A dash of Bond villain lair, and a callback to the preoccupations of early in series 4, and finally we have a colour episode that delivers unqualified entertainment. The village pub, armies being smuggled in and hidden underground (Town of No Return etc.) plus an eccentric true believer (A Surfeit of H2O). I’m not saying it’s in the same league as those episodes, but it’s certainly a cut above the last dozen or so.
Common to many of the series 5 episodes so far, we get something apparently impossible, for which there is a rational explanation. Since it’s mined from paranormal, rather than sci-fi, there are echoes of Warlock too (although in this one the reveal is unambiguous) and since we have Mrs Peel rather than Mrs Gale, we need to re-establish who is Mulder and who is Scully. It’s very clear that Mrs Peel is not a believer (she lacks Cathy’s almost urgent need to disprove the superstition) and is wicked in mocking Mandy from FOG (Friends of Ghosts):
“If a ghost appears, you tackle his legs, I’ll bash him over the head. Unless he’s got it tucked under his arm.”
This contrasts with her apparent readiness to give credence to Prof Swain’s voodoo theories in Small Game for Big Hunters, which suggests to me that she was just humouring him. She’s not sure what Steed thinks, though – and he doesn’t give her a straight answer.
Pamela Ann Davy is a hoot as Mandy (“The vibrations are marvellous. My psychi is absolutely tingling.”) and though her counter-part from SMOG (that’s Scientific Measurement of Ghosts) seems rather redundant, and Mandy turns out to be not quite what she seems, this is the kind of eccentric I enjoy. She’s sufficiently self-aware to be socially functional, and to avoid being a danger to herself, is passionate and motivated, yet completely batty.
The dialogue is consistently witty. Steed is stopped by a game keeper on private property:
“You saw the notice? Back there? Keep out? You saw it? Well?”
“Beautiful bright paint. Excellent lettering, easy to read. I’d have preferred a 4 point Doric myself. But on the whole, an excellent notice.”
Steed then complains to Emma that the Duke’s estate is “hotly defended by gamekeepers.”
“Isn’t that their job?”
“Yes but not when they shoot at things out of season.”
“What’s out of season now?”
It’s not all laughs, though. For once The Avengers’ mortality is acknowledged, when the search for Mrs Peel finds nothing.
“That’s a relief. I don’t relish finding Mrs Peel in a graveyard.”
The plot with the underground village is unusually grand – and unlike Town of No Return there’s an effort to show its scale. I’d have guessed it was influenced by the Blofeld’s lair in You Only Live Twice but it aired 5 months before that film was released. And the plot (hide and wipe-out everyone on the surface) is The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker a decade earlier. Also this isolated village with people on bicycles made me think of The Prisoner, though they’re not penny farthings, and this aired 7 months before the first episode of The Prisoner.
The final reason to love this one is that Mrs Peel not only doesn’t get tied to a chair at all but also gets to rescue Steed from a firing squad. Steed comes very close to being executed, but of course he’s totally cool throughout…
“It’s customary to ask if you have any last requests before you…”
“Yes. Would you cancel my milk?”
Subtitle: Steed finds a mine of information. Emma goes underground.
We’re needed: Emma is driving along and stops at a traffic light, the sort where the word “Stop” is silhouetted across the red. And “Mrs Peel” across amber, “We’re needed” across green…