The Golden Eggs
Cathy (menacing): "Are you in the market for a handful of death?" This is as exciting as any early 60s TV and deserves a detailed viewing, as every element of production stretches as-live videotaped drama beyond its usual limits. Oddly, I wasn't that keen on it when I first watched it on murky VHS out of context. Seeing it on DVD, in amongst season 2, it's finer points become obvious.
Production: As well as the usual notable Hammond shots (in cracked mirrors, etc.), there's innovative fade-cutting between two simultaneous scenes (Cathy/Dr Ashe and Redfern). As soon as this story ended, I wanted to watch it again. Douglas James' designs are the best seen in the series so far. The multi-level sets are shown off at every angle, very three-dimensional, varied, cleverly lit, interesting — tons of scope for Peter Hammond to pile on the atmosphere and squeeze every last ounce of possibility. Notable sets include... well, all the main ones: the house/scrap yard, conservatory/lab, dungeon-cellar. Most of them see a couple of short but enjoyable scuffles (maintaining plot momentum). Honor Blackman's acting is flawless, as the stories now often make hers the pivotal role; Hammond also gives her some dynamic stuff to do (not merely fights, but just being intense and eye-catching, a kind of acting without speaking — didn't they used to call it "smouldering"?). It's often clear that she is inarguably movie star material. Somehow, she's magnetic.
The Avenged?: Europe's number one safe-breaker. Steed identifies his incinerated remains by the tungsten-carbide drill bits he always wore as a lucky charm. He tangled with "Virus Verity Prime... the world's most recent killer". Cathy is sickened: "Mass murder at bargain prices." The biological warfare angle is more relevant today than ever.
Diabolical Masterminds?: "It's as well to make sure, other wise you feel such a fool" as Redfern checks the eggs actually are in their box. A nice nod to Steed's trick in "Mr Teddy Bear", perhaps. Redfern is an amoral dilettante, obsessed with clockwork music-boxes. Peter Arne redeems himself from "Warlock"s strained Gallion, because here his smooth underplaying suits the role — controlling each strand of his criminal web with a minimum of effort and drawled threats. He's still not 100% convincing, but there's a tangible feeling of menace, of a psychopath at work.
Epic?: It nearest rival to the title of masterpiece of this season (so far) is "Mr Teddy Bear," which starts as a slow-burner then builds to an involving climax when the real mastermind appeared. This episode starts on a high and grips consistently all the way through. Compared to the previous episode produced (a Venus Smith travesty) it is like watching another series entirely. This has the zest of people who care about what they're doing.
The Avengers?: Cathy, paintbrush gripped between her teeth, is restoring broken pottery. She greets Steed with a venomous "If you jog this table, I'll kill you." Immediately after dismissing as fallacy the identification of burnt remains victims from dental records, Steed harangues Cathy from his balcony whilst brushing his teeth. Later, Steed moans that she's left only an empty yogurt carton and a cream cracker, so departs to the delicatessen at the crucial moment, missing the final showdown!
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: Many moments to savour — almost every exchange between Cathy and Steed has an edgy fizz. She's borrowing his flat, filling it with hatboxes and archaeology. It seems she's between apartments, but not before the audience is teased with wondering quite how they come to be breakfasting together. They quibble like a married couple whilst he cuts out the cowboy cutouts from a packet of "Wild West Cornflakes" — Cathy points out that people normally empty the packet first. Mind you, the table-manners of both are atrocious!
Bizarre?: There's a well-judged film insert of the ambulance's road accident which climaxes Act One. Although implausible (the road is well-lit by headlights and clear, so Hillier's fake headlights trick would be seen a mile off), the actual impact is suggested with a stylistic verve that pulls it off. The studio cast put a lot of effort into their performances: the virus infection is chillingly suggested, but the most tense moment for me was wondering if Cathy's finger was going to be bitten by Dr Ashe's guinea pigs! Many parts of this episode teeter on the threshold of Emma-era greatness.
The telerecording is crisp as crisp can be and the film transfer pretty perfect. Crystal-clear DVD sound and a lack of goofs, coupled with the top-notch design, acting, direction and pacing make this an excellent introduction to the Cathy stories. A high point of season 2, and Cathy saves the day, virtually solo.
"All warfare is biological." Loses half-a-bowler for its gruesome premise. Three-point-five out of four bowlers, this is not uplifting escapism, and certainly not for the squeamish.
The Golden Eggs
Plot: Excellent. Bacteriological warfare is still a frightening issue today, so this plot really puts The Avengers ahead of its time. The story has great pacing, unlike many of the earlier Cathy Gale episodes which mostly drag on.
Humour: OK. "In the first place, teeth aren't all that indestructible, in the second place, not everybody's got 'em, and in the third, most dentists wouldn't recognize their own teeth if you handed them to them on a plate."
Acting: Very Good. Nice to see the wonderful Peter Arne again, this time playing a good diabolical mastermind. Irene Bradshaw gives an excellent, edgy performance.
Music: Good. The normal Dankworth fare.
Miscellaneous: Look out for possibly the easiest escape in the series, when Cathy is locked up in a room where she can turn off the power! My compliant is that Steed doesn't do much in this episode.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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