Angels of Death
Here's why this episode is so funky:
Funky thang number 1: A completely irrelevant and globetrotting set-up before the titles, almost like Bond in scale. Plus — no Gambit! (Though, okay, put your hands up if you believe for a minute that that forest is in Germany. What, no-one? I wonder why...)
Funky thang number 2: The Angels, especially 70s siren Caroline Spy Who Loved Me Munro and early 80s Janet Street-Porter impersonator Pamela Superman 3 Stephenson. Is it just me or does the "special, personal care" scene remind anyone else of a 70s British sex film? I can't shake the feeling that the nurses aren't gonna suddenly start stripping. In fact, why didn't they just go the whole hog and hire Mary Millington to play Tammy? (No, honestly, why not? They go to the trouble of getting Caroline Munro then dub all of her dialogue. Very strange.)
Funky thang number 3: Its genuinely funny. My personal favourite line is Tammy on discovering Purdey breaking into the health farm:
Funky thang number 4: Gambit. Mr Medallion Man himself gets a lot to do. Perhaps because he gets left out of the pre-title set-up, he is given lots of good scenes in return.
Angels of Death
Another one of the better episodes from the second season, this one benefits from having a great cast, even down to the smaller roles. Dinsdale Landen makes a wonderfully cool, malevolent villain (for those of you who want more of the same, check him out in the Doctor Who story, "The Curse of Fenric"), and the plot is the type that could have worked in the sixties, but in some places it lacks a bit of pace. Micheal Latimer plays his usual smooth villain type, right down to some obvious drooling over Caroline Munro (well who wouldn't?). Terrance Alexander gives his usual affection to his Avengers role, and watching the episode today, Gambit suspecting a government functionary called Peter Manderson of not being as honest as he seems is priceless! Steed even calls him Mandy! Pam Stephenson and Lyndsay Duncan, although they have little to do, demonstrate the talent to do much more.
So, down to it. We have some great scenes between Purdey and Gambit, especially when dealing with the "mechanical prig" of the computer, the list of those above suspicion ("Her obviously, and him of course!"), although calling the double-agent Coldstream is a bit too obvious for me. Gambit also gets to show a rare side of sensitivity when dealing with Steed's grief, and emotion when levelling the gun Coldstream at the end. If only things weren't ruined by his "amazing" joke at the end and routine pulling act.
Purdey is shown as the caring, sensitive girl yet again, almost pleading with Steed to give himself a break before he does himself some emotional damage, but despite yet another old friend of the week buying it, he is determined to stay on the job. In the scene where they are forced into each other's arms by the closing walls, Purdey decides to tell Steed something which adds more fuel to the smouldering fire between them, although we know from the previous episode that, even if he wanted to, it would get in the way of his job. Besides, he's had too many middle-aged women running around him for that (as we see in "Hostage")! Her fight with the girls really is quite brutal, but does hark back to the kinkiness factor of the older series (three sex symbols fighting at once?), as does Purdey being tied up to the stretching machine!
Pat again is able to give the role the bigger part and feeling that he wanted (although it could be argued that Gambit really did suffer for it in this season). His emotion at the death of Manderson and the line, "Terrible the work we do," are a revelation, not the thing you would have heard from the old Steed, perhaps not even the Steed of the first season ("House of Cards" excepted), which again is not necessarily a bad thing—how long does it take before you can't ignore the pain? His charm with the ladies is as good as ever though, the sunbed scene being definitely written for Pat, and his ability to keep his professional cool under the influence of the drugs is wonderful, too, although given the violent nature of some parts of the episode, you would have thought that the infliction of pain would have involved more than him just hitting the wall! Why he asks for a pint of beer when Purdey finds him as well is inexplicable. It's not often that you'll see Steed knocking back a frothing tankard of ale!
The direction for a first-timer is well done, but Laurie's "porno funk," first heard at the party in "The Midas Touch," returns in disco scenes that look as though they've come straight from some cheesy Pickwick compilation cover! Clemens and Freely manage to combine their resources of silliness and seriousness (there are some moments of humour in "To Catch a Rat") to come up with something better than a lot of what was left to come!
Angels of Death
"There's a traitor in the organization." Wherever did I hear something like this? Why, I can't remember...
Poor Sean Mortimer would have lost count—instead of his memory—if he had had to warn Steed about the traitors in the Ministry, ranging from just minions to officials. This key concept was inevitably transferred to The New Avengers, and as with the original series, highly imaginative means were devised to bring the Ministry to its knees. Certainly "Angels Of Death" is no exception. This time, not only was an outwardly safe health farm the cover for the villains' HQ, but the means whereby the victims were wiped out was based on the development of a psychological stress that eventually disposed of each individual as naturally as possible. This is a smart thing since, in addition, all the process required of a multi-step "conditioning," carefully arranged by Coldstream, the Ministry agent who'd been working for two years in his plan.
In spite of having created an exciting story, however, Freely and Clemens fail in keeping the surprise factor on. From the very beginning the audience finds out that Coldstream is the traitor and is able to monitor how and where the victims are processed. Only the Avengers aren't aware of the whole modus operandi. For that reason one shudders at the sight of Steed—impersonating another agent and determined to unravel the mystery within the walls of the Briantern Health Farm—being welcomed by a smiling Tammy. In the original series we'd have known right from the outset that most likely Steed would avoid such awful "treatment." But like an innocent lamb, The New Avengers' Steed irremissibly falls in the hands of Coldstream, Reresby and their team of beautiful, dependable young ladies. Luckily, no camera had the nerve to snap our dandy hero dancing that frantic disco music beneath multicolored spotlights (could anyone think of Steed doing that?); but director Day caught him brilliantly in the other two stages of the conditioning. Steed keeps his three-piece suit on to sweat under the UV lamp, and mentally goes back to his training days when he desperately tries to overcome the pain and confusion in the maze. Needless to say, Pat Macnee gives a superb performance playing a drugged, suffering Steed, whom incidentally we weren't used to see on the screen.
Many faces from the original series are present in "Angels Of Death": Terence Alexander, Michael Latimer and Dinsdale Landen among others, though obviously each looking ten years older. Pity there isn't a solid role for Purdey in this story, and the fact that she ends up stupidly captured in the health farm does not help at all to appreciate the always reliable Joanna Lumley's talent. But vindication arrives at the end, when, becoming aware of what Steed's and her own fate would be, she mutters that brilliant line: "Steed, I want to tell you something..." that unfortunately trails off. Being Steed and Purdey locked up and apparently doomed to death, Gambit has to save the day, and he certainly did! One can't help but conceive the disturbing idea of what would have happened to Purdey and Steed if Gambit hadn't arrived just in time...
With the Avengers going into a life-threatening situation, "Angels Of Death" is a significant episode to ponder. An original script, an excellent direction and outstanding performances make it one of the best New Avengers productions. And even though we're unable to find out what secret Purdey told Steed, at least we hear an extremely revealing statement coming out of her lips—that dying along with Steed would imply to die in "very good company." Indeed!
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