The Last of the Cybernauts...??
People are often hard on The New Avengers and the episodes tend to suffer as a result. "The Last of the Cybernauts...?", following on from episodes of the original, seems to be a major victim of this. Okay, it isn't perfect — but it is good fun.
To start with, lets get the problems out of the way:
Firstly, though the opening car chase (with its ordinary cars) is rather "un-Avengers", it succeeds if taken on its own terms. Even the "fasten your seatbelt" shots forewarn us that its going to be a bumpy ride.
Secondly, Patrick isn't on form. Just look at his schizophrenic choice in women: the "delectable" Tricia in the pre-credits, and then someone who could be her mother for the rest.
"But I can't possibly accept him," she says when Steed presents her with the horse.
Bloody right love, he'll have dumped you by the next episode.
Plus Gwen Taylor (looking suitably embarrassed) attempts to seduce Steed as if she's in a Confessions... film. On the other hand, all of this allows the Gambit/Purdey relationship to shine. The pyjama-less Gambit scene is outstanding.
Thirdly, the fracas at J.B. Forsters (who seems to be living in some sort of mental institution, by the look of things) is marred by the fact that Gambit can out-pace the Cybernaut when he goes downstairs. Then again — monsters have to lumber, don't they? Also, does the Kane/Cybernaut reminds anyone else of Beryl Reid? Personally, I think it makes the climatic attack on Purdey less of an exciting conclusion to the Cybernaut trilogy and more of an alternative ending to The Killing of Sister George. Maybe its just me.
Weighed against this, however, is the quality of Sidney Hayers direction: precise, well crafted — qualities often lacking in other TV adventure shows. Plus we have a truly funky villain's HQ set (designed by Syd Cain) and also a villain worthy of it.
Like Edith Scob in Eyes Without a Face, much of Robert Lang's performance is conveyed through his eyes (though his menacing voice impresses, too). We are frightened of Kane in a way we are never frightened of Dr Armstrong in "The Cybernauts". Of course, Oscar Quitak's Malov has a lot to do with this as well. The way in which he is always slightly wary of his employer, even though he is largely incapacitated, makes us believe in Kane so much more.
Overall, we must see this episode as inevitable: a piece of triumphant nostalgia from Brian Clemens for getting the series back on air. Okay, Frederick Jaeger's absence is baffling for us fans but no-one else would notice.
Its fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The Last of the Cybernauts...??
On the face of it, we have a cynical attempt to spin out the old story one last time. Just as in the first two Cybernaut stories, our heroes are pitted against the evil villain working with a brilliant scientist and, after the usual obligatory round of death and destruction, it is Steed and his party who win the day. But what steals the show this time around is the inclusion of Felix Kane.
The bitter victim idea has of course been done before. What makes Robert Lang's performance so memorable is his conveyance of his intense hatred when starved of one of the actor's most fundamental tools, the face. He is helped considerably by the costume. The "bland face" contrasts so markedly with the intense rage one sees in the eyes and hears in the words and tone of voice. The irony of the "beaming face" emphasises not only his anger but also the reasons behind it. The softly-spoken charm shown in his dealings with Goff and Mason serve only to enhance the evil.
To add to this, we are treated to convincing performances from the guest cast, particularly Basil Hopkins as Professor Mason, whose fear for the safety of his daughter and horror at the sight of his master's scarred face are very real. Pearl Hackney's cameo role brings a degree of light relief. The regulars are all in fine form, with some enjoyable interplay between Purdey and Gambit, especially in the bedroom scene. Steed's treatment of the unfortunate Fitzroy stands as an attempt to recreate the tongue-in-cheek feel of the sixties episodes, but it is the set design, particularly Kane's dwelling with the huge head portraits of Steed, Gambit and Purdey, which best captures the fun of the Rigg era (with amusing results) here.
The ending is something of a letdown, to say the least. If Kane had really wanted to kill Purdey (and, from his behaviour in the rest of the episode, it's fair to assume that he did) then with "the strength of fifty men" it's not unreasonable to suggest that he should have been able to overcome one woman without making quite such a meal of it, especially considering the ease with which the Cybernauts have previously dispatched their victims. As for the plastic spray, I can only assume that they ran out of money and this was all that was lying around. It's a shame that such a promising episode should be spoilt by an ending so totally unconvincing.
All in all, we've seen it often enough before, it ends on an almighty anti-climax, but it's all done tastefully.
The Last of the Cybernauts...??
While there are some nice touches here, this is another one of the "could have been" episodes. Robert Lang's Davros-like take on Kane, going right down to identifying with the machines, is well played (showing he can do more than just High Court judges), and it's nice to have a real diabolical mastermind after the hardened opening two episodes. Another delight is Oscar Quitak's marvellously quirky Malov (ideal!). There are some nice touches with the nostalgia feel, as with Steed, trying to show that he's not getting old on his birthday, remembering the death of his friend. His face at his housekeeper's use of the Stylophone, and Purdey's nursing of Gambit ("Poor, clever little fist") are great. Purdey and Gambit get to define their "legwork" positions better in this episode, too, flirting in a more Steed/Emma way, with some nice dialogue. The hint of Purdey's jealousy of Emma's relationship with Steed, and her more than professional liking of him, is mentioned here for the first time ("I didn't mention Mrs. Emma Peel." "You never do. Tut tut.").
But... Where in Hades did Goff come from, having never even being mentioned in the earlier episodes? The humour with Fitzroy is played with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Purdey is actually scared of Kane in a badly done kind of way, and Kane drools over her in a manner that everyone else does, which, as the series wears on, one gets very tired of. Gambit's firing posture with the spray can, the plastic skin idea, and some of the excessive violence (Gambit being literally hit with a Range Rover) all serve to spoil the whole thing. The dark nostalgia could have made it interesting, but sadly we can only guess at what could have been.
The Last of the Cybernauts...??
One thing which often marks out some of Brian Clemens' programmes from others is the general disregard to continuity. In other words, there is rarely any thread throughout episodes, meaning that conceivably you could show them in any order. There have only been a few characters to appear in more than one episode—one was, unaccountably, the buffoonish Russian spy Brodny, and the other was the Cybernauts—the fearsome robotic villains that first appeared in the 1965 classic black and white episode "The Cybernauts," written by Philip Levene. In 1967, Levene resurrected them for the equally self-explanatory "Return of the Cybernauts."
It's perhaps not too much of a surprise then that these villains were brought back for The New Avengers in 1976. Whilst the past is delved into here, name-checking the past episodes, never once does this head into the sort of gratuitous reliance on continuity and the show's past that blighted some of 80s Doctor Who. Indeed, Brian Clemens even makes these references amusing. This, plus the fact that the episode is generally played seriously—"Return Of The Cybernauts" was a little too silly at times—and the mastermind is one of the scariest of the series, means this works a lot better than it could/should have despite some weak moments. It's not the best episode by any means, but it's still decent enough.
The episode starts with the team catching a double agent (after a tip-off from an agent near death bursting in on Steed's birthday party at the very beginning) Felix Kane, who ends up being burnt in his exploded car, resulting in his disfigurement. Kane does not take this lightly, and delves into the work of madcap scientist Clement Armstrong's most infamous work, the Cybernauts, a robot capable of killing with a single blow. Kane gets one of Armstrong's minions to assist his dastardly plan, and kidnaps a scientist who specialises in cybernetics. Steed meanwhile follows the trail of corpses which ultimately follows in the wake of the Cybernauts, immediately realising that his robotic foes are back. But will he work out who is, so to speak, pulling their strings?
By and large, this is an entertaining episode with reasonably little to fault. It's a little darker in tone, as I mentioned, than the original "Cybernauts" episode, and certainly more so than the colour one. However, there is some humour here, not least in Steed's stylophone prowess but best of all, the banter between Purdey and Gambit. After a slight lull in terms of witty dialogue with "The Midas Touch," Clemens redeems himself here slightly with some amusing banter, as Purdey reminds Gambit of the time she gave him a horse racing tip.
Also, the choreography is excellent. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, the biggest improvement The New Avengers has over its predecessor is the quality of the action scenes. The doubles are no longer obvious, in fact it seems to me that Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt do most of their own stunt work. Disregarding a rather stilted and sluggish car chase at the beginning, the two main fights are terrific. The first is where Gambit takes on a marauding Cybernaut on the stairs which is reasonably intricate compared to the usual fare involving these metallic monoliths. The final showdown between the reconstituted Felix Kane and Purdey is genuinely suspenseful, so therefore it's a shame this tension is almost completely nullified by the rather odd finale where Purdey, Steed and Gambit start spraying "plastic skin" at Kane which seems too daft for the rest of the episode's tone. Also, the bumbling agent that Steed unintentionally lashes out at on three separate occasions is a weak joke that is overused making it seem worse.
Steed is in a slightly melancholic mood (coming to a head in the first series with the next episode) at times, especially the opening birthday scene where he remembers the tragic events of his birthday the year before. However, the Steed of old is still evident—still upholding the chivalric traditions, with him locking a receptionist in a cupboard to prevent her from being attacked by the Cybernauts and advising his housekeeper to avoid the bedroom (one of the episode's best lines).
So, whilst this is not the very best the series has to offer, it still works well enough, with some good dialogue and action set-pieces to ensure it passes muster.
Rating: 3/5 bowlers
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