The Avengers: The Master Minds

The Avengers DVD releaseThose were the days, when the sight of a face mask was something unusual, worthy of a sinister musical sting. In this instance it is being worn for medical reasons, because Sir Clive Todd has been wounded by a gunshot which narrowly missed his brain. The odd thing is that he was shot while attempting to photograph top secret documents, but he has no memory of doing that. Is it a simple case of amnesia? He is a respected government minister, so it seems unlikely he is a criminal, and I realise the sentence I have just typed is laughable nowadays considering the state of our political classes. The plot thickens when his psychiatrist attempts to kill him, and then he has no memory of doing that either. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the fact they both belong to the same club might have something to do with it.

The club in question is one for people with a high IQ. You know the type: when they are socialising, they say things like, “surely you mean X equals Y to the power of 3 minus 10,” and, “it’s all a matter of etymological construction; I mean, take a word like ‘yoghurt’, for example.” So they are basically elitist snobs who want to make themselves look important in front of other elitist snobs. They are the kind of people who put a note by a phone that says they can ring for a mistress if they can’t sleep. Guffaw, guffaw, snort.

Luckily they are not all boring professor types who have no social skills beyond discussing equations. There are also a couple of women who are great fun for Steed to talk to, one of whom is more interested in exercising the body than the mind, and another who replies to his assurance that he is there on business and isn’t going to harm her with the words, “Oh, how dull.”

I always like it when a writer, accidentally or otherwise, makes the point that there are different kinds of intelligence, something that was frequently a strong theme in Doctor Who, particularly the Second Doctor era. A simple bit of hypnosis renders all the genii helpless pawns in a dangerous game, while Steed infiltrates their club by cheating on an exam and then has no trouble fitting in with them, avoids their hypnosis at first by pure luck but then uses the advantage he has been given to take down their whole organisation.

Although the episode is packed full of boffins, it does not take a genius to figure out the identity of the mastermind behind the dastardly plot to steal an aircraft. There are two massive clues: only one major character is never shown taking part in the illegal activity, and the same character drops completely out of the narrative for the entire final conflict until the big reveal. Speaking of which, it’s great to see The Avengers has found ways to liven up the big fight at the end. Previously, this is a show that struggled to wrap things up in a satisfying manner, because the previous 45 minutes of drama would be resolved with a few well-aimed punches and some acrobatics from stunt performers. During the previous two seasons that had become a very repetitive formula, and it had reached a point where it felt like Steed and Cathy might as well just show up, knock everybody out, and leave, and the episode could just be five minutes because nothing else really ended up contributing to the outcome of each episode. To a certain extent that’s still true of Steed and Emma, but at least there is much more of an attempt this season to make things visually interesting. Emma fights the mystery villain behind a cinema screen in silhouette, while a film plays in reverse, before they break through the screen to reveal the culprit. This is a show that takes the big moments in any story and makes them bigger. It also takes a lot of old thriller clichés and does something a bit weird with them, so, for example, a train approaching a damsel in distress becomes a miniature railway, a gunman is defeated with ping pong balls, and an antagonist’s identity is revealed by being thrown through a screen and off a stage. Now that’s what you call making an entrance.   RP

The view from across the pond:

Able to put a gun together so quickly that the drill sergeant calls you a “GD Genius, Private Gump?”  Are your best conversations held with Vulcans?  Didn’t get the invitation to join Reed Richards’ Illuminati?  If you can relate to any of these things, we’ve got a solution for you: Join Ransack! 

John Steed and Emma Peel pull up to the house of Clive Todd, the latest politician/criminal (synonyms maybe?) who has been shot in the head after a heist goes wrong.  He’s alive but suffering serious memory loss and our heroes want to know who shot him.  Ironically his former pals want him out of the way before he can talk.

Ransack is an organization designed by eggheads, for eggheads.  Afraid you’ll be the odd man out?  Famed Egyptologist and student of Martian lore, Marcus Scarman will walk you through the onboarding process!

I was delighted to see Bernard Archand (Doctor Who, The Pyramids of Mars) as one of the main baddies, Desmond Leeming.  He’s got a very distinctive look, but the man will never nail a role like he did of Scarman in Doctor Who.

 We employ the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Criminals too. 

Step 1: be proactive.

As all villains know, if there’s risk of exposure, you have to take the threat out, and I do not mean on a date.  A little lethal injection here, an arrow to the head there and you can be rid of your snitch in a cinch!   Impressively, Steed catches the man in the act and, for a change, Steed came off not the annoying ass and more the competent agent when he grabs the doctor by the arm and holds him steady to find out why he murdered Todd.  Of course, that was only after coming off as an ass to at least two people in the first act.  (You can’t have everything.)

Step 2: Begin with the end in mind. 

The camera goes to some effort to ogle the women in this episode.  Someone clearly had the end in mind, although perhaps not the end we expected!   We get a full once over of Emma wearing… well, I’m not sure if she was going to the Sugar Plum Fairy concert but she still looked great in it.  Then again, she always does.  Then Steed tackles Davinia, Todd’s daughter, while she’s wearing nothing but a fur coat which covers an extremely sexy bikini.  Villains always have the best marketing.  “Come to the Darkside; we have cookies.  And bikini-wearing models.  And trampolines.”  They definitely have recruitment down because they begin with the end in mind!

Step 3: Put first things first.

It pays to use your eyes.  Unfortunately, no one does.  I think it’s an effect of the limited set, but when people walk down the hall, Steed opens his door a smidge; which is to say 12-18 inches to watch them.  No one ever sees him.  Admittedly, they might all be hypnotized but when Steed stands 2 feet away from a guard who likes to play with his gun, the guard clearly doesn’t notice the man’s shoulder sticking out from around the corner because he knows about putting first things first: play with your gun; don’t watch for intruders.  Also, Steed epically fails to consider that an open phone call at the foot of the steps might be overheard by the guy standing right above him.  You know why?  Yep!  First things first: get the phone call out without looking around for eavesdroppers!  Steed’s a genius isn’t he?  (He even writes answers to a test on his sleeve because first things first!)

Step 4: Think Win-Win

Now as ideas go, The Master Minds offers us a good one.  Get the smartest people from around town then hypnotize them so they can solve criminal problems like how to pull off a heist from the nearby military base.  The eggheads get a happy club to be a part of so they don’t feel like Marvin the manically depressed android because they have no one to talk to and the school gets all the latest gadgets.  This is the definition of thinking Win-win!  When everyone is happy, you’re doing it right! (Forget how the military feel; they didn’t sign up for Ransack!)

Step 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

The best way to be understood is to speak with a voice modulator that makes you sound like a dalek on helium.  But have no fear, before you’re allowed to use the microphone, you have to understand the plans first.  For that, there’s a little speaker system installed in all the rooms to make sure everyone understand their goals!  No slackers in this organization!

Step 6: Hypnotize!

With patented technology, those indoor speakers can be turned into a communication device to get even the nicest person ready for a criminal endeavor.  Even sweet old men who stand on their heads all day can help!  No one is too old and no orientation too vertical.

Step 7: Nock the arrow

All good organizations need extracurricular activity and Ransack has the best.  Gymnasiums to ogle your fellow nerds while they  work out (Steed really does ogle a lot!).  There are walking tours of forests that masquerade as beaches or is that the other way around?   And best of all: Archery.  And you’ve never heard the string of a bow quite the way they sound in this episode.  My goodness, that sound effect should be the tone for all my texts.  I’ve no idea how it was made, but I loved it.

So join Ransack today.  Call us at 1-800-RANSACK or 1-877-EGGHEAD to fill out your application!  If you actually call those numbers, you have already failed and will only be enrolled in Steed’s Ogling School for Dummies.  No self-respecting villain posts their actual phone numbers!    ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Murder Market

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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