The New Avengers Season 1 Eps 10-13


One of the less involving episodes, `Three Handed Game` is a drawn out story of a brain drain machine that a villain is using to try and obtain three separate messages that only together make sense. The ideas are somewhat preposterous though they come from a pre-digital era so I suppose this was the sort of thing governments did to keep information secret. It would probably work better as a book but for a tv drama it seems bitty and not that interesting when its not being ridiculous. The trouble is the tone which has the cast trying to be serious while doing unlikely things while the three Avengers never seem that worried about anything. What memorable sequences there are come thanks to director Ray Austin who always has an eye for the unusual shot or close quarters combat. A fight on the stage of an empty theatre is the highlight and there are playful scenes with Purdey made up as a clown but even the director can’t avoid the moments when people’s minds are drained from looking silly. What the episode lacks is a better way of explaining what this message is actually about, we never hear it properly and are left wondering could it really be worth all this fuss? Also the triumvirate system is said to have been invented by Steed but surely the government has a whole department for this kind of work. 

There’s another line up of familiar faces though none would have counted this a career highlight I suspect especially Stephen Greif whose villainous character Juventor is given a stammer for no discernible reason and David Wood as Ranson who starts out as a the least convincing stage performer ever. Hurrah though for John Paul whose return as the doctor makes him the only character other than the main trio to survive more than one episode.

Considering its basic premise `Sleeper` is an absorbingly assembled episode. It opens with a demonstration, attended by the Avengers, of a new gas called S-95 that when dropped from a passing plane sends anyone in the area to sleep for up to six hours. Soon this weapon has found its way into an assembled gang of thieves and thugs who release it in the early hours of Sunday morning. They can them go round several banks and nick all the money. Seems a bit superfluous when back then all shops were closed on Sundays anyway! Steed, Gambit and Purdey are still immune after the previous day’s inoculation meaning they are the only ones awake as the criminal spree unfolds. The production manages a very convincing deserted London by focussing on lesser known parts and it probably was really filmed at 5am on a Sunday morning. The team are split up so Purdey spends the episode dashing about in silk pyjamas while Steed and Gambit are equally busy though more conventionally attired.

With dialogue and often incidental music kept to a minimum the soundtrack is of running feet and the occasional vehicle. Brian Clemens wrings a number of scenarios from the expansive locations and keeps things moving fast enough to stop it becoming repetitive. Each of the encounters between the sides plays something different. There’s plenty of arch humour about especially in a scene where Purdey pretends to be a shop window dummy. Director Graeme Clifford uses as much of the empty urban landscape as he can and the episode constantly finds interesting locations to utilise. The focus is more on the chase than on the robberies though we do see the villains using a bazooka to blow away the doors of the banks.

The episode even answers what is probably most people’s first question about why nobody crosses into the area by showing two policemen doing just that only for the gas to immediately affect them. You could call issue about the ease with which Steed and Gambit enter buildings which would presumably be locked but that’s a minor thing. Interestingly whenever the Avengers overcome one of the criminals and thereby have the chance to grab a weapon they don’t do so. For once the series’ penchant for sudden endings plays in this story’s favour with a neat resolution to a strong episode.

It’s a pity that all the effort which goes into `Gnaws` is undermined by the rather dull narrative. A small amount of a rogue scientist’s radioactive isotope that makes anything grow enormous accidentally ends up in the sewers turning a rat into a giant rat. In the hands of a director as stylishly dynamic as Ray Austin it should be a shoo in and indeed it scores highly on the visual side. The shadowy sewer sets offer up many a tense angle while the large rodent itself is kept mercifully off screen except for a well composed sequence using a real rat and small sets. With the film Jaws fresh in the memory the chance to create a subterranean homage is high.

Yet though all the elements are there to provide an edge of the seat ride the episode fails to thrill save for the occasional flourish. A writer like Dennis Spooner should know better but here he has cooked up a boring set of characters, a villain who isn’t even a bit mad and a scenario that is begging for a mismatched group to become trapped in these sewers. Opportunities aplenty are missed. There is no thrust to the episode, people just wander around the sewers and absolutely nobody thinks to call in the army. The fact that they can come and go sucks any tension out altogether.

`Dirtier By The Dozen` ends the first season with a special army unit that’s gone rogue. Led by `Mad` Colonel Miller they intervene in overseas conflicts for pay in what’s clearly a homage to similarly themed movies. I’m not sure quite how their endless requisitions and lengthy foreign sojourns have managed to pass unnoticed by the top brass though perhaps the fact that the two Generals we meet are gin sodden and incapable explains it! By turns playful and laboured the episode is at its best when director Sydney Hayers leads us into the action. Unlike many tv series the soldiers here seem authentically well drilled and there’s gunfire and explosions aplenty to deflect from the very drawn out premise. Hayers’ eye for detail includes the episode’s best scene when Steed and Major Pentice stroll through a battle exercise with explosions and attacking soldiers not deflecting them from their conversation.

Some familiar faces pop in in early roles include Alun Armstong, Brian Croucher and John Challis though everyone this week plays second fiddle to John Castle as the eyepatch wearing Miller who’s every utterance is a dramatic speech. It makes the character so over the top you wonder why the men follow him. There’s also a fun cameo from Ballard Berkley playing exactly the same role as the Major in Fawlty Towers except he gets a uniform. Stephen Moore is entertaining too as a somewhat over drinking officer. These larger than life performances and lively action sequences keep the episode going because the plot itself is ridiculously unlikely even by Avengers standards. The director knows how to end on an iconic image though and has Purdey dangling from a helicopter rope ladder with a glass of champagne. Now that is the Seventies right there!

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