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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

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

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…