Posts Tagged ‘The Danger Makers’

As I have mentioned before, as we get towards the close of The Avengers‘ fourth season, there is perhaps the faintest sense of things becoming a tiny bit formulaic – but with a formula as good as this one, where’s the problem? Roger Marshall’s The Danger Makers opens with a lone motorcyclist doing dangerous high-speed runs across a rural junction (apparently this was known as ‘chicken-running’). Soon enough the inevitable happens, and he bounces his bike off the side of a lorry, bringing his biker career to a permanent halt. But rather than someone young and foolish, the dead rider turns out to be a distinguished, white-haired army general, wearing a black rose on his uniform…

And not the first senior military figure to die or be seriously injured in unusual circumstances recently – or so Steed tells Mrs Peel. There seems to have been quite a crop of them doing insanely hazardous things – chicken-running, climbing St Paul’s Cathedral, crossing the Atlantic in a canoe, and so on. What on earth is going on? Steed’s investigations take him to the most recent victim’s posting, where he meets his colleague Major Robertson (Nigel Davenport), who speaks in glowing terms of the dead man. So do the junior officers, but they also report the general was prone to doing odd things – swimming the local reservoir in full battle-dress, for instance.

We the audience are already aware that Robertson has some odd personal habits – playing Russian roulette by himself, likewise playing chicken with live grenades – so it is not really a surprise when he receives orders (unofficially) to silence one of the few survivors of these acts of military eccentricity. This he does – leaving the four white feathers of cowardice on the body…

Steed receives a clue from a soon-to-be-killed minor character (there’s that formula again) that leads him to Manton House, a military museum (run by a sort of low-key version of the crazed innocent stock character, played by Fabia Drake this week) and home to the Danger Makers, a society of black-rose-wearing military types longing to place themselves in mortal jeopardy (they are quite disgusted by the push-button nature of modern warfare), all with Roman and Greek-type codenames (Mercury, Pegasus, Apollo, etc). On infiltrating the group Steed assigns himself the nickname Bacchus (presumably from his aspect as god of wine rather than religious ecstasy). ‘I might have guessed,’ says Emma, on hearing of this. But who is the mastermind behind the Danger Makers and what’s he up to?

Nothing especially distinguished about the first half, but the home straight of the episode is filled with cracking scenes – Emma tries to join the club, and has to play a version of one of those wire loop games, but on a massive scale, and with lethal voltage running through the wires. There’s another big sword fight between our heroes and the club members – everyone grabbing weapons off the walls, and of course Steed ends up with a feather duster. Best of all is what I think is one of the definitive Steed scenes, in which he starts off hand-cuffed to the wall and awaiting his executioner. Just how he persuades Robertson to uncuff him and hand over his gun I will not reveal (go and watch the episode), but it is brillantly written and performed by Macnee and Davenport and very, very funny. The revelation of the identity of this week’s diabolical mastermind is hardly a surprise (there’s only really one candidate) but this hardly spoils another very entertaining episode.

Next up is Brian Clemens’ A Touch of Brimstone, which I find I have already reviewed at length, upon the occasion of its writer’s passing in 2015. Like The Danger Makers, it features a secret society, someone taking a fancy to Mrs Peel, and a rousing climax with Steed getting a great character moment and a big sword-fight: but the overall impression is quite different, mainly due to the highly kinky atmosphere the episode generates. Looking back I see that past-me was pretty much on the ball, although he didn’t clock the unusually dominant role given to the villain, who comes across almost a malevolent anti-Steed. Nevertheless an iconic and justly famous episode.

Clemens turns in two on the trot with What the Butler Saw, which makes up for the lack of mystery in the previous episode by having a diabolical mastermind whose identity is almost impossible to guess (largely because it doesn’t make a great deal of sense). After a hook scene with said (unseen) mastermind listening to a complaint from an unhappy underling, then summoning his own butler (who brings a gun to dispose of the malcontent), the episode opens with Steed getting a tip-off that someone is selling secrets to the Other Side – naturally, his source is bumped off seconds later.

The three possible candidates are an admiral, a brigadier and a group-captain, which is the cue for one of the most absurd sequences in the whole of The Avengers, as Steed adopts a different identity to check up on each one. It’s largely the same scene played out three times, except for variation’s in Steed’s cover, as he visits the admiral (Steed is Commander Red, with an impressive beard, arriving by motor launch), the brigadier (Major White, pencil moustache, arriving by armoured car) and the group-captain (Squadron-Leader Blue, handlebar moustache, arriving by helicopter). It seems the admiral likes to gamble, the brigadier likes to drink, and the group-captain likes girls. I leave it to the attentive reader to guess which of the suspects he asks Mrs Peel to get closer to.

Meanwhile, Steed has noticed that two of the possible traitors have butlers who came from the same place – a school for butlers and gentlemens’ gentlemen (motto: ‘They also serve who also stand and wait’), mostly run by Thorley Walters (a fine and very watchable actor, not much remembered these days) – an odd coincidence is that as well as Walters (who played one of Dracula’s thralls in Dracula: Prince of Darkness), the cast also contains Ewan Hooper (who played Dracula’s thrall in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave). It’s a small (or possibly thrall) world sometimes.

There is indeed a sliver of plot buried here somewhere about secrets being stolen and sold on, but this is the most blatant Maguffin: the episode is almost a pure comedy, and not a particularly black one, either. From Steed’s facial hair and silly disguises, we move on to Mrs Peel’s unorthodox manner of attracting her target’s attention, and the highlight of the episode follows, as she has to contend with the over-amorous gentleman (a fun performance by Denis Quilley) with Steed in the vicinity as his new butler. This is before we even get to the scene depicting security arrangements for the three suspects’ secret meetings (they climb into a plastic sack together) or Steed battling (or possibly butling) with an enemy domestic played by John le Mesurier. All the jokes land, but the action sequences are decent too, and the results are almost wholly joyous.

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