Skip to main content

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers
4.3: The Master Minds

The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.


This was only the second Emma Peel episode filmed, but the chemistry – and dialogue – between Steed and Mrs Peel is fully-formed. Picking up a regular pattern, Emma works undercover while Steed assumes the role of the outsider making inquiries. In this one, though, an added twist is that Emma falls under the spell of the brainwashing techniques designed to make members of RANSACK somnambulantly carry out thefts of top secret information (in this case “The possible successor to Polaris. Gone. Snatched. Just like that”). As the shallow like us blog notes, this makes for something of a precursor, tonally, to Doctor Who’s Robot, but it also has something of a Prisoner vibe in the pop visuals staging of the grand climax, the fight between Emma and the architect of the scheme taking place in silhouette against footage of jet tests.


Steed: Behind them there must be a brilliant planner at work.
Mrs Peel: A genius.
Steed: A diabolical mastermind.

The plot mixes elements both obvious and clever. It scores when it’s going for the mysterious – what happened to Sir Clive Todd (Laurence Hardy), with unsettling strings on the soundtrack resonant of Under the Skin as he tries and fails to remember his actions, and Steed following the RANSACK members at night as attend a briefing - less so when it comes to obfuscating the engineers of the plot. There’s never any doubt that RANSACK is behind it all, particularly when Desmond Leeming (Bernard Archard) rocks up conveniently and announces himself – it’s almost as if they want to come under suspicion.


Holly Trent’s identity as the ringleader works to the extent that Patricia Haines plays up the oblivious, but much better in this regard is Ian MacNaughton, giving off something of a ’60s Peter Capaldi vibe as Doctor Fergus Campbell, instantly appearing dubious in manner, then proving to be dubious, then proving to have only been dubious because he was under the influence.


Steed: By the way, what did you manage to straighten out in the navy?
Dr Campbell: The seasick.
Steed: Traces of an incipient inferiority complex. I should watch it.

The very best Avengers are often ones where the guest cast are elevated to equal status with the regulars, and I don’t think The Master Minds, MacNaughton’s role in the first half aside, quite succeeds in that regard. It has to be said, though, Steed and Emma are marvellously accounted for here, and Steed’s verbal sparring with the truculent Campbell, brought in to assess the mental status of Sir Clive (who has committed a robbery under the influence and receive a gunshot to the head for his troubles), is great stuff. Campbell launches into Steed’s levity (“Your facetiousness, Mr Steed, covers an edgy temperament. In fact, I’d say your nerves mostly jangle like a wire in the wind”) and receives a casually effective putdown from the gentleman spy in response (above).


Steed: How was your intelligence quotient?
Mrs Peel: Well above average.
Steed: Better than mine?
Mrs Peel: Roughly the same. But that’s hardly surprising since I also did your paper for you.

And Steed’s flippancy is in good evidence throughout, uncensored in front of his superiors (“Caught with his own portcullis down” he notes of Sir Clive’s predicament), who are shocked to find Todd is a member of another gang, “besides your own gang”. One of the most enjoyable aspects, however, is Steed falling into line as capable but inferior to Emma in many an endeavour. The best instance being his blanching at the thought of taking the RANSACK test, only for it to look as if he passed with flying colours and then the reveal the only reason he did is because Mrs Peel did his test for him.


Mrs Peel: There’ll be another test paper tomorrow.
Steed: Oh dear.
Mrs Peel: Here are the answers.

Even with the answers scrawled on his cuff, Steed manages to fail a later test (“I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius”). Not that he isn’t as quick and sly as ever. His digs at Emma’s Florence Nightingale routine, tending Sir Clive, elicits “I don’t think that should concern you, Mrs Peel. You’re only the nurse here” when she asks about the clues he hopes to find in the residence.


Davinia: I’m going to scream in a moment.
Steed: Oh dear, I hope not.

Elsewhere, he’s in full Leslie Phillips mode, right down to the “Hello!” when confronted by Georgina Ward’s Davinia Todd, arriving home in fur coat and bikini, or a bespectacled boffin (Elizabeth Reber) making eyes at him during a test, or Holly asking him out. His reaction to the sign saying “If you can’t sleep ring for a mistress” needs no additional comment either (RANSACK’s training operations are taking place at a girls’ boarding school), while Emma’s “Here’s your cocoa, and if you’re good, I’ll read you a bedtime story” is alive with playful innuendo. There’s even room for the occasional slapstick moment, as Steed, distracted by Leeming, accidentally shoots an arrow through a window.


The Master Minds isn’t quite as brainy as its characters overall, however; the attempts at discussions by members of RANSACK are a bit suss (“Take a word like yoghurt, for example”), and while the brainwashing technique has the mechanism of substance (“We’re all susceptible. It’s the approach which varies, that’s all”), there’s very little to it when push comes to shove (all it takes is a message heard in one’s sleep, and presto, it’s highly effective for all concerned), but it continues the consistently confident quality of the fourth season with commendable flair.















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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 nourish, 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.

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.

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 …

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…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

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.

Who would want to be stuck in a dream for ten years?

Top 10 Films 2010-19
Now, you may glance down the following and blanche at its apparent Yankophile and populist tendencies. I wouldn’t seek to claim, however, that my tastes are particularly prone to treading on the coat tails of the highbrow. And there’s always the cahiers du cinema list if you want an appreciation of that ilk. As such, near misses for the decade, a decade that didn’t feature all that many features I’d rank as unqualified classics, included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tron: Legacy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and Edge of Tomorrow.

The only things I care about in this goddamn life are me and my drums... and you.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in John Hughes’ teen cycle – after this he’d be away with the adults and moppets, and making an untold fortune from criminal slapstick – is also his most patently ridiculous, and I’m not forgetting Weird Science. Not because of its unconvincing class commentary, although that doesn’t help, but because only one of its teenage leads was under 25 when the movie came out, and none of them were Michael J Fox, 30-passing-for-15 types. That all counts towards its abundant charm, though; it’s almost as if Some Kind of Wonderful is intentionally coded towards the broader pool Hughes would subsequently plunge into (She’s Having a Baby was released the same year). Plus, its indie soundtrack is every bit as appealing as previous glories The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.

Mention of the latter highlights Some Kind of Wonderful’s greatest boast; it’s a gender swapped Pretty in Pink, only this time Hughes (and his directing surrogate Howard…

Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
(SPOILERS) It’s fortunate the bookends of Marvel’s Phase One are so sturdy, as the intervening four movies simply aren’t that special. Mediocre might be too strong a word (although at least one qualifies for that status), but they amountto a series of at-best-serviceable vehicles for characters rendered on screen with varying degrees of nervousness and second guessing. They also underline that, through the choices of directors, no one was bigger than the franchise, and no one had more authority than supremo Kevin Feige. Which meant there was integrity of overall vision, but sometimes a paucity of it in cinematic terms. The Incredible Hulk arrived off the back of what many considered a creative failure and commercial disappointment from Ang Lee five years earlier yet managed on just about every level to prove itself Hulk’s inferior. A movie characterised by playing it safe, it’s now very much the unloved orphan of the MCU, with a lead actor recast and a main c…