A Touch of Brimstone
This episode is a classic, although I really like the Tara Kings—I thought it would be fair to comment on the Macnee/Rigg. The presence of Diana Rigg is certainly the strong point in this episode. She certainly brought style and glamour to The Avengers without doubt. This episode has great atmosphere, great characters, and the villain, John Cartney (Peter Wyngarde, later to be Jason King in the seventies series of the same name), is one of the best villains from this era. I think Wyngarde would have made a very good Steed, too! The sixties shows were really special from the point of view that we, or most of the generation of the forty-plus, were brought up in an innocent, carefree time and this is possibly why The Avengers did and still do hold a certain amount of appeal (or a-peel).
Anyway, this episode is concerns a number of bizarre pranks that Steed and Mrs Peel are called in to investigate. The culprits in this episode are members of the Hell Fire club and are responsible for some murders, and Steed and Mrs. Peel are up against the club. I think one of the pranks was very good—the Russian delegate was talking on the television, speaking of better relations, and suddenly his cigar blows up in his face. This was very funny and not too over-the-top. Nearly everyone who was killed on The Avengers from time to time were done in by unusual means that were not too violent, and this was so in this episode. This is another way of avoiding excessive violence in the days when it was not emphasized for one one reason or another.
The humor is a strong part of this episode and Steed is in his element; when he joins the club, he is up against Cartney, and proves to be a good match for this fellow; indeed, both characters are well matched in skills in a similar way to "Game." Steed is put to the test and when he has to join the club he gladly accepts the challenge from Cartney. One test which stands out is when Steed most pull a dry pea off of a cutting block before an axe comes down on it. Steed of course handles the test well by blowing on the pea and rendering the test useless. Steed also has to drink a huge amount of beer from an enormous jug which was also not too difficult for our Steed. Mrs. Peel turns up to fight the villains with a few kicks here and there and we see a lot of Mrs Peel in this episode in more ways than one.
The theme music is certainly the very best of The Avengers, and the opening sequence is good, although I prefer the opening of the Steed/Peel color episodes using the champagne bottle with the same music.
A Touch of Brimstone
A few minutes into it, and one realizes this will be a very special episode. Not to mention when one notices the sensuality flowing from that scene performed by Emma and Cartney, the gentleman who liked to play the clavichord as much as make practical jokes. In fact, still free of that huge moustache and large sideburns, this man's face looked more unknown than the effect "A Touch of Brimstone" could have on the audience.
Anyhow, I guess the brilliant duo Brian Clemens-James Hill must have foreseen something big when they dared to bring in subtle yet too-evident references to sex, drugs and hell. At the beginning of 1966, these taboo subjects could have discouraged any attempt to show them on television, especially if they were "seasoned" with a touch of violence and sexism hither and thither. However, Clemens and Hill assumed that, in carrying such a project out, they would face diverse consequences that, at any rate, would make the series still more popular—in the end, the ratings proved they weren't wrong. I doubt the English censors have resisted the impulse to plunge their eyes into the stunning Emma Peel before plunging their scissors into the celluloid to drastically reduce the whipping sequence footage. Also, I doubt their American colleagues had decided to ban "A Touch of Brimstone" in the US before having been swept off their feet by the Queen of Sin.
Well, then. More legendary than outstanding, "A Touch of Brimstone" looks today like a children's story (well, almost) in which its striking boldness fades irremediably away amongst all the nonsense the present television wants us to watch. And even though the storyline slightly overflowed the normal channel along which Avengers plots would run, we cannot deny that the episode still maintains its unmistakable Avenger-ish glamour.
The idea of blocking foreign affairs by means of practical jokes made on influential diplomats, and planning a political coup from the "catacombs" of a mysterious Hellfire Club—whose members are anything but good fellows—is an absurdity only circumscribed to Avengerland. What doesn't seem to fit here are the scenes showing the orgy at the club, for they spoil the continuity of the episode. However, Steed's line wondering what the people upstairs would say about the bacchanal is memorable.
But there are yet several small pearls that give us back the charm of that wonderland. Let's point some of them out... Emma and Steed cutting newspapers into paper dolls, or sitting down and standing up over and over in the theater while discussing the joke made to, among others, Boris Kartovsky. (Incidentally, why Clemens reused this name in "Split!" for another different character is an unsolved mystery). The miniature TV set Steed carries in his Bentley, coupled to the telephone à la Eliot Ness we'd see him use later, are examples of a vintage car as unique as its owner. That amusing clown who fights with Mrs Peel towards the end, showing useless skills and acrobatic movements as well. The "National Anthem" Lord Darcy luckily didn't get to take. And the final test Steed must pass in order to gain his membership of the Hellfire Club (after all, no one said he couldn't cheat!). All of these bits deserve loud, very loud applause.
Good performances are a constant in the cast. We not only see faces that would later become familiar through other episodes of The Avengers and The New Avengers (Jeremy Young, Colin Jeavons and Michael "+/- Man" Latimer), but also appreciate Carol Cleveland and Peter Wyngarde's talent. The latter returned to please us in "Epic" before moving to Department S and, soon after, getting under his Jason King's skin.
Raising eroticism to levels never seen before (nor later) in The Avengers, "A Touch of Brimstone" will remain as a classic. Neither extraordinary nor essential—simply, and for a number of reasons, a classic.
A Touch of Brimstone
I am an avid Emma Peel fan, and without a doubt, she is my favourite Avengers girl. However, "A Touch of Brimstone" is my least favourite Emma episode. It "bravely" pushed the limits of all censors and was banned and edited in order to be shown to the public. My humble opinion is it should never have been aired at all. I know this is a shock to all Avengers fans, but here are my reasons:
Firstly, we have a plot that starts as intriguing and slowly winds down from there. Someone is pulling practical jokes on politicians, so naturally the Avengers are sent to investigate. This leads them to the Hellfire Club, a seedy hangout for lascivious men who can't find enough pleasure in their own menial lives and must seek it elsewhere. My question is, why would brawling, drinking, lusting men be interested in politics? What was the point in making the hideaway for the villain in a perverse club? The answer: there was no point, except to present topics that were taboo in the 1960s (i.e. wasting ten minutes of the episode just to show the members of the club in the middle of an orgy.) The screenwriters wanted to shock the censors. Well, I think they succeeded.
Then there is the infamous scene where Emma is dressed as the Queen of Sin. While men drool over this costume, I, being female, find it a degradation to my sex. Yes, I am quite aware Diana Rigg designed the outfit herself. It doesn't change the fact that I feel sorely embarrassed for all women, especially Emma when she is paraded around in that miniscule costume with men shouting gleefully, twirling her around. Is that how all men think? That women are merely sex objects with no greater purpose? This may not be male viewers' idea, but it certainly seems to be what the screenwriters thought!
To top it all, there is no point to have Emma change into the Queen of Sin! She was dressed in a colonial ball gown, which was very befitting for the Club. You might argue that she needed to change so she could fight without having a long skirt botching up the scene. However, she merely chases Cartney down a staircase into the cellar where he begins whipping her in a suggestive manner. Besides, Emma managed to fight quite effectively in a ball gown during "Escape in Time."
Anyway, this episode has one bright spot: the scene with Steed's initiation into the Hellfire Club. First he drinks beer to his heart's content, and then he removes the pea from the block without getting his fingers chopped off. How clever Steed is!
Unfortunately, this cute segment is not enough to raise this episode from the Worst of Emma list. With footage of men drinking and brawling, Emma in her repulsive apparel, and Steed pointlessly cursing in the tag, "A Touch of Brimstone" will forever remain a disaster in this woman's eyes.
A Touch of Brimstone
Plot: Very good. An interesting idea, toppling the government with practical jokes. The appearance of Carol Cleveland in this episode makes me wonder why the Pythons never tried this... I'm sure they would have succeeded.
Humour: Excellent. I loved the bit where Steed and Emma were in the theatre and everyone was standing for the man and sat down when the music stopped only to stand up again after they realized their mistake. I also liked when that woman had her arms around Steed, and Emma took Steed's punch and poured it on her. Emma fighting the little man was a touch of the bizarre. Best line is when Steed is asked to choose the weapons for the duel and replies, "Feather dusters at 400 yards."
Direction: Excellent. Marvelous shots at Darcy's trial.
Acting: Good. A stunning performance from Peter Wyngarde. Nice performances from Colin Jeavons and Michael Latimer.
Miscellaneous: Excellent swordfight between Steed and Willy. Although I knew Steed would win the contest, I still found it suspenseful and was quite pleased with how he won—I would have ended up like Willy! How can you not laugh at the credits—Alf Joint as "Big Man" and Bill Reed as "Huge Man"?
Overall Rating: 9/10
A Touch of Brimstone
This is my all-time favourite Avengers episode, and, I hasten to add, not simply because Emma is dressed as the Queen of Sin. Of course she looked fabulous in the outfit, but it didn't induce me to sit and ogle at her or lust after her. I love Emma Peel dressed in any outfit and so even if she'd been dressed in her granny's old clothes it wouldn't have made any difference to me. However, it was an outfit befitting the plot and was in keeping with everything for which The Hellfire Club stood.
The story moved along at a good lick and certainly wasn't lacking in humour, either. However, Emma's fight in the catacombs with the silly man dressed in black tights seems to have been described as humorous, too, but, on the contrary, I found it incredibly heart thumping. Indeed, when I first saw this episode as a 12 year old boy, I thought that it was the most exciting fight scene I'd ever watched on television and, on reflection, just beats Emma's fight in "Death at Bargain Prices" into second place - the sight and sound of her clicking her fingers as she walked confidently towards the villain was a magical moment. However, I digress.
Back to "A Touch Of Brimstone," and Emma Peel in fight mode in the catacombs.
She was supreme - simply awesome in fact, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her overpower and totally outclass the little man - and when she flicked him away so dismissively with the heel of her boot before spinning round, I felt like I was in heaven. It was such a divine moment and she was absolutely wonderful to behold.
A fabulous episode that I can watch over and over again and still look forward to the fight scene, and each time I see Emma in action in the catacombs, I am still able to recall the excitement I first felt all those years ago.
I give this episode 10 out of 10 without hesitation.
All my Love to Veronica - a Diana Rigg/Emma Peel fanatic from Buenos Aires
A Touch of Brimstone
I really enjoyed this unusual episode of The Avengers and just wondered how it inspired Marvel Comics to recreate the Avengers storyline for their very successful X-Men adventure based around the activities of the Hellfire Club.
In the Marvel version (1978), Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and the other mutants face a horde of evil henchmen in Georgian costumes led by wicked Jason Wyngarde (drawn to look exactly like Peter Wyngarde). Jean Grey, captured by the Hellfire Club, gets to dress up exactly like Emma Peel (there is another evil female called Emma Frost on hand) before being rescued by Wolverine and his friends. Oh, and the leader of the Club, "Sebastian Shaw," has an assistant with mechanical hands. Does any of this sound familiar?
The whole episode was rewritten once again for the animated X-Men series on TV — the Hell Fire Club became the Circle Club but kept all the other elements. Mustn't frighten the children.
I just wondered whether anyone might know how Chris Claremont (Marvel scriptwriter) got away with pinching so many ideas from The Avengers without anyone noticing?
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