The Avengers is often described as a tongue-in-cheek spy series, where light-hearted comedy was the order of the day, and where characters and the situations they found themselves in were not to be taken too seriously. This certainly gives a fairly accurate description of the Emma Peel era, and many of the episodes that fall within that time-frame; however, there were notable exceptions to the rule, and "Death's Door" is definitely one of them.
Here we see our dashing duo thrust into the dark and dangerous world of political intrigue as they try to unmask a sinister group of saboteurs determined to wreck havoc on a high-level international diplomatic peace conference. Phillip Levene provides a sharp and edgy script, while director Sidney Hayers throws up a series of disturbing images. There are fine performances from the guest line-up as well as some memorable moments. The action sequences are particularly noteworthy as they are fast-moving and quite energetic. It's a pity the series didn't venture into the realm of the serious more often. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a humorous romp as much as the next person, but a slight downfall of the colour era of The Avengers was that the episodes sometimes became a bit too self-indulgent for their own good (i.e. "Epic"). Nevertheless, "Death's Door," along with it "The Joker," demonstrated that when The Avengers wanted to be taken seriously, it could still impress and entertain its respective audience.
This is great, tight political thriller with a twist that's pure Avengers. The thriller: political intrigue to destroy a conference that aimed at establishing a United Europe (ironically, the EU backwards, and 30 years ahead of its time). The twist: a bizarre arrangement to get into the heads of the British diplomats so that fear will keep them away from the conference.
All the characterizations were strong and well acted. I like that Sir Andrew knew both Steed and Emma ("my dear!"). Lord Melford was at once strong, before the nightmares, and piteous, afterwards. And Becker was my main man! Talk about a face to give you nightmares! He reminded me of that equally ghostly looking woman from the Twilight Zone episode which used a nightmare to scare this other woman, a striptease artist, from getting on a plane. (You remember? In the nightmare, the woman stood in front of the morgue entrance and said "room for one more, honey." The woman turned out to be a flight attendant on a plane that exploded.)
I love the scene where Becker pops up from the bottom of the screen, à là James Burke from Connections. And the scene between Becker and Steed truly holds you at the edge of your chair, starting with the dialog and ending with the shooting scene. Steed proved that "in the right hands, one shot is all you need." And who could not like the scene where Steed is confront by Mrs. Peel with a stocking over her head as she welcomes him to "nightmare alley"?
A fine outing all the way around. Four bowlers out of four.
This is The Avengers at its best. In this episode we see all the elements that made the series so unique. Our heroes are on top form, with Steed and Emma showing style, humour and cunning, and this episode makes use of Steed and Emma working together to resolve the problem in hand. This format, I believe works most effectively as I find it disheartening when either works alone on different elements of the case.
The storyline is unique, witty and imaginative, and is one of a select few Avengers episodes in which we are in the dark as much as Steed and Emma as to how the dreams that so effectively halt the peace talks are being engineered. It is also one of a select few episodes I would recommend showing to a first-time audience, as I believe it truly represents the style and feel of the programme in general. It makes use of great locations, brilliant direction, and, except for the standard, poorly realised studio driving scenes, has high production values.
Unfortunately, I often find this story receives criticism from fans of the series, which I find hard to understand as their are few factors on which to fault it. The only regret I have is that, in revealing the "trick" behind the whole affair, I always feel a disappointment that the finale we have been waiting for is reduced to Emma poking around the Warehouse. The Tag scene also leaves al lot to be desired, regrettably lacking the wit that the episode had displayed.
"Death's Door" is also quite macabre and dark when compared to other episodes: the masked press reporters and the filtered lens during the dream sequences are both memorable examples of this. The music for this story is also effective; Laurie Johnson gives us an eerie incidental theme tune to match an eerie story, and although much recycling is seen here, it is used effectively. To end this marvellous episode we also have, in my opinion one of the best fight sequences in the series, with good direction and stunt work, and the falling chandelier ends one of the best episodes, in my opinion, The Avengers saw.
Plot: Excellent. Drugging people, then putting them into a dreamlike environment, making them believe they are dreaming certain events, and then making some of them come true to make the people believe the rest will come true, is a great plot. The plot has some similarities to "Something Nasty in the Nursery."
Humour: Poor. Very little humour in this episode. Only the tag had enough humour to make me smile!
Direction: Very Good. Great direction during the dream sequences.
Acting: Very Good. It was nice to see Clifford Evans again. Allan Cuthbertson did a great job as Melford.
Music: Very Good. The music in the fight between Emma and the chauffer was good.
Tag: Very Good. Maybe Steed was dreaming that Emma was in the Harem like the events of "Honey for the Prince."
Miscellaneous: I really enjoyed the scene where the brakes failed—I found myself quite excited there for a second before I reminded myself that they were going to be OK because it's The Avengers. Great ironic ending of the chandelier falling on Stapley.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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