The Avengers, before they were Marvel superheroes, were light-hearted spies on British TV. Dapper agent John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, had numerous partners over the show’s run, but the most famous of these was scientific genius and martial arts expert Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg.
Now, in addition to commenting on the episodes, I’m also mentioning the notable (for me) writers and guest cast, particularly when they’ve been involved in Doctor Who. There’s no real reason for this except Doctor Who is pretty much my favorite show, and so far there seems an awful lot overlap with The Avengers.
The Girl from Auntie
This is a bit of a novelty episode of the show because it is what you might call an “Emma-lite” installment–Diana Rigg only appears briefly. She is there in the opening bit when she gets kidnapped, an then at the end where she is strangely being kept imprisoned in a giant bird cage (I guess it is done by the villains for effect, since they are auctioning her off). In spite of this limited screen time, they still manage to work in a scene where she’s wearing a bikini under a fur coat, so the producers had obvious priorities. That’s all a bit stupid, but there’s a pretty awesome moment in the climax where Emma escapes her imprisonment by bending the bars of the cage with her bare hands and then defeating her enemy by bending them back around her enemy’s head. That was almost worth the price of admission.
Aside from that I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the episode. There is a really long sequence at the start where Steed and his new partner Georgie visit multiple people who have all just been killed by someone with a knitting needle–the victims fall out of cupboards and whatnot in the silliest ways possible. The Avengers has never shied from being goofy, but I found this tedious and it quickly evaporated my interest in the story. (And then later, in spite of this, the police allow a little old lady with a knitting needle unsupervised access to a prisoner.)
I guess part of the problem is the lack of Diana Rigg, honestly. She and Patrick Macnee have a inimitable wit and charm about them that usually overcomes the show’s more ridiculous moments. Liz Fraser as Georgie Price-Jones has some cute moments, but she’s actually kind of annoying and simply doesn’t bring the spark to the screen that the story needs. So whist the idea of an episode around Emma being replaced by an imposter is interesting in theory, the presentation isn’t particularly compelling. I also think it’s a bit strange that the villains would choose to replace Emma with an unwitting actress, rather than someone who’s in on it with them, especially since they have someone so adept with disguise on their team.
There’s also a whole bunch of bizarre scenes at a knitting club where Arkwright gets to strut around doing kitting chants. These bits are long and don’t actually contribute to the story in any meaningful way. Faring a bit better are some amusing sequences with a taxi driver, who is as confused by all of Steed’s activities as one might expect.
Bernard Cribbins plays Arkwright–he is known to fans of Doctor Who as Wilfrid Mott, who shared several adventures with the 10th Doctor. He also played police officer Tom Campbell in the theatrical film Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. Sylvia Coleridge, who played Aunt Hetty, appeared in the Fourth Doctor Doctor Who story, The Seeds of Doom, and also appeared in an episode of Blake’s 7. Maurice Browning, who plays the Taxi Driver, appeared on a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, with the First Doctor in a story that came to be known as The Daleks’ Masterplan.
The Thirteenth Hole
The Thirteenth Hole, by contrast, is a pretty typical episode of The Avengers. It takes a setting we haven’t dwelt in before, throws Steed and Mrs. Peel into it and has them be charming and share witticisms with an assortment of characters of varying strains of British, some of whom are up to no good, while one or two make inappropriate advances toward Emma. Death comes to many of them and the climax features an extended action sequence built around the unusual setting of the week.
This time, of course, it’s a golf course and its associated club. Enemy agents have built a laboratory under the 13th hole, and have timed a game for particular people there on a regular bases so they can use the time beaming secrets to a passing satellite. At the same time, they kill a bunch of people who get in their way. It’s all good fun but is full of a few sort of hokey moments. Emma fights with a dude who manages to get her tied up in the legs of a chair, for instance, and later some bad guys unconvincingly attempt to kill Emma with a golf cart. And surely there is a better way to kill someone on a golf course than putting a land-mine in their hole? In the end, the main bad guy is finally defeated, of course, with Steed knocking him out with a well-aimed golf shot, which even more over-the-top than usual.
But still there is a lot to like, including a lot of charming Steed-Peel moments. Steed, as always, just smiles his way right into every situation and right into everyone’s personal space, in order to provoke the reactions he wants. He gets to be extremely silly as he is playing golf with his sextant and little pair of scissors. Emma also gets her super-cute moments, like when she suddenly grows through the back of a broken chair like a tiger in a cage, or she acts like Steed’s fairy godmother when she is fixing his golf game. Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg really do have great rhythm and chemistry, and they pull off some fun bits of business here, such as when they are playing pick-up sticks or tiddly-winks.
Finally, out of all the guest characters, I quite liked Reed, played by Patrick Allen. He had a bit more personality than the average Avengers heavy. I also enjoyed Collins, played by Francis Matthews, who ended up being put in the regular role of “the poor guy who tries to help Emma about halfway through the story but gets killed for his efforts”.
Peter Jones (Dr. Adams) is well known to me as the voice of the Book in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…the TV series, the record albums and the original radio programs. Victor Madden (Jackson) appeared on Doctor Who in the Second Doctor serial, Fury from the Deep. Francis Matthews (Collins) was the voice of the title character in the puppet series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Donald Hewlett (Waversham) appeared in Doctor Who in the Third Doctor serial The Claws of Axos. And Richard Marner (Man on TV Screen) was Colonol von Strohm for years on ‘Allo ‘Allo.
Quick-Quick Slow Death
This was my favorite episode of the disk, partly because it took me a while to figure out what was going on. Of course, what was going on was as implausible as ever (replace ordinary people with foreign agents right in the middle of public dance??! Wha–??!) but still lots of fun. This week’s set-piece of choice is a dance studio, but unlike say The Thirteenth Hole, there’s more variety to the story so the whole thing feels more substantial. That said, the beginning did threaten to be a little tiresome with Steed and Emma visiting business after business and never quite catching up with the mysterious Mr. Peever, but there was an inventiveness to their interactions with each of those people (the bank manager, the tattoo artist, the shoe repairer, etc) that kept it all easy to watch.
The Avengers is often full of people leering at Emma Peel, but this episode has got to be one of the worst. Piedi the shoe-repair guy is very much in her personal space (though mainly interested in her feet) and Bracewell practically assaults her in the locker room. It is extremely gratifying to see her crush his hands in the locker.
It’s interesting that the title is called Quick-Quick Slow Death, because there are a few people in it die very slowly. Both Fehr and the tattoo artist get shot, and both die really slowly. They each have time, after being shot, to deliver long messages. Fehr does so over the phone while the tattoo artist actually manages to tattoo a really long message about his murderer into the side of a sausage. Also oddly, Steed shows up at his business for no real reason in the plot other than to just discover his body and that message.
There are a few other strange things in the episode. Some of the murders in the episode are deliberately shown in a way to keep the culprit a secret, but then a moment later the guilty party–who is the one we’d all have assumed anyway–gives it away in dialogue. Also, there’s a bit of a big deal made about the identity of a secret “commander” behind all the villainy, but the revelation really amounts to nothing, as the answer is not all that surprising. Finally, there’s this one neat scene where Steed is almost killed when he walks through a door to a non-existent room in an office building. It’s pretty cool and very surprising. But it’s also strange, as the room is #301, but on the 9th floor. Is that normal?
On the positive note, though, there is some great dialogue in this episode, which was a highlight. Talking about her ability as a dancer, Emma says that her father entertained extensively, and that she had to dance with a preponderance of heavy men, and it was important that she made them feel they could dance. Later, Steed says that he is British, “by birth, nature and inclination.” And at the end, Emma wraps it all up by saying to Steed, “Did you know that they just arrested a band leader for being drunk in charge of a pram containing a man in full evening dress with a plaster cast on his head, a tattoo on his right wrist clutching a diploma in one hand and a garlic sausage in the other?”
As a final note, at one point in the episode it’s said that Emma is quite tall, which she appears to be compared to many of the characters. According to the internet, Diana Rigg was 5′ 8 1/2″.
This episode is the second to be written by Robert Banks Stewart, who wrote two stories for Doctor Who for the Fourth Doctor: Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. John Woodnutt was actually in Terror of the Zygons, and was also in three other Doctor Who stories— Spearhead from Space and Frontier in Spacewith the Third Doctor, and Keeper of Traken with the Fourth. Eunice Gayson plays Lucillle Banks–she’s known for being Sylvia Trench in the first couple of James Bond films. Alan Gerrard (Fintry) was in a Doctor Who story featuring the Second Doctor, The Dominators. Graham Armitage (Huggins) was also in a Second Doctor story, The Macra Terror. Michael Peake (Willi Fehr) played in a First Doctor Doctor Who serial, The Romans.