The Living Dead
I may be alone in the world. I like this episode. Why? Admittedly it indeed had a very thin plot—for the first few scenes, anyway! The ghost scenes, far from being creepy, are downright corny, and airy Mandy as a traitor is just a little too hard to believe. The "underground people invade the country" theme has been used about five times at this point, and is getting old. Well, that's what I don't like. Why do I still love this episode?
After both Steed and Emma are underground, the plot becomes much more paced and interesting. The way she passes the time (by standing on her head, no less!) and when Steed faces the firing squad, and of course, when Emma gets the machine gun, are fantastic.
I'm going to take the "firing squad" scene into more detail here and explain why I like it so much. The lines are excellent ("It's important to do these things well.") and you can tell Steed really is afraid. ("Blindfold?" "I think yes.") Once the machine gun sounds, I enjoy seeing Emma save Steed for a change, a performance she repeats the next week in "The Hidden Tiger." And another good line, easily missed: "For that you definitely get a mention in my will." Why do I like that line so much? Macnee's delivery was excellent, and I was still thinking he'd be shot full of holes. And, of course, the kiss on the cheek.
Not a fabulous episode, but not as bad as many think. Not on my Top Ten, but in the Top Twenty it may get a mention.
The Living Dead
Of course, the ghost scenes are corny and the storyline is pure cliché, but I think that, as so often in this series, this is partly the point. It's easy (especially with the benefit of hindsight) to satirise cold-war paranoia in its TV and film manifestations, but here the satire is so subtle that you can easily miss it. Personally I enjoyed Steed's patronising response to Masgard's little difficulties over English idiom—surely a send-up of countless similar scenes from patriotic war films, where Jerry's linguistic ignorance gives him away and invites ridicule—as well as the entirely unnecessary and deliciously over-the-top detail of the soldiers' means of transportation. Not content with building an underground city, we have an army arriving by submarine (of course, we'll need a tunnel)—just in case anyone still thought, at this stage, that the storyline was meant to be taken seriously. Emma's expression on hearing this little snippet of information, proudly announced by Masgard, is, as far as I'm concerned, to be treasured. But now we're on the subject of Ms Rigg's talent for comedy, the finest moment for me is when Mandy has just been introduced to Steed and is breathlessly explaining the reasons for her presence. The latter's face, as she is speaking, moves closer and closer to Steed's, and (before the interruption of the church bell) so does Emma's, in a piece of deadpan mimicry which, when I rewound the tape and realised what was happening, had me in stitches. I wouldn't mind betting she ad-libbed that.
Again, I think you have to credit the director, or the writer, with a degree of intelligent irony when it comes to the fighting scenes. Emma takes out Masgard and another fairly hefty-looking male in a matter of seconds with consummate ease, twirls the latter round a couple of times over her shoulder for good measure before dumping him insouciantly like a bag of groceries, and with a charming smile and every hair in place, sets out to rescue Steed. It's only on encountering the petite and delicate-looking Mandy that the full repertoire of fighting skills is called for. Perhaps with a more leisurely shooting schedule, these role-reversal scenes, where Steed is the damsel in distress and only the women have a clue about fighting, could have been redone to point the contrast more effectively and amusingly, but I think it (just about) works. As also does the dithering incompetence of the soldiers at the end, or the fact that at no time during the slow countdown to Steed's execution do either he or Emma seem to experience any kind of real stress—Emma does not look even mildly worried. If you make the mistake of taking all this more seriously than it's meant to be taken, it's guaranteed to irritate—but as long as you recognise that this one's played strictly for laughs (even the firing squad soldier caught in close-up seems to be smirking) I don't think there's really much to complain about. Good harmless fun.
The Living Dead
"It's far too elaborate for a private fantasy."
After a lovely "We're needed" scene, the first half of the story is very atmospheric, directed and lit almost as well as a monochrome Emma episode. The chapel, graveyard, and pub sets are small but employed extremely well. The mystery of the Duke's malevolent staff, lurking observers, hidden solarium, and top-secret cellar are set up suspensefully—much of the fun being due to Steed's heavy-handed investigation (his comments on how well-painted he considers the flouted "Keep Out" sign are hilarious). He approaches "flushing out" spies with all the subtlety a game hunt beater uses to put pheasants to flight—and it works!
The cast: Julian Glover again plays an arrogant militaristic heavy. Why does he never get cast as eccentric villains, the way other recurring actors such as Peter Bowles did? A waste. Kermit the Hermit is a babbling annoyance, and both Dukes are non-entities. But the competing SMOG and FOG investigators (Pamela Ann Davy and Vernon Dobtcheff) provide some fun, and Jack Watson's former miner/landlord is a great ally for steed. Emma's finding of the SMOG man's corpse is particularly well done (swinging on a church bell rope, impaled by a crusader effigy's sword). Best of all is the diffident firing squad commander, who is more nervous than his intended target!
Steed shows his steel... I enjoy the rare occasions when the coldly determined "no-nonsense" agent briefly emerges from the urbane-debonair gent. Teasing Masgard on his transparent "Englishness," repeatedly gripping Kermit's arm to prevent the alcoholic tramp from taking a sip until he's coughed up the information, and impassively polite and patient when faced with execution.
Was Diana on another holiday? Emma gets little to do, but her final scenes are fun and we rarely get to see her using a sub-machinegun in anger! Cyd Child mentions that her own "guard-spinning" fight in the cell caused worries among the production team because her face was fully visible, but no viewers noticed on transmission. Well, I may not have noticed originally, but watching this scene proves what a magnificent woman Ms Child is, effortlessly manhandling the guard in true Emma tradition and in the process looking just as lovely in an "Emmapeeler" as Ms Rigg.
The music seemed unusually limp... perhaps I'm spoilt by the preceding season and Tara soundtracks. Writing? It's hard to believe this story was plotted by the chap who wrote No Sex Please, We're British (a long-running stage farce); Brian Clemens does his best but it lacks the usual wit and charm.
Finally, I'm starting to get a bit disturbed by the way every bar set in The Avengers looks very very similar — having just watched "The Living Dead", the pub "The Duke of Benedict" bears striking similarities to the jolly old Gremlin in "The Town of No Return," and also the pub interiors in "Silent Dust" and "Man-Eater of Surrey Green." Sadly Emma doesn't sip a pint of ale in this one. It felt especially odd seeing Emma-horsewhipping Juggins (Jack Watson) return from "Silent Dust" as the friendly landlord in this episode. Maybe his "scrumpy" ran out!
"That isn't the cold. It's the vibration." Better than I remembered—I can almost forgive the retread of the "The Town of No Return" plot. Three out of five bowlers. There's better to come!
The Living Dead
Plot: OK. The same plot from "The Town of No Return," just on a grander scale. In short, implausible. I did like the twist of Mandy of FOG being one of the villains, which I was not expecting. Why couldn't the Russians just bomb Britain, then wait ten years and invade, instead of going to the trouble of building an underground city?
Humour: Good. The highlight of this episode is Steed's execution, with the line, "Do you have any last requests before you..." "Yes, please cancel my milk." I also enjoyed the scene where Steed was trespassing and they ask if he saw the "Keep Out" sign, and he describes it and comments on it.
Direction: Excellent. Wonderful shots at Steed's execution, the graveyard, and also there was a wonderful slow zoom in on Kermit that soon turned into a quick zoom.
Acting: Good. As usual, great performances from Howard Marion Crawford and Julian Glover.
Music: Good. Although I recognized the music as being from previous episodes, I still enjoyed it and it fit well.
Tag: Very Good. This tag has a great quirky value with Emma's play voice.
Miscellaneous: I found Mandy extremely annoying until she turned out to be a villain and not a stupid idiot. I couldn't believe Steed would find her attractive; maybe it was just physical attraction. One thing I found interesting in this episode was when Steed was interrogating Kermit, Emma closed the pub door so as not to let the people see; I found this a little bit of insight into the fact that the public is kept blissfully unaware of diabolical masterminds. I found it rather brutal of Emma to kill the firing squad, but she had no other choice. This episode is truly a remake of "The Town of No Return." It just doesn't have the charm or creepy feeling that "Town" had, though.
Overall Rating: 6/10
The Living Dead
Steed and Emma are sent to a small English mining village to investigate a series of hauntings, in which the ghost of Rupert the fifteenth Duke of Benedict (Edward Underdown) has been seen rising from his grave and ringing the bells in the deserted chapel. Rupert was believed killed when he was showing off his mining techniques to a group of experts when the roof of his mine caved in. The mine was then closed down, but Steed and Emma's investigations lead them to Masguard (Julian Glover) a resident at Geoffrey (Howard Marion Crawford) (the sixteenth duke of Benedict's) house who is in fact a member of the opposition and with the new Duke's help and that of a team of experts, faked the mining disaster and kept Rupert and his team as prisoners to build an underground city for his army which plans to expand and take over Great Britain.
An imaginatively plotted episode with some obviously fake studio-bound settings (but the underground city set of Robert Jones) is impressive. The opening sequence where Rupert manifests himself in the churchyard is suitably eerie thanks to Laurie Johnson's eerie mood music and the episode bares the series' hallmarks of well groomed suspense at the climax where Mrs Peel rescues Steed from Masguard's firing squad. Performances as always are impeccable right down to the tiniest part. One of the many delights of The Avengers was the quality of the acting and the calibre of the guest stars that the series managed to attract. Julian Glover and Howard Marion Crawford may not of been international stars, but they were familiar faces at the time. Glover had starred alongside Christopher Lee in Sam Gallu's horror film Theatre of Death (1966) and Howard Marion Crawford played Nayland Smith's sidekick Dr Petrie in the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films. Interestingly this story is based on a story by Anthony Marriot who wrote notable stage successes such as No Sex Please We're British.
The Living Dead
I think The Living Dead is an under-rated episode. The plot is basically a mashup of The Town of No Return and Castle De'ath, but with the ludicrousness of those ideas amplified so that rather than a underground bunker or a submarine to be uncovered we have an entire underground city with an army delivered by submarine for Steed and Emma to defeat. The parody of espionage plots in the previous series turns into self-parody here. A few elements lift the episode above its somewhat derivative plot. The first is the FOG vs. SMOG feud near the beginning of the episode and Emma's reactions, particularly to Mandy. The second is the character of Mandy herself. As FOG representative she appears to be extremely ditzy, but she insinuates herself into Steed's investigations and then double-crosses him—a good twist. She's the only one who puts up any kind of a fight as Emma goes to Steed's rescue. Mandy should have been the one in charge, not Masgard. The third and best of all is the firing squad scene, where Steed remains impressively calm and has to reassure his nervous would-be executioner. It's not one of the very best episodes, but I'd rate it quite highly—three and a half bowlers out of four.
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