“Have Guns – Will Haggle” Review

Fencing stolen guns may not sound much like the kind of wild and wacky plots we’ve come to expect from recent episodes of the Avengers. It’s more the mundane criminality that would once have formed the basis of a good solid Cathy Gale episode. There’s a reason why it reminds me of the Cathy Gale era, but even though I alluded to it in a previous post, I’d completely forgotten it until I saw Tara’s wigs. That reason connects with production changes I mentioned: after Diana Rigg left, ABC fired producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell. It’s not clear why – perhaps they had the good taste to be appalled by episodes like Who’s Who??? and Mission…Highly Improbable and – though Clemens believed they had made the show a success with what they’d done – ABC wanted to steer it back towards more realism, so they hired someone who’d worked on the Cathy Gale seasons: John Bryce.

Bryce had got through three and a bit episodes by the time ABC asked Clemens to come back and sort it out. By all accounts it had been a disaster. In the US, the last 8 episodes of series 5 were being aired as a separate season with the first batch of Tara King, and Clemens felt their needed to be a hand over to explain the mid-season change of partner (hence getting Diana Rigg back and making The Forget-Me-Knot) but he didn’t have the time/budget to make all-new episodes, so with some reshooting he used Bryce’s footage. Invitation to a Killing was, apparently, largely reshot to become Have Guns – Will Haggle. So we will have to wait until Invasion of the Earthmen – which is the closest to Bryce’s original – to try and make a judgement on just how bad his version of The Avengers would have been.

Despite the kookie name, it’s a terrific episode by the standards of the Tara King season. Okay, it’d probably rate average among the Cathy Gale episodes, but still, if series 6 had been entirely like this I’d have been very happy. It wasn’t just the episode title that made me apprehensive. During the opening, the gun thieves ‘bounce in’ wearing clown masks unpleasantly reminiscent of the last episode – but that’s not fair, since here they are so much more sinister and appropriate.

Steed is the unpredictable agent of Her Majesty again. He does some proper spying: breaking into a safe, sabotage. He doesn’t even get distracted into rescuing the damsel when there’s a chance to blow up all the rifles. Tara does some good work too – evading the thugs who try to ambush her at her car (and who conveniently all wear the same uniform of a blue pullover).

The reason Tara’s wigs are significant is because Bryce had Thorsen dye her hair, to make her less like Emma Peel, so in the footage he shot she’s blonde (the wigs were Clemens’ device to marry up the footage). The bleaching was a bit of a disaster too, destroying Thorsen’s hair, hence much more wiggage until her hair grew back in (All Done With Mirrors).

Another indication that this was an early production is that Steed is in his Bentley, not in the Rolls, so that’s a plus. As is the absence of Mother, of course.

In Tara’s apartment, again the front door is upstairs. Tara sings to herself as Laurie Johnson’s theme plays. Is she singing her own theme…? It’s hard to make out.

Colonel Nasonga is black – again, perhaps Bryce didn’t adhere to the ‘no blacks, no policemen’ rule…

Timothy Bateson reminded me awfully of Geoffrey Rush in this, for some reason.

There are some terrible studio ‘exterior’ shots, badly matched to the location footage. Perhaps another issue from using Bryce’s footage, or perhaps just poor production. It doesn’t marr the episode, however. Either Bryce’s Invitation to a Killing was a very decent episode (I’d love to see the original), or Clemens managed to pull something awfully good together out of what he was left with. I wonder if either party was as happy with the final result as I am?

The tag scene is best forgotten though.

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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