Rodney's Reviews
Page 20 of 42

A Touch of Brimstone
By Rodney Marshall

Most critics, and fans, place this one in their Avengers "top ten." The notoriety might account for some viewers' initial interest; the bacchanalian orgies, the Queen of Sin outfit and the whip still provide a shock value for audiences. However, from the opening scene there is something utterly different about this episode: the way Cartney pulls his chair towards the camera—and towards us—draws us in.

The main plot itself is a fairly tame one, bordering on the silly: sneezing powder, a collapsing chair, an exploding cigar... all to humiliate potential foreign business partners. What makes "A Touch of Brimstone" truly memorable is that, despite the typical Avengers humour—Steed pausing for a sherry while rifling through Lord Darcy's house, for example—one has the feeling that for once the disturbing undercurrent might suck us all under, including our dynamic duo. Mrs. Peel's normally amused look (or ironic pose) completely disappears after the opening ten minutes. One gets the feeling that she too is disturbed by the events, by the orgiastic chaos in the Hellfire Club.

There are many memorable "deadly masterminds" in the Rigg era. However, none comes close to matching Peter Wyngarde's Cartney. Despite his obvious charm—Mrs. Peel confesses to Steed that she finds him sexually attractive—Cartney is pure evil. Unlike the other Hellfire members, he has no sense of fair play in his dealings with Steed. His anarchic and diabolic character remains undiluted and the performance of Wyngarde—who reappears in one of my least favourites, "Epic"—is simply perfect. It is, IMHO, almost exclusively due to his brilliant piece of acting that this episode earns its four bowlers.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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