Holy Zarquon, this is good. How come it’s been so long since I watched this? No wonder I named my blog after it, I obviously had excellent taste back then… but that was 9 years ago, and I haven’t watched it since, damn fool that I am.
Trying to put my finger on why this is so excellent is difficult. It’s certainly of the calibre of early season 4, but it also shares a theme with Town of No Return – the isolated town where the locals are behaving strangely – so there’s a constant, sinister, pervading sense of peril. Then the strong sense of menace is dissipated in the final fight through the use of custard pies; a very season 4 ploy (like the ping pong gun in Death at Bargain Prices or the champagne cork shot in Dial a Deadly Number). It’s also played with absolute seriousness throughout, even the caricature yokels drinking at the pub. It’s based on the base humanity of the rich who can afford to buy-off justice, which – when you stop and think about it – is deeply frightening. The villagers, those who have accepted the deal, and are going about the business of running Murdersville, have become de-sensitised to violence. There are a plethora of parallels with the way in which our morality is suppressed by the complicit – such as the appetite for television coverage of hostage situations or terrorism, which we know can inflame or encourage such acts, but yet which we cannot resist.
The episode itself contains some intense (if not graphic) scenes of implied violence. Mrs Peel has to stop herself from beating the doctor with a heavy instrument, and for a few moments we don’t know why she was on the verge of maiming or killing him. The it’s revealed she’s just seen the body of her childhood friend. Later, Mrs Peel is tortured on a form of ducking stool.
It’s a Peel solo episode. But when he arrives, Steed absolutely serious too. He appears suave, but he’s lethal. “Mrs Emma Peel” he says, suddenly, after making pleasant small-talk in the pub. The landlord drops a glass and it shatters. “I just wanted to see your reaction” explains Steed, with a cold, lethal smile.
Judging by the musical themes in the excellent score, Laurie Johnson thinks it’s a western. I don’t think he’s wrong: a stranger rides into town, where the law is weak, and justice must be restored.
There are touches of comedy; they are well judged. The library points to the ‘silence’ sign; the visiting assassin screws a silencer onto his revolver. Emma phoning Steed and calling him John, and sending love to “Albert, Julian, Gordon and baby Brian” is funny even though the scene is deadly serious (and there’s surely an additional in-joke there, as Albert Fennell, Julian Wintle and Brian Clemens are producers).
Visually, the episode is packed with superb location footage, much of it shot in Aldbury. There are some dramatic crash zoom-outs (if that’s a term) giving a powerful sense of being isolated and trapped within the village. There scenes with the helicopter seem, in plot terms, a bit silly (albeit quite logical – since this is a town with almost limitless resource) but the chase footage they afford is absolutely thrilling.
Only the Joker from this season comes close. This really stands alone among the colour Peel episodes.
I am going to mention one gripe, which is either a continuity, lighting, or restoration issue. In all of the location shots, Mrs Peel is wearing purple. As soon as she is inside a car, it appears to be red. It’s a small thing, but unfortunately it’s incredibly distracting. Oh, and I mentioned was becoming commonplace, once again it’s a story that involves a friend, although Mrs Peel’s pleasure in seeing him and pain at her loss entirely justify this here.
Absolutely superb. The Avengers, in colour, at its very best.