Unsettling. The Avengers has been about adventure and thrills, not about psychological torture. Even when psychological torture has been the explicit goal of the diabolical mastermind (eg. The House That Jack Built) the calm insouciance of our unflappable protagonists ensures that we always feel safe, not unsettled. Just a couple of episodes back I wrote about how nothing bad could ever happen to our heroes. But in this unwaveringly straight tale Tara, effectively an innocent bystander, is almost driven mad by squabbling antagonists trying to extract a few pieces of silver from one another. There’s some murder, yes, and even a little bit of superficial espionage, but essentially these is an account of extreme domestic abuse.
What I’m saying is, after praising the dark, sadistic edge to Take Over, this is, perhaps, one step too far for me. It is, I think, the first time I’ve seen it, and it’s a watchable but it’s not The Avengers anymore. There’s no lightness, and no fun. Around the time I started getting into The Avengers with the black and white Mrs Peel episodes, I also saw my first Hitchcocks – films like Strangers On A Train and The Lady Vanishes. I loved them for both the thrills and the extraordinary visual flair, which I connected with the photography in The Avengers. Then, one day, I saw Vertigo, which was not fun like the other films had been; it was deeply uncomfortable. I read a review of Pandora which mentioned Vertigo and the connection resonated. People inflicting terrible damage for narrow, petty gain; not in pursuit of diabolical plans for world domination or even service of their country.
Kidnapping Tara seems to have become a wildly popular pastime among the criminal fraternity of Avengersland: see also Requiem, in which she was also drugged and bamboozled.
Tara is easy to bamboozle. She’s incredibly helpless and panicky. I’m not, of course, saying I’d react any differently. But Mrs Peel would have. In The House That Jack Built where she is perfectly cool (albeit illustrated by the unfortunate device of us hearing that voice in her head). But Tara never attempts to break for freedom, even when she goes close enough to the door to collect the mail. It’s not clear what effect the drugs have on Tara, but she seems to go to pieces as soon as she arrives, and then goes downhill from there. It takes a lot to unnerve Emma, but a little bit of talk about Kitchener and Universal Sufferage and Tara starts screaming…
Once again, Steed is alerted to his partner’s absence because they have a date that is missed.
Oddly, given the tone, Mother does feature in this. The budget obviously doesn’t stretch to another daft HQ for him, though; he visits both Steed and Tara’s apartments but there is only reference ot his current base – in a hot air balloon. And despite the fact this feels as far from the style of The Avengers as anything we’ve had, there’s a nod to the shows past with files for both Mrs Emma Peel and Mrs Cathy Gale. But why doesn’t Tara recognise Lasindall who she talked to in the archive and who she also sees as Pandora?
John Laurie makes the last of his four Avengers appearances all too briefly. Julian Glover is a suitably creepy creep.
The 1915 decor, the photography, the Miss Havisham banquet, all look terrific. Laurie Johnson’s haunting theme is wonderful. The tag scene, another absurd gag presumably intended as a unicorn chaser, is rather feeble though.