Oh, dear. This episode really sets the tone for the rest of the John Bryce Cathy Gale second season episodes, with a couple of exceptions ("The Golden Eggs" and "The White Dwarf"). This is the ultimate in rubbish. I'm going to find in hard to review it with a fresh opinion, but here goes.
The central concept which the episode revolves around is wafer-thin and extremely dull. Unbreakable ceramic? Please... This wouldn't be too bad if we had a secondary, slightly interesting plotline to back it up. The investigation into the murder is very uninteresting and seems to have little relevance to the plot—more a device to get Steed there.
Cathy Gale's involvement is Venus-like. A string of coincidences, but without the hint of manipulation which prevailed "A Chorus of Frogs," "School for Traitors" and "Box of Tricks." I find it hard to see this episode as credible at times.
One-Ten's involvement seems out of place, as not much is made of the uses he suggests for the clay. The cast is uninspiring, with Paul Eddington looking like he isn't interested—and I don't blame him. James Bree is equally uninspiring, as is Didi Sullivan as Mara, and their characters are the ultimate in bad soap opera. The only worthwhile member of the cast is Steve Pyltas as DeGroot, with him having great fun and bringing believability to the role. But couldn't they have found a better episode for him?
The direction is bad. Very bad—so bad that Kim Mills outshines it. At one point, the camera smashes into a table. There are too many lifeless shots and no worthwhile camera angles. Even the fights are shot too far away.
In short, a dog. Half out of five.
What's so bad about this episode that it's often rated one of the worst? It has massive problems, although it has (a few) good points too.
The Avenged?: A minimum of misdirection; Cathy's friend is "only" guilty of manslaughter. That's okay, then?
Diabolical Masterminds?: There's a duo of not-so-super spies from Leipzig: de Groot and his muscle-bound henchman Blomberg. They're nicely played, but don't advance the soapy plot much. James Bree's weak-minded Miller sells out after some unconvincing jealousy over giggly airhead Mara. Mara manages to give quite an excruciating performance, especially when she is caught by Steed burgling de Groot's hotel suite.
The Avengers?: Steed and Cathy's scenes are light and fun, but with no real wit or bite. Steed is recognisably the urbane agent of later seasons. So, Cathy is also an expert (and author) on ceramics, as well as philately and anthropology. A pity we don't see her coach Steed for his undercover role.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: There are two tiers of acting in this. Allan Marling is a believable and sympathetic figure. Sadly, he is the only person who really has any motivation or involvement, with everyone else either lurking on the fringes awaiting a few scraps of storyline (Paul Eddington) or becoming increasingly hysterical and using what can politely be called "theatre acting" (i.e. exaggerated, and not the minimalist speech and movement needed for close-up work) or less politely known as ham (James Bree). There are some eye-watering "northern English" accent attempts.
Bizarre?: Often the "unbreakable ceramic" is criticised as too mundane a plot hook. Actually, it is explained twice that this material is vital for weapons development (it's frictionless, incredibly hard and perfect for missile nosecones; it's also worth £50,000 and attempted murder). Its case is not helped, though, when One-Ten refers to it proudly as unbreakable "plastic"!
The sets of the pottery workshop are tremendous. Sadly, some of the performances and production gaffes are just unforgivable, even to a generous viewer. John Bryce once said, "A year of hard work goes into making 26 episodes, and if at any time we find it boring, that boredom would quickly show through on the screen." How very true in this case!
One bowler, for those who are trying hard to make it work.
Plot: Good. Unbreakable ceramic is far-fetched, but if it was made it would be valuable. I don't think the government would make rocket nosecones out of it, though. Wouldn't that weight the tip of the rocket so much that it would crash?
Humour: OK. The part where Blomberg was making the "bang" sounds with the gun was hilarious, although unintentionally funny. I loved the bit where Steed was quite happy about being right concerning the ceramic question aimed at him.
Direction: Good. This episode had some good camera angles and editing for a second season episode. The ending fight was quite confusing though.
Acting: Good. Nice to see Paul Eddington from The Prisoner. It was also nice to see Steve Plytas again.
Music: OK. The normal Dankworth fare, although there was little music this episode.
Tag: Very Good. "All that fuss over a little piece of mud." "Would you say that was the official view of the Ceramics Research Council?" "Undoubtedly."
Miscellaneous: It had been over a month since I last watched an episode of The Avengers, so seeing any episode was a treat. There was a disturbingly big age difference between Mara Little and Miller, who calls the men at beauty contests dirty old men! He should take a look in the mirror. Richard mentions that Allen tried making a tea pot with a non-drip spout—I wish he had succeeded in that! Blomberg should have hit Steed with the hammer he had in his hands instead of his fist—well, that's Blomberg's type, all brawn, no brains. Watch out for when the camera bumps into something and it feels like an earthquake. The best line in the episode reveals much about Steed's profession and is the cold, dark part of Steed we rarely see later: "It's bad to feel sorry for people in our business, it slows you up."
Overall Rating: 4/10
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