"Shall I drive, or will You?" "Well, this is a left-handed Swan."
Better! Much better! In fact, audiences would have been wise to stop watching here! A Canadian episode where the Canadian actors are actually good in their roles, and seem to be enjoy doing it! A genuine Avengers-style plot, and script to match! Oh, if only it could have been this good over the water all the time!
Where to start? Well, we can go with the earliest guest appearance in the bunker with the commander and his aide. A good, old-fashioned Russian from the old series who does his job, but is very much his old eccentric man to boot. I love the projection of Moscow in the background. Then there's the original-series-style dialogue: "What were we talking about?" "We weren't." "Now, last Tuesday!" and (as shopkeeper waves a hammer at Steed) "Can I help you?" (Steed reaches over and puts hammer down) "Not with that! I've hung all the pictures I need, thank you!" The violence is kept to a minimum for the Canadian episodes, too, which is nice to see—Pat getting involved in a good old-style fight (oops, butterfingers) before getting to floor him with his hat! Nice. Then there's the chase with the swans, and the old fisherman. He still hasn't worked out what's going on, but he still keeps going back for more!
There's the nice teasing of Halfhide by Purdey and Gambit, they get to share some of the flirty dialogue we haven't really seen since the first series, their chase in the swan, and a rather nice fight sequence. Sadly, Gambit makes himself look stupid with the "going to the bed of the lake" joke, although he does redeem himself with the "opposite of introvert" line. Even the Scientist is classic old Avengers, Purdey simplifying his technical description down to the "red bits."
There are some unanswered questions, though. Why on Earth is Steed driving a Land Cruiser? Why is Purdey obsessed with self-advertising? And, most importantly of all, when Gambit finds out about Forward Base, why doesn't he rush out there? He's noticeably absent in those final scenes, not even an "I'm sorry I'm late" kind of thing!
Far and away the best of the foreign episodes.
Yes, okay, a submarine (although Malachev dislikes this word) on the lake Ontario, hiding a whole community of foreign spies, seems obviously a crazy idea. But before thinking about silly things, what if we went back to the original Avengers? Wouldn't we find a correspondence between this episode and the so many eccentricities lived in Avengerland? If one watches "Forward Base" bearing this in mind, then it won't be hard to understand this a typical Avenger-ish episode in the style of those we much enjoyed during the Emma and Tara seasons. Not only for the eccentricities, but also for the attitudes and the dialogue, which may involve both Steed, Purdey and Gambit, the three of them... or even the remaining characters as well.
To begin with, a glance to the lifestyle prevailing in the "Forward Base," gives us enough elements to slide along the absurd thing. Malachev plays one of those clean-cut baddies assisted by an efficient yet submissive secretary ("Yes Sir, no Sir"), and detests the idea of being bothered while listening enthralled to Russian classic music. Moreover, he found out how to feed his nostalgia, by covering one of the windows of his bunker with a large screen, where a video of his adored and distant Moscow is continually projected. In other words, this is an enemy who's got "class." Also, it is "class" what Malachev uses when he gets rid of Halfhide, upon congratulating this latter for having disobeyed his orders.
But it's still more in store. As the "Forward Base" goes downwards and upwards with amazing recurrence, the cool local fisherman arrives to the most uproarious conclusions. "You know, there are fish nesting in the trees," he warns Steed, with an air of solemnity. Also he informs Purdey and Gambit about how far is the lake: "It's a couple of 200 yards that way... sometimes." And what to say about Purdey and Gambit running after Halfhide in those picturesque motorized swans! Or about Steed himself, riding the swan along with Gambit, in search for the place from which... ooops! supposedly Halfhide had thrown the printed circuit into the lake. Can anyone picture Steed—clad in his usual three-piece suit, bowler hat and umbrella—taking a ride in such a bizarre boat, which reminds us of those aquatic bicycles riding through the lakes in our parks? Well, if you never imagined something like that, then watch "Forward Base"! "I'm confused, which I'm usually not" Steed confesses, when Purdey and Gambit try to explain to him how Halfhide walked fully-clothed into the waters of the lake Ontario, and soon after emerged dead wearing pajamas and dressing gown. And sure, nothing can be more contrasting than an English gentleman walking along the mundane streets of Toronto, then going into a fishing shop and buying a toy fishing-kit. Or going fishing with a magnet on the top of his rod and a radio-transmitter in his basket. As it can be seen, there're quirks galore in "Forward Base."
Even the sequences showing some violence are wittily approached in this episode. Aside from the black eyes Gambit inflicts on four Canadian police officers (as he previously had in "Complex") and from the usual shooting or stabbing, Steed carries out the best violent scene. "Catch!" he grins at one of the foreign spies, while throwing to him a container in flames, which the man quickly drops to the floor. "Butterfingers!" retorts Steed and then hits the spy over the head with his steel-lined bowler, which—we have to admit it—always sounded as a blow with a frying pan.
From any point of view, "Forward Base" is a sidesplitting episode, jam-packed with humor and absurd situations that make it pretty droll, in very much the same vein as The Avengers of the 60s. Only the presence of Purdey, Gambit, the Canadian setting and the years that visibly had passed over Pat Macnee's middle-aged face, send us back to the reality of the 70s. But in style. In grand style.
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