“Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?” Review

The unfortunate central conceit here, as reflected in the title, is the anthropomorphisation of a computer – and not an artificial intelligence, or a machine that could hold anything like a conversation. The Avengers has done computers before, in The Big Thinker and as then this is a calculating machine with the approximate computing power of a modern graphical calculator, though in deference to almost 6 years of progress, it has been miniaturised from the size of a building to the size of a large filing cabinet.

As such the earlier story can be appreciated, in computing terms, as a relic of its time – though the narrative suffered from giving too much screen time to an unsympathetic ‘computer genius’ character. This one only dabbles briefly with caricatured computer scientists (one chap has a flat that apparently only contains right angles) but in treating the computer (the titular George XR40) as a patient takes a joke that wasn’t funny anyway and kills it stone dead through endless repetition. It’s not even consistent: the cybernetic surgeon (who also requires the services of an electrical anaesthetist) talks about operating, then talks about murder. Is the patient dead or not?

Yet despite this unpromising opening, this blooms into a rather enjoyable story (by the standards of series 6 at least) with Tara being giving something to do, and going for it magnificently: infiltrating a suspected traitor’s home in the guise of his long lost (American) niece. Tara’s theme even re-emerges in the score. Incidentally, the score is not by Laurie Johnson but by Howard “The Snowman” Blake. I hadn’t realised that another composer had worked on the Avengers until this year when I saw a CD of his music had been released but Blake scored 10 of the season 6 episodes, including Game and Super Secret Cypher Snatch.

And the actual plot reason for which the unfortunate computer is (maybe) assassinated is actually a very clever twist…

All this entertainment is helped along by an absolutely excellent cast which includes Frank Windsor, and Judy Parfitt, for once, didn’t remind me of Susannah Harker (as she had done in Bullseye, The White Elephant and Escape in Time).

A few Steed notes: firstly, he’s driving a Rolls again in this one (after the Bentley reappeared in Split!). Steed appears to take a leaf out of Holmes’ book (specifically The Empty House) in setting up a decoy for assassination. And he not only has his Steel bowler in this, he uses it to block a bullet which ricochets back and kills its owner…

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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