Posts Tagged ‘season 2’

Killer Whale (Episode 02-26, March 1963).

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Killer Whale, the final episode of Season 2, takes Steed and Cathy into the underground world of boxing and its unlikely connection to the perfume trade. Steed has discovered a possible link between the boxing ring belonging to ‘Pancho’ Driver (Patrick Magee) and the illegal smuggling and sale of ambergris, a key ingredient in the production of perfume. Steed enlists Cathy and her young boxing protege Joey (Ken Farrington) to infiltrate Pancho’s ring and discover who’s doing the smuggling and how. Meanwhile, the bowler-hatted one draws the more cushy job of hanging around a perfumier and fashion designer’s establishment, under the guise of obtaining a wardrobe for his “niece,” to see where the ambergris is actually going. This being The Avengers, complications naturally arise, including murder, imprisonment, and the use of Cathy’s judo skills.

In some ways, Killer Whale is a last hurrah for the more underworld-themed episodes of Season 2. Season 3 will be a bit more refined – though not without its deviations – and occupied far more with the British upper-classes. As such, Killer Whale is a nice transition, with the charming Joey facing off against the less-charming Pancho, and expanding upon the connections between a criminal underworld and the clean-cut upper world of fashion designers.

Although the boxing angle is quite fun, the best parts of Killer Whale take place at the perfumier’s. Steed has a slightly tense tete-a-tete with a posh young man who keeps referring to him as “sport” – another chance to underscore class conflict, as the same young man turns out to be the most vicious criminal of the bunch – as well as the chance to make eyes at the attractive young models wandering around. Steed certainly draws the plumb job on this one, his not-inconsiderable charm in full force right alongside his inherent ruthlessness. Cathy meanwhile has to do the dirty work, which usually gets her either imprisoned or tied up.

Killer Whale concludes the second season on a fairly high note, with our two heroes getting along pretty well (and Cathy moved into a brand new apartment). When they return in Season 3, two against the criminal factions, they’ll do so with slightly less conflict but, oddly enough, slightly more distrust. Season 3 will feature Steed possibly turning traitor more than once, and a tightening of their friendship that will make them, in the end, the most complicated relationship that The Avengers will ever feature.

Bullseye (Episode 02-04, October 1962).

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Only four episodes into Season 2, Cathy Gale gets her first opportunity to strike out on her own in Bullseye. Faced with a murder at a small arms company that may be tied to gun-running in Africa, Cathy joins the company’s board of directors as a shareholder, plunging herself into industrial espionage and conspiracy. Steed is on hand but remains solidly in the background for this one, only showing up once or twice to tease Cathy and smoke cigars.

Cathy uncovers a series of nasty coincidences as more fellow board members are murdered, narrowing the range of suspects to about three by the end of it. It’s all tied in with a takeover bid by industrialist Henry Cade (Ronald Radd), who intends to purchase the company and carve it up at a profit. Cade is suspect number one, as each of the directors dies after meeting with him, but there are several others that are equally nasty pieces of work: Doreen Ellis (Judy Parfitt, who pops up pretty consistently through The Avengers), and Mr. Young (Felix Deebank), a ladykiller with a smarminess all his own.

Giving Honor Blackman her own episode this early in the season was a gamble for The Avengers (regardless of production order), and it’s a shame she didn’t get a better one. As with a number of these early episodes, Bullseye suffers from the combination of a preponderance of plot, and dialogue that fails to drive it. Steed’s absence does not have to harm an episode (check out The Big Thinker if you don’t believe me), but in this case poor Cathy has very little to occupy her time. The villains are fairly clear from the outset, and the ending both unsurprising and anti-climactic. Cathy has no opportunity to show off her fabulous judo skills (despite setting up a villain with whom she could easily grapple), and much of the interesting action takes place off-screen.

However, Bullseye is not all bad. On a second viewing I actually found it more enjoyable, with at least two scenes that create excellent tension and remind us that Cathy is quite the badass. Ronald Radd’s Henry Cade is simply delightful, an irascible millionaire entirely at home in his business. The episode pops when he’s onscreen. Finally and as always, the few scenes between Cathy and Steed have an energy all their own, as their combative relationship makes even a friendly meeting into a battle of the sexes.

So put Bullseye in the “miss” category. It isn’t a bad episode by any means, but there’s not a great deal to be said for it.

Six Hands Across A Table (Episode 02-25, March 1963).

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Following Venus’s departure, Cathy Gale returns for an episode more or less on her own – and for the first (and last) time, romance is in the air! Cathy has become involved with shipyard owner Oliver Waldner (Guy Doleman), ostensibly on the strength of her schoolgirl friendship with his sister (?) Rosalind (Sylvia Bidmead). But there are nefarious dealings afoot when one of Waldner’s business colleagues dies a suspicious death after refusing to participate in a deal that would give Waldner and friends control of a large section of British shipbuilding. Steed is on hand, of course, to prove that Cathy’s boyfriend is a killer.

Six Hands Across A Table suffers from a number of confusions between characters, both personally and professionally. Waldner and his colleagues are apparently attempting to push through a deal that would keep British shipbuilding in their control, while the murdered man and his son, who takes over his father’s company, attempt to work with a French firm that would take some shipbuilding out of the country. The plot is a little complex for an hour episode, and unfortunately focuses a bit too much on some rather complex backroom business deals to be interesting.

The other source of confusion appears in Cathy’s relationship to Oliver and Rosalind. At first I thought Rosalind was Oliver daughter, based on the way they relate, but Oliver is far closer to Cathy’s age and her and Rosalind were meant to be at school together. Some of the confusion is a result of Cathy visibly being in her early to mid-thirties, while Rosalind looks much younger. It is at times difficult to understand the relationship of the characters as a result.

Beyond confusions in the plot, however, Six Hands Across A Table hangs together rather well. It is the only time that Cathy has a romantic interest – and she makes quite a terrible choice. Waldner is a cold-blooded killer who treats murder like a business venture. When Steed warns Cathy of her lover’s possible criminal activities, she attempts to dismiss him – but is obviously shaken. Blackman gives an excellent performance here; she’s gotten in too deep and made the mistake of falling in love with a man she’s supposed to be investigating. While Steed offers little solace, couching his suspicions in his usual flippant manner, he’s earnestly concerned to keep her out of trouble.

There’s a touching scene that highlights Steed’s increasing sensitivity, and inherent decency, as well as Cathy’s intense guarding of her emotions. More and more we see that these are two people who protect themselves from emotional pain, but actually care very deeply for one another. The episode is worth it for that scene alone.

A Chorus of Frogs (Episode 02-24, March 1963)

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 A Chorus of Frogs is the final Venus Smith episode to air, and actually manages to be my favorite of her six entries into The Avengers canon.

Steed has gone on holiday to Greece, but the mysterious death of a diver/spy interrupts his enjoyment of the sea and sand. So Steed hops onto millionaire Mason’s (Eric Pohlman) yacht, the site of the man’s death and the location of his three fellow “Frogs,” a team of smugglers/divers/spies. Venus Smith just so happens to be providing entertainment for the cruise around the Mediterranean – but she’s none too happy when Steed puts in his appearance in her cabin, insisting that he be allowed to sleep there. All is not well on the boat, of course – the death of another diver complicates matters, as does the presence of Anna Lee (Yvonne Shima), apparently a Chinese operative. Meanwhile, Venus appears to have finally gotten fed up with Steed’s insinuation into her life, and just about gives him up as a stowaway when the excitement gets the better of her.

A Chorus of Frogs moves along at a good pace. The plot is somewhat sparse, but what it lacks in narrative sense it makes up for in characterization. Peppered with excellent character actors, including John Carson as the diver Ariston, the dialogue snaps better than any other Venus episode. Some excellent rapport between Venus and Steed show just how tired she’s become of his constant invasions, as she gleefully watches him trying to shave with a dull straight-razor. Steed is rather put-upon throughout the episode, threatened at gunpoint by the female diver Helena (Colette Wilde) in a scene that becomes a running gag. But it’s a dashing, water-soaked story, with some strong tension at the climax.

Although Steed might at times put his partners into harm’s way (often without their knowledge), he never wants to hurt anyone and usually goes out of his way to make certain that innocent people aren’t harmed. A Chorus of Frogshows off both his humor and his strong sense of justice – he has a desire to do right, and to protect as many people as he can, especially those he feels a personal responsibility towards.

Venus Smith exits the series here; it’s a shame she wasn’t given a better chance to develop. While Stevens’s musical numbers might grate just a bit, Venus had some potential as a character if she could have shaken some of her naivete. However, like Dr. King before her, the writers evidently did not know what to do with her. So out she goes, making the way for Cathy Gale as the only partner willing to stick it out with Steed, which is probably just as well.

The White Dwarf (Episode 02-21, February 1963)

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The Avengers regularly grappled with post-war terrors and Cold War realities, involving spies from vague foreign lands (most of them with Russian accents), double agents working within Great Britain, secret plans, secret weapons, and secret programs. But only seldom did the show look into the farther reaches of space and engage with threats from without rather than within.

The White Dwarf is one exception. Unlike its Space Age successor Man-Eater of Surrey Green – the only episode to introduce the concept of aliens into The Avengers universe – The White Dwarf treats of a far more realistic threat from the outer regions.

Steed and Cathy are tasked with investigating the death of an astronomer who predicted that the end of the world was near when he observed the progress of a “white dwarf.” His theory postulates that within nine months the dwarf would swallow up the sun, and the earth with it. In an effort to keep people calm, the British government has kept the discovery under wraps until it can be verified by a further observation within a few weeks’ time.

While Steed remains at home to “have a good time while there’s still time,” Cathy heads down to the observatory to discover the reasons behind the astronomer’s death. She meets a group of frightened people, none of whom seem to have much of a reason to commit murder – especially if everyone is going to die in a months anyways. Steed embarks on his own investigation at the Ministry, and discovers that several someones have been buying up large shares of stocks, and that one such person is the brother of a Ministry official who just happens to know about the white dwarf.

The White Dwarf is a bizarre story for The Avengers because it seems so dire. It’s difficult to believe that either Steed or Mrs. Gale would be so calm in the face of imminent disaster, even if they don’t really have faith that the prediction about the dwarf is accurate. As a result, the episode suffers from a confusion of tone, with Steed’s cheerful quips seeming ill in keeping with the situation, and the violent deaths of more than one astronomer off-setting any sympathy we might feel for the lesser villains.

Needless to say, the world does not end at the end of The White Dwarf, and thankfully The Avengers did not try to use the same sort of story in any later episodes. While The Avengers sometimes does deal with serious issues, ranging from mad villains and sadists to those who want to cause World War III, the show is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Dead on Course (Episode 02-14, December 1962).

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In the third and final Dr. Martin King episode Dead On Course, we take a sojourn out of England and head for Ireland. Steed is sent to the Emerald Isle to investigate a plane crash and the disappearance of some bank consignments that happened to be on board. He drags Dr. King along, presumably because Cathy Gale does not have a medical degree (although what I wouldn’t have given to see what Cathy made of this one).

The crux of the script involves a plane crashing apparently off-course, the last in a series of mysterious plane crashes. The multiple dead are taken to a nearby nunnery. There’s a survivor, though: a severely concussed air hostess who might know what’s been happening to the planes. Things are further complicated when Steed discovers that the co-pilot is not numbered among the dead. Bizarre goings on at the local pub, the local airfield, and the local nunnery are all wrapped up in a somewhat confusing script.

Dead On Course is one of the more complex episodes to come out of the second season. It doesn’t much matter what’s actually happening, of course: there are villains with Irish accents, nefarious shenanigans, and Steed flying a plane. It seems safe to presume that this episode is a leave-over from the hard-boiled, more dramatic first season of The Avengers, as it bears little resemblance to some of the weirder-themed episodes featuring Cathy Gale or Venus Smith. Although death tolls in this series are sometimes surprisingly high, this one brings us up close and personal with at least one murder, not to mention the aftermath of a massive air crash. Steed gets very violent with one villain which, while justified, is shocking to those who have only seen him as the bowler-hatted English gentleman.

There’s not a great deal to recommend about Dead On Course, unless you’re a completist (or a Steedophile like myself). It’s a middling little drama with little flair until the end. There is the enjoyable performance of Donal Donnelly as the apparently simple pub worker Vincent O’Brien, but beyond that you might as well skip it. Even nuns with guns cannot make this more than slightly interesting. Good-bye, Dr. King. You probably deserved better.

The Big Thinker (Episode 02-12, December 1962)

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Like Emma Peel after her, Cathy Gale gets a few opportunities to strike out on her own, largely sans a male counterpart. The first such episode is actually Bullseye, which I will get to reviewing one of these days. The Big Thinker is another. I’ll go right ahead and admit that I’m reviewing it instead of Bullseye because it’s a far more enjoyable episode.

The Big Thinker sees Cathy investigating the goings-on at a missile defense computer facility where the main computer “Plato” is being sabotaged. There are a number of suspects, but the main one is resident mathematical genius/total douchebag Dr. James Kearns (Antony Booth), who knows Plato inside and out. Cathy cultivates Kearns’s friendship, even down to going out with him once or twice, in order to discover if he’s the one sabotaging Plato, and why.

The episode belongs to Honor Blackman and, unlike the rather turgid Bullseye, she makes it work. Scenes of bamfery abound, from Cathy handling a few card sharps like a pro to icily tearing down Kearns’s advances with a mere roll of her eyes. She’s helped along by Kearns himself, who’s played with a strong personality (even if he is in the ‘annoying young man’ category). Steed, meanwhile, hangs out in the background, popping up every so often to trade a few sarcastic jibes with Cathy, and dashing in when the going gets really tough.

Although this episode is light on the Steed/Cathy repartee, there are a few moments that exhibit the development of the characters’ relationship. There are shades of jealousy in Steed’s reaction to Kearns – he even shows up in Cathy’s apartment late at night to ‘protect’ her. Another scene highlights the increasing domesticity of Steed and Cathy’s relationship when he attempts cooking an omelette at her apartment. These scenes lend a sense of fun to the episode, and begin to draw out the interesting friendship and tension the characterizes the two main characters. While it’s a matter of conjecture if Steed and Cathy ever crossed the line from friends to lovers, they certainly share some strong sexual tension.

While The Big Thinker wins no awards for clarity – I got halfway through the episode before realizing that I wasn’t entirely clear why anyone would want to sabotage Plato in the first place – it’s a quirky little entry with some fun performances. It’s also a chance to be reminded that while Emma Peel solidified the notion of the intelligent, capable female agent, it was Dr. Catherine Gale that started the ball rolling.