Skip to main content

This is an imitation. Danger of instant death.

The Avengers
3.16: The Medicine Men

First broadcast on the same date as that more universally known medicine man (courtesy Joseph Lister), Doctor Who, this Mac Hulke script’s serious tone isn’t entirely justified by an unconvincing fiendish plot, as Steed and Cathy investigate imitation products (patent soap, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics) produced by Willis-Sopwith Pharmaceutical Company. It’s one of those episodes where the jigsaw piece elements don’t really fit with each other, and lacks sufficient sparkle to make you want to tie them all together.


The opening takes place in a Turkish bath, but its only connection to anything is that the victims go there to wash the paint off after a hard day modelling for artist Frank Leeson (Harold Innocent, who played Gilbert M in The Happiness Patrol). Leeson’s a particularly nasty piece of work, who for a while looks like he may be the mastermind (as with The Gilded Cage, this one keeps the fineries of the plot, or more precisely the perpetrators, elusive; it’s an incremental process, with us first thinking it’s Frank, then Miss Dowell, and finally Geoffrey Willis).


The criminals’ rather hopeful scheme is to ferment anti-British sentiment in the country of Karim, where fake products sell like hot cakes of soap, by flooding the market with poisoned stomach powders such that “a few thousand Karims bite the dust and those that are left pull down the Union Jack”. When Fay (Monica Stevenson) protests that children could die, Leeson comments “I shouldn’t worry. In a dump like that, they’re only going to be hungry for the rest of their lives”. What a fiend!


Steed: What a very, very pleasing design. Let’s hope you can keep it a secret.

Everyone here is on top form, with Peter Barkworth (The Ice Warriors) leading the way as over-diligent managing director Geoffrey Willis. Initially, there’s a hint of suspicion going his way when he brushes off Steed’s request for a specimen of the duplicated cardboard also used in the fakes. But we’re continually lobbed not-quite red herrings after this, including Miss Dowell (Joy Wood) listening in on conversations and then requesting her first sick days since joining the firm in order to go and give instructions to Leeson. Also appearing are Newton Blick as old duffer Willis senior, having an affair with Fay and generally showing eyes for all the ladies, and John Crocker (Propellant 23) be-tached as Taylor, looking a touch like David Thewlis.


Steed: Have you come to roll in the oils too, Mrs Dowell?

Of the regulars, this is most noticeable for a horrifically unconvincing attempt by Steed to pass himself as Icelandic (still called Steed) courtesy of a big fur coat, hat and cigar, and an interest in buying art from Leeson, promising “to make you the toast of Reykjavik”. Steed also gets Cathy to pose as a model, pretty risky since Miss Dowell doesn’t take long to show up and reveal all (Cathy has already masqueraded as an efficiency expert at the firm).


Regarding all things bodily, Steed cops a rather inelegant eyeful of the Mrs Gale behind early on, and she subsequently has a shower scene (there’s also a suggestive shot of a model fastening her bra at the start of the first Leeson scene).


Geoffrey Willis: I couldn’t find one with a silencer.
Steed: What a pity. I could (he shoots Willis).

The impersonation of a model is a fairly desperate ploy at that point anyway, since Mrs Gale is sporting an eyepatch, although perhaps he’s counting on Leeson’s leering peccadillos. A nice twist after the villain twist, with Steed having changed the Arabic on Lilt (pre-Lilt the drink) to read “This is an imitation. Danger of instant death”, and some amusing interplay regarding Steed’s golfing deficiencies; Cathy’s handicap is 12 to Steed’s 24, so he thinks he might be in with a chance with her being temporarily monocular. A fine cast, but The Medicine Men lacks that spoonful of sugar.








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

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…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

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…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.