Here’s a test for my theory that Charles Crichton always directs an entertaining episode… It’s always a problem when The Avengers fails to take itself seriously. It’s all very well for there to be whimsy and colour, but needs to be a counterpoint to the high stakes in the work. Just as in Le Carre the spies are often on the grotesque side of eccentric, so in The Avengers at its best, the peculiarities should reflect lethal nature of the life the characters lead, even if they are more on the charming and quirky side. It’s what makes the humour, it’s what gives it its edge.
Agents are being called in be tested on their interrogation resistance, like patients in a dentist, and then their networks are being terminated. Izzy Pound and his Incridble Marching Sound – spending his time in a quarry – isn’t the main issue (though I’ll admit I fail to appreciate his value as a vital informant for British intelligence). The real problem is the agents being fooled, not only by the spoof ‘course’ but worse, being easily tricked into indiscretions at the bar. It makes them less serious. It makes them foolish, and consequently the enemy is less threatening due to his having to do no more than shoot fish in a barrel.
Steed: It’s clever. You must admit it’s clever.
Mother: Turn our own secret bureaucracy into a weapon.
Steed: Tie us up in our own red tape.
I’ll not admit it’s clever because the bureaucracy is an exaggerated, unfunny albatross; and no security organisation that behaved in this way would last long enough for an enemy to have a chance to attack them, no matter how hasty and ill prepared the plan.
I’m developing another theory, that anytime there’s a helicopter in The Avengers it’ll be entertaining. Because it’s when Steed commandeers the aircraft in order to give chase to a messenger pigeon that I realised, despite the flaws in the premise, I’m enjoying the episode. “FOLLOW THAT PIGEON!”
There should be more carrier pigeons in The Avengers.
The episode, which is co-written by Richard Harris and Brian Clemens definitely picks up momentum in the second half.
Steed does acknowledge how bone-headed is colleagues are, as subverting the comment he made in All Done With Mirrors and thereby making some atonement for it:
“They’ve taken Tara King. Now don’t you understand that she is different from you and Caspar?”
“She’s a woman.”
“She’s also sharper, brighter and more intelligent…after a time she’ll understand what’s going on and then…”
Christopher Lee gets to give a far more interesting and lively performance than he did in the terrible Never, Never Say Die.
In Tara’s flat: they enter through the lower level entrance, as in The Forget-Me-Knot rather than from the top of the stairs, as in most subsequent episodes.
Steed’s steel bowler: he uses it to foil a bayonet attack.
The entrance to Mother’s HQ, which is actually not too bad in this one, is through a red phone box. Was this used in The Avengers film or just an early script? I can’t remember, and I’m certainly not going to sit through it just to find out…
So, despite the fact there is a boom mic in shot during one scene, it is another success for Crichton. Not the greatest episode, but fine entertainment.