Skip to main content

I have never tasted a more magnificent pheasant. It was a masterpiece, doctor.

The Avengers
3.5: Death a La Carte

An episode with a seemingly frivolous premise (murder in the kitchen), is furnished with surprisingly robust plotting despite itself. That said, writer John Lucarotti, in his pre-penultimate teleplay for the series, more than delivers on the humorous potential (and title). Which makes this very much Steed’s show, posing as chef Sebastian Stonemarten and enjoying himself immensely.


Dr Spender: (observing the Emir having a drink) You shouldn’t, you know.
Emir Abdulla Akaba: So you have been telling me for years.
Dr Spender: And so has your religion.

Part of the fun here, even though it isn’t dwelt upon, is that as a cook Steed can clearly compete with the best of them. He’s called in, under cover of a classically voluminous chef’s hat, to cater for the needs of Emir Abdulla Akaba (Henry Lincoln, of Doctor Who Yeti and Holy Blood Holy Grail fame, donning blackface), an ailing Arab in London for his annual health check who does so like to indulge the very best of gastronomic delights. Cathy is on board as his social director for the visit, but the Emir’s longevity is put down to the persistence of Mellor (Robert James, Lesterson listen in The Power of the Daleks); Dr Spender (Paul Dawkins) suggests he would have died years ago without him.


Steed: A vintage Burgundy, the company of a beautiful woman, and a boeuf bourguignon – my recipe for a perfect evening.

Steed’s co-kitcheners are Lucien (Gordon Rollings) and Umberto (David Nettheim, Fedorin in The Enemy of the World), each expressing different specialities of cuisine. Presided over by the pompous, prissy Arbuthnot (Ken Parry), they’re instructed to keep all food preparations clearly distinct.  All is not well, of course, or the Avengers wouldn’t be there, and someone is out to put an end to the “ill-tempered, vain, selfish old devil” (Cathy’s words; Steed replies that his personality isn’t important, to which Cathy retorts “Ah, but his oil wells are”).


The murder plot involves drugged mushrooms, secreted into the penthouse suite by Mellor and prepared by Lucien, although they don’t get the chance to carry out their plan, firstly because Steed destroys Umberto’s cannelloni (“You great big steaming nit!” exclaims Umberto, dropping all pretence at Italian origins) and then because the Emir expires from natural causes (a coronary).


The true cause of death isn’t revealed until the final scene, though, and there’s even a nice little touch at the end of Act 2 when Spender’s reaction to the Emir’s exit suggests he too may be involved. If there’s a criticism, it’s that we know it’s Mellor up to no good too soon, and his motivations are never clearly outlined (“I’m afraid your revolting friends won’t be too pleased when they find you’ve made a mess of it” says Steed, but who they are and why exactly they’re intent on offing him goes unrevealed, unless I missed it). As matters come to a head, Steed engages in a brutal fight with the Emir’s lackey Ali (stuntman Valentino Musetti), which appears to conclude with the latter getting a face full of chip fat. Very unpleasant.


Along the way, there are numerous lovely little moments; the look Steed gives Cathy when Arbuthnot is complaining that Stonemarten should be off preparing the pheasant; Steed’s description of how he will prepare said bird, “As you would say, ‘stupendissimo’. Transports one out of this world”; Steed bringing the Emir a plate of poached eggs after the cannelloni goes tits-up; Umberto serving the pair a fish-and-chips supper in the closing scene (“We’re frying tonight”).


A witty, zesty little episode then, and a great showcase for Steed’s all-conquering urbanity. Death a la Carte is also blessed with a full-bodied, flavoursome cast.











Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .