Dead Men Are Dangerous
Oh! If only the series could have maintained the standard set here, it would have run for at lot longer. By far the best episode of The New Avengers and probably one of the best of the whole Avengers series for me! I don't agree with the dark and depressing comment by David; there's a kind of rosy warm glow to this, what with Steed looking back to his past, caring for his friends, and even still caring for the villain ("How could I? He was my friend." Great closing line.) Pat's performance throughout is searing, touching, emotional; a man slightly bewildered by why anyone should want him dead so badly until his worst suspicion is confirmed (this is a far cry from all those enemy agents shaking his hand warmly and crying "Steed! My dear fellow! How good to see you!"), but determined to protect those near to him despite the cost to himself. In the end he knows that it's him and not Purdey that Mark wants, and so he can have him. The fact that Purdey is kidnapped here actually works in the context of the episode; while her being used to get at Steed is an old device in the series, as it stands you really do see the malice involved here. His stiff upper lip and grace under fire in the face of such horrifying destruction are a treat to behold, and in no other episode do we get to find out so much about Steed. The files listed by assistant are a nice little touch, too!
Crayford is a great character. You have to admit: would you like to have to live in the shadow of a man as great as Steed if you were equally ambitious? The man is seriously bitter and twisted and desperately needs to win that final victory. A man with nothing to lose is all the more dangerous. Clive Revill does have the tendency to overplay him, but the malevolence he gives to the recording where he's taunting Steed, and the scenes he shares with Pat, are wonderfully done.
Gambit doesn't get to do much here apart from crash in late (a habit which he developed as the series went on), shoot at a Lada three times (and miss, for heaven's sake!), sit around listening to Crayford's voice on tape, and drinking Scotch (like this was The Sweeney or something!), plus his obligatory pulling act. He does get to define his position with Purdey in a mutual admiration kick about the line at the fall: "We could lie like this all year." "What, and miss Christmas?" "What a way to spend Christmas!" Their banter on the cricket field around the jar is nice, too (although why they are pracitsing in what seems to be the middle of winter slightly baffles me!). The relationship has changed slightly; you no longer get the impression that Gambit's affections are returned in the same way. The one man that she really wants is the man that she isn't allowed to have—Steed.
Not even Tara tried to flirt with him as hard as Purdey does in the car on the way back from dinner (the Bentley may have gone, but at least the Jag is all right!), despite the fact that Linda overplayed the love interest. It's a credit to Jo that she managed to give this plot so much subtlety throughout the remainder of the series. She too plays a caring role, and the scenes between her and Pat show real warmth and affection. Steed and Gambit keep up their mutual admiration/father-son relationship, despite the class difference.
Sydney Hayers bows out in fine style here, Clemens surpasses himself (even he acknowledges this) and Laurie manages to give us another thoughtful score, which would contrast even more with some of the wild funk jams that would follow (check out "Trap" for more). Fantastic stuff!
Dead Men Are Dangerous
How many times have Steed's foes plotted against him, either directly or indirectly? How many times has Steed been betrayed, in some manner, by his friends? To tell the truth, many. From the old times of "The Wringer," "Man With Two Shadows" and "Too Many Christmas Trees," to the nearer times of "Game," "Split!," "They Keep Killing Steed," "Stay Tuned" and "Noon Doomsday," there's been countless diabolic masterminds or evil villains, devising the most sophisticated, foul plans for the dandy with umbrella and bowler hat. However, every time he was attacked, Steed overcame calamity with professionalism, firm determination and that touch of fine humor he seldom left aside.
Nevertheless, besides the usual nerves or headaches these sinister machinations must have implied to Steed, there's no doubt the one his "friend" Mark Crayford set up in "Dead Men Are Dangerous," would mean more than a bad time for the best agent On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Only a mastermind led by supreme hatred, and determined to break Steed once and for all, could have chosen a destruction method so related to the "Chinese torture of Death by a Thousand Cuts." By breaking Steed little by little, destroying all the things he cares for, instead of giving him a brutal beating, Crayford conceived his best way to take revenge on his old chum. Not only for Steed's bullet, that had been nearing Mark's heart for ten years, but also for being the "second best," with his name always appearing below Steed's... although only once in his life, Mark beat Steed "in his own terrain."
This alienation, that in fact gnaws the conscience of many people on this side of the screen, has been superbly shaped into another commendable Clemens-Hayers effort, and presented to the audience as a counterbalance of everything we had seen until now. In "Dead Men Are Dangerous" we have the chance to learn not only about Steed's deepest feelings, but also how he conducts himself, when he's forced to leave his tongue-in-cheek humor and English phlegm way behind. We know The New Avengers Steed never was exactly the same individual we knew through the original series. However, episodes like this, clearly reflecting the emotions and feelings of each character, unfolding the human being living inside each one of our heroes, are always most welcome. And I should say, at this point, that The New Avengers succeeded in portraying the human side of Steed, Purdey, and even Gambit.
But there're also another Steed's traits that, like never before, are brought to light in this episode. When Purdey pronounces that sincere "Wow!" before the sight of the impressive archive section, which keeps record of every move Steed made in his work for the Ministry, one becomes aware of his notable career as a secret agent. And, speaking of Purdey, one wonders if she isn't an impossible love for Steed, or a reality he refuses to admit. At first, Purdey flirts openly yet unfruitfully with Steed in his Jaguar. However, towards the end of the episode, when Steed realizes that all what he cares for is in danger, he doesn't hesitate to call Purdey to make sure she's safe and sound.
The performances are at the height of the plot. Gambit has an interesting role that, luckily, wasn't wasted like in other episodes, and Gabrielle Drake (obviously looking ten years older than she did during the times of "The Hidden Tiger") may be his best conquest. Clive Revill does not need further comments on his mature, languid character, showing frightful yet gloomy sides, typical of a man at the end of his life, who only seeks sickly revenge. The scenes shine by themselves, but the loudspeakers scene, in which Crayford tortures Steed psychologically announcing not only he got Purdey, but also Steed's final hour has arrived, is maybe the best. Watching Steed in this sequence, one cannot help but ponder over the irony that prevented Patrick Macnee going beyond that eternally-underrated-actors category.
Nonetheless, I'm sure Patrick would never take revenge like Crayford at the sight of his name below the ones of many of his fellow actors. More even, he probably would say something like Steed's closing line in "Dead Men Are Dangerous": "He desperately needed to win. I couldn't tell him. He was my friend."
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