is responsible for the dastardly plot going on at dead of night, involving the fake phantom piper, the local fishing trade, a submarine and the castle dungeons. Some of those elements seem quite disparate, so how do they all fit together?
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“I should think very slightly better.”
Steed has an answer for anything. That man has style. He even drives off at the end in an amphibious car, which heads off into the loch. This series seems to have found a formula now that simply cannot fail. Even when the writer is relying on tired old ideas, as per this episode, you’ve still got Steed and Emma being magnificent, and you’ve still got a huge amount of madcap fun to enjoy. The Avengers has become pure, unfettered escapism. RP
The view from across the pond:
Missing clan McCrimmon? Duke of Forgill got you down? No campground left at Loch Ness? Tied of being bothered by Burke and Hare while you’re slumbering? Come to Castle De’ath where all your wildest dreams can come true!
John MacSteed and Mrs. Emma Peel are off to Scotland for an adventure. (I just noticed that she’s a Mrs!) This time, they are looking into the death of a diver who was found four inches taller after he died! What can be going on at Castle De’Ath? (Hint: It’s called “the rack”…)
Back pain? Try our new beds, designed to straighten out even the most gnarly back. (Two models available: the new back-extending models or the tried and true squasher!)
This episode was impressive because I never once looked at a clock and the story was actually engaging. There’s loads of filler, as is the case with nearly every episode I’ve seen but writer John Lucarotti did a solid job telling us a compelling story with a great setting. In fact, half the attraction is the setting itself! There’s talk of the ghost of Black Jamie, rattling glasses and duplicity around every corner. Of course, the plot is standard Avengers-silly. Two brothers are running a secret submarine base out of their dungeon because… why not. One wants to open the place to the public which would be ridiculous, while the other wants nothing to do with it so he can operate his criminal enterprise in peace. They therefore invite the two strangers into their home: Steed is supposedly some dude doing background research and Emma Peel is someone determining if the place could be opened to the public. So… why would they allow the two of them to stay on? Do I let people stay when they come to offer me solar panels? No, they go home and I’m not operating a criminal enterprise from my house! If I were, would I even answer the door? But how else can the writer get them in the building all through the night for some fun shenanigans? It’s also ridiculous because they won’t shoot Steed or Peel because more than one death would draw suspicion… but they sure were willing to literally pulverize Steed. Now a random gunshot could be explained away as a hunting accident but what’s the explanation for Steed-patty? “Oh sorry officer, we had just installed a two ton stone on top of the bed… must’ve caved in! Don’t know how that could’ve happened!”
Interested in hunting but you’re not fast enough to chase a deer? Try our indoor crossbow gallery; those deer heads won’t put up much fuss!
The eccentricity of the story is probably half the appeal. Emma shooting a mounted deer head was fun. The knife through into the heart of one of the two brothers was brutally unexpected although why is it that one jostle and Emma is nearly unconscious. But there are those annoying things too: we see Steed trying to get his hand out of the manacle on the wall, but when he gets the guard close enough, he’s ripped the whole thing out of the wall. Guys, try harder!! Also, what was it with Emma sitting on the bench next to a miniature cannon and then randomly attacking a guy? I really thought she was going to shoot the cannon at him! And honestly, one of the most enjoyable methods of disarming a gunman is to run at him and kick the rifle out of his hand, as Steed learns up close!
Need some alone time to listen to some heavy metal music? Try our Iron Maiden room. If you’re not sure why anyone would do that, come in; we’re sure you’ll get the point!
The death by iron maiden was the best death of the episode; maybe all season long. The idea that there was a secret room within the iron maiden was inspired, if troubling. So when the door sprang open and rebounded so quickly, I laughed uproariously at the absurdist humor, but I also loved the idea of it. Not sure why Steed couldn’t get it open; the human body isn’t normally made of epoxy, so it should have opened again, even if it would have been gruesome. Still, I can easily let that go in favor of the brilliance of it.
We have healthy dining with low sodium options for those heart-conscious among you.
Did anyone else notice that when they were sitting down for dinner and agreed that the food needed more salt, they proceeded to pour on about half a cup of the stuff? I was stunned! My parents always told me to be careful with salt intake, but they poured it on. Maybe it’s ok if you exercise it out and Steed’s tap dance routine certainly purged something from my system. Maybe good taste? I don’t know; I was embarrassed and delighted that I wasn’t watching with others present.
Make your reservations now!
Overall, this episode was way more fun than I expected but it’s a little unfair of me since season 4 has been very enjoyable so far. It’s not the complete 180 I was hoping for but it is far more fun than the last three seasons. They finally hit their stride and it only took, what, 75ish episodes to get there? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Master Minds
Interesting how a TV series might become a lot more fun when it diverges somehow in later seasons. Thank you both for your reviews.
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