Man-Eater of Surrey Green
I like the music in this episode a lot. There's a recurring motif that sounds like a descending foghorn (is it a tuba?). Sometimes it sounds ominous, sometimes it sounds like a snide comment on the plot.
My favorite line is Miss Sheldon saying, with absolute conviction, "Hydrochrome oxidase!" Brilliant! That explains everything!
The fight scene at the end suffers (again!) from stunt doubles who don't remotely look like the people they're standing in for. Steed's stunt double has a completely different haircut.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
This episode has always struck me as an exemplary episode of a number of distinctive aspects of the Peel series. While it can be argued that other episodes are wittier, more stylish, or more satirical/lighter, this story is definitive in two areas. First is the type of subject matter. Several Peel episodes experiment with fantastic situations and one cannot get riskier than a predatory alien in this 60's spy show. Yet the episode come across fairly well despite the clear-cut science fiction storyline. Also, "Man-eater" is a relatively early Peel episode penned by Philip Levene. Taken with his other sci-fi story, "The Cybernauts," we have a piece of work that helped set the precedence for the futuristic fantasy element of the series.
The other aspect is the technical quality of the plotting of many of the episodes, particularly Levene scripts. Whether the story dealt with robots and aliens or wacky spies and eccentrics, the scripts often maintained a very sound foundation of internal logic. This structuring allows the viewer to more readily suspend disbelief and accept the premise of the story regardless of how absurd it may seem on the surface or if there are empirical flaws.
Note that most of the episode involves how the creature came to Earth and its biological makeup. Levene clues the audience in on the telepathic powers and intelligence of the creature by showing it has developed brain cells and thus circumvents the need for someone to spell it out. And Athnene Seyler's speculations and findings over the course of the show give a sense of plausibility in spite of the flub about vegetation on the moon (but it was 1965 after all). This distinct incorporation of rationality can likewise be found in many succeeding episodes such as "The House That Jack Built," "From Venus With Love," "The Bird Who Knew Too Much," "The Superlative Seven" and "Death's Door."
In addition, Sidney Hayers gets to do some very interesting camera work during the final block of the story. The glimpses of light piercing through the vegetation combined with dark surroundings of Sir Lyle's home lend a nice unsettling feel to the final confrontation. Plus, he uses a series of unique angles to give the perspective of the creature which logically leads up to it using Emma against Steed.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
One of the episodes that gives The Avengers the reputation of being a sci-fi series. An alien vegetation collides with a manned space craft, and both fall to the earth. The plant then spores like a dandelion and telepathically hypnotizes plant experts to cultivate it and help it grow. I didn't mention that it nourishes itself by consuming humans.
No, this episode isn't mired in reality, but that's okay, it's still very effective. The Avengers knows how to make the implausible seem plausible, and because of that we never get a good look at the plant, just a few nasty vines. Other than that, shadows, silhouettes and some clever use of mannequins all give a strong sense of the man eating plant.
I want to mention the engaging performance of Athene Seyler as Dr. Sheldon. She's always fun to watch. There's also humor and top notch bantering coming from our two stars. In fact, the only problem I do have with this episode is the cross-dressing stuntman who's supposed to be Emma in her fight with Steed.
4 out of 5 bowlers.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Plot: Poor. A psychic, man-eating, plant from outer space! Ha, ha, ha, ha ,ha, ha! Also, wearing a hearing aid prevents your mind from being taken over! This one will keep you laughing for awhile. Emma's line about recent photographs taken of the moon showing vegetation was stupid—the writer stretched that way too thin.
Humour: OK. My favourite line comes from the conversation about the possible growth of the plant. Steed quips, "Well, there'd be no shortage of beans."
Acting: Very Good. Fabulous performance from Athene Seyler.
Music: Good. Nice piece plays when the delivery boy snoops around Sir Lyle's place.
Miscellaneous: What a bizarre episode! The nude mannequins at Sir Lyle's were disturbing. Wonder if he has some peculiar (coughs) hobbies? Although the episode is unbelievable, it does have suspense and a great fight between Steed and Emma.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Evidently, the TARDIS was back in 12th Century China or at the Fungus Mines of Thanagar when this threat to our planet reared its ugly tendrils.* The Avengers definitely stray into Doctor Who territory as mundane spies and smugglers are momentarily forgotten to tackle a telepathic carnivorous plant from outer space. No, seriously, that's the story. I rather liked "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green." It had overtones of Quatermass, the Triffids and other fondly remembered British science fiction, and it's a neat little chiller in its own right.
Several noted British horticulturists have been disappearing without explanation. In fact, we first see plant expert Laura Berford (rather pretty actress) kiss her finance and then turn all blank-faced and zombielike to stride away and get into a waiting Rolls driven by a sullen-looking chauffeur. Her unsuspecting sweetie is not affected by whatever whacked her out, and the camera closes in on his hearing aid for the episode's title. There you have it, the mystery and a clue in one neat sequence.
Investigating the rash of straying botanists, John Steed offers his accomplice in counter-crime one of the roses he is growing. I like Mrs Peel's sly suspicion that, whenever Steed is nice to her, it's because he's about to draw her into something dangerous. You have to remember that Emma is not an agent working for whatever ambiguous Ministry that employs Steed; she's a "talented amateur" going on these cases because she enjoys the adrenalin rush and the joy of problem-solving. Whatever relationship she has with Steed (and we're never quite sure) is tinged by their odd working set-up.
Digging for information in his usual debonair manner, Steed is obviously getting too close to the truth when he finds a deadly object hidden under the blanket on his car seat. It's lucky he detects it before plopping down, because the cactus (which looks just like a nasty prickly dildo corncob) is in fact poisonous. It's always a good sign when the detective or secret agent starts getting assassination attempts made on him, as it means he's finding out what the bad guys want to keep secret.
Soon enough, our heroes uncover a crashed space capsule that had been in orbit since a year earlier (things went poorly), with its unfortunate occupant just a skeleton. Tangled around the wreckage is a huge mass of spiky vines. It seems the space capsule collided with some sort of alien plant. What are the odds of that, eh? (Emma helpfully remarks that recent photos show areas of vegetation on the Moon. Reading The Fortean Times again, Mrs Peel?) A leading horticulturist is called in to see if she can provide any helpful information. This is one of the lovely parade of colorful eccentrics who populate the Avengers Universe. Dr Sheldon is an enthusiastic and excitable old lady with a wonderful bulldog face, all jowls and eyebags. (actress Athene Seyler reminds me a bit of the great Margaret Rutherford.)
Dr Sheldon enlightens the Avengers** that what we are dealing with here is a fast-growing man-eating plant that will likely overrun the Earth in a few weeks. Not only is the plant telepathic but it exerts a powerful mental control over people, making them its slaves and sending them out for fertilizer (Bring me... MULCH!). The only way to resist Vegetus (my pet name for it, I've been reading too much Golden Age pulp) is to wear a hearing aid, which acts as a barrier, so Steed and Emma plug theirs in and set out to do some foliage removal. (This is 1965, remember, so the "deaf aids" are big things that hook around your ear and have a cord going down to a sizeable battery worn in your shirt pocket.)
By now, the alien plant is swarming all over the estate where it has gathered the botanists, covering the building and dragging people off with its tentacle-like creepers to digest. Worst of all, it's ready to germinate and spew forth millions of dandelion-like spores to cover the landscape (eek). Steed and Emma ride to the battle with Dr Sheldon, bringing a large container of herbicide.
But things never go that easily. Inside the building, with all those tendrils snaking around and looking for warm flesh, Emma loses her hearing aid. She becomes a mind-controlled plant slave and Steed must prevent her from dumping the herbicide. It's a duel between the two partners with the fate of the world at stake (not for the first nor last time).
There are a lot of remarkably unsettling scenes showing the zombified servants of the plants carrying out their orders. Inside the building under siege by Vegetus, atmospheric photography creates quite an ominous mood (black and white is so well suited for horror), and the numerous nude female mannequins standing about add a surrealistic touch. All in all, "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green" is an enjoyable combination of suspense and goofiness. I particularly like Steed's blithe remark that the enslaved scientists were "hand-picked" by the plant (har).
Mrs Peel knew Laura Burford (not that well, they were acquaintances), which gives her added motive at first to investigate. During the final battle, Emma finds one of Laura's discarded shoes and realizes the plant has eaten her friend. A brief somber expression crosses Emma's face but there isn't time to dwell on it. One thing I notice is that both Steed and Emma are somewhat detached from humanity; they like people well enough but always remain at a certain distance. Perhaps being all that sophisticated and witty also means not letting your emotional guard down and showing your feelings to plainly.
It's worth noting that, in many of the fight scenes, the lithe and attractive Mrs Peel abruptly transmogrifies into a bulkier broad-shouldered form with straggly hair. Evidently, she's a shape-shifter and this is her battle mode. Okay, yes it's a male stunt double wearing a dreadful wig. As I notice with the reviews of the 1950s Adventures of Superman, these sudden appearances of stuntmen were not nearly so noticeable on the much small TV screens of those days. And, of course, audiences then just watched and enjoyed without being able to freeze-frame on DVD players and study every second. Steed gets a stunt double, but it's not as noticeable. Now, if they had used a stuntwoman to stand in for Patrick Macnee, we'd have a crossdressing judo-flipping party going on.
*Actually, scriptwriter Robert Banks Stewart later swiped reworked this premise for the Doctor Who episode, "Seeds of Doom." I haven't seen that exploit of our favorite Time Lord yet, but maybe someday...
**Neither John Steed nor Mrs Peel refer to themselves as "The Avengers", nor does anyone within the show. It's the name of the series, not the characters, just as the Doctor from Gallifrey is not actually named "Doctor Who." I'm calling Steed and Emma "The Avengers" here just to break up the repetition of their names.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Opinion seems to be pretty divided on this one. Some people like the science fiction plot, others complain it's all just too far-fetched. My view is that the problem doesn't lie in the basic plot itself, but in the execution of the episode. An alien man-eating intelligent plant with psychic powers (unless you're wearing a hearing aid) that lives in the Van Allen Belt and fell to Earth when it collided with a spaceship, but didn't burn up in the atmosphere is not just far-fetched, but impossible. So what? Shrinking people as in "Mission... Highly Improbable" and mind swaps as in "Who's Who???" are physically impossible as well, but I don't mind it there because it's done for laughs. In my opinion, the trouble with "Man-Eater" is that it's not amusing enough to justify the silliness.
The episode starts out well with the atmospheric disappearance of Laura Burford and the Avengers investigating in their usual inimitable way. It's when they discover the dead astronaut and the extraterrestrial plant that things start to go wrong. The plotline that emerges at this point is a rip-off of the Quatermass Experiment. But as the story progresses further, it abandons such classiness, piling on the lurid details and turns into something from a cheap 1950s sci-fi B movie - not helped by the truly awful special effects. If this was done with the usual Avengers sense of humour as a proper send up of the genre, it could have been great, but it's not. It instead comes across as a highly derivative attempt at bad science fiction.
By the way, there has been a lot of criticism of Emma Peel's line about recent photos having shown areas of vegetation on the Moon. It has recently occurred to me, though, that there may instead have been a simple mix up somewhere along the chain between Philip Levene's brain and the words Diana Rigg actually spoke. When "Man-Eater" was made, many astronomers still believed there were large regions of vegetation, not on the Moon, but on Mars!
Scientists had known since the nineteenth century that the Moon had no appreciable atmosphere and appeared lifeless. By 1965 a series of Soviet and American space probes had shown close-ups of the Moon and surely even general audiences and television scriptwriters knew that there was no vegetation. But Mars was a different matter. Many astronomers interpreted marked seasonal changes in colour in some regions as a sign of seasonal growth of vegetation (actually it was caused by seasonal dust storms). The first visit of a spacecraft to Mars, the Mariner 4 flyby of 1965, revealed that Mars was very different from how it had been confidently expected to be from Earth-based observations - much more Moon-like, with a much thinner atmosphere, craters and no sign of vegetation. But "Man-Eater" had been filmed in early June 1965, and the Mariner 4 flyby of Mars wasn't until the middle of July 1965.
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