Dirtier by the Dozen
This episode in my view is actually quite good. The pace is so fast and absorbing that you never question it's simplicity. The basic mercenary plot around which the action revolves is very typical of a multi-million dollar action movie, but this episode is done for far less money and is much more satisfying. It's quite unusual for a storyline to focus more on Gambit and Purdey, so perhaps this is what makes it all the more enjoyable. Both Gambit and Purdey react well to being in the limelight, with the plot more or less revolving round Gambit, who starts the plot off and follows it to its conclusion.
Writer Brian Clemens uses one of his recurring New Avengers clichés—a deserted military base—and it really complements the action with Tara-esque weirdness. My only grumble is that we don't get more of the opening sequence in the base. Where this really comes up tops is in the performance stakes. As Mad Jack Miller, John Castle gives a wonderful soldier-gone-bad performance—he has a terrorist look about him and is believable as the Colonel. Ballard Berekley gives a tremendous over-the-top performance as Purdey's dotty military uncle; it's a really pity that Steed doesn't get to meet him, as we would have some great scenes.
It's quite good to see Alun Armstrong in the programme. He plays the sympathetic soldier very well; my only quibble is, how did he get in the 19th Commando? There are other loopholes in the plot, such as, if the 19th commandos are all the dropouts and lay-abouts, how come they are an efficient mercenary unit? Why place them under the command of Mad Miller?
Enough about the silly loopholes. It is very rare for The Avengers to handle this sort of plot at all. It perhaps would be more appropriate as an episode of Clemen's Professionals, being as it is mindless fun.
This really is a Gambit story, where we learn that he is efficient and really doesn't need Purdey as all. Gareth Hunt gives one his best performances—until we get to the Irish accent. That accent belongs in "Dead On Course," not a fun runaround like this. It's a pity that Gambit was turned into a comic figure in the second season. By now everyone is sick of the Gambit and Purdey relationship and is looking for something else. Gambit solo or in partnership with Steed would make more interesting viewing.
As always, Sidney Hayers is in top directing form with fast edits and camerawork to keep the viewer involved. The sequence with Gambit and Purdey escaping from the military base is superbly executed.
Steed's involvement, or rather lack thereof, suits this episode because Steed wouldn't fit in with the murky world of mercenaries, although it is fun when we see his toy soldier collection.
Overall this is fun episode which works because the action moves too quickly for us to think hard about it. It may be in the wrong series (as the Professionals episode "Stake-Out," which would have made a great New Avengers), but this a real load of fun.
Dirtier by the Dozen
It's a Scot's accent, Captain, but not as we know it! By now the scriptwriters should have known better than to let Gareth attempt regional accents. Thankfully they did after this dire effort. What starts as an interesting premise soon devolves into a dull, routine runaround with so many pointless features and puns that it makes me yearn for a good old fashioned gritty episode like "Invasion of the Earthmen"!
We learn nothing new about the characters, apart from Purdey carrying on her feminine habits because she knew she was liberated, Steed has a rare toy soldier collection, and Prudey and Gambit are able to talk in whistles. There's a nice little scene with Steed on the test range, and a touch of humour with Purdey taking his call from there, but really the only character that properly gets to do anything is Gambit, and that's only due to the rough-and-tumble nature of the episode. Purdey fares particularly badly getting herself trapped in two Tara-like "you really should have seen that one coming" situations, and being forced to wear that awful hat!
The direction doesn't help, here, either. We've already seen what Hayers can do, but the only thing that helps is the setting—the background of the range looks so bleak in and desolate. The direction is flat and tepid and the pace is practically non-existent.
Where the real strengths lie is in the guest roles. Ballard Berkley takes the Major from Fawlty Towers into overdrive and provides a welcome bit of lightness. A young Alun Armstrong shows the talent that would take him to better places in a moving and well-played role as the torn Private Harris. You'd like to say better about Stephen Moore's Prentice (it's nice to see him away from the put-upon middle class middle-aged man he seems to get lumbered with these days), but why does his character have the need to get stone cold drunk?
We also have an excellent example of John Castle stealing the show in what was an otherwise mediocre programme. He has a great screen presence, and plays the psychopath/megalomaniac with real feeling. He manages to stay within bounds during the two Professionals episodes in which he is featured, but in Robocop 3 and The New Professionals, as here, he made the regulars and stars look as though they were merely guesting on their own show. Shaun Curry seems to have been stuck in Clemens' eyes too; he got lumbered with a bit part in the Professionals episode "The Madness of Mickey Hamilton" as—you've guessed it—a thoroughly dislikeable army Sergeant.
Wish I could say better, but I can't.
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