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

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.

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…

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.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

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.

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.

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.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

I will unheal the shit out of you!

Hotel Artemis  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hotel Artemis is all set up. It's solid set up, undoubtedly – a heightened, John Wick-esque criminal world by way of John Carpenter – but once it has set out its wares, it proceeds to pulls its punches. One's left more impressed by the dependable performances and Drew Pearce's solid footing as a (debut feature) director than his ability to develop a satisfying screenplay. 

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 …