Visitor Reviews
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The House That Jack Built
by William McRae

This episode is, without a doubt, my favourite black and white story from the Emma Peel era. Quite simply it has it all. A first rate script from Brian Clemens is equally complemented by solid direction from Don Leaver, and strong performances from all in concern. However, it's Diana Rigg who commands centre stage in this episode, and she holds the attention of the viewer from start to finish.

The story sees Emma being lured to a remote country house under false pretences, where she becomes a pawn in deadly game of revenge. More so than any other, this episode gives the audience the opportunity to discover quite a lot about Emma's past and the accomplishments she has achieved in her life thus far. It also depicts her at her best, using her wit, intelligence, and skill to help herself out of the dangerous predicament she finds herself in. The set designs are classic 60's future op. The weird camera angles and eerie music helps give the episode a dark and atmospheric feel. The manner in which Emma is lured is also memorable.

Moreover, the story is refreshing in that The Avengers proved itself to be ahead of all other television shows at the time by giving a female character a sense of dignity and independence—allowing her to use her abilities, without acting like a damsel in distress or, more importantly, waiting around for a man to show up and rescue her. Having mentioned this point, Patrick Macnee is pushed into the background for the duration of the story as Steed, but he still has his moment to shine at the episode's climax, charging in to rescue Mrs Peel—although it was no longer necessary! Michael Goodlife is suitably villainous as Professor Keller—the man who's determined to break our dear Emma in this story—which also provides one of the episodes most interesting "twists" so to speak... All up, a top episode, well worth showing off to those unfamiliar with the show!
 


The House That Jack Built
by Ann

Hands down the most brilliant of the Emma Peel episodes. Not only does it provide intriguing personal background on this forerunner of modern action heroines, but it exhibits perhaps the most bizarre and surreal vision of a very bizarre and surreal series. It is also one of the few times in which either of the leads exhibits a moment of emotional weakness; Emma Peel's growing tension and panic, so rarely seen in the series, make this episode particularly riveting — and the notion of being trapped in the mechanical, maze-like house lends itself to endless deconstruction.
 


The House That Jack Built
by Gregory A. McVey-Russell

Like "The Joker," which of course this episode strongly resembles, this one is quite atmospheric and moody. I think even more so because it's in black and white. As much as I like Peter Jeffrey, Michael Goodliffe's Professor Keller is far more sinister, and in the end works better for the story. One thing that helps the Keller character is that we see more of him than we do Jeffrey's Pendergast. In this story, they did not make the mistake of waiting until almost the very end to introduce the mastermind. We meet Professor Keller early enough so that he can, in good diabolical mastermind fashion, explain in detail his plots. And Goodliffe does a great job of it. This alone makes this episode better, for me, than "Joker."

But it still has problems, I fear. Pongo is almost as annoying as that funny little man in "Joker." And what an idiot! If Steed told him to "soft pedal it" so as not to scare Mrs. Peel, why would he act so damned weird? And he looked at the key Steed told him about, but did nothing about it, like chat up Mrs. Peel about it or even fiddle with the radio, or something. Pongo was not one of the Ministry's better agents. And the scenes of Mrs. Peel running around the psychedelic house that Jack built got rather tedious after a while, just as it was to see her run through Pendergast's place.

I give it two bowlers, mainly because of Keller and because there was no Ola character (thank god!).
 


The House That Jack Built
by David Hinton, High Wycombe

Apart from "The Hellfire Club," based a mere three miles away from where I lived, this is my favourite episode. Surreal, scary, intelligent, and an Emma Peel special. It worried me for decades. If you want a more brutal, mathematically sophisticated version, watch the video "The Cube." The central concept is somewhat similar. Mind you, The Avengers team had to admit that this was based on the old favourite "Get Steed diverted and put Emma/Cathy/Tara in a weird house in peril, and the violent intruder is not the biggest danger." It worried me that all Steed's holiday pictures featured himself—hat still seems almost as spooky as the house.
 


The House That Jack Built
by John Rymell, Stepney, London

I have only seen this episode once, when I was ten years old, 35 years ago. I say this to convey how much of an effect this episode has had on me. It departs from the normal Steed/Peel banter-filled episodes which alone made it a frightening experience for me all those years ago. The mental anguish of never being able to escape from somewhere because you keep returning to the same point through different doors, but able to see where you would like to be, hit the right spot as a horror story for me, reminiscent of a recurring nightmare. I've always wanted to see the episode again to compare it to my memory of it. However, since I dearly loved all the Emma Peel episodes mainly because of their dry humour, high camp and typical 60's production grammar, this episode should still stick out as being something rather special itself.
 


The House That Jack Built
by Neil Saunders, Fulham, London, England

I was born in 1960, and I would have been coming up to my sixth birthday when I first saw this episode. I can't pretend that I understood it at that time, but its atmosphere continued to haunt me for many years to come. When I saw it again in my late teens (at the now sadly defunct Scala Cinema in London, which had an enlightened policy of screening long-unrepeated classic TV series) the atmosphere was exactly as I remembered it. (A late friend of mine, who died tragically young, was similarly haunted by "A Surfeit of H2O.")

While I wish to observe our esteemed host's ordinance not simply to review other reviews, I am interested that all five of the Visitor Reviews are favourable, two of them highly so. It seems a mistake to me to judge this episode by criteria appropriate to naturalistic drama, for the actual scenario, judged by such standards, is wildly implausible. The "revelations" about Emma "Knight"'s assumption of control of her father's business, and her sacking of automation expert Professor Keller are fairly crude plot devices introduced late in the episode to justify her presence in the weird house. What matters, as Young Avenger reviewer J.A.P. Lloyd rightly insists, is atmosphere. The whole episode resembles a kind of fairy story, dealing in emotional and psychological rather than literal truth. Herein lies its considerable power.

The irrelevance of ordinary plausibility to this episode means that the bloopers and continuity errors are really beside the point. Nor need we share Visitor Reviewer Gregory A. McVey-Russell's annoyance at Frederick "Pongo" Withers. Why does Pongo act so damned weird? Because the atmosphere of the episode demands that he do so. You could also regard his sinister behaviour as a perverse attempt at "soft-peddling" his role as Mrs Peel's secret protector ("soft-pedalling" being a quibble arising from the tag-scene tandem). His Boy Scout garb is a sort of visual joke, combined with the reputation of Scoutmasters (deserved or otherwise) as men of unconventional sexual habits (hence Mrs Peel's evident amusement at his professed interest in "birds"!).

I am less concerned than J.A.P. Lloyd at the substitution of wintry Hertfordshire for Hampshire, or at the non-existence of the B31. Of course the computer is dated; the programme was made nearly 40 years ago! Actually, the non-specific nature of the technology in the house adds to its malevolence. Proprietary technology, Microsoft or IBM for instance, would be far too familiar to be threatening. What exactly is the weird pulsating dome that sits atop what looks rather like a church font in the middle of the circular chamber? Who cares! The maze-like corridors, with their op-art design, resemble a dream more than any reality. (There is a danger in over-literal interpretation of The Avengers at the best of times, but such a caveat is especially appropriate concerning this episode.) The attitude to technology in the 1960s was ambivalent (as well it might be under the shadow of the H-Bomb). On the one hand there was exhilaration at its possibilities, but on the other a deep anxiety about its possible abuses.

The eerie, dream-like quality of the episode reaches its culmination when Emma finally encounters Keller, who initially addresses her via a strange lamp resembling a death-mask, then via a pre-recorded video message, before revealing his embalmed body enclosed in a glass case.

Younger viewers, or those not resident in the UK, will fail to recognise the liberties The Avengers took with what, for want of a better phrase, might be termed contemporary style. While reflecting the 1960s, The Avengers was not a literal representation of that decade, but a mythical elaboration of it, drawing on other periods. For example, even the crustiest family lawyer in 1966 would be unlikely to be wearing a wing-collar (an anachronism even in the time of Neville Chamberlain!). (The programme was pervaded, as was so much 60s popular culture, by Victoriana and Edwardiana.)

The whole of south-western Hertfordshire has been invested with enchantment for me because of its extensive use in The Avengers, and I have spent many happy days searching for specific locations. There is a wonderful instance of geographical license when Emma looks out of the window of the house onto Ivinghoe beacon, several miles distant.

I have successfully introduced a number of people to the series using this very episode, which stands out not least for the beauty of its cinematography. (The camera-work is so good that it can be enjoyed with the sound turned down!) The Bowler system of awarding points really breaks down here, for although this episode is far from lacking in wit (albeit much of it visual and stylistic rather than verbal) I do not think, judged on its own terms, that it can really be faulted at any level.


The House That Jack Built
by Deborah Esrick

Standing on its own, the episode is not bad and has its share of enjoyable moments, but in the context of the entire series it makes little sense. The Emma Peel we see in most of the episodes is a writer with a strong background in the sciences, writing articles on, for example, thermodynamics ("Death at Bargain Prices"), the connection between mathematics and bridge ("The Joker") and psychoanalysis ("Too Many Christmas Trees"). So, if she took over her father's business at age 21, when did she study? (I always like to think of her as studying at Cambridge; we know she didn't go to Somerville and, anyway, Cambridge has a stronger scientific tradition than Oxford.) And what ever happened to Knight Industries? Although Emma Peel's age is never mentioned, she is certainly fairly young. The news articles and radio broadcasts certainly make it seem as if she was in it for the long run, so how and when did she extricate herself from it? And although she certainly has a comfortable life, she certainly doesn't seem to live the gilded life of a modern plutocrat. And why does no one ever recognize her as the former Emma Knight? All those bankers and industrialists in "You Have Just Been Murdered" should certainly know the name, but instead they seem to think of her only as a charming appendage to Steed. Although many of the plots in The Avengers were somewhat farfetched, they always followed an internal logic (minus the occasional plot holes). But this one lacks the logic.

I realize this is more nitpicking than reviewing, but the anomalous nature of the episode has always prevented me from really enjoying it.


The House That Jack Built
by Neil Saunders, Fulham, London, England

I do not wish to retract a single word of my earlier review, from which it will be obvious to anyone that I rate this episode very highly indeed. I should like, however, to discuss an important issue raised by Deborah Esrick.

Ms Esrick's enjoyment of the episode is, as she comments at the conclusion of her review, greatly diminished by the implausibilities of the plot relating to Mrs Peel's past life as the young head of Knight Industries.

It seems to me that Brian Clemens had an unfortunate occasional habit of recourse to gratuitous explanation, inventing colourful but unnecessary pasts for his characters. (This reached its zenith in The New Avengers, where we are told rather than shown who the character of Steed is. There is much explanation, but no longer very much to explain.) The entire character of Mother in the Tara King episodes is an exercise in unnecessary explanation. Steed and Mrs Peel (and Tara too, in the Mother-less episodes), were freelances whose presence at the scenes of the crimes, and involvement in their investigation and — dare I say? — avenging, required no explanation.

Now I'm "nit-picking"! Still, I love this episode so much that I'm prepared to accept the implausible Knight stuff as an explanatory myth. I would advise others similarly to accept this episode as a self-contained entity, and to revel in its unique and wonderful atmosphere!


The House That Jack Built
by Matthew Moore, a.k.a. Sixofone

Plot: Very Good. This is an excellent story of revenge. There is also the wonderful element of man vs. machine, or woman vs. machine in this case. What the house can do is far-fetched, though. Deborah Esrick brought up a good point in her review of this episode. I will try to explain this plot hole away as I understand it. In the UK, one can graduate from college in three years, so one can assume that Emma had graduated from college by the age of 21, probably with a degree in physics or the like. Her father died and she takes over the company. I suppose that she only ran the company for two or three years, because around that time she would have met, fallen in love with, and married Peter Peel. During this time she could have continued her studies in the sciences. Then Peter had his plane crash, Emma met Steed, and the rest is history. As to why Brokers and Network executives do not recognize her: by the time she is working with Steed, it had been about three to five years since she was running the company, and her last name has changed; that one's iffy, but remember it's just a show. Hope that helps explains it.

Humour: Poor. None present, but it would have ruined the atmosphere had it been.

Direction: Excellent. Many surreal and unique shots.

Acting: Very Good. Great performance from Griffith Davies, Dame Diana Rigg, and Michael Wynne.

Music: Very Good.

Tag: OK.

Miscellaneous: The "living" house reminded me of the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project. This episode also reminds me of an episode of The Prisoner called "The General." The electronic eye controlling the road sign was quite ingenious. This episode has wonderful atmosphere.

Overall Rating: 10/10


The House That Jack Built
by Simon D

This is perhaps the most surreal and psychedelic of the Emma Peel episodes — in its way even more psychedelic than next season's "Something Nasty in the Nursery" or "Death's Door," which actually involve psychedelic substances. Emma doesn't take any drugs, but the experiences she has in this episode, and we share for most of the episode, resemble a bad trip. She discovers a 'rational' explanation, but one that is beyond our technology, let alone the technology of the sixties. The story has some similarity with Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both involve a battle of wits between human and a controlling computer, with the human eventually winning by physically destroying the computer.

The implausibility of Keller having developed technology decades ahead of its time and thought of everything, except that he's made a punch-card slot for the computer that Emma can easily use to destroy it and conveniently free herself rather than inadvertently trap herself, is much greater than the implausibility of the revelations about her earlier life that Deborah Esrick complained about. Everything about The Avengers of the Emma Peel era is implausible and surreal — that's part of its charm. Emma Peel herself is a highly unrealistic character. She's a fantasy figure who represents everything that modern women would like to be like and that at the same time men find attractive in women. From that perspective, it's perfectly consistent that as well as being intellectually brilliant scientist and an expert in martial arts, she also has experience of holding a position of power. This is one of my favourite episodes because of its surreal atmosphere epitomising that aspect of The Avengers and because we get to see Emma Peel at her best and most capable.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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