The Avengers: Dial a Deadly Number

The Avengers DVD releaseWe start with a mystery this week: six company chairmen have dropped dead in less than a year, and they were all members of the same bank. What is going on? Steed investigates the world of share dealing, and meets the surprisingly philosophical Ben Jago (the ever-reliable Anthony Newlands), who points out that “there was a lot of fiddling before Rome caught fire”, and “even Nero got his fingers burnt”. Somebody has been making a killing.

Whenever a chairman dies, his company’s shares plummet, and that’s where the share dealing opportunity comes into play. The writer does a very competent job of explaining the mechanics of betting on falling share prices, but this all felt a bit too much like an episode of The Avengers that belonged in a previous season. I found myself waiting impatiently for something bizarre to happen, and it took over a third of the running time before I got my wish: the chairmen were being killed by their pagers, which shoot something into the heart. Such a weird and slightly grisly scheme is just the kind of oddity we have come to expect from the fourth season of The Avengers.

After being menaced by a bunch of bikers and using his coat as if it’s a cape in a bullfight, Steed gets involved in the world of wine tasting, and the story makes a sudden and rather odd change of direction. I’m not sure the elements of the script fit together particularly well, but the wine appreciation scenes are certainly a lot more fun than the conversations with financial experts. I have fairly strong opinions on the absurd nonsense of oenophilia, based, to be fair, on common sense and facts, so to a certain extent all the scenes of toffs sipping wine and spitting it out got on my nerves. To explain my thoughts on this, I’ll quote from my article about the Columbo episode Any Old Port in a Storm:

“Well, isn’t this a cheeky little wine, but not presumptuous, with a farty bouquet and top notes of mahogany and beefburger. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the pompous world of wine appreciation, almost entirely debunked in blind taste tests as a skill that makes about as much sense as astrology. Anyone who is not massively snobbish and patronising need not apply.”

Like the Columbo episode, where the lieutenant used his detective skills rather than his palate to identify a wine, there is a moment right at the end of the episode where Emma surprises Steed in a similar fashion, nicely undercutting Steed’s wine-snobbery:

“Nose or palate?”
“Eyes. I read the label.”

But although the oenophilia was a bit irritating, it did allow for a couple of very funny moments. There is a five minute segment in the middle of the episode where Steed challenges the King of the Wine Toffs to a competition, which plays out like a duel. When Steed not only identifies the correct wine and year, but also states that it is from the “Northern end of the vineyard”, his opponent’s monocle drops out in astonishment. Then we have the climax to the final big fight, with Steed using a champagne cork as a weapon, which is a bit of silly fun.

“A very adaptable wine.”

Right, I’m off to sample a piquant, zesty little number, with plenty of body and undertones of tannin. I’ll settle for a cup of tea.   RP

The view from across the pond:

Well, when we were at it again with another banking scheme coupled with yet another wine tasting, I quickly consulted my Avenging Times Financial advisor. He said we were in for a rocky start to the hour and not to invest too heavily.  The forecast was bleak!  Its made worse by little things like the embarrassingly bad pick pocket where Fitch gets his hands on a “bleep”.  Dear God, was that what they called pagers in the 60s??  Steed then pretends to have a trust fund of £2M to get in with the banking guys because, you know, we haven’t been in this territory before.

Then things get interesting and it’s down largely to the chemistry of Steed and Peel.  I loved watching them try to trip each other up.  Barbados and no tan?  Rainy season.  Is whiskey justified or do other descriptors apply?  Steed recovers flawlessly.  I also found Steed witty when ordering what he thought would be a less-than-tasty breakfast: “at least one of us will enjoy it.”  The thing is, the plot is ridiculous: 6 company chairmen have died in less than a year.  At that point, any company would likely undergo a major investigation, but not in Avergerville.  Now I might have been saying the same sort of thing around Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this show isn’t about to start building continuity now!  On top of that, Peel actually pieces it together within the first 10 minutes.  I realize Cathy Gale was actually the better agent, but Peel is a far more fun agent and this was the first time I really felt she was carrying her weight.  She has had a few great moments, don’t misunderstand, but the fact that she solved this one so quickly was impressive.  Plus, hey: she took a refresher course in applied medicine, which is more than Steed has been doing.  Steed must spend an inordinate amount of time at the various drinking establishments.

That brings me to the bit that I normally loathe.  Look, last week I referenced a handful of episodes from shows we’ve reviewed: The Mark of Gideon, The Android Invasion, Many Happy Returns, Where is Everybody?   Now, let me try… 1969, 1976, 1967, 1959.  Check, wrong (1975), check, check.  Ok, not bad but the thing is, I know the shows well and I know when they aired so it was just a matter of deducing when the specific episodes aired within a fairly short run (Trek was 3 years between 66-69, The Prisoner 2 years between 67-68 and The Twilight Zone 5 years starting in 59.  The one I got wrong has a 60 year gap.  Wine has a much larger timespan!)  Do I seriously believe you can walk up to a wine, swish it around a bit, then grotesquely spit it out (a repulsive habit made worse by the general doing it over and over again) and then name the year?  You’d have to have tried the year before, surely and memorized it.  Lord knows, I’ve been outside a restaurant, smelled something I recognized and struggled to place it before someone says “onions” and that’s something I eat regularly!  Sure, some sommelier will chime in and tell me it can be done, but that’s the thing: a sommelier spends his or her time trying wines.  The only way I can buy Steed’s ability is if, while Peel is studying applied medicine, he’s out drinking.  And you know what?  Now that I think about it, I do believe it!  The crazy thing is: this sequence was ridiculously fun!  And it was made better by that even more ridiculous wine tasting duel.  Sure the dialogue is atrocious (“a 1930… this is not…”) but somehow it was loads of fun to watch.  On top of that, the tension was ratcheted up fantastically especially in the room where no one knows who knows who.  It was a game of cat and mouse that was really fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, there are two great moments around a pocket watch; one where Ruth Boardman is afraid of Steed opening it and later when Fitch is flinching as Steed messes with it, both afraid that the bomb inside will go off.  I was laughing out loud.  I even laughed when Fitch is tricked by a cuckoo clock, kicked from behind, and shoots a chair which knocks him out cold.  (I am convinced Brits of the 1960s did not get enough calcium and shooting a chair at close range was enough to knock them out.  How did they colonize so much of the world, I ask you?)  The absolute funniest thing is that Steed uses a cork to knock out a guy with a gun.  (Definitely no calcium …)  The only thing that I wonder with every episode is why the heroes don’t carry any weapons when they know they are going into battle with people who do.  I grant you the guy with the barrel was perhaps the exception to the rule.  Having said that, I was amazed by the final fight that was done without music, which added a massive amount of tension.  It’s amazing how much better the show is when it’s not assaulting the ears!

So when it was over, I called my Avenging Times Financial advisor back and fired him.  The episode ended on a high note and was actually a really enjoyable one despite having so many of the qualities I disliked.  And for just a little while, it even had a frightening villain in Fitch.  The chair may have ended my thoughts on him in that regard, but so what?   When an episode is this good, I can accept villains being a bit weak around furniture.  I hope the trend continues!    ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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