Posts Tagged ‘the white dwarf’

The White Elephant (03-15, January 1964).

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Steed and Cathy grapple with ivory smugglers and big game hunters in The White Elephant, making it the only episode that utilizes Cathy’s past as a big game hunter in Africa as an important plot element. It’s unfortunate that The White Elephant fails to gain momentum, because it has all the hallmarks of a good episode.

The trouble all begins with the disappearance of a white elephant named Snowy from “Noah’s Ark,” a clearing-ground for imported animals run by Noah Marshall (Godfrey Quigley). The animals are captured by Noah’s team of hunters, and then run through the Ark on their way to zoos and “private collectors” across Britain and Europe. But Steed suspects that Noah’s Ark is also a front for smuggled ivory from illegally slaughtered elephants. Cathy joins up as a new hunter while Steed starts tracing possible co-conspirators, leading him to a gun merchant’s and, more amusingly, a ironworks specializing in cages and restraints.

The White Elephant goes through a lot of bending and twisting to make everything work out, once more introducing the “young lovers” motif that makes so many episodes from the video seasons so very boring. These lovers are not terribly sympathetic: secretary Brenda (Judy Parfitt) and hunter Lew Conniston (Scott Forbes) are among the least likable of the bunch. Their nasty little problems drag down some scenes that might otherwise pop, and unfortunately they take up more than their allotted space. The time spent with secondary characters takes away from the main plot, but it also continues to highlight the somewhat questionable activities of…pretty much everyone. While the importation of captured animals must have been more common in 1964, it leaves a bad taste in 2015 – especially as we watch a final fight waged around animals who look somewhat terrified by the whole ordeal.

Still, there are certainly high points in The White Elephant. We have Cathy telling one baddie that he “surely does not need a gun to kill a woman” (answer: yeah, he does), while Steed has a marvelous time purchasing restraints. Our two heroes seem to be enjoying each other’s company for the majority of the episode, playing chess and looking over Steed’s bondage purchases with open interest. If the rest of the plot was as interesting as their relationship, The White Elephant would be one of the best of the season. As it is, it’s not quite a bad episode, but is also nothing to write home about.

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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.