To Catch a Rat
The main thing that makes this work is the coincidental casting of Ian Hendry, which harkens back to the very cold Cold War of Hendry-era Avengers. Old codenames, chasing 'round barns and churches, sleeper agents, listening stations, and a second clever score from Laurie, all underpin this. The direction in the countryside scenes is pleasant enough to observe. Pat re-engages himself here, and plays the whole thing with a seriousness we've not seen for a while but which is refreshing to see.
However... The pace isn't slow, it's crawling. Despite the odd touches of humour, notably the church scene, but aside from little things, such as nearly being caught with the dirty magazine, the New D reference, the "shake a leg" bit, and some fantastic interplay between Purdey and Gambit in the Range Rover, there's something decidedly wrong here. For a start, we know who the traitor is way too soon for the suspense curve to work. The trouser sewing scene is just plain embarrassing, and Cromwell's DJ makes me want to laugh every time I seen it. Judd is a capable actor, but why was he taking fashion tips from Jon Pertwee? Yet more paternal admirers for Purdey, and the scene where Cromwell is nearly duped by her feminine charms makes him look like a dirty old man!
As I said, the main thing that makes this work is Ian Hendry's inclusion, a man returning to a place that was once his, sans memory. Very appropriate. Pat in the video intro says he acts everyone off the scene, and while he sometimes might not get there, he does put in a fantastic performance. Pat getting to say "I know I'm seventeen years too late... but welcome back" is a nice line, but was it the full motivation for the episode going through in the end?
A mixed bag. My feelings on it constantly change, but overall, good. 6/10.
To Catch a Rat
Some nice but brief fights, pretty countryside, a little light nostalgia. There's nothing to take offense at in this episode, apart from Gambit's tedious "under cover" joke—at least Purdey affects a wonderful blank-but-slightly-disdainful reaction to it. The music isn't too "funked up" and has some nice cold war stings when the events in East Germany are hinted.
The Avenged?: Old agents with peculiar code-names (and even "code-nicknames" their department doesn't know). The opening sequence is good. Gunner's catcher deliberately lets him fall from a trapeze-stunt so that he cannot report to London—for some unknown reason they then put him, albeit injured, onto a ship to England!
Diabolical Masterminds?: Although we can tell who the traitor is before Purdey finds out, we do not know for certain very long beforehand, because both the prime suspects have a gammy leg. One from a break going over the wall, the other from Gunner's bullet. I thought the fact Cromwell's leg had been seen by Purdey, without any remark from her, would have meant the Minister was the White Rat.
The Avengers?: An honorary entry to guest star Ian Hendry, who is literally avenging his double-crossed colleagues from 17 years earlier. Steed's code-nickname was heard as "Nudie", so a busload of nudists was once stopped at the border while he got across fully-clothed. Did this kind of thing happen often in 1960?
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: Cromwell's "dirty old man" approach to Purdey is horrid, but would make sense if he wanted to know what Steed's department was up to. Sadly, he ruins this idea by letting a seductive Purdey get close enough to knee him in the... final scene (very painful, that). A true veteran agent holding a gun on someone never lets their target get within arm's reach. Mind you, who could blame him for wishful thinking. Purdey dresses for dinner—and is even more "Jon Pertwee" than Cromwell is, what with her velvet jacket and flamboyant silk tie.
Bizarre?: It's not entirely clear how Gunner, living rough and on the move, manages to track down all the ex-members of his unit (especially as the ministry is not returning his calls, and it had all been run on a need-to-know basis of cells anyway). It is also unusual to have an episode where some of the older men are more lecherous than Mike Gambit—the records manager hiding his naughty mag (great reflexes!), and the slimy Cromwell, for instance. There are no really amazing visuals, though the trapeze freeze-frame made me gasp, and the sight of Gunner climbing the radio mast gave me vertigo—but it makes me wonder why he wasn't fried!
It loses a bowler for Hendry and Macnee being given virtually no screen-time together. Some dreadful banter between Purdey and Gambit (whilst driving in circles) is redressed by the snarled "I hate you!" act as she flounces from the church—I love Gambit's nonplussed look, followed by an embarrassed sidle to the exit, wearing a fixed "nonchalant" grin/grimace as he pauses to donate a few coins on the collection plate. Back at the car, he appears dubious that Purdey's subterfuge will ensure the locals suspect anything out of the ordinary. Now that's undercover work!
To Catch a Rat
"To Catch A Rat" is another of these episodes that alienates purists of the original Avengers series because it is so very different in tone, despite the fact it brings the series full circle with Steed's first partner-in-crime-fighting, Ian Hendry, as the episode's guest star. This is really not akin to anything ever seen in the Emma Peel era or, with a few exceptions, the Tara King era, and is a lot darker than the Cathy Gale episodes I've witnessed. As such, it belongs to a category of 'realistic' New Avengers episodes, with "House of Cards," "Hostage," "Dead Men Are Dangerous" and "Obsession" in that the plot is fairly down to earth spy fare and human emotions are expressed. This is a direction I personally love, and wish they had gone further with.
British agent Irwin Gunner (Ian Hendry) was sent on a mission to catch the double agent in Britain's spy ring known as the "Rat." He identifies and finds this shadowy figure, but he escapes. However, Gunner wounds him. Upon reporting his findings to his brother, however, Gunner falls (with a helping hand from his brother) from a great height whilst exercising and suffers amnesia as a result. Some seventeen years later, he suffers a knock to the head and slowly remembers his identity and his original mission. As this was never fully tackled, the British Secret Service play along with Gunner, yet various attempts are made to stop him from completing his mission at last. Who is behind them, and who is this "rat?"
Yes, folks, there are no diabolical masterminds or wacky schemes here. This is the murky world of espionage and, with one brief exception, humour is fairly thin on the ground. Even Steed is alarmingly serious here, though his young charges Purdey and Gambit are slightly more jocular. As such, it's an acquired taste, and it's certainly a flawed episode, but there are some stunning moments.
This episode's success was always going to rely upon the performance of the "ratcatcher" Irwin Gunner, and it is just as well that Ian Hendry is quite superb here. His performance has real gravitas and pathos (for fans of this performance, check out the fairly similar but even more despairing Return of the Saint episode, in which Hendry plays a similar role, "Yesterday's Hero") and one cannot fail to sympathise with the character. The scene where he desperately tries to remember his identity and the mission he is on is especially well delivered, and he is likeable in the scenes where he is in a residential home with various children, but utterly ruthless when he recalls his mission.
As I mentioned, Steed is alarmingly morose and even bad tempered at times, specifically the scenes where he takes exception to his shadowy espionage past being investigated and broadcast by Purdey and Gambit, but also when attempting to persuade various political big-wigs to let Gunner do what he has to do and try and give him help after years in the wilderness. As with "House Of Cards," we get some near-the-knuckle ruminations on the job Steed does, with a scene where Steed expresses his slight irritation at having to rifle through people's pasts and questioning old friends. This character trait is taken to extremes with "Angels of Death," but that element of this older Steed's character is very much evident here. Indeed, you'd have expected him to get wearier as the years moved on.
The only let-up from the glum espionage world is a very amusing sequence where Gambit and Purdey burst in on a church and innocent old ladies tending to the flower display, where Purdey adds to Gambit's embarrassment by accusing him of setting in motion a 'shotgun wedding' scenario. Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt are having such fun with this scenes. Joanna Lumley also is excellent in the scenes with the reprehensible villain of the piece, Judd, a thoroughly reprehensible character who makes various vain attempts at seducing Purdey—her ice-cold, deadly threats are very entertaining and effective. It is fairly evident that this sleazy character is the titular 'rat' of the title before we are told he is, although the suspense is definitely there as most of the characters in the episode have something to hide and are acting strangely.
As previous reviewers have noted, it is a shame that Steed was not given more screen time or dialogue with Ian Hendry—this could have lent a real sense of closure to the series' past, even if Hendry is not playing Dr. David Keel here. The one scene they get together—where Steed praises a wounded Gunner for finally completing his mission—is one of the highlights of the episode, and you get a niggling sense of "what might have been." The main flaw with this episode otherwise is that the pacing is slightly off, lacking the urgency that other episodes have and you suspect this one could have benefited from.
Still, excellent performances from the leads (and the villain) and a refreshingly fitting score from Laurie Johnson makes this an episode well worth watching. Not quite the peak of the series, and I feel that some series two episodes handled this more mature direction in a slightly better manner, but nevertheless, mostly excellent.
Rating: 3.5/5 bowlers
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