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Posts Tagged ‘Linda Thorson’

To start with today, a rare glimpse behind the curtain to where the magic happens. As regular visitors may have noticed, I recently watched the complete Babylon 5 – 110 episodes of the main show, another 13 of the spin-off, plus seven TV movies of various flavours. This ended up taking eight months, and to say this was longer than expected is a bit of an understatement. Still, I enjoyed it, and it filled some of the gap in my life which was left at the conclusion of my Diploma course (as well as arguably being a slightly more worthwhile undertaking, but that’s just the state of my career for you).

And I find I am missing it – not the watching of the DVDs, but the thinking about the episodes and the writing of the blog. I suppose the logical thing to do is just to write more full Doctor Who reviews, but I’m sort of half-way through a project in that department at the moment and I do like to mix things up a bit.

On the other hand, I don’t want to launch into something quite so time-consuming and comprehensive quite so soon (which is not to say that doing the same thing for the original Survivors, in particular, doesn’t appeal), which sort of limits me to doing odd episodes here or there. I suppose the issue I’m grappling with is whether or not to write about every old TV show I watch on DVD, and if not, how to decide? Just the really good ones, or the really unusual ones, or the terrible ones, or what?

Oh well. For the time being I am just going to wait for the spirit to move me, which didn’t happen with the last few episodes of Hammer House of Horror, but did happen with a 1969 episode of The Avengers entitled Love All. This is from the final season of the show, which – so far as I am aware – is somewhat divisive amongst those who really like it. Everyone agrees that the two Diana Rigg seasons are brilliant, iconic TV: the question is whether the final Linda Thorson season is, in places, even better, or just rather disappointing on the whole.

Certainly season 6 is a different animal from any of its predecessors. The format has undergone a bit of a tweak, in that suave superspy Steed is no longer working with an amateur partner, but a fellow professional agent – specifically, Linda Thorson as Tara King (my dad actually prefers Linda Thorson to Diana Rigg, which given her general resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhaal and occasional penchant for thigh-flashing I can sort of understand). Also new on the scene is Steed’s boss, Mother, an obese, wheelchair-bound mastermind plated by Patrick Newell.

The general tone and look of the stories have also changed – the Rigg seasons’ regular excursions into full-on SF seem to have been curtailed, but the imagery of the series has become much more deliberately whimsical and surreal. On some levels the programme is marginally more down to Earth, but in others it’s weirder than ever.

As a result some of the Thorson episodes just come across as silly, thinly-plotted nonsense, but when they’re good, they’re really impressive. Love All is an episode full of interestingly strange ideas and good gags. It also makes more diligent use of that old ‘plain woman takes off glasses and lets down hair and is suddenly stunning’ trope than anything else in the history of the world.

As the story opens, something is afoot in the Missile Defence Department: secrets are being leaked! (Stolen secrets and high-level sleepers and double agents are very standard in The Avengers, so no-one seems inordinately bothered apart from Mother.) It quickly becomes apparent that top department bigwig Sir Rodney is to blame, as he is inadvertantly telling them to his girlfriend (Veronica Strong), who happens to be the department’s cleaning lady. The image of him passionately wooing a very plain woman in an apron with a fag hanging out of the corner of her mouth is funny, and plays to all sorts of cultural stereotypes about posh Englishmen and their fondness for women who clean.

Unfortunately, Sir Rodney is overheard by a security man, and at his girlfriend’s urging shoots him dead, eventually going on the run after a brief interview with Steed. Sir Rodney goes round to the cleaning lady’s house where he meets a stunning dolly-bird claiming to be her niece. Later, the cleaning lady herself emerges and the two drive off together – but she puts a bullet in the hapless civil servant. A remarkable transformation takes place (not all of it on-camera) as a quick tousle of the hair, some make-up and a change of stockings reveals that cleaner and dolly-bird are one and the same person.  Strong really does look very glam in her dolled-up persona; kudos to her for throwing herself into the dismal old drab side of the part as well.

Anyway, a slightly spurious trail of clues lead Steed and Tara to the offices of Casanova Ink, a small publishing house specialising in romantic fiction. Here the show seems to be satirising both Mills and Boon, publisher of thousands of this sort of title, and Barbara Cartland, the notorious romantic novelist who wrote a staggering number of books of this type (over 700, including 23 in one year – she left 160 unpublished manuscripts when she died, the sort of workrate which makes Michael Moorcock look like JD Salinger and me feel like giving up ‘serious’ writing entirely). Running the place is Patsy Rowlands, veteran of several Carry On films, which tonally we’re not a million miles away from here. The gag is that all the romance books are written by a computer, explaining the authors’ astounding productivity (shades of Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator, published some years prior to this episode being written).

Well, needless to say, it turns out that the genius behind the novel-writing computer (Terence Alexander, playing his third Avengers bad guy in as many seasons) has come up with a way of using ‘microdots’ embedded in books to send subliminal messages that cause the reader to fall helplessly in love with the next person they see. Said microdots are in heavy circulation at the department, and all the top men there are madly in love with the cleaner, allowing him to extract various juicy secrets and sell them to foreign powers.

loveall

Another gritty and demanding Avengers storyline, I think you’ll agree. Well, it gets a bit dicey near the end as the villain manages to make Tara fall in love with him and nearly persuades her to die for love (apparently Patrick Macnee cracked a rib in the scene where he saves her from jumping out of a window). However, once the obligatory poorly-doubled fisticuffs are out of the way, Steed hits upon a cunning ruse – availing himself of about two dozen of the ‘microdots’ (which actually look like watch batteries), he sticks them all over his waistcoat. All the villains promptly fall for him, allowing him to round them up and take them off to the authorities with the greatest of ease.

Well, okay, it’s not deep and it’s not remotely sensible, but it’s a proper story and not just a series of lifts from other places and quirkily stylised set pieces. It hangs together pretty well as a plot (given the standard Avengers conventions), it says some witty things about English culture and society, and in places it’s properly funny. The – er – cognitive dissonance between Veronica Strong’s drab and glam incarnations really is striking: unless you’re in on the gag it’s almost impossible to tell it’s the same person.

But the best performance award probably goes to Patrick Macnee, of course: given a scene where he’s confronted with a gang of beautiful women, all of whom are in love with him, he’s absolutely in his element and soars as only he can. Thorson is pretty good, of course, but it’s Macnee who’s basically carrying the series at this point.  A strong episode all round, then, but is this as good as the best of the Rigg episodes? I’m reluctant to say, not having watched a lot of Rigg recently: I shall have to refresh my memory. Watch this space – or, to choose a more apposite phrase, stay tuned.

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