Guest Essays
Page 7 of 14

THE "HOAX" EPISODES

During the color series of the Emma Peel era, writer Philip Levene had a consistent theme with a number of his stories, the central idea being the villains committing their crimes in conjunction with conning the heroes via a fantastic situation. Although the quality varies, Levene was able to adapt this theme in four different scripts with very distinct scenarios and motivations.

The first episode, "From Venus With Love," manages a solid, fairly witty story that successfully deceives the viewer. We have a story of revenge with the premise of using invading aliens as a smoke screen. Even if one feels from the start that this is a con, how the hoax is being pulled off is not certain or completely obvious until the final block. Despite the fact that the description of the properties of a laser may be considered questionable, the hints and elements are kept consistent to the final explanation. What's nice is the way Dr. Primble is revealed as the villain. It is neatly segued into the explanation of the hoax and comes as a bit of a surprise. The only anachronistic thing about the script is when our heroes talk about the veracity of the alleged aliens. I find it strange Mrs. Peel dodging the question about whether she believes in alien life considering she was controlled by one in the previous season.

The next story, "Escape in Time," is generally a fan favorite and contains a great deal of wit. Unfortunately it is the wit that is the main strength of this episode. It is the weakest in dealing with its premise. Here the plot is basically a pure confidence game with its typical motive of greed. It is clear from almost the beginning, this is a con game. While Levene writes scenes to fool our heroes about the time machine, the scenes designed to fool the audience, in hindsight, are not well constructed compared to other episodes. The bulk of the story occurs at Mackidockie Street. While this offers a chance for some very effective humor, it doesn't allow time to create the illusion of the con to the viewer. And while the heroes provide a clean and credible explanation at the end, there are no legitimate hints to the solution planted in the story as in the other scripts. More important is the major contradiction that occurs early in the show. Note the fellow agent of Steed who is stabbed yet makes it back to the present to contact him. That, in itself, lets the viewer know immediately it's a sham. This also presents a logistical problem concerning the main villain, Tyson. On one level, he's obviously a very good conman with a vast and effective organization. Yet it seems silly, wasteful, and almost stupid to knock out any intruders or infiltrators and go through the time travel charade when he's just going to kill them anyway. In fact, there doesn't seem any point to the Matthew guise to interrogate Mrs. Peel. He knows she's a fraud, so why bother?

The third installment, "The See-Through Man," while not as entertaining as the others, does tackle it's hoax fairly well. Here we have the enemy agents trying to trick the British into believing in an invisibility formula with the desired end result that the government will waste valuable resources to reproduce a fraudulent device. The scheme is subtle and insidious and reflective of the cold war situation between the major political powers. Thus we have a plot that's a little thematically reminiscent of the Gale series. Interestingly, the audience is given the obligatory clue in a way that's both subtle and blunt and could be mistaken as a script inconsistency. Note that Quimby says the agents paid him 100,000, while Brodney remarks and complains that 250,000 was used. We see at the end that the difference was used for electronics equipment. Steed still comments that they spent 100,000 but, of course, this would be consistent since he'd have no way of knowing the full amount they invested in the project.

The fourth show, "Death's Door," is the strongest episode of the four. Here we are presented a sharp, well-paced story of political sabotage wrapped up in a powerfully eerie and exciting package. The hoax, while fantastic, is shown to be easy to execute with a sufficiently large organization. And although the repeated moments of people getting stung with anesthetic clue viewers in from almost the beginning that the premonitions are rigged, it does not hinder the overall episode. This is partly due to Sydney Hayers efforts, probably the best interpreter of Levene's works. The dream sequences he shot are both striking and disorientating, reminiscent of the old surrealists' silent films from the 20's. The scene where Steed is fighting for his life is harrowing. These absorbing moments, along with the faster pacing and plotting of the second half of the episode, help to detract the viewers' attention from the one glaring clue presented in Melford's first dream in the second block. From all that happens during the second half of the show, it's easy to forget the character of Stapley shows up in the dream. Finally, it is interesting how Levene wraps up the story by having Stapley crushed by the chandelier. It finishes the episode on an appropriately, albeit tragically, ironic note.

With thanks to Jonathan Woods for the banner logo.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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