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Posts Tagged ‘Deep Roy’

Well, with NaNo out of the way well ahead of the deadline (I believe I may have mentioned it), I find myself at a bit of a loose end, writing-wise. So, obviously, the logical thing to do is to write about an episode of The New Avengers, a British fantasy series from the mid 70s which these days obviously struggles to maintain any kind of online profile given the onslaught of material related to another ‘new Avengers’ project.

I say that The New Avengers is fantasy, but to be honest that’s more a matter of tone than anything else. Rather like its progenitor series, (doh!) The Avengers, it wanders back and forth over the line between credible espionage drama and borderline SF and fantasy, although in general the concepts are a bit less way-out (the one with the giant rat obviously excepted). This time around I thought I would write about Target!, generally considered to be one of the best episodes, which was written by Dennis Spooner and directed by John Hough.

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The main premise of Target! is the existence of an automated firing range populated by gun-toting androids, its function to provide a training facility for security agents – training being so much more realistic, after all, when the targets shoot back at you. It is essentially a very high-tech version of paintball, or so everybody thinks.

However, the range has been subverted by enemy agent Draker (Keith Barron), with the result that anyone running the android gauntlet usually winds up dropping dead hours or days later. Due to this delay, no-one has any idea what is causing the deaths of so many highly important operatives, which is naturally a source of concern to Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Gambit (Gareth Hunt). Purdey (Joanna Lumley), on the other hand, is a bit less worried, but that is mainly because she has some leave coming up. Once she’s completed her final competency check down at the firing range, anyway…

The majority of The New Avengers was written by either Spooner or series creator Brian Clemens, which may explain quite how formulaic many of the episodes are – but then again, wouldn’t the two of them have noticed quite how often they were repeating themselves? Most of the episodes feature one or other of a traitor working for Steed and company’s organisation, and a member of said organisation stumbling onto a nefarious scheme, getting himself mortally wounded, and then staggering off to Steed’s house to croak out just enough information to get the episode started before pegging out.

Both of these old favourites turn up in Target!, although perhaps this is a little forgivable given it was only the sixth episode into production. Also present is another classic Avengers plot beat, in the form of an eccentric character who’s there to provide an info-dump, in the course of which he gets murdered – in this case, an expert on life up the Amazon (don’t ask).

To be honest, the plot itself does not make a great deal of sense except in the most impressionistic way, with various threads left blowing in the breeze or not quite connecting up with each other. Your credulity will be somewhat stretched even if you accept the idea of the robot sharpshooters which are central to the storyline.

However, the episode works as well as it does simply because the idea of the robot gun-range is such a fun and interesting one. Outrageous though it is, some thought has gone into making it look and feel borderline-plausible: the range is disguised as a collection of buildings and streets, with fake graffiti and roadsigns, and a few ‘friendlies’ for test subjects to waste their ammunition on. (It also appears to give Spooner the opportunity for an in-joke about a previous job, as a police box is spectacularly detonated at one point – rumour suggests this is the actual TARDIS exterior from the Amicus Dalek movies.)

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We don’t get to see Steed take on the machine, unfortunately (Patrick Macnee takes a bit of a back seat in this particular episode), but plenty of other characters do, and Hough’s direction of these sequences is smartly done, particularly the finale, in which Gambit has to run the gauntlet, knowing full well his opponents are effectively using live ammunition.

One of Patrick Macnee’s regular observations about The New Avengers is that he shouldn’t have been in the series at all: it would have been much better with just Gambit and Purdey as the two leads. No-one but Gareth Hunt’s bank manager would agree with that, I suspect, but it is true that the scripts often struggle to find stuff for all three regulars to do, and more often than not it’s Gambit who comes across as a bit of a spare wheel.

However, Target! is constructed so it comes across as perfectly natural for Gambit to be the one saving the day in trigger-pumping style. When it comes to dialogue scenes and natural charisma, pairing Hunt with Macnee is like putting a cigarette lighter next to a blowtorch, but he always handles himself perfectly well in action sequences, especially ones as well-directed as those here.

Target! isn’t a┬áreally great piece of TV, but then The New Avengers isn’t a truly great series anyway: though it’s certainly a competent and fun one. But this is a solidly assembled, highly entertaining episode, with lots to enjoy going on, even if some of it is in the casting (sitcom favourite Barron is a surprisingly effective villain, while playing his sidekick is TV and film fantasy stalwart Deep Roy, making his screen debut). It’s been said that the only watchable sequence from the 1998 Avengers movie was based on this episode – which is, to be honest, too faint praise. This is the kind of thing nobody really does any more, which I think is rather a shame.

 

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