For those unfamiliar with the Blackman series, I'm afraid this does look rather like an am-dram production of the X-Files shot on a faulty camcorder.
However, underneath the murky picture quality and less-than-brilliant sound lurks an innovatory slice of early 60s television boasting not only avant-garde direction but also what was originally intended as the introduction of the ground-breaking Catherine Gale.
Despite the handicap of working "as live", Peter Hammond directs with great flair in composing shots. Elsewhere his penchant for "shooting through" objects has left the settings looking overly staged and false, but Terry Green's robust production design (especially in Gallion's lavish lair) largely negates this.
In the live and "as live" shows, the actors were put in such a precarious position that they should be applauded for producing anything resembling a performance at all. So hats off to Peter Arne for his charismatic turn as the (literally!) diabolical mastermind.
Though elsewhere it has been criticised, the weird music makes a refreshing change from the same old stuff we hear in the other Blackman episodes. More than anything (as it was meant to be her introduction) its Honor's show. In fact, she doesn't need Steed at all! She doesn't even need rescuing from (the standard damsel in distress situation of) being sacrificed at a pagan altar—an early example of The Avengers casually turning a cliché on its head.
One of Blackman's best.
Having decided to watch all available episodes in order, I reach one I've seen many times. Planned as Cathy's introductory episode, with Cathy calling steed "Mr Steed" on occasion, this never quite gels. On the plus side, Cathy seems much harder-edged than in the previously-shot "Death Dispatch", giving Steed's flirting short shrift. Oddly for an anthropologist, she also keeps insisting on the efficacy of black magic, but Steed just wants to concentrate on who killed Neville (the coven's first victim). This is where The Avengers dives into the deep end of fantasy — sorcery and voodoo genuinely work in Avengerland, it appears, despite the bizarre mix of different magic traditions shown here.
The Avenged?: Neville staggers around with one expression regardless of what happens to him, then drops dead of a heart attack. It's almost a relief. His housekeeper is strangled, then found later by Cathy in a quite touching moment: Cathy simply says "she's lost a shoe."
Diabolical Masterminds?: Yes, literally! Peter Arne as the titular warlock is irritatingly laid-back, sleepwalking through it all with a drawling monotone. John Hollis as the sinister bald murderer Markel has to supply all the energy and threat. Oddly, the rushed epilogue reveals that Gallion was working for his apparent henchman, the bland unimpressive Mogam, which makes no sense and isn't even dramatically satisfying. I had to watch it twice before I knew he was there!
The Avengers?: Steed and Cathy have a witty rendezvous — "Poor Yorick," says Steed, inspecting one of the museum's skulls, "I knew him well you know. Fellow of infinite jest." Cathy responds with, "More than can be said for you." Ouch! Later, Cathy grapples Steed to the floor and kneels on his arm — ouch again! One-Ten is needlessly liverish, squinting at his ropey beer and so curmudgeonly when he complains that the barmaid almost bursts out laughing. The action is becoming Cathy's province: the only fight Steed wins is when he chloroforms a guard dog. Delightfully, he spends the rest of the tale, and the epilogue, with a very frayed sleeve! (At least it gives Cathy something to fiddle with.)
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat"?: Cathy seems unusually angry at Steed when she drops him home (he's the worse for drink), but he still attempts to get her into his flat. Luckily Cathy is having none of it and wants to concentrate on the case in hand. It's certainly pleasing that she has begun to be treated as an equal of Steed by the production team. It might be hinted that Cathy is jealous of Steed's 'palmistry' on the barmaid; she remarks on it acidly, but I think it's more that she's merely tired of his immature flirting.
"Bizarre"?: If not actual deviltry, psychokinesis of some kind is at work. And some very daring dancing!! It's nice to know that in Avengerland, all male coven members wear a smart shirt and tie underneath their cowled robes. Though Gallion's collar is unbuttoned, the sure sign of a cad.
Some misguided merging of voodoo with European demonology, but at least they differentiate spiritualism and parapsychology from devil-worship. A few fluffs (Gallion's clumsy posturing causing his clipboard to vault off a chair; the dog that is docile when needed to bristle in an aggressive close-up, but which only starts barking when the cameras move onto the next scene, leading to a hilariously loud off-camera "Shhh!" from its keeper whilst the villains try to conspire...) and irritating bits (whiny music, the mishandling of the boxed snake, the twirly voodoo candy-wrapper).
Two bowlers for effort. The real magic was yet to come.
Plot: Good. The idea of black magic being used in the world of espionage was good.
Humour: Good. I enjoyed Steed's flirting with the barmaid, and Cathy's reaction to it.
Direction: Good. A heavy use of fade-ins and fade-outs. Great editing. Very good considering they were filming as live.
Acting: Very Good. It was a great pleasure to see Peter Arne again. It was also nice to see John Hollis.
Music: Good. A good piece plays when Neville arrives at Gallion's. I liked the music during the black magic rituals also.
Miscellaneous: So the occult books are kept in the Fossil Room of the museum? The black magic ritual dances were sometimes funny, but they did add a nice dramatic and erotic touch. Steed and Cathy would have noticed the body of Mrs. Dunning earlier. Some good special effects considering the time period; the only one I didn't like was the spinning white thing.
Overall Rating: 6/10
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