It's probably a myth that you can construct a half-decent Avengers story by taking one bizarre crime and one bizarre setting completely at random and mix them together. Yet many of the series' finest hours have seemingly done just that, and even as early as season 2 there have been clever and bizarre juxtapositions. This episode may be the exception that tests the rule to breaking point. Ambergris (an odd substance washed ashore from tubercular spermaceti whales, we're reliably informed, in what feels like a biology lesson), plus the dealings of shady boxing impresarios, equals the oddest couple yet. This story struggles to surmount this viewer's considerable incredulity (what I call my "What The Heck?" Factor).
Nevertheless, the much-maligned Kim Mills doesn't direct too badly. There is good lighting, scenes are more or less the right length, and he achieves a reasonable but not thrilling set of performances from his cast (Cathy is underused, her concern for her protégée could have been given better prominence). The fights are very lame—sure, Joey punches with panache, but even a non-expert like me can see the other boxers have no guard and pull their punches; and Cathy's comical tripping of Harry near the end takes an age, because they seemingly stand immobile for ever whilst presumably they shuffle into position!
The Avenged?: Who knows. The British Customs service is presumably losing out on the duty chargeable on imported ambergris. Fernand (the ever-tragic looking John Bailey) is in hock to loan sharks for his lab equipment; I'd have sympathy, but he half-heartedly assaults Steed with what looks like a bread knife. Boo! And a motorcycling boxer/sailor called "Sailor" provides a bit of fun—when Steed plants his corpse in Bailey's studio. Hmm, perhaps Steed asked for that bread knife incident!
Diabolical Masterminds?: Pancho is so nicknamed because he apparently yells at his boxers to "punch her!" Not very politically correct.
The Avengers?: Cathy's new flat is a cubist nightmare. Her sliding door also seems to let any old riffraff in... but at least she bought some sherry for Steed's uninvited visits.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: Not really. Steed gives Cathy a huge bottle of perfume, saying it's a gift from him and Her Majesty's Treasury, except HM Treasury doesn't know about it yet. Who said Steed was cheap? And he also eyes up Fernand's assistant before chuckling at the title of a brochure he has picked up—Svelte.
Bizarre?: The opening title shot is a cue-card, a rather inept painting of a Killer Whale (orca) cavorting in the surf. Steed and Cathy enjoy pulling guns on people a lot.
Season Two Overview: Thanks to Canal+, I've had the pleasure of seeing most of these for the first time, and on DVD. Overall impressions? Steed starts as a seedy mercenary, but Cathy raises his game to make him a rough diamond and immensely likeable, albeit still a rogue instead of the ethical charmer of later eras. Cathy herself very rapidly goes beyond her gimmicky image to become a three-dimensional woman, perhaps (controversy here) the most three-dimensional in any Avengers series. Possibly, she's becoming too believable for the ever-more fantastic plots... we shall see. At least Steed and Mrs Gale are hugely watchable, unlike the execrable Venus Smith. There have been some engaging supporting characters (Ronald Radd stands out), many laughs (often unintentional) and a few thoughts provoked. Even in the flabbiest installments, there have been patches of quirkiness and flair. How do they weigh up?
My top three episodes from UK season 2 (1962/63):
Honourable runner up:
The absolute dregs (avoid unless desperate):
Onwards and upwards to season three!
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