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

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…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

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.