Posts Tagged ‘Mission to Moscow’

Episode four of the second season of The Avengers is another Eric Paice script entitled Bullseye, although it has nothing to do with sweeties or speedboats. Once again it has a very different style and structure from the other episodes so far, in both the shape of the story and how it handles the regulars.

It opens with a secretary at Andersons, a successful London company, discovering her employer dead in his office, apparently by his own hand. Not surprisingly, ructions ensue at a meeting of the shareholders, because of both this and an attempt to buy the company by a venture capitalist named Cade (Ronald Radd, an actor perhaps best known for playing the Rook in the Checkmate episode of The Prisoner) – the management and senior shareholders have vowed to fight Cade’s takeover. The motion is made, and carried, that another major shareholder should replace the dead man on the board to find out just what kind of state the company is in. This just happens to be Mrs Gale, whose stake in the firm has obligingly been bought for her by Steed.

Steed’s interest is that someone is running guns into a volatile region of Africa, and Andersons is a small-arms manufacturer – very possibly the firm that made the guns in question. But how is Cade involved in all this? One by one the other major shareholders start turning up dead in highly suspicious circumstances – is he really that determined to get control of the company? As the stock she owns grows more and more vital to the resolution of the take-over, the pressure on Cathy to solve the mystery becomes both intense and personal…

This is a solid enough episode, much more of a conventional murder-mystery than you might expect from The Avengers. There are some decent plot twists and the revelations as to what’s really been going on are quite difficult to guess, probably. Nice performance from Radd, and also from Bernard Kay, who makes the most of a relatively small role. The really distinctive thing about the episode, for me, is that this is only Honor Blackman’s third episode – in broadcast order, anyway – and it’s a very Cathy-centric story. Steed is only in a handful of scenes (all of which Patrick Macnee proceeds to steal, naturally); his role (other than contemplating the stock-market – you can tell Steed is the kind of man on first-name terms with his broker) is to provide exposition and a little light comic relief as, essentially, Cathy’s handler.

Mrs Gale herself gets to overpower another man in a fight, show off her sharpshooting prowess, hold her own with hard-headed businessmen and basically dominate the episode. As I say, it’s sound enough, provided you excuse the kind of technical flubs which many of these videotaped episodes contain, but just a little bit too conventional to really qualify as an example of The Avengers at its best. Still, one must be patient: there are many episodes yet to come, so room aplenty for outrageous quirkiness.

On we go to the next one, which is Mission to Montreal, written by Lester Powell. I believe I may have slightly facetiously given the impression that this one sees our heroes rocking up in Canada, but this is not quite the case: the story spends virtually all its time on the way to ‘the lynchpin of the English-speaking world’ (S. Holmes, 1944) but never actually gets there. It opens on the set of what looks like a slightly schlocky Gothic horror movie, where the stand-in for the leading lady is murdered by a sinister cove with a goatee and an eye-patch.

The leading lady herself (Patricia English) responds badly to this, as you might expect, and flees straight back home to, well, Canada – I say ‘straight back’, but what she actually does is get on a ship which is, through the wonders of stock footage, making the voyage. The actress in question is named Carla Berotti, and she is what you might call high-maintenance, a self-confessed hypochondriac amongst other things, making endless demands of the ship’s doctor – at least until he falls ill, at which point another of the passengers steps in: Dr Martin King (Jon Rollason), who may as well be called Dr Bland for all the charisma Rollason displays in the role.

Berotti lays a lot of lumpy character-exposition dialogue on the doc, concerning her various issues and dependencies, and I believe we are supposed to appreciate there is some sort of chemistry between the duo. Hmmm, well. Eventually King takes his leave and the ship calls in at Le Havre for supplies and additional personnel. One of whom is Steed, thank God: we are almost at the first ad break and yet still have virtually no idea of what’s going on or why we should care.

It all turns out to be about stolen microfilm which Berotti is suspected of carrying from Britain to Canada – but who are the enemy agents who have forced her to do so? Will she meet the same fate as her stand-in when her usefulness is at an end? With Dr King essentially in place as her personal physician, and Steed working undercover as a steward on the ship, at least they are well-placed should anything develop.

It’s Steed pouring his partner some champagne, but not as we know it.

I know The Decapod has a bad reputation but for me this is the first genuine dud of the second series. Roger Marshall, a key writer for the second and third series, has written very critically about the quality of the earlier scripts and this is the kind of episode that makes you think he may have had a point. It’s not just that a couple of hours after watching it you’ve forgotten most of the plot, it’s that it’s very difficult to force yourself to pay attention even while it’s on in front of you – you’re given no reason to care about anything that happens until Steed turns up, nearly a third of the way into the story.

Things are not helped by the fact that this is clearly a first-season-style script, with Steed very secondary to the doctor’s character. My understanding is that after Ian Hendry left, they still had a handful of scripts on the shelf wherein David Keel’s medical background was a crucial plot point – hence the creation of Martin King, to appear in just these stories. It can’t just be hindsight that makes Martin King and Venus Smith seem hopelessly flat and weak compared to the other regular characters of the series, although Jon Rollason really receives no favours from the manner of his introduction here. Anyway, we need not concern ourselves with this one any more. Next!

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