Thursday, March 29, 2007


The Avengers – The Living Dead

Having been all too distracted by the exciting new world of Doctor Who, I’m not ready in advance for this evening’s episode of The Avengers, which you can find at 7.10 on BBC4 (and 11pm tomorrow). It’s a ghostly episode that may seem like a shade of the first black and white Mrs Peel story, though replacing wistful Second World War iconography with picture-book Britain and spooky dukes suggests a tilt towards American consumption. But with the marvellous Julian Glover among the guest stars, who could complain? Come back after 7 as I unwisely aim to liveblog The Living Dead

Steed finds a mine of information – Emma goes underground

Sinister music, film of a real mine and obviously unreal pub, chapel and graveyard. It’s that unconvincing grassy knoll again. Still, points straight away for getting right to the dead man who isn’t dead, as a white figure rises from one of the graves to ring the chapel bell! The poor old hermit’s terrified. He’s called Kermit, you know – hmm, there’s a name that’ll never be fashionable again. It was the dead Duke’s ghost, we’re told.

The best bit in it’s in the first couple of minutes, again, but it’s not that bit above, fun as it is. It’s Mrs Peel being told she’s needed by the traffic lights. Gorgeous moment.

Steed in grey suit, white shirt and maroon tie’s all right, but I don’t like Mrs Peel’s murky jacket and trousers. Grey? Tan? Green? Like an old bit of dry mud, anyway. Is the ghostly Duke of Benedict the one from the mine disaster five years ago, or the Elizabethan one on the pub sign? Well, obviously everyone claims it’s the 1690s one, but as he’s also the spit of the one they all knew five years ago, something’s up.

Steed chases Kermit, Emma attends chapel. All she finds is a glamorous woman on the floor. I’ve known chapels like that. Anyway, she’s Mandy McKay, the fabulous Pamela Ann Davy, and she’s quite the best thing in it despite her pigtails. Nice leathers, though – comes over like a kooky Mrs Peel. She’s entranced by ghosts; can sense but hasn’t seen them, and wants to be their friend. Vernon Dobtcheff’s not impressed by her “cant and superstition” – a great clashing pair, representing FOG (Friends of Ghosts) and SMOG (Scientific Measurement of Ghosts). At least one of these is going to be a smokescreen, you mark my words.

Steed gets shot at for poaching by estate manager Masgard, who thinks he’s in season. Charm’s wasted on him, so Steed grabs the bumbling duke instead. And it’s Howard Marion Crawford! Almost everyone’s famous. Masgard is ‘Villainous Julian Glover’ again, tall, icily commanding, always one of my favourite actors. As well as villainy in three other Avengers, he’s in The Empire Strikes Back as one of those rare Imperial admirals who’s up to the job, ohh, For Your Eyes Only, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Doctor Who’s The Crusade and City of Death (a particularly fabulous villain), Faction Paradox… Shame he’s not given enough to do here, save get a fake tan and shout a bit. Lots of fake tan lotion, jumpy about ‘the cellar’… Can you see what it is yet?

Oh, Steed, Steed, why do you think it’s your turn for an even nastier murky grey jacket, and yellow shirt? While Emma’s put on a garish pink top and orange jacket. Maybe for a bet. Fun as Emma and Mandy move in on Steed in unison, though. And oh dear, Mr SMOG’s been stuck straight through with the sword from a crusader’s effigy! What was he detecting, one wonders?

Kermit splashes money about in the pub, Steed gets him to confess he lied about the lack of ghost. Great follow-up with Masgard, though – coolly tells our hero he’s quite right, and he paid off the hermit to stop tourists coming in and ruining the game. Things are perking up, with Diana Rigg in that blue and yellow Emmapeeler catsuit that suits her again to go off investigating with Mandy.

The Landlord says the mine was closed to honour the Duke and experts all lost down there in the disaster. If indeed there was such a thing. And Mrs Peel’s seeing another gravestone slide open. Could there be something underground? Gosh, wonder what? Well, running overground is Mandy, scared by a ghost. “It took Mrs Peel!” She stammers and dithers and drinks a lot of brandy. Shame she’s taken off her leather top, though; tan cardigan underneath. What is it with the colours in this story? Everything looks so drab. I’m sorry, but this is the level of critical analysis I can manage when I’m just watching it and typing straight off rather than sitting back and thinking carefully: ‘Colours pretty. Or not.’ But I’m missing Mandy’s story. “I ran.” “And Mrs Peel?” “Didn’t run.” Then she starts dancing around with excitement at realising she’s seen her first ghost. Bless her, you might think.

It’s half-way, Richard’s in with some lovely things to eat from M&S the food porn shop, and Mrs Peel’s woken up in somewhere that looks distinctly solid for ectoplasm. You’re shocked, aren’t you? It matches the secret passage Steed’s found in the cellar – mechanically operated, and with a bloke in gas mask and make-up coming through. Steed’s nicking his outfit – and just as he was back in a nicer grey suit and gold tie, too. Ah, it’s Masgard, in a cheap and nasty suit, ordering the Duke about. A suspicious vaguely-foreigner ordering a peer of the realm! There must be something frightfully villainous going on. They spot the guy Steed stripped, which is alarming. Oh, let’s see, Kermit’s been shot, forgot to mention it, and Steed’s still not in the overalls, which is a blessing. Maybe it was just an extra who went past pretending to be him. He persuades the ex-miner landlord to take him down, but Mandy blinks her big blue eyes at him to come too. No, Steed! You’re meant to be the caddishly seductive one, not the other way round. Let someone charm you instead and who knows where it will lead? Well, obviously, it’s leading underground, where we’ve just seen Mrs Peel for a moment again as she watches an execution in a huge, tall, empty city. She’s not got a lot on this week, it appears.

Hmm, Mandy’s impatient and suddenly doesn’t believe in subterranean ghosts, while Steed’s stuck a miner’s lamp on his bowler (doesn’t suit it) and Masgard has the lines to the old mine lift cut up top, holding the poor landlord at gunpoint with his minions. But despite Mandy’s dubiousness, Steed finds the underground city, great white walls of windows stretching up and along. Oops, did I say “dubiousness” instead of ‘doubtfulness’? Easy mistake to make, as she’s just about to pull a gun on Steed for investigating. Gasp! No, really, she’s one of their best late-reveal villains, and fab to boot.

Meanwhile, Villainous Julian Glover is explaining all to Mrs Peel. ‘Dead’ Duke Rupert escaped and started the ‘ghost’ scare before he was dragged back below, but it’s a surprise the Avengers don’t recognise what’s going on. Just as in The Town of No Return, some dubious Cold War foreigners are stocking up an underground HQ in preparation to seize the country. This time we get to see the whole underground city, which is pretty impressive, but noticeably deserted (and the whole thing has less verve).
“It’s far too elaborate for a private fantasy.”
Ooh, I recognise that line! It’s one of several innuendos sampled into an Avengers remix done sometime in the early ’90s. Haven’t heard that for ages; wonder if they did a video for it? Steed’s beautifully delivered but linguistically improbable line about “Exit” was in that too, I think.

That line of Steed’s won’t be along for a minute – I just remember it. He’s down far below Mrs Peel’s high cell, about to be shot. Well, I say “about to be”; you could work out which dastardly country supplies the villains by spotting which one has the most astoundingly protracted execution preparation, and with a very nervous sergeant-major in charge, too. Plus they all have very nasty little helmets, like a riding helmet gone wrong. Steed’s last request: “cancel my milk.” Ooh, he’s cool. Good job, as it takes Emma simply ages to save him. She knocks out Masgard, then has an exciting fight with Mandy, and only just makes it on “Fire!” to machine-gun the entire firing squad. That’s a bit graphic (with provocation, I suppose). And now the “Exit! …To depart from, to leave, to escape!” Terrible last “That’s the spirit!” pun that makes them all laugh (fortunately, the Duke and friends were there as burial party, so they can pop up top and entomb Masgard now he’s sealed the back way in himself). I love a terrible pun normally, but that was too bad even for me. And uninspired by Mrs Peel under Steed’s engine for ‘ghosts’ at the tag scene, though Steed actually looks rather nice in a chocolatey brown overcoat. Mmmmm. Chocolate.

Well, that was much as I remembered it – competent but a little flat, borrowing a lot from better episodes and never terribly original or sparkling. Still, Pamela Ann Davy is great, Julian Glover’s always worth the money, and the city looks huge – a mix of false perspective and glass painting, Richard suggests, but either way it’s a spectacular size. Just not wildly exciting.

Now time for my patient beloved to see that fantastic Who trailer thingy…

Phew! Finished typing it all by three minutes past eight – hurrah for long credits! Wonder if it makes any sense?

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