Skip to main content

He’s an objectionable young man.

The Avengers
2.14: The Big Thinker

With a plot revolving around a super computer, one would be forgiven for thinking we might be due a proto-Proteus, a WOTAN, a Colossus or a Joshua. Instead, The Big Thinker is all about a big performance, and Anthony Booth more than delivers as abrasive, narcissistic, angry young Dr Kearns, plugging the gap where the teleplay falls short on outright intrigue.


Cathy: I see what you mean about the boy wonder... Are you always like this, or haven’t you had breakfast?

Booth has the dubious claim to distinction of playing Sidney Noggett in the Confessions… movies during the ‘70s, but is probably best known as the lefty son in Till Death Us Do Part. Here he fully embraces the plum, scene-stealing part of a young scientist vital to the functioning of Plato, a cryogenically powered computer. Kearns knows his value is intrinsic, so has no compunction in treating his colleagues like dirt (he’s guilty of “rudeness, irresponsibility, a lack of maturity”), except for Cathy, whom he attempts (badly) to charm. He loses interest in her on finding she is married, regains it on learning she is widowed, even slurs her beloved anthropology and loudly drops hints in public as to the top secrets things they are doing (“I’m ballistic, sweetheart. I’m ballistic”).


Martin Woodhouse previously contributed the standout Mr. Teddy Bear to Season Two. The Big Thinker isn’t up to that standard, lacking clear focus, but it is at least distinctive. This was director Kim Mills first of ten episodes, and his work is reasonable, if failing to give a sense that “Plato is this building – the whole building”.


Cathy: Snap! Would you like me to try for an ace? I expect you’ve trimmed the short side for the aces.

Much of the proceedings are preoccupied with the activities of a trio of card sharps, whom Cathy, professedly intent on using the computer to translated dead languages, must put off their game (Kearns is racking up debts with them). Broster (Allan McClelland), Blakelock (Ray Browne) and Clarissa (Penelope Lee) intend to squeeze Kearns once he owes them a shedload, leading to a satisfying scene in which Cathy trumps the sharp, immediately figuring out how he is loading the deck (“Clever, dead clever” responds Broster, moments before Cathy offers a judo chop to his arm and walks out with the winnings).


Steed: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The amateurs are still hard at it.

Later, when Bakelock and Clarissa break into her flat to snoop around, she handles them deceptively casually (“Would you like a cup of tea” she asks Clarissa, before the latter flees). They return for thirds (well, Broster and Clarissa), and this time Steed is on hand to put them in their place (“My dear, that is quite ineffective beyond a range of three feet” he advises of Clarissa’s gas gun).


Steed’s very much on the fringes here, overseeing how Cathy does on her own, it seems; he keeps claiming to be off to the Middle East but never actually departs, and playfully irritates Cathy by referring to Kearns as her boyfriend. He also has a new pooch, Freckles having been replaced by Sheba, calls the police under the name Caruthers, and persuades Cathy to cook him a plain omelette. Finally, he lets her keep the five hundred pounds she recovered from the sharps; having near frozen when trapped in the main computer room, Steed suggests “Buy yourself a fur coat. You know, you might have another cold snap”.


The episode features a range of good performances, from Lee and McLelland to Walter Hudd as benign chief scientist Dr Clemens, Marina Martin (Drahvin One in Galaxy Four) as Janet, besotted with the brash boy wonder (Cathy has a scene convincing her she is no threat to her would-be man), and Tenniel Evans (Major Daly in Carnival of Monsters) as Dr Hurst.


Farrow (David Garth, Solicitor Grey in The Highlanders, a Time Lord in Terror of the Autons), a recent addition to the team, immediately comes across as suspiciously genial (he’s using Plato to calculate star velocities?) so it isn’t exactly out of the blue when he’s revealed as the saboteur. Although, his last minute hack attempt with a crowbar is a rather hasty bodge even for The Avengers. The motive, Steed surmises, is that the computer is best used for missile defence – which certainly is a very common plot motivator – but this isn’t exactly foregrounded. I was also unclear if he was supposed to be connected to the card sharps.


On the face of it, then, this is a more of science fiction tinged episode, but it’s actually very down-to-earth; the characters and performances drive The Big Thinker for the most part, and it only really falls down in some of the execution.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.