“The Fear Merchants” Review

Despite the fantastic opening (an agoraphobic man in dressing gown wakes up to find he has been left in empty stadium) this episode fails to excite. The only other decent scene features Brian Wilde as the perfectionist CEO of a ceramics company, taking every piece Steed picks up to admire and smashing it against a wall.

But there are hundreds of holes. For example, why would the director of a high-earning business tolerate a market research ‘asking lots of questions’ and not just throw him out (the dialogue – he complains to a fellow director about it holding up the whole morning – is so clunky, and anyway, why not make him something other than a market researcher?) How do they calibrate the lie detector to know “Steed lied to every question”? How does Mrs Peel leave her help note? etc.

And there are some odd directorial decisions – in the middle of the episode the camera assumes the murderer’s POV, a technique commonly used elsewhere in the opening, but here it’s especially pointless because his identity is revealed in the very next scene. If it’s a trick intended to enliven a scene involving the asking of a sequence of market research questions, it fails.

This one isn’t set in the more familiar and picturesque parts of Avengersland. There are nasty office blocks, pylons, 1950s semis. Steed’s Bentley has a Union flag on the front. Exceedingly naff. The visual flair has yet to return (although there is, at least, some reasonably imaginative camera-work during White’s encounter with the bird, which is seen only in shadow). There is an interesting fight with a bulldozer in a pit – it doesn’t seem very Avengersesque (perhaps a bit more New Avengers) and again, the director doesn’t show us how Steed gets out. Another plot hole.

Meanwhile, there is a terrible, terrible prop in the form of Raven’s amazing new ceramics machine, which is a badly constructed cupboard balanced on some kind of dashboard. The doors don’t even shut, so when he closes one, the other springs open (I guess that must have happened on every take, so in the end they left it in?) The comedy noises that emerge from it didn’t amuse me, although there is a fascinating piece of trivia over on The Avengers Forever: these sounds came from The Man in the White Suit. I love that film, but it’s a comedy and the sound effect suits it.

Following her foray into the art world in How to Succeed…At Murder, Mrs Peel has taken up sculpting (with an electric drill). It’s hard to tell, yet, if her sculpting is as good as her painting.

Steed has an answer phone “Your call is being answered by a recording device, please dictate your message…” How modern!

Mrs Peel gets tied to a chair AGAIN. This would be almost forgivable, if it weren’t for the extremely unthreatening torture scene, which essentially comprises nothing more than some fancy cutlery being plonked in front of her. THIS IS THE SHOW OF CASTLE DE’ATH. The rack! The iron maiden! What happened? Censors more sensitive now it’s in colour? Or they just couldn’t be bothered?

“How much does Steed know?”  Mrs Peel is asked. “Well he has a pretty high IQ”. Has she forgotten she had to do his IQ test for him (The Master Minds) and anyway I’m not sure this works as a quip as I didn’t think IQ was a measure of knowledge so much as intelligence…?

Subtitle: “Steed puts out a light. Emma takes fright.”

Mrs Peel, We’re Needed: card in a chocolate box.

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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