“Mission… Highly Improbable” Review

My main complaint against this one I’ve already articulated in discussing Who’s Who??? At one end of this season the show took a rational, sceptical approach to sci-fi tropes using them as hoaxes to be exposed; to at this end where they are simply accepted as plot fodder however ludicrous and far-fetched. It’s similar to Who’s Who??? in that we see right away who the baddies are – the entertainment this episode provides will depend on whether you want to watch Steed imitating a borrower. That said, it’s not quite as bad (no silly announcements, no flower network) and it does benefit from Nicholas Courtney in a brigadier-esque role, one year before his first appearance as Lethbridge-Stewart in The Web of Fear (though if we’re talking Doctor Who, I’m afraid this episode is pretty much Planet of the Giants). As the obligatory naughty Russian (Shaffer) Ronald Radd appears to be channelling Warren Mitchell’s performance from The Charmers with perhaps a dash of Sid James. I think fondly of Concerto and how that might have been the model for portraying foreign diplomats…

We get another surreal set (along the lines of Death’s Door) so that Steed can wander around Shaffer’s desk climbing over a giant calendar (surely reused from Death’s Door) and hauling on the dial of a giant telephone. I have to admit it’s rather well done – and the shots of Steed standing against some skirting board are even better – but the attention to detail and careful photography are undermined by gratuitously miniaturising Mrs Peel at the end of the episode, and having her run around on the desk set even though there’s no conceivable way should could have got onto it, or indeed got off it and under the sofa mere seconds later. And while the detail is generally excellent, a mistake on the scale for the general’s Rolls (it’s far too small, compared with the level of miniaturisation of every other object) which occurs right at the beginning, causing scale factor calculations to distract me from the story every time the machine was used (mind you, that may have been a good thing).

Ultimately, the most tragic thing about this episode is that, had it not been made, the season – and the Mrs Peel era proper, for she is about to bid us farewell – would have ended with the magnificent Murdersville.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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