The Hidden Tiger
To the delight and joy of all Avengers fans, the great Philip Levene makes a triumphant return with "The Hidden Tiger". His script blends suspense, absurdity and sparkling humor, laying the foundations for one of the best episodes of Season Five. Of course, this is true as long as you, dear reader, don't take the premise of this episode too seriously, staring distrustfully at your poor cat once the show ends... Our adored pussies will always be as harmless as ever, even if, for The Avengers, "inside every cat there's a hidden tiger."
The thing is that from the beginning, Levene handles the intrigue factor at will, and leaves us pondering for a while about what evil thing could maul those men, and even an adult bull, to death. "The Winged Avenger" had been overcome in a previous episode, so clearly, we're dealing with another mystery now. Any clues? Well, one might speculate that Steed's visit to the amusing Major Nesbit—an expert in hunting who collects embalmed heads of big cats—is oriented towards the search for a lion or a tiger. This is suggested especially when Steed finds Emma cuddling a lovely white cat in her arms, and comments: "I think it's something a little larger than that."
Nevertheless, when Nesbit is killed in his unique "cage," one begins to suspect that the animal has been able to fit through the bars. So, the intrigue increases: is it a pussy or a big cat? Let's see: all the victims gape at "that thing" in terrible state of panic, their eyes pointed upwards, as if their attacker was something larger than a cat. In addition, Steed finds several claw marks on the top of the cottage door where Bellamy was attacked. On the top? We know cats can jump very high, but why so high when Bellamy was shorter than that door? And what's more, those scratches are very large and rather deep to be inflicted by a cat, even when the animal was infuriated. But that is where Levene's script leans confidently towards the absurd: to fantasize that housecats could become killing felines through radio-controlled manipulation of their brainwaves and, according to the villains' plan, could bring England to her knees. Not only that: those cats seem to have been endowed with an exceptional intelligence: "Whatever it was," states Mrs Peel, upon leaving Erskine's laboratory, "was here. And now it's turning North, and now it's moving West, due West, towards Nesbit's place." As hilarious as The Avengers as a whole!
Naturally, this colorful charade would not have been as effective were it not supported by characters as eccentric as the storyline. And to talk about the eccentrics in "The Hidden Tiger," might well take a long while! From Nesbit, who goes hunting around the English countryside as though he were on safari in Africa, and later cooks that smelly goo (which, by the way, makes Steed utter "Hmmm... looks delicious!"), tothe outlandish characters of P.U.R.R.R., one finds a plethora of eccentrics. In addition, Steed taking a bottle of champagne out of a basket, as he had before in "The Bird Who Knew Too Much," leads us to believe that he usually drinks such a bubbly beverage at room temperature!
As if this wasn't enough, the play on words Levene conceived for each character, coupled with the double entendre flowing through the dialogue, makes us take our hats off to him! "On the bottle again, Cheshire?" Dr Manx gripes upon catching Cheshire lapping the milk he just poured into a glass. "And what a joy for you it must be when she's curled up in your lap," Cheshire says to Steed, talking about Steed's "fictitious" tabby, Emma. "I've never really thought of it that way," retorts Steed, with an evident lewd facial expression. Or Mrs Peel, telling Cheshire about the particular behavior of her "fictitious" cat, John, the one with an "aristocratic nose": "He's very bad tempered first thing in the morning... until he's had his first glass of champagne."
Is it still necessary to give more details on the sexual innuendo between Steed and Mrs. Peel? If so, who could not get hooked on the tag scene? All you need is to concentrate on Steed, drawing the heart and painting only his initials "JS" on one side, with the perspicacious Emma peeking behind. Quite a jewel! Like the entire episode, about which, instead of "woof!", we should say "meow!" A truly enjoyable show to watch a thousand and one times... with our cat curled up in our lap.
The Hidden Tiger
Watching in the UK viewing order, this one follows "The Living Dead" and after such a plot-based episode, this is really just a series of set-pieces and quirky characters. Cheshire, Manx and Angora (all named after breeds of cats!) who run P.U.R.R.R. are each interesting in their own ways; the coldly analytical Manx nevertheless looks after the pussies well — but his explanation of the reasons for paralyzing the country by using radio-transmitters to turn cats into savage beasts is unconvincing. He reckons that bank vaults and safes will then be available to him. But won't they still be locked? Another odd bit is that after Steed and Emma escape the confines of PURRR's headquarters, Manx, terrified by a cat being in his "getaway van," crashes — Steed and Emma are there in moments, despite following on foot, and the bemused cat is unharmed in the crash (I love its docile expression — it takes a writer of Levene's caliber to build up to a scene where the villain is scared to death by the most sedate-looking domestic pet ever!).
Gabrielle Drake is scheming and beautiful at the same time — and looking very feline. Ronnie Barker (a great ironic name for someone playing a cat-lover!) is as madly loveable as in all his TV appearances, and the interplay between Steed and Emma is, as usual, brilliant. My only gripe is that the "unknown killer" scenes show the cats as attacking at the height of the human eyeline. Perhaps they were running around the walls? (I know that this was mainly for the practical reason of not showing the studio lighting gantries, but it always bugged me.) PURRR HQ has lovely sets — from Bast statues to the clever tiger-themed (alternating black and yellow) corridor with the cats-eyes peepholes!
Four bowlers for ideas, eccentrics, sets and characterization — especially those cat-descriptions from Emma and Steed (I would give only two bowlers for plot and the misleading killer scenes, but that would be missing the point).
The Hidden Tiger
Plot: Good. Turning cats back to their wild instincts by sending electrical waves through their brain by using miniaturized transmitters works for me. Although I do believe if I got into a fight with a cat I would come out victor—if badly scratched.
Humour: Very Good. Steed and Emma describing each other as cats was hilarious. There is a tie for best line(s) between "The name of your beloved pussy?" "Oh! Emma"—double entendre or what!—and, "Has your little John any other peculiarities?" "Well, he's very bad tempered first thing in the morning, until he's had his first glass of champagne."
Direction: Very Good. Nice experimental shots during the attack from the cats, but it did get a little old.
Acting: Very Good. Nice performances from Ronnie Barker and John Phillips.
Music: Very Good. I like the music when Emma finds the transmitter on the cat. Great suspense music when Steed and Emma race the clock! The funeral music featured in this episode is also in "The Gravediggers" and "The Murder Market."
Tag: Good. Awww... Steed's heart on the wall.
Miscellaneous: During the stakeout when Emma looks at the dairy farm from a distance, you see a shot of a distant structure with light reflecting off something—I am sure this is a shot from "From Venus With Love." Peters has a very strange accent. I enjoyed hearing Emma's "purrr." It was also nice to see Emma in a variation of her "cat" suit—I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.
Overall Rating: 8/10
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