Have you ever been caught out in one of those rain storms where the water will find its way through your waterproofs, however good they are, and there’s no point even thinking about keeping up an umbrella? In the most extreme weather conditions, a storm can be exhausting, or even dangerous. However, it’s quite a mental leap to ask the viewers to go from that to the sight of a man drowning in a field.
It almost works. Particularly in the case of the very likeable weather expert Sir Arnold Kelly, it’s surprisingly horrific to watch him floundering around in the mud for his glasses, before eventually falling victim to the torrent and collapsing onto the ground. But the idea that is trying to be conveyed here is not easily visualised. It’s one thing to show somebody getting thoroughly drenched and even beaten down by the force of the rain, but actually drowning would surely involve the whole field becoming a lake, which it doesn’t. It gets pretty waterlogged, but never reaches a point where you could imagine somebody losing his life. It’s hard to see how they could have made it work any better, but it would have helped if they had found a location that was in a valley rather than a wide open field, and maybe cutting between a shot of the field and a lake with the victim floating in it would have been halfway convincing and better than nothing.
More effective in terms of the horror that this episode presents is the sight of Eli drowned in a water tank, with his dead, staring eyes. Like the death of Sir Arnold, it has even more impact because we liked the character. If you’ve seen Talfryn Thomas in anything else you’ll be used to the stereotypical performance he always seemed to be hired to do: an earnest, eccentric Welshman. After the fun of seeing Eli making tea for Emma inside his leaky house, putting up umbrellas indoors, its quite a shock to subsequently see him as a corpse. Adding to the horror is the torture that Emma is threatened with, at risk of having her ribs cracked if she doesn’t co-operate. This one doesn’t pull its punches.
Unusually, this is basically a sci-fi episode. The Avengers has rarely fallen into that category, but it’s not unprecedented. Most notably, The Cybernauts was clearly a sci-fi story. Although it’s only an occasional foray for the show, it’s a natural fit and never feels like much of a departure, perhaps because the usual crime dramas this season are generally tending towards the bizarre anyway. The idea of somebody controlling the weather and using that ability for criminal or evil purposes is a fairly common trope in sci-fi, but the interesting thing is the way it’s targeted on an individual each time. This is very far from being anything like Doctor Who’s The Moonbase or The Seeds of Death, with weather control on a global scale. But dastardly schemes on a local level are very much a staple of this show, and a wine factory in the middle of the countryside is a typically British location for the story. It allows Steed to act the bumbling wine connoisseur toff, using a front of wealthy eccentricity to march in as if he owns the place and order a gross of this and a couple of dozen bottles of that. Speaking of eccentrics, I loved the character of Jonah, who clearly has the wrong biblical name because he’s building an arc.
“Friends, the flood is coming!”
Noel Purcell goes really big with the doomsayer stuff, particularly during the big fight at the end, but you’ve just got to embrace the silliness by that point. At least a big fight in the pouring rain indoors makes for a fun variation on the usual end of episode punch up.
Steed mentions some real-world cloud seeding experiments in this episode, and the first successful attempt to cause precipitation predated A Surfeit of H2O by nearly 20 years. Just a couple of years after this episode, the US military started cloud seeding in Vietnam, so this was sci-fi rooted firmly in real science, but taken to extremes. Despite a lot of the usual Avengers silliness, that gives the idea some degree of credibility, and a frisson of fear that a dastardly scheme like this might one day be possible. Maybe next time I go out in the rain I’ll take some flippers and a snorkel, just in case. Knowing what the British weather can be like, that’s probably a wise precaution anyway. RP
The view from across the pond:
The Avenging Times
Weather: Today’s weather calls for heavy rain…
And by “heavy” we’re talking about 6 pound droplets coming with such force that they bring people to their knees. Here’s the thing: I was in the Caribbean back in 2010 on a private island owned by Norwegian Cruises. A supremely bad storm hit us. It hit so hard that it destroyed my camera which was wrapped in a bag but the rain was so bad, it managed to utterly permeate the bag and demolish a good digital camera. Know what it didn’t do? Knock me to my knees and kill me. Nor anyone else on the exposed island. So I ask you, are the Brits of 1960 just particularly fragile? Perhaps I hadn’t lived through many monsoons, but these people just have to stand up for a few minutes.
Politics: Some Caricature-town is going to invade England and they need weapons…
With all the insanity going on overseas, I don’t think our warring colleagues are considering the value of using rain as a weapon. That’s probably a good thing but sadly for Steed and Peel, that’s not the case for this week’s cardboard villain. The big idea, hidden behind another story about a wine “factory” (which some might call a vineyard) is a baddie who intends to weaponize rain. Sure, it does a great job helping to leave body imprints… and boots… behind but does this idea really resonate with any respectable villains? I mean, I’m a fan of superhero movies and I don’t think they’ve even decided to do this yet. And trust me, Thanos was a nitwit, but even he didn’t think to weaponize rain. At least these guys have henchmen who don’t seem to care about killing others, or having the world they know washed away in a flood. (I have a hard time hiring someone to fix a fence; where do these villains recruit their help?)
Business: Home Makeovers of the UK is coming and Eli Barker is the grand prize winner!
Congrats to UK resident Eli Barker who just won a home makeover. As a special treat, all the leaks in the roof will be fixed. And his staircase to nowhere will now lead to an actual second floor! See, typically when it rains into a house due to a leak, the water doesn’t know to go down two flights, but clearly Eli’s house is special. The second floor probably didn’t have a roof at all. What makes me think he even had a second floor? The staircase to the side of the door that clearly lead upwards. In an attempt to add levity, the writers didn’t seem to care about logic. A common failing of modern TV which seems to have plagued The Avengers over 50 years ago! Embarrassing.
Fashion: New styles emerge. Looking for a new hairdo? Try rolling out of bed without using a brush. Or the infamous comb-over-the-ear is a fetching option!
Eli Barker clearly missed fashion week as his hair seems to drape down the side of his head as if the idea of a comb-over was misunderstood and, rather than going over the top, someone through had to drop down past his ear. In fairness, this guy does great death scenes and actually sent a chill through me when we saw him lying in the water. But what of Miss Jason’s hairdo? Steed is doing his normal lecherous groping but she looks like she recently licked a wall socket. Who stole her hairbrush?
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Sports: Keystone Water Wrestling on Pay-Per-View tonight. Slimy Steed, Emaciated Emma and Dopey Doomsayer team up against Martin “Silurian” Smyth and Dr. “Storm” Sturm! Tune in tonight at 9!
Alright, so after Emma is nearly crushed to death by a random flattener which Sturm got from Villains R’ Us, she and Steed team up with Jonah, the man who thought his name was Noah, and was building an ark to escape another flood. But here’s the thing: when the flood appears to have arrived, he’s busy cheering it on in the middle of what was surely a Keystone Kops moment of the worst fight in the history of The Avengers. He takes one on the chin from some henchman because he forgets he’s fighting for his life. Why do all these episodes end with loud fight sequences that are just embarrassing??
Entertainment: Geoffrey Palmer will be signing autographs from Doctor Who and the Silurians on Saturday. On Sunday, #2 will be buying sound clips from BBC archives to use when he kidnaps a guy called #6.
Palmer costars as one of the baddies and I can always picture him in Doctor Who. Of far more startling news: when I heard the thunderclap, I was fully expecting a Lotus Super 7 to drive down the road. I thought I was losing my mind. Then I went to the trivia page of The Avengers and found that sound clip is the exact one from The Prisoner. I was lightining-shocked! (If you’re really paying attention, I’ve already dropped a few references to The Prisoner in this article!)
Opinion: Caricature-town is tough viewing!
Depressingly it seems like I’m back in season three having encountered a second episode of tedium in a row. They’ve clearly jumped the shark again and the handful of good episodes have been washed down the drain with the driving rain. It was evident the moment the title appeared on screen: “A Surfeit of H2O”. It’s a silly line spoken by Steed, but it’s laughable. Tune in next week for Overly Fast Moving Lead, a story about a man shot to death, followed by Constricted Rope, about a hanged man! Give me a break. What happened to this season?? This is one newspaper that needs to be flushed… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Hour That Never Was