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Posts Tagged ‘You Have Just Been Murdered’

We have a rare example of a one-and-done writer when it comes to the next episode: of The Avengers: the gentleman involved is Michael Winder, not an especially well-known name, although he did write the Westworld knock-off Welcome to Blood City and second-season Space 1999 episode Devil’s Planet. That said, he does seem to grasp the essential elements of the show fairly well – almost to the extent that one suspects some rewriting from Brian Clemens or someone else on the staff.

The episode in question is Dead Man’s Treasure, which opens with a courier being pursued through the countryside by a couple of agents of the Other Side, played by Neil McCarthy (second of three appearances) and Edwin Richfield (fifth of six – Richfield must have earned a commemorative tie or something, as he plays different bad guys in all six seasons of the show). The courier hides some important papers (they are a Maguffin) in the chest which is to be used as the prize in a combined car-rally and treasure-hunt, then stumbles off to Steed’s flat to expire (the people who take the dead bodies away must know their way there without needing to check the map).

Well, obviously, Steed and Emma are obliged to participate in the treasure hunt in order to get the papers back – the organiser (Arthur Lowe) is conveniently killed when his own driving simulator is sabotaged, before he can tell them where it is. (There’s either an implied slightly meta gag about the driving simulator being indistinguishable from the back-projection used in a lot of the driving sequences, or no-one noticed this.) Due to the rules of the event, Steed is partnered with a leggy blonde (Valerie van Ost) while Emma is navigating for a thrusting young chap played by Norman Bowler (the bad guys are in the race too). Who will be first to the treasure?

It’s lightweight stuff, with a jaunty those-wacky-Brits sort of feel about it, but there’s lots of location work and the episode is doubtless popular with classic car lovers – many shots of the various vehicles zooming about the countryside. I can see why some people find van Ost’s character rather irritating, though, and while the episode is fairly inventive in establishing its premise, just a little bit more plot wouldn’t have gone amiss. A fairly hard episode to actively dislike, though.

(Apparently Valerie van Ost was one of the numerous actresses who tested for the part of Steed’s new partner – Tara King being a name made up by Linda Thorson herself, apparently – when Diana Rigg eventually decided to leave the show. Also in the running, amongst others, were some other people I’ve heard of in varying degrees, like Jane Merrow, Gabriella Licudi, Wanda Ventham and Mary Peach. Hard to say how Valerie van Ost would have got on on a weekly basis; presumably she would have been playing a different character. But she manages to stay quite watchable in this one despite being given a potentially quite annoying role to put across.)

Philip Levene returns to contribute the next episode, You Have Just Been Murdered. One of the hallmarks of a Levene episode is that it’s often a string of variations on the same set-piece – usually a murder, but not always. This is an inventive spin on that same formula, opening with a wealthy businessman being menaced in his home by a sinister gent in a blazer – this turns out to be Simon Oates, in the first of three appearances (we should also mention he played Steed in the Avengers stage show – yes, there was such a beast), with his hair a peculiar shade of blonde quite unlike the barnet he had in Doomwatch and elsewhere. A shot rings out – but it’s a blank! The not-killer leaves a card with the episode’s title on it  and departs.

A banker friend of Steed’s gets in touch and reveals odd things are afoot in the circles of the super-rich – very wealthy men are withdrawing a million quid in cash, with no reason given. Some of them flee the country afterward. Steed and Mrs Peel quickly reach the no-brainer conclusion that it’s either blackmail or some other form of extortion, which proves to be the case, although the episode is propelled into Avengers territory by the modus operandi of the villains: diabolical mastermind Needle (George Murcell), whose hide-out is of course in a haystack, is sending Simon Oates round to not-kill his targets, the understanding being that unless they cough up with the dough, Oates will start not not-killing them and er, actually kill them instead. Needle talks to his victims through their TVs using his own private transmitter, just to make things even more ridiculous. Needle plans to become the richest man in the world and make full use of the power this will bring him…

(Never let it be said I don’t do the background research on these reviews. The world’s actual richest man in 1967, so far as I can make out, was the notoriously horrible and stingy oil tycoon John Paul Getty (the man who only coughed up his grandson’s ransom money on the understanding the kid would pay him back in instalments), who was worth about $1.2 billion. Even at the rate of two victims a week and with some decent investment advice, Needle’s looking at a good ten years or more of paying for Simon Oates’ hair dye and blazers before he can officially fulfil his ambition. You almost have to admire a villain with such a rigorous business plan.)

Where were we? Ah yes: while the episode revolves around the fairly mundane theme of extortion, the sheer silliness of how Needle and his men (a sizable gang, who must all be down for their cut: stick a few more years on the business schedule) go about it results in a story which is quite entertaining if totally preposterous. It’s worth mentioning that this is a rare example of a story where Steed and Mrs Peel really need not have turned up, as it looks very much like one of the victims (Barrie Ingham) is about to sort the situation out for himself – in the end his rather indiscriminate approach just ends up complicating the situation further. But Ingham’s performance is good, as are those of Murcell and Oates, and there’s some decent action (plus the only colour scene in which Diana Rigg appears in a black leather catsuit, apparently – Rigg didn’t like the material and stopped wearing it, which apparently led to viewers writing in to complain. Hmmm). Not of the upper bracket, but very watchable.

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