Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Saturday 14 December 1963

When we left our bedraggled band of time travellers last week they were facing recapture at the hands of especially unpleasant caveman Kal.  We open this week with them returned to the cave, along with Za, Kal's injured rival for tribal leadership.  Kal takes the opportunity of Za's indisposition to accuse him of the murder of the tribe's grumpy old woman.  Enter Inspector Doctor of the Yard.  It's the first time we see the extent of the character's wiliness, as he uses Kal's own primitive logic to trick him into showing the tribe his own bloodstained knife, the real murder weapon.

With the tribe convinced that Kal was the killer, the Doctor encourages them to drive him out, which they do, pelting him with rocks.

Any hopes that Kal's exit might lead to a swift release for the travellers prove forlorn, as they're slung back in the cave of skulls, where Ian, definitely the Boy Scout of the party, sets to rubbing sticks together to create fire in the hope of convincing Za to let them go.  Ian also tries to promote such Scoutlike values as co-operation and sharing to the cave dwellers, but Za's determined to cling on to power by being the only member of the tribe who can make fire.

And it's no surprise he's so defensive with shit-stirrers like his father-in-law Horg about.  With no faith in the tribe's leader at all, he thinks the only way to get hold of the secret of fire is to sacrifice the travellers.  "You should lie on the old stone until your blood runs into the Earth!" cries his daughter Hur.  Family disputes have changed little over the years.

Za doesn't have long to enjoy his new-found understanding of making fire before Kal returns, bent on revenge.  The climactic fight between the two cavemen is, a bit disorientingly, shot on film - as are the reaction shots of the watching travellers.

It's startlingly brutal stuff, particularly considering people would have been eating their tea when this was on.  Talking of eating, there's an especially savage bit where Kal takes a bite out of Za's shoulder.

Za gets his revenge (at least, I think it's meant to be Za, it's not easy to tell as the stuntman playing the cavemen in long shot look nothing like the proper actors) by  kicking Kal right in the face.  It appears this is stronger than anything Barbara's used to seeing in the Coal Hill School playground.

Considering he was savaged by a wild beast just a short while ago, Za does incredibly well, decisively winning the battle by snapping Kal's neck (complete with bone-crunching sound effect) and then dropping a big rock on him (remarkably, the DVD featuring all this is rated U.  I'd encourage you to have a look at the current Doctor Who Magazine for the estimable Watcher's take on the BBFC's Doctor Who ratings - it's far wittier and more trenchant than anything I could come out with.

Even the Doctor, who has form in trying to bash people's heads in with rocks, clearly thinks this is a bit much.

The triumphant Za greets his public: "Kal is dead and I bring you... fire!" (I'm really not sure that those are the lyrics).

But for the Doctor and his companions there's no prospect of being released any time soon, Za having decided that brainboxes like these would be an asset to his tribe, whether or not they want to belong to it.  Bored in the cave, Susan plays around with a skull and a torch, giving the ever resourceful Ian the bright idea of hiding and pretending that four flaming skulls are the ghosts of he and his fellow travellers.

And it works! The cavefolk are terrified!

Well, for long enough to enable their captives to get away, anyway  Within a few seconds they set off in hot pursuit.  Although Ian's made their search easier by providing them with flaming torches, he and the others manage to get into the TARDIS just in time.  Shortly after they've left their Neolithic nightmare behind, the Doctor reveals there's a problem with the machine that means he won't be able to return Ian and Barbara to their own time.  Instead the ship arrives in an eerie alien landscape.

As the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan go to clean themselves up prior to exploring outside, the radiation meter switches, unwatched, from "Normal" to "Danger"...

After that exciting climax, I'm afraid it's a bit of a borefest next, as The Sentimental Agent (now minus the sentimental agent) tackles the less than thrilling topic of insurance.

Bill Randall (now working as Mercury International's Mediterranean rep, rather than just hanging around the place) accepts the task of helping Nikki Basaliades (Imogen Hassall) ship her late father's incomparable collection of antique furniture from Beirut to London to be sold at auction.  It all needs to be very cloak-and-dagger though, as the Communist government of Nikki's homeland of Gregoria (one of those made-up Eastern European countries these shows love) are itching to confiscate the treasures.

Writers Roger East and Leslie Harris seem to be under the impression viewers will be genuinely interested in the ins and outs of the import-export business rather than wanting an hour of glamorous escapism.  Nonetheless, Imogen Hassall can't help adding a bucketload of glamour, and there are enthusiastic performances from a trio of great British character actors to liven things up a bit.  Cyril Shaps looks after the collection, Charles Lloyd Pack values it, and Reginald Beckwith insures it.

But then the ship bringing the antiques over sinks (explosion comes via the magic of stock footage).

It's all a con, of course. Nikki still has the collection, she just wanted to collect the insurance on it as well.  There's an especially memorable moment at the climax as Faithful Manservant Chin points a bundle of dynamite at Nikki and her boyfriend (Keith Baxter) like a gun.

With its beat boom-themed episode last week, The Larkins proved that it has its finger on the pulse of what's going on.  This week the show takes on another contemporary craze (though a less well-remembered one): trading stamps.  For the uninitiated, these were much like Nectar points, except you had to lick them.

Both Ada Larkins and Hetty Prout have been swept up in stamp mania.  Hetty's characteristically indecisive about what she wants to redeem hers for: "Well, I've filled three books and I'm at the crossroads.  I don't know whether to settle for a candlewick bedspread or go on for a silver candelabra."  Ada, however, has her sights set squarely on a steam iron.  The expression of euphoria on Peggy Mount's face as she talks about this now utterly commonplace household item is really something to behold.

In vain are Alf's attempts to convince Ada that if she did all the shopping for the caff at the wholesaler's, she'd save enough money to buy an iron for herself: it seems an almost magical aura surrounds anything acquired with stamps rather than actual cash.  "The whole world has gone trading stamp potty!" Alf splutters.  It may sound like a slight exaggeration but it increasingly seems he's the last bastion of sanity remaining.  Even Major Osbert's swapped his tipple to ginger wine as he can get extra stamps for it.

But Alf is destined to be swept up in the madness too, with the return of his old darts rival Vic.  After securing a room at the Larkins' with ruthless flattery of Ada, he announces he's the area rep for a brand new stamp scheme, and wants the caff to offer them to its customers.  Ada, lured by the glittering prizes that can be had for comparatively few stamps, enthusiastically agrees.

Soon local residents are flocking to get stamps with their egg and chips.  And the previously unthinkable happens, as Osbert's desire for stamps inspires him to take a job, looking after the publicity for the stamp scheme.  This mainly consists of traipsing round various local businesses trying to get them involved ("Having a deuce of a lot of trouble with the undertaker"), and dropping leaflets through letterboxes - leading to an intimate view of Hugh Paddick's lallies, for anyone who's ever wanted such a thing.

Vic reveals that due to the caff's success in shifting the stamps, his head office want to make it the Head Redemption Shop for the stamps, which means people flock there to swap their bulging stamp collections for giant stuffed poodles and the like.

Meanwhile, at "head office" (in reality his room), Vic's using a printing press to churn out more stamps.  It's all a scam, of course.  By the time the police turn up (the press, plus the fabulous gifts, are all stolen), Ada's so deep in her stamp addiction that she's licking and sticking whole sheets at a time.  It's a truly gruesome sight.  Vic escapes out the window before he can be arrested.

Trading Stampede is an oddly subdued episode - there's barely a ripple of audience laughter throughout, and writer Fred Robinson seems genuinely aggrieved at the folly of trading stamps and the illusion of something for nothing that they represent.  The episode ends in tender but downbeat fashion with Alf consoling a weary Ada as they provide free meals for the people stuck with worthless stamps, a gesture of goodwill demanded by the local press.

By this stage in The Avengers' third series, Brian Clemens is establishing a niche for himself as the writer of the show's most oddball instalments.  Tonight's is perhaps the most oddball yet, and thanks to the efforts of Clemens, director Peter Hammond, designer Terry Green and the brilliant cast, it's also one of the best.

Cathy Gale seems to be making a name for herself, with a full-page portrait in Hers magazine.   One reader, their face unseen, doesn't seem too appreciative, carefully snipping her face into segments with a pair of scissors...

The photo accompanies an article Cathy's written on "Medieval Influences in Fashion and Adornment", which gives Steed an excuse to spoof the famed Maidenform bra ads: "Last night I dreamed I was going rusty in my..."

As a result of the article, noted Medieval historian Sir Cavalier Resagne (apparently a keen reader of Hers magazine) has invited Cathy to stay at his Devonshire mansion.  Steed, keen to give his new motor a run out, insists on driving her down there.  They look like they're having so much fun larking about in Steed's Bentley in the countryside that I wish I was with them (though in fairness if I was they'd probably be having less fun).

When they arrive at Sir Cavalier's country residence, there's no sign of the great man - he's been called away to an urgent historical society meeting (which is a pretty interesting concept).  The house's only occupant appears to be the historian's decidedly peculiar ward (she says), Ola Moansey-Chamberlain.

Played to spooky perfection by Janine Gray, Ola rattles on alarmingly about such diverse subjects as her forebears ("Moansey was a pirate!"), her hatred of tennis and her teeth, which she forces on a bemused Steed.

Having taken a shine to Steed, Ola's disappointed when he heads off, leaving Cathy all alone with her strange hostess.  At first Cathy's amused by Ola's loopy affectations, but things are about to get rather sinister, as heralded by a memorable speech from Ola which nicely captures the episode's haunted atmosphere: "I love the dark.  Oh, it's owl time, full of creeps and crawls and sensuals.  I love it.  You can imagine all kinds of tingles and chillspines."

As an aside, it's interesting to see how Cathy, alone in her room, takes an appreciative sniff of the bunch of flowers Steed picked for her - suggesting she has feelings for him she'd never reveal to his face.

As Cathy settles down to dinner, Ola unexpectedly departs.  She claims she's visiting a sick friend, but we've seen her answer the phone and say nothing.  Remarkably, things get  even stranger once she leaves, with the arrival of a disturbing young man (Kenneth Colley) who may or may not believe himself to be a Hollywood producer.

Unimpressed with the man's studied air of mystery, Cathy reluctantly lets him in to use the phone, his car having run out of petrol.  There's a classic, early example of The Avengers' postmodern streak as he tries to freak Cathy out by summarising the hackneyed "phone wires have been cut" trope, only to find they have - his dramatic cry of "Dun dun dun!" leading directly into the similarly dramatic chords that close the act.

Fed up with the man's attempts to spook her, Cathy forceably ejects him - though he's nicked a key, and he hangs around in the garage.

As she returns to her dinner, Cathy's shocked to find someone's been eating it.  Despite the cut wires, the phone rings.  Cathy finds her mutilated photo among the pages of the book she's been reading.  A scream echoes through the house.  And somewhere, a mysterious figure awaits...

It's first-rate Old Dark House stuff, Cathy's initial irritation slowly shading into terror.  By the start of the third act she's convinced there's danger afoot and has changed into her leather gear to prove it.  The chillspines keep coming...

It turns out the young man was simply a loonie who was passing by out of chance.  Eventually, after spooking Cathy out by projecting his voice all over the house, the architect of her nightmare reveals himself.  He's Martin Gordon (Maurice Good), a people trafficker and murderer whose activities she and Steed put a stop to some time before.  He's seeking a very personal revenge on Cathy, who pretended to be in love with him.

As Gordon puts his hands round Cathy's neck there's an astonishing montage of bizarre imagery.

But Cathy manages to shoot him before he finishes her off.  He's only wounded, but he's soon put out of action by a sinister figure.

It's Steed, of course, having come to the rescue after reading about Gordon's release and Sir Cavalier's absence and putting two and two together (or possibly because, as Cathy suspects, he knew all along and sent her into danger as usual).

If you haven't seen Don't Look Behind You, I urge you to do so, and be well and truly gripped.

A second or two into tonight's episode of Espionage we're presented with the sight of Diane Cilento stripping off.  If she looks a bit Bond girl it's pretty appropriate, as she'd recently married Sean Connery.

We're in that favourite location of 60s spy dramas, the East German border.  Maxwell Shaw (in his second role as a creep in Espionage) encourages her to swim to the other side, then starts shooting at her.  And gets her in the bum.

On the western side, reluctant US intelligence officer Lieutenant Bridger (the marvellously named George Grizzard) is summoned before Colonel Sprague (Sam Wanamaker, always a welcome sight) to receive a new assignment.  I think it's possible we're meant to read the Colonel, who uses a dainty cigarette holder and informs the Lieutenant he first became aware of him during a tennis match ("You should get into shorts more often.  For the good of your country") as a predatory homosexual.

The Colonel wants Bridger to act as good cop to his bad cop in the interviewing of refugees from over the wall, to work out whether or not they're spies.  First up is Lina Hartmann (Cilento), daughter of a supposedly dead scientist who's recently been seen out and about.  Sprague encourages Bridger to establish as good a relationship as possible with Lina, not drawing the line at the physical.  Bridger visits Lina in an internment camp in Munich (run by toadfaced Hammer horror bit part actor Denis Shaw), where he's stymied by the discovery that she has a fiancé.

Said fiancé turns out to be Ulrich Lindemann, the man we saw shooting at her earlier on.  He's using her for mysterious purposes of his own though, and the similarity between he and the Colonel, each playing with pawns, is underlined by their shared taste for vodka hidden in gin bottles.

Sprague's shocked to learn that Bridger's let such a minor thing as a fiancé stand in the way of his romancing Lina.  "What sort of a man are you, Lieutenant?" he chortles when Bridger suggests he should go straight for Lindemann.

Bridger meets up with Lina and Lindemann for a drink, unwittingly finding himself in the middle of the raucous 40-day festival of Fasching.

Bridger's German acquaintances encourage him to participate in the Fasching customs, which include downing a tankard of ale, or having whatever's left poured over one's head.

Another supposed custom is that women set aside their usual romantic relationship and consort with whatever men they choose.  And Lindemann uses this to essentially pimp his fiancée out to the befuddled lieutenant.  It's all part of an elaborate plot to get a defected scientist (Peter Howell - the Emergency Ward 10 star, not the BBC Radiophonic musician) back to the East.

Much strangeness involving eerie animal masks ensues as the Lieutenant's hoodwinked into smuggling the professor out of the country (Diane Cilento would appear with eerie animal masks again 10 years later in her best known film, The Wicker Man).

As they reach the Swiss border (the scientist's being taken to the East by plane, rather than over the wall), Colonel Sprague swoops.  We end with Lindemann being convinced by his kindred spirit the Colonel to swap sides for a considerable fee.  I think Lindemann's meant to be a likeable rogue, but sadly he just comes over as an insufferable git.

Well, that's tonight's televiewing over with.  On the musical side, here's Kathy Kirby exercising her lungs at number 4 in the hit parade, with a beat-inflected rendition of a perennial gay anthem.

1 comment:

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