Skip to main content

If we're going to be dragged into the Sun, it'll be summer all the way for all of us. Until we melt.

The Avengers
2.21: White Dwarf

Malcolm Hulke’s first solo contribution to The Avengers has a great “What if?” premise, running along more jaundiced lines than the apocalyptic The Day the Earth Caught Fire a few years earlier. An astronomer has forecast the re-entry of a white dwarf into Earth’s solar system, spelling destruction for the planet. When he shows up dead, Steed and Cathy are called into investigate, but rather than furnishing us with a classic doomsday scenario, Hulke offers a tale of greed via stock market manipulation.


Cathy: Do you know what the return of the white dwarf would mean? It would go for the Sun but it would take us with it.

It has to be said that Steed and Cathy seem remarkably cheerful and chipper in the face of imminent disaster, although Steed is assuming Professor Richter (Keith Pyott, Autloc in The Aztecs) was wrong, and that’s why he was killed. The government has kept a lid on things until the professor’s assessment can be confirmed, to prevent unnecessary worldwide social disorder; if the information leaks, as during threats of war, prices on the stock market would drop, and whoever contributed the leak, knowing it was false, could buy up shares on the cheap and make “the biggest killing in history”. He further suggests “the person who wants to buy up half the world would need all the money he can lay his hands on”.


Cathy: After all, what would you do if someone came bursting in here and accused your brother of perpetrating a suicide?
Steed: I’d be very surprised, because I haven’t got a brother.

It turns out that Max Barker (George A Cooper, Cherub in The Smugglers, but more especially Mr Griffiths in Grange Hill) is the man set to make a killing, along with his broker associate Johnson (Bill Nagy), having been confided in by the former’s well-meaning brother Henry (Peter Copley, Dr Warlock in Pyramids of Mars), a Ministry of Science employee.


While this is a case of, so far, so good, the ending is a typically rushed (and sped-up) muddle. We discover the hugely unlikely perpetrator isn’t Max or his minions, but Professor Cartwright (Philip Latham, who played the final, and hugely unlikely, Borusa in The Five Doctors); Cathy has swapped slides and, believing Richter’s theory to be true, Cartwright confesses he murdered the professor and also Rahim (Paul Anil, Jacko in The Underwater Menace) for the sake of one million squidlingtons (for common Doctor Who featured players completion’s sake, also in the cast is George Roubicek, Captain Hopper in The Tomb of the Cybermen).


Both Steed and Cathy are well served, the former sending the latter to Cornwall (an awful lot seems to happen in Cornwall in The Avengers) so he can get on with “Having a good time while there’s still time to have it”. He doesn’t, of course, and his own theories are key to solving the case. To wit, he has been consulting the Boys’ Book of Astronomy for all his scientific data, later managing to confuse subjects (“This book is about astrology!” exclaims Cathy, who gives her birthday as 5 October again).


The guest house is a winningly eccentric affair, with landlady Miss Tregarth (Constance Chapman) dictating meals comprising no sugar or meat, and not allowing smoking (that must be hell for Steed and Cathy). When Steed arrives asking for a room, she’s fully booked so he has to take a blanket in the lounge. But just for one night. “It won’t be the end of the world” consoles Miss Tregarth. A distinctive episode, and if it weren’t for the rather perfunctory closing stages it might have been one of the standouts of the season.








Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.