The Avengers: The Hour That Never Was

The Avengers DVD releaseThe fourth season of The Avengers has hit new heights of brilliance, and I thought it couldn’t get any better than wonderful episodes like The Town of No Return, The Cybernauts or Death at Bargain Prices, but this series just found another gear to shift into. The Hour That Never Was is a sublime 50 minutes of television.

It’s 25 minutes before there are any other speaking parts apart from Steed and Emma, while they explore a deserted military base, after a car crash. Nothing makes sense. It’s always 11 o’clock; there’s party music and punch to drink but nobody there; somebody was decorating a cake and just left; a shaver is running in a drawer; there are signs of people everywhere, but no people; Steed and Emma keep hearing a milk float, but all the milk is piled up in a huge tower on the ground; the only sign of life is a rabbit, and the poor thing is unconscious; we are 16 minutes into the episode before we even see another human being, and that’s the milkman running away and getting shot. It all seems utterly, completely inexplicable, and it’s gloriously bizarre.

Things are so weird and difficult to explain that Steed smashes a glass of punch in frustration. When have we ever seen him so angry and frustrated? But things have surely never been so far beyond his control and understanding, and Steed isn’t used to that.

Eventually there is another speaking role in this episode but he isn’t much help to Steed. He is very entertaining though: a tramp named Benedict Napoleon Hickey, played by absolute legend Roy Kinnear. Hickey knows his place, “outside amongst the dustbins”, and has a lot of funny ideas about things; for somebody who gets his meals from bins, he is oddly repulsed by stamp collecting: “generations of old saliva”. He also has the best collection of string “in the South East”. His life has somehow made him quite philosophical (“nothing lasts, does it sir”), and he’s so likeable that it’s a big shock when he eventually turns up dead.

Just when things surely can’t get any more weird, Steed is knocked out, wakes up back in his car, but without Emma this time, and it’s still 11 o’clock. Things are very different at the airbase the second time round. The dead fish in the officer’s mess are alive again; a bike that Emma moved is back where it was; and the party is actually a party now, while a milkman sneaks around outside delivering bodies who come back to life, instead of milk. With less than 10 minutes to go, I still had absolutely no idea what was going on.

When we eventually get the explanation it does fit most of what we have seen reasonably well, although I’m not entirely sure it works with some of the details such as the way certain things were re-set to their pre-Steed/Emma states for Steed’s second visit. I’m also not sure it would be possible for a couple of crooks to pull off the complex scheme they attempt, considering the number of unconscious people they have to move around, while avoiding the unexpected interlopers. But I was pleasantly surprised that a state of affairs that seemed beyond explanation ended up actually making a lot of sense. Complicating the puzzlement and the guessing game the viewers are invited to enjoy is the way this season has alternated between crime dramas and sci-fi, so when it appears that time has stopped we have no way of knowing if that’s a trick or has really happened.

If I was ever in doubt as to why this series gained such a cult following, I certainly understand it now. Once again, the writer finds something different to do with the big fight at the end, with Steed laughing maniacally while menaced by a dentist’s drill. I don’t need any laughing gas to conclude that this is quite simply one of the best episodes of any television show I have ever seen.   RP

The view from across the pond:

…and that was “It’s All Been  Done” by The Barenaked Ladies.  And now, The Avengers review of The Hour that Never Was.

I have got to say, this might be one of the best renditions of the abandoned locale that I’ve ever seen.  It’s an early take on the idea and only a few of those I’ve watch came earlier.  The 1959 movie The World, the Flesh and the Devil which gave us a very creepy deserted planet Earth and that was quite good, but that didn’t have the ending this had.  When William Shatner explored the empty Enterprise in The Mark of Gideon – the best part of the episode I might add – it was ruined when the punchline came: rather than ask for the ability to go to the stars, the Gideonites want a disease to kill their population due to overcrowding!   When Patrick McGoohan did it in the Prisoner episode Many Happy Returns, it too gets marred by the overly predictable ending where Number 2 had so much control over the whole world that she was able to manipulate him down to the last move.  (Still a great episode, but flawed!)  The Twilight Zone made a solid attempt with the pilot, Where is Everybody? but even that is flawed by the idea that the main character was in a room without being fed, bathed or given the chance to use a restroom for weeks.  I think my favorite rendition of it was in Doctor Who with The Android Invasion.  Firstly, it has an entire year of my birthday on screen and second: Tom Baker and Liz Sladen and quotes like “excuse me but is that finger loaded?”.  The thing is, there’s something really disturbing about the deserted town.  It’s wrong somehow and it resonates on some creepy level that is just mesmerizing to watch.  Like The Prisoner, this goes a full 25 minutes before Steed and Peel find another person to talk to and that’s the wonderfully named Benedict Napoleon Hickey.  Hickey offers an absolutely spot-on and delightful take on why stamp collecting is a bad idea.

So how is it that The Avengers comes out ahead when it clearly butchers so much?  The finale, that’s how.  Having Steed fight a guy while accidentally getting high on laughing gas had me in tears.  Of all the battles we’ve seen in The Avengers, this one absolutely gets top prize.  Most of the fights are terrible, made worse by horrendous music.  I can’t say I noticed the music at that point; all I know is I was laughing as if someone opened the nitrous oxide tank in my room.  Steed even disarms a man by turning the tap on and burning his hand!   So this was a tremendously watchable episode despite the flaws.  Maybe I’m just tired of Steed’s attitude, but he’s clearly a womanizer as we’ve seen in countless episodes – this one talking about a woman who almost suffocated waiting to jump out of a cake – but he’s also clearly an alcoholic too.  The amount of detail he goes into about all his drinking escapades is almost epic if not for the fact that he’s supposed to be the hero of the story.  That’s not all though.  Why is it that after seeing a man shot on the runway do Steed and Peel run around still calling out as if there’s no danger of them being shot?  It’s like the writers didn’t know how to bridge that gap, so they just ignored it.  I do have to applaud Steed though: he wrecks his car in favor of not hitting Rosie, the dog.  (That dog could have had her own show, she was so cute!)  But that’s all ancillary really.  What I truly disliked was that there was a great idea here: use hypersonic waves to hypnotize people and create sleeper agents to infiltrate all areas of the air force around the country.  Very cool indeed.  So why do they put Steed back in his car only for him to find and uncover the plot??  Why didn’t they either kill him or hypnotize him first?  They take Peel with the expectation of mind controlling her so why go through the effort of moving the more dangerous Steed to another location?  Like so much with this series, it’s like the writers thought they were working for a comic book company.  (I see… The Avengers!  Sorry, wrong ones, writers!)

This may be among the best versions of the empty locale, but it’s still flawed.  I confess that, for me, the Doctor against the Kraals still takes the gold medal, but I would be willing to see this take the silver.  It suffers because too often the writers don’t know if they want to write serious fiction or comedy and that’s made evident by the Keystone Cops routine at the end when Steed and Peel don’t realize no one is driving the milk van and have to run off after it in high speed.  If not for the fact that so much of this story held my attention rapt, I might be convinced we were in season 3 territory again, but at least this one gave me hope that we’re not yet out of good ideas.

That concludes today’s review.  And now more music with Crimson and Clover, over and over….  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Dial a Deadly Number

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Avengers: The Hour That Never Was

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The selected fight scene music for TV episodes, or sometimes the absence of it for some of Bonanza’s fight scenes and Joe Caswell’s final fight in Twilight Zone: Execution, can certainly make a significant difference and indeed for the way that fight scenes could be done in The Avengers. For Emma’s fights the most respectful music was of course appreciable, even if some episodes could be made particularly comedic. I’m glad that the Avengers movie with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes could take that much to heart.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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