Since I watched the color Mrs. Peel episodes before the black and white ones, I ended up seeing the less-than-satisfactory "Return of the Cybernauts" before "The Cybernauts." Thus, I began watching with apprehension. Needless to say, the teaser immediately shot down any memories of "Return" and let me know I was watching a classic episode.
Beginning with a frenzied man blasting away at some unknown thing (and pointing his rifle directly at the camera—cool shot), this episode does the best of nearly any to grab your attention right away. A few minutes later, the unknown thing slides over to make Victim Number Four in another well-directed rampage. Unfortunately, the episode begins to start several pointless subplots which are designed to pad this episode out. Mrs. Peel's visit to the karate school may be a fun red herring for those who have never seen the episode, but it really down the episode drags. Also, the constant visits to various businessmen and contacts (Tusamo, Jephcott, Gilbert, Armstrong) tends to grate a little.
Things seriously improve once again when Steed meets with Dr. Armstrong. Played chillingly by Michael Gough (who was saddled with a horrible role in "The Correct Way to Kill"), Armstrong is one of the show's best villains. From there, the episode is suspense all the way, as Steed must stop Armstrong's Cybernaut from killing Mrs. Peel... but how? The solution is actually quite clever, and we are treated to some rather non-PC action (I'm not sure if censors nowadays would let one do to a cripple what the Cybernauts do in this episode... similarly in "Death at Bargain Prices") and wonderful direction.
All in all, this is a great episode. The guest cast is peerless—Gough's ultra-confident villain (it's actually sort of sad when the Cybernauts don't obey at the end), Frederick Jaeger's yutz of a sidekick (the sequence where Steed disarms him is a classic), Burt Kwouk's genially arrogant businessman, and John Hollis' "Sensai" are wonderful, well-defined characters. The technical elements are outstanding throughout. There's just one quibble... the ending presents a Cybernaut with "a brain of its own." It seems awkward introducing it off-handedly, and why doesn't Armstrong use this as his killer?
There's a lot to like in this episode. This is my favorite line: Mrs. Peel: "I can't wait to meet Oyama, the 'Tall Mountain'." Steed: "What's he got that I haven't got?"
Here's a scene which has me baffled: in Steed's apartment, Steed is talking to an agent named Gilbert who, while he talks, moves around the apartment straightening pictures, adjusting the lampshade, and repositioning trophies. Near the end of their conversation Gilbert pulls on a projecting knob of Steed's couch, and the entire right side of the couch keels over and falls down! Was this supposed to happen? In the next scene in Steed's apartment, Mrs. Peel is sitting on that end of the couch, and although the right side has been tied back up, you can see that it hasn't been tightly secured: it's still leaning out to the side.
There's a scene where Steed is crawling through an air-conditioning vent and his way is blocked by a grate. As he grapples with the grate, which according to the plot line is immovable, you can see it moving. If anything, it looks like Steed is trying to prevent it from falling over.
Near the end, there's a moment where Steed shouts to Mrs. Peel: "Throw me the pen!" At this point, the relationship between Steed and Mrs. Peel has progressed so that it's entirely credible that Steed would sacrifice himself to save her, although of course it doesn't turn out that way.
A favorite of many; a classic to be sure, but in my opinion, it's not one of the all time greats. Frankly, I liked "Never, Never Say Die" more. Yes, as with many Avengers episodes, the concept was well ahead of its time, but I always want more when I watch this episode.
It has all the right ingredients for The Avengers: Steed, Mrs. Peel, a fantastic plot... the humor is not as prevalent, but as this is a more serious episode, it's not expected.
Honestly, though I respect "The Cybernauts" as a classic episode of television, I never feel satisfied after viewing it, and I don't know why. Unfortunately, "Return of the Cybernauts" doesn't do much for my dissatisfaction.
2 out of 5 bowlers.
A classic, a classic, a classic. The Avengers' answer to Doctor Who's Daleks, this story has it all. A hell of a sinister mastermind, played brilliantly by Michael Gough (a Who alum, by the way, from the lost Hartnell story, "The Celestial Toymaker"), a wonderful sound track, and some eerie sets and direction which give it a classy, creepy atmosphere. The Avengers "Code" against "extras" worked particularly well in this story. You really got the feeling in Armstrong's factory that the whole world collapsed into no one else but you, a madman, and his deadly robotic assassins.
Armstrong, despite being a recluse, has a charm about him that makes him vulnerable, and even more nasty. He plays a gracious host to Steed during their first encounter. Then he snaps into mad scientist persona when Steed leaves ("I may be in this wheelchair, but I'm perfectly capable of dealing with Mr. Steed!"). Then he really loses it at the end with lines like, "There's no escape, Steed!" In the last scene, when Armstrong brings down "Roger" ("This one has a mind of its own!"), you can see the gleam in his eye vanish instantly once Steed tricks the cybernauts into fighting each other. I honestly feel for the nasty little man as he sits in his chair with his mouth gaping wide open when they start hitting each other. He thought he and his machines were invincible. But in the end, both had a child-like vulnerability that lead to their mutual destruction. A very interesting character study.
No question: quintessential Avengers. Four big bowlers.
Plot: Excellent. Outlandish and unbelievable but very fun and suspenseful. A great science fiction story.
Humour: Excellent. The scene where Steed takes the photographs with his umbrella is wonderful. The line "Son of Confucius?" "Steed" is great. Probably my favorite line is when Steed asks the Japanese secretary for her name and she says, "Smith."
Direction: Excellent. Wonderful shots of Steed and Emma in that Star Trek-like elevator. Hiding the face of the cybernaut for so long was somewhat annoying but had a good horror film fill to it and added to the suspense.
Acting: Excellent. Another great performance from Michael Gough. John Hollis's performance had an interesting vibe to it.
Tag: OK. I'm disappointed they didn't drive away as usual, and it was quite weird. Mrs. Peel drives up says something to Steed and drives off. Strange.
Miscellaneous: The all-knowing computer reminded me of The Prisoner. For some reason this episode reminds me of "The Positive Negative Man." I suppose because we don't see the villain for some time.
Overall Rating: 10/10
Yes! This is exactly what I hoped to find when I spotted that handful of DVDs. The Avengers? Hey, I remember watching that many years ago, let's see how much money I have on me...
As always, spoilers piled chest-high.
"The Cybernauts" is a terrific thriller that has some of the feel of a Hammer horror film. (I really expected Christopher Lee's Mummy to smash through the door in the opening sequence.) The droll aspect of the show is at a minimum this time, making the monsters seem like a genuine threat. There is one chunk of the story which (while great as far as advancing the plot goes) is handled so poorly it's embarrassing. But that's not enough to be more than a slight speed bump.
Off to a good start, as we see a panic-crazed man lock himself in his study. Although he takes a few shots with his pistol at the twin doors, whatever is pounding on the other side doesn't seem discouraged. Black-gloved fists smash through the doors and break them down, the man snatches a shotgun off the wall and fires but with no effect. Then a dark bulk looms between us and the victim, there's a whip crack noise and we see the man standing for a second with his head tilted to one side before he drops. The staging on this is strangely unnerving; the victim was evidently killed so quickly and cleanly that he didn't have time to fall. On the floor, the barrels of the shotgun have been bent into a U-shape by the attacker's swiping the gun aside. Strong fellow. Then this wonderfully creepy "Cybernaut March" music starts up...
Our avenging couple investigate the shambles of the crime, with Steed particularly bemused by the way the barrels of the shotgun have been twisted. ("Whichever way you aim it, you hit the chandelier.") Mrs Peel arrives with the file on the two previous victims; all three men were top executives in the electronics field, dead with broken necks or smashed skulls. Even as Steed wonders if there will be a fourth, we see a Cybernaut repeat his habit of punching through a door, disregarding bullets and dropping a man in his tracks (again, with that grisly moment where the victim stands dead for a second before falling).
A common link in the crimes is that the men were negotiating with a Japanese firm for a new "circuit element" that will make transistors even tinier. (This means the Iron Man armor will finally be practical! Call Tony Stark.) Steed goes to poke around the Harachi Corporation a bit, but Emma tries a different tack. Feeling that the deathblow resembles a karate strike she recognizes, she visits a local karate school.
Here is where the episode stumbles and almost hits the pavement. Sigh. The scenes with Mrs Peel at the dojo just ring false in so many ways that it brutally cracks my suspension of disbelief. Aside from wanting to slap the smug obnoxious sensei (listed in the credits as "sensai") upside his little bald-wig head,* I found the way the students were allegedly training to be so unconvincing it almost seems deliberate. Emma has to prove her credibility by challenging the only female student, a sullen blonde woman called Oyuka. Again, there seems to be more judo than karate involved and the fight is staged quite stiffly and in near slow-motion.
(To be fair, in 1965 very few of us in the UK or the States knew much about Asian martial arts. Seeing a clip from one of today's Jet Li films, for example, would likely have seemed nothing but a confusing blur of motion to an audience back then. Of course, not longer after "The Cybernauts," Bruce Lee started his dynamic demonstrations on The Green Hornet and Western audiences quickly became more familiar with gung fu and other arts.)
I am also stunned by the fact that this sensei (he introduces himself as "the Knowledgeable One", very humble) has a student Oyama who is "a fifth Dan at Judo, a fourth Dan at karate." The sensei says he is truly proud of Oyama, but you have to wonder what sort of unbelievably high rank he himself must hold if this is just one of his students. Maybe he studied at Sinanju. It also takes a lot of gall to name yourself after the real master Mas Oyama, who founded the hard style Kyokushinkai-kan. And when this expert enters the dojo announced by a student striking a gong, I lost all faith in research done by the writers.**
Anyway, the karate angle turns out to be a wrong alley as far as the investigation goes. The killer is actually (as nearly all Avengers fans must know) a Cybernaut. That is, a radio-controlled robot with a stiff metal mannequin-type head (no glowing lenses for eyes or anything like that). The monster dresses up in the classic black overcoat, fedora, gloves and sunglasses used by so many horrible movie creatures. Once given his orders, the Cybernaut tracks a signal emitted by a fancy pen that the robot's creator gives to intended victims. Behind this whole vile scheme is not Davros, but another equally twisted genius also in a motorized wheelchair.
MIchael Gough is (as usual) very good in the role of mad Dr Clement Armstrong, owner of a fully-automated nearly human-free factory. Rolling about in his fancy chair, surrounded by closed-circuit television and other gadgets very hip for that era, Armstrong wants the Japanese circuit so he can build an army of Cybermen and conquer the world (diabolical laugh!).
Things get ticklish as Armstrong catches on to Steed's game (for one thing, he's entirely too well dressed to be a reporter for a science magazine) who traps himself in the automated factory. Earlier, Armstrong had given Steed one of those infernal pens and sent a Cybernaut out to track its radio signal. But sticky-fingered Emma has the pen (oh, no!). Luckily, she herself is heading toward the factory because Steed is late returning to her apartment.
So begins a suspenseful sequence of a Cybernaut stalking our heroes through the darkened corridors and (just to throw another firecracker in the mix) Armstrong has now unleashed a second robot—one which can think for itself. I would love it if the improved Cybernaut had said, "Who needs this?" and went off to work on math problems, but it's just as homicidal as the first model. Luckily for all of us who want to live free of a Cybernaut Empire, Steed and Emma is quick witted enough to find the only solution... pit the two killer robots against each other. Nice thinking!
There are so many good points about this episode (and just the dodgy karate sequence as a minus) that I'd guess this would make the top ten list of many fans. It's amusing when Mr Tusamo predicts "computers no bigger than a cigarette box, pocket television and radios smaller than a wristwatch." What a wild dreamer! Next he'll be spinning fantasies about portable telephones that can tap into a global information network. My goodness. (It's too bad I'm such a cinema heathen, though, because as soon as Bert Kwouk appeared, I was waiting for Peter Sellers to leap out of a closet upon him.)
A typically delightful moment comes, when at the scene of one of the murders, our idols check out the seven foot high man-shaped hole in the wall. Who could possibly have done that? asks Emma, and they both look down with wild surmise at this adorable little toy robot whirring along on a shelf.
Mrs Peel understandably gets such a disproportionate share of praise when this show is discussed that it's nice to see Steed slyly distracting Tusamo so he can take some surreptitious photos with a camera built into his umbrella handle, and that it's he who realizes the Cybernaut will slug away at whoever holds the signal pen—even if it's another Cybernaut. I think I'll make it a point to play up Steed's contributions to the Avengers' triumphs. You might note that he seizes the assistant's gun hand and rather deftly hurls the man the length of a table in a neat somersault. The man in the bowler hat and tailored suit is stronger than you might think.
You can tell it's a British show when Armstrong's assistant wipes his sweating face with a handkerchief and says "It's very hot in here. It's over seventy!" One of the intriguing aspects for me of English shows and films was that the homes and buildings always seemed so damp and chilly, so that the characters dressed well, compared to American programs. Even as a kid I noticed everyone wearing sweaters or jackets inside and closing doors behind them everywhere they went in their houses.
*John Hollis, I believe, really is bald.
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