Work of a Nation

My feet are now back to looking like feet and not itchy any more… however I do seem to keep getting cold feet, literally. I wonder what the cause of that is, plus the last few nights I have been getting really bad heart burn around 4am.

I watched the Avengers episode “Take-Over” last week which holds the distinction of being the second to last episode made and it is a bit of an oddity in many ways. The script was written by the series script editor Terry Nation, who I believe early in his career had a minor success with some robots he created for a show, and seems almost as if he was writing against the grain he had set. The Tara King season is well known for being very larger then life in execution and scripting after a bit of a rough start (behind the scenes issues which never really went away) so it is interesting to see that the last batch of episodes produced seem to tone it down somewhat and this episode in particular has a very grim tone. The opening sequence is virtually superfluous to the main episode and is very quiet and understated with barely a line of dialogue spoken (I’m not sure ‘urgh’ counts as dialogue) and features two of the episodes Villains having a spot of car trouble and while they are fixing it, a man who I assume is supposed to be their prisoner attempts to crawl away only to be killed by means-as-yet-unknown. The sequence is shot with some really unusual camera angles with the focus often being the car with the actors at the end of the frame and later when the man is killed the focus is on them lighting their celebratory cigars which establishes the trigger of the weapon but at this stage it is unclear as to how it works. The Avengers is famed for the high level of music in the filmed seasons (as opposed to the Videotaped era which was recorded pretty much as-live) and this episode jars because the score is very minimal and it is not really very tuneful.

Now, like James Bond, the secret to a successful Avengers is the having a good memorable villain and Take-Over gives us a quartet of memorable villains: Fenton Grenville, Circe Bishop, Sexton and Lomax. Grenville is the mastermind and is played by Tom Adams and he simply oozes suave and charm; Circe Bishop is the episodes main eccentric and is a wonderfully kooky almost child-like character who is reason that the death threat to the good guys and as such gives all of her scenes a feeling of unease. Is she cunningly manipulating people or is she just a bit of a whack-job? That question is never really answered and it is probably better for the episode and character that it never is.
Lomax (Keith Buckley) and Sexton (Garfield Morgan) while not as omnipresent villains are still fairly memorable, Lomax’s physical appearance suggests the character is very much a thug, but throughout he is very quite and sitting in the background, often just acting as a watchman waiting in a series of creaky chairs. Sexton who again is probably there as a bit of extra muscle for Grenville is an interesting character who casually draws a gun when necessary but spends the majority of the episode being something of a cross between a prison warden and a Butler who while keeping the hostages prisoner sets about making fine multicourse dinners and doing the house keeping. The early scenes of him bitching about the coffee not being fresh while casually taking over the house is a wonderful juxtaposition, in fact the scene where Grenville takes over the house is a masterpiece showing the suave charm and cunning of the character.

The guest cast elsewhere fails to disappoint, house owners Bill and Laura Basset (Michael Gwynn and Elizabeth Sellars) very much underplay the two hostages and it goes to their credit as the roles would be very easy to overplay and thus make the episode irritating to watch, Sellars in particular perfectly portrays a slow breakdown as the episode progresses culminating in a scene which is played parallel with a hunting scene. The other guest star is John Comer as the house hold manservant (I think, not sure why he lives with him I don’t think it is mentioned), Sgt. Groom, Comer would later go on to star in the sitcom I Didn’t Know You Cared but will probably best be known for his role as Sid, the Café Owner and Hen-pecked husband of Ivy in the long running Yorkshire based sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, but here he is much more of a solid firm presence but alas has a short amount of screen-time. He shows himself to be resourceful in attempting to escape and reach the local village to raise help but it proves to be his undoing as he proves to the episodes second death. Wisely, the director chooses to have the actual death happen off screen and once again we are bought to a close up Grenville’s lighter and have the body dragged in by Lomax and Sexton. This scene is again unusual for the Avengers of this period because we once again have real emotion on screen and Tom Adams proves that great villains under-deliver their lines as he calmly explains that any attempt to escape will be met with the same fate. Also the escape plan illustrates the need for the threat to the household, Bill easily overpowered Circe and being on home-turf they could easily over power the rest… so there is this brilliant macguffin of the Phosphor bombs, these are little bombs which Circe has implanted in the throats of Groom, Bill and Laura and triggered by the lighter. This does present a small logic problem (and if you think about it the teaser sequence is completely pointless as the threat isn’t explained then and is done so minutes after Groom’s death. Perhaps the teaser sequence should have been Grenville taking over the house), in that how does Grenville distinguish between each bomb? More on this later.
You may have noticed that I haven’t really mentioned Steed and Tara King in this review, well there is a reason for this… they are barely in the episode, it feels like they are guests in their own show. Now it wasn’t unusual for the Avengers to do episodes where the primary focus of the episode would be of the Avengers, whether this was to double bank episodes or just to give the cast member a week off I am not sure, but to have minimal involvement of both is very unusual. Steed casually wanders into the plot as he is visiting his friends for Christmas. In February. Yes, you did read that right and it is one of the more sensible eccentricities of the series, the backstory is that Bill, Steed and Groom got captured when in the army and while in prison they lost track of time and made their own calendar and when rescued/released discovered they’d been celebrating Christmas in February and as a result decided they’d have their own private Christmas every year. The tension in these scenes is brilliant with a “name that tune” game loaded with tension as Steed and Grenville try to out do one another, Circe casually warns Steed “Grenville doesn’t like you, you shouldn’t have beat him” and the episode takes on yet another sinister turn with Lomax watching over Steed. The minimalistic score shows it trump hand again as Steed is creeping around the house in total silence so we hear every creak, muffled voice and footstep in the house with the music only coming in as Steed finds Groom’s body stuffed in a chest. Once again the episode goes out of its way to be different with Grenville arranging a morning shoot in order to lay a trap for Steed which he loads with “£50 pounds for the first kill of the day” and we get a very different location sequence. In the cold light of winter the scene looks very cold and in an extremely unusual move Steed is injured in a non-cartoony way and staggers around most of the third act ill, hair messed up and a wound on his head. Steed having his hair mussed up is going against the grain of the season and akin to James Bond spilling wine down his white Tuxedo in that it something which never happens. Tara equally casually wanders in on the plot as she is looking for Steed and foolishly lets herself slip when she spots Steed’s bowler hat on the hatstand and almost gets a phosphor bomb placed in her throat. The bombs of course prove to be the villain’s undoing as Steed manages to sneak back into the house, overpower Lomax and covers the bombs in glue and uses a rubber band catapult to attach them to Grenville’s face. Now this brings me back to the phosphor bomb/lighter issue, in this sequence Grenville loses his cool repeatedly screaming “Don’t touch the lighter”, the problem here is that we have already seen that the lighter activates one bomb at a time but Grenville’s panic suggests that they we will all detonate. I’m sure Lomax and Sexton would be perfectly aware of all the settings, so is this a continuity error or is it just a sign that Grenville has lost his cool? The overall aim of Grenville is that he is using the house to launch a long range missile at a conference and the house is perfectly in line and with the location with no obstructions and he needed to keep Bill and Laura alive so they could be cleared in a security check.

Direction wise, Robert Fuest (who directed the Dr. Phibes movies) gives the episode a surreal edge with some very clever visuals such as the shot of Lomax snoozing in the rocking chair through his binoculars and Grenville walking in on Steed done by a Brandy glass sliding into the foreground of the shot. There is great use of blocking as well with some perfectly composed frames and the clever idea of having the camera follow the person hiding so we as the audience can’t really see what is going on properly.

In short with its minimalist score, almost studio bound nature, dialogue driven story and low humour and action content, Take-Over feels like it is a colour throw back to the Cathy Gale era and as such makes it a very notable entry into the Tara season and has a foreshadowing of the more serious tone that would be prevalent in The New Avengers.

So what else is new? Oh yes apparently I racist because my favourite Doctor Who story is The Talons of Weng-Chiang which is Jack the Ripper/Yellow Peril homage. While levels of casual racism could be aimed at the production choices such as Li’sen Chang being played by a white actor in yellowface (it’s a damn good make-up job though) and sticking to some of the 1970s stereotypes and yellow peril story tropes, but to be called a racist for enjoying a rollocking good story is just ridiculous and borderline slander if you ask me. Oh and Chang also makes fun of 70s attitudes “I understand we all look the same,” “The bird has flow, one of use is yellow” and worth noting that John Bennett cod-Chinese voice when the character is doing his stage magician act. The man in question suggests that I should name the Ark in Space as my favourite story… which if I wanted to could say that that story has a very White of the future (and incredibly masculine one too, we only see one female member of the Ark’s crew). To crib the eighth Doctor “I love humans, always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”

I see that George Mann’s latest entry in the Ghost series has just been published, this one is called Ghosts of Empire and I will be purchasing it shortly. However I do wonder if his book the Revenant Express (the fifth Newbury and Hobbes novel) is ever going to see the light of day as it has been on the coming soon list for years now. George Mann himself said to me that the book is written and it is all down to the publisher as to when it will be released, tentatively Amazon have it as pre-order for August 2018 and that is at least the third time it has been pushed back. What is going on?

No new music purchases for the moment.

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