The Town of No Return
I'm surprised this one doesn't get better billing. It was the first black and white episode I saw, and you know what they say about first impressions. Apparently this was one of the original Elizabeth Shepherd episodes. It would be interesting to compare how she would have done as the heroine.
I have to admit to a penchant for those atmospheric "deserted town/airfield/house" type episodes that were made. This one is tops for eeriness. It has all the elements: directing, music, daft Steed antics, those 'knowing looks' between our heroes. I kind of agree with David that the plot is a bit tired, and I can't imagine a surprise attack from an army that has been feasting on tinned baked beans for months! But I imagine invasion fears were a little closer to home in the 60's.
Everyone in the compact character list performs well. I particularly love evil Alan McNaughton (the fake Mark Brandon). Why is nobody ever suspicious of people who glare at you and say, "...now you're here (pause for evil effect) you must certainly stay..."? Oooh, creepy. Patrick Newell makes a brief appearance, changes his hair colour and loses a few pounds while being chased by bloodhounds (who wouldn't?), and then dies. One of a very few number of continuity errors, insignificant compared with other episodes. I can only think of two others, and that is just because I'm a nit-picker. Oh, all right... you can see the smoke device in the top left of the fireplace when Steed and Mrs Peel are having a chat, and when Steed is throwing stones at old cans on the beach he drops one on the rather wooden sounding "sand."
Robert Brown (Saul, the lobster-pot repairing fisherman at the beginning) went on to be "M" in the Roger Moore Bond films. Why did they name him at all I wonder? Maybe his part was a bit bigger in the 'Liz Shepherd version.
The scenes where Steed is having a look around the airfield are a hoot. Steed is just a big kid, really. The music is particularly good here and the montage deftly flicks from fun to serious in the blink of an eye. It really is a pity that the incidental music has not survived in isolation from the filming. I am reduced to making .wav files from videos and DVDs where there isn't much background noise.
Altogether I'm surprised this one doesn't make the Top Ten. It is definitely my number—ooooh—three or four. In one sentence: the music, style, characters and quirks are strong enough that the ever-so-slightly weak plot fades into insignificance, making "The Town of No Return" a classic episode.
As for a lot of you out there... "Isn't it time you were in bed? You've got school in the morning."
The Town of No Return
This episode begins with a sword fight that I would count as a continuity blooper. The stunt man who does Steed's fighting is noticeably shorter and narrower through the shoulders than Patrick Macnee. It's startling when you see Macnee again.
I like the gender-role reversals in this episode: Steed has to fight his way to Mrs. Peel's kitchen just to get cream, but when they're on the train, Steed, like a good wife, packs and serves an elaborate tea for them. Also, near the end, Mrs. Peel gets to be the teacher explaining the plot and Steed has to stuff himself into one of those little school desks.
For me, though, the many cute scenes and great atmospherics can't make up for the incoherent plot, which slows down the pace of the whole episode.
The Town of No Return
Emma Peel's debut episode, and a good episode it is. All the characteristics that make a classic Avengers episode are present. A fantastic scheme; taking over England one small town at a time, subtle strangeness; Steed's "lunch bag" on the train to Little Bazeley-by-the-Sea; banter by the two leads: "...pussy footed pussy"; and a wonderful performance by Diana Rigg.
Many of Emma Peel's character traits, which are more developed as the series progresses, can be seen in the first few seconds of meeting Mrs. Emma Peel. And through nothing more than Miss Rigg's fine acting, though cut from the same cloth as Cathy Gale, we are aware that this is an all new woman unto herself.
The episode itself has all the whimsy, fantasy, humor and chemistry that we've come to expect from this original series.
3 1/2 bowlers out of 5.
The Town of No Return
"The Town Of No Return" was meant to be seen first; it was certainly screened first, although not the first one filmed (a series such as this is often filmed out of order). So it is here we see the introduction of Mrs. Emma Peel. There's a long-ish scene before we actually see her face; it's made into an event. This is the "new" Avenger girl.
Then, after Steed beats Emma (unfairly wrapping her up in the curtain), she emerges: "That was very, very dirty!"
Tea on the train is another classic. "Are you sure you don't want another marzipan delight?", the tea-time treat Steed offers Emma...
And, of course, there’s "Ooo - Tight
She sips it, ladylike, after topping up the glass with what appears to be soda water. Smallwood, the Patrick Newell character, says, "How about another round," and she soon knocks it back and puts her glass on the tray.
By the way, the target-beret is cool! As cool as that teapot must have been on the train! First class!
The Town of No Return
One of the classic black and white episodes, IMHO, this has everything that makes the series so enjoyable: double entendre dialogue, eerie locations, and a mild comedy element. I loved the scene in the train on the way to Little Bazeley by the Sea, where Steed produces a picnic fit for a king out of a small carry hold-all, like a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat!
Also, the 360 degree turn both Steed and Emma execute prior to the fight scene in the underground bunker, near the end. Mention must be made of the four advancing soldiers in the bunker—why do they almost look like androids, in slow motion, and then a few minutes later they are all asleep like babies in a cradle? Very strange!
Overall though, another excellent episode from the pen of Brian Clemens. 4 bowlers.
The Town of No Return
The lonely beach seems to stretch on forever. In the cool clarity of black and white it looks cold and somewhat desolate. Tufts of harsh grass give away the presence of a breeze that must surely be of the type that easily cuts through the folds of a coat or jacket to chill the person within. A middle-aged man appears to be messing about with a lobster trap or some such device, and looks over the landscape as though he were a guard and the forbidding beach were his domain.
And then from the sea emerges a black bubble—a bubble that quickly moves in to the shore where it disgorges a tweed-suited, brolly-bearing man who hails the fisherman as though he were out for his morning constitutional. He strolls off happily in the direction indicated by the fisherman (or guard—he later metamorphoses easily into a blacksmith). His destination is Little-Bazeley-by-the-Sea. The title rises, informing us of the sombre fact that this little hamlet is, in fact, "The Town of No Return."
And so begins the adventure that, in the UK at least, launched Mrs Emma Peel into the world and the popular consciousness. As an episode, "The Town of No Return" has always been amongst my favourites, certainly amongst the most eagerly anticipated. I patiently waited through two series of Cathy Gale videotaped episodes, which were being shown at the rate of one episode per weeknight, counting down as Emma Peel's debut in The Avengers edged closer and closer. From the various reference books I had pored over in an attempt to sate my appetite for all things Avengers, I knew that the series would soon be on film, and the theme music I remembered from my childhood would also make its appearance. What I was waiting for most of all, however, was that sense of utter weirdness I remembered from my first experience of the show as a ten year old, memories now filtered through the subsequent decade and a half, and consisting of hazy recollections of killer pussycats and relentless robotic assassins. Once the first episode of series four began, I got all that I remembered and much, much more.
Less than a minute after it began I realised I had recalled the show's atmosphere of dread correctly. Death shrouds The Avengers in all its incarnations, not particularly warming, but essential, and Little Bazeley-by-the-Sea wears this shroud as comfortably and naturally as Steed wears his bowler. Dark shadows swathe the churchyard, and the happy demeanour of the local vicar does nothing to convince us that danger does not live here. If the belfry is indeed inhabited by bats, they are surely of a carnivorous variety. The brooding locals have a uniform impassivity that is broken only by the "welcoming host" routine of "Piggy" Warren, a contrast that makes him one of the more unnerving landlords you're ever likely to meet. And locals out on hunts with shotguns and hunting dogs, stalking humans instead of badgers, are as chilling as any pack of killers Steed and Peel ever encounter. The veneer of normality over the world of The Avengers is a thin one indeed, and like its Victorian counterpart, if you scratch through it, something nasty will come crawling out.
I soon realised I had also correctly recalled the sense of Steed and Mrs Peel living in a parallel world where peculiarity was the norm. Churches where tape recorders simulate the sound of heavenly voices, school cupboards filled with tinned food—enough to feed an army, abandoned air fields under which lurk hidden bases populated by faceless enemy troops, carpet bags which disgorge boiling kettles and ridiculously large cake selections ("Marzipan delight?"). To be sure, "The Town of No Return" doesn't contain much of the series' later zany "airiness," but the pair's train trip to the town in question gives broad hints as to what we can expect later in the series.
As I watched that night, however, there was something that I discovered for the first time. What my ten year-old self had overlooked, and what my older self gleefully watched reveal itself, was the wonderful dynamic which defies complete description—the wonderful pairing/relationship between John Steed and Emma Peel. There was something about it that was much more than the sum of its considerable parts—something more than two wonderful actors with chemistry and an exquisitely light touch, deploying witty lines amidst heaping helpings of style and charm (all clichés which have become attached to the series). There was certainly something more than the standard "will-they-or-won't-they" or "did-they-or-didn't-they" aspects which seem to attract so many of the series' fans. It was a relationship beyond mere friendship, somehow bigger than romantic attraction (even though "The Town of No Return" drops hints about their past relationship which must be interpreted in that light). Whatever label one chooses to put upon it, it was perfect, and so were they. From crossing swords in Emma's apartment ("The cream is in the kitchen"), having tea aboard the train ("Milk or lemon?" "Lemon." Steed examines bag before throwing her a very concerned look—"It'll have to be milk."), Steed releasing Emma from "bondage" for the first of many times ("All this is supposed to go on the horse, you know") to the pair adjusting their hair and clothes after putting paid to a veritable army of infiltrators, Steed and Mrs Peel are perfect. Oh, certainly they get roughed up and tied down, but as far as this viewer is concerned, they never put a foot wrong—not so much as a pinky.
I think what makes "The Town of No Return" so wonderful is the promise of things to come—a promise that the series ultimately delivers in spades. To be sure it is a fine episode in it's own right—as I said earlier, one of my favourites—but there is a special pleasure to be gained from the knowledge that this is but the beginning—that the elements which are wonderful about this episode will be improved upon and surpassed by various other episodes in the weeks to come. The weirdness, the danger, the fun—they'll all be back again and again, as will Steed and Mrs Peel, presiding over all as the perfect couple for an Avengers world.
The Town of No Return
Plot: OK. Replacing people in a town and have an underground army take over the nation is just a little too outlandish for me.
Humour: Very good. I very much enjoyed the fencing match between Steed and Emma, but I would have guessed that Steed could have won without cheating. Piggy's moustache was hilarious. I enjoyed Mr. Smallwood on the train wanting to talk to Steed and Emma, I am familiar with those types of people. "I have bats in my belfry."
Direction: Excellent. Wonderful shots when they first arrive at the pub. The shot of Piggy through the wires suspending the model airplane and then the shot of Steed replying at a crooked camera angle. I also enjoyed the shot looking at the church upward with the cross in front.
Acting: Very good. Wonderful performances from Patrick Newell, Terence Alexander, and Jeremy Burnham.
Music: Excellent. I loved hearing "All Things Bright and Beautiful"—it had been a little while since I had last heard that.
Tag: Very good. I like thick steaks and leisurely meals, in fact I wouldn't mind at all to have dinner with Mrs. Peel.
Miscellaneous: I noticed two mistakes in this episode. When Mr. Smallwood is running from the hounds at one point it is not Patrick Newell, I wonder why they did this because he is running all the other times except that one shot. Also if you use your DVD freeze frame you'll notice how Steed got Piggy to talk so quickly, he set his moustache on fire!
Overall Rating: 7/10
The Town of No Return
Plot: I personally find the plot quite thin, but even so, the way it's acted out and the thrilling fight scenes make this one of my favourite Emma Peel episodes. This episode also holds some of the most memorable dialog for me. Like the great line from the real school inspector, "Below... b-b-below!" even though it's so simple, it's become the family joke. When ever the word "belo-" comes up on the T.V. we all start acting out the scene with the school inspector and Mrs. Peel! Another memorable scene was the one on the train with Steed and Mrs. Peel. I like Steed's bottomless picnic bag on the train ("Are you sure you won't have a marzipan delight?")
Miscellaneous: There were a couple of bloopers in this episode, like in the scene where Steed threatens Piggy with the candle, and Piggy's mustache catches fire! Another was when Mr. Smallwood (Patrick Newell) was running over the hillside—in one of the shots it's a completely different actor! One curiosity is a missing line of dialog: after Steed fails to exit the tavern and winds up back in his room with a bottle of booze, he advises Emma that she should be getting to bed. She answers him—her mouth moves—but there is no voice. (It looks as though she says, "I know.")
Final Thoughts: This can be quite a confusing episode because it was originally shot with Elizabeth Shepard in the role of Emma Peel, when Diana Rigg was later cast as Shepherd's replacement, and only key scenes were re-filmed. Even so, I still love this addition to the classic Avengers collection, and my final ratings would have to be 8/10 or 4 bowlers!
The Town of No Return
"The Town of No Return" is a terrific introduction for anyone to The Avengers and specifically the Emma Peel era. It's one of my favourite episodes because it combines several elements of the series very well. It has most of the classic features: strangely deserted locations, surrealism (e.g. the opening scene on the beach), a sinister atmosphere (e.g. the 'badger hunt' at night), a diabolical plan (this time to invade England without anybody noticing), comedy (e.g. Steed's magic picnic bag) and witty banter between the duo (e.g. "You could run out of agents"). It's a story not set in any reality we know, but in a strange alternative universe conceived by Brian Clemens. The only elements missing are a diabolical mastermind and a crazy science-fictional invention.
The Steed-Peel relationship is established very quickly in the swordfight scene and we learn that Steed and Emma already know each other well, but not how that came about or the exact nature of their relationship, although it's already clear that there's at the very least sexual attraction between them. Tantalisingly, we never really learned more about their back story except for a couple of clues in the following season's "Death's Door."
David pointed out that the plotline is dated. It's not merely dated, it's literally the oldest plot in the book, going back to late Victorian and Edwardian invasion-scare stories and particularly to the very first 'modern' spy thriller, Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands (1903). It's a plot that was already old enough to be pensioned off in 1965. Brian Clemens was surely deliberately parodying the clichéd invasion-scare genre. I think the parody works this time round, but became decreasingly effective as the plot was recycled in a number of subsequent episodes of The Avengers and turned into something like self-parody.
Because Emma is still a beginner, I can sort of forgive her rookie mistake of imagining that the vicar isn't part of the conspiracy, even though it's obvious that he is, leading inevitably to her capture and the first of Steed's thirty-seven rescues of her. I can't help feeling that with an IQ of 152 she should have been able to work that out already. Otherwise, though, Emma Peel is already the epitome of cool in "The Town of No Return" and well on the way to establishing herself as the much-loved character she was to become.
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