Skip to main content

It was, er, quite a killing. That is the correct term, isn’t it?

The Avengers 
4.4: Dial a Deadly Number

Dial a Deadly Number features a number of memorable scenes and abundant witty dialogue, as well as a return by the then-in-everything Peter Bowles, but despite strong direction from series stalwart Don Leaver, it’s difficult to care very much about who’s doing what to whom in Roger Marshall’s teleplay.


The title suggests something Hitchockian, but the reality is more mundane, revolving around the then very contemporary, nay futuristic, use of bleepers, and their corruptibility as a means of murdering company CEOs. That there needs to be a means of conveying the signal to the victim (in whom a heart attack is triggered) leads to a Steed sporting a Chekov’s Pocket Watch, not hitherto known for carrying one; it was bequeathed by an uncle and dented in the battle of the Somme (“German Bullet?” asks Emma. “Canadian mule” replies Steed). Its presence needs to be established in order for it to become a vessel for the signal implanted in a similar item by Fitch (John Carson, Ambril in Snakedance, and also previously in the series in A Chorus of Frogs and Second Sight).


Fitch is perhaps the most memorable villain here, particularly in his desire to do for Emma (“I shall kill you with scientific tenderness, Mrs Peel”). Dissolute.com clearly got excited by this scene, as its plot synopsis describes how he “unzips part of her catsuit and touches her milky breast”. Steady! He’s also part of the second-best scene in the episode, in which Steed arrives, ostensibly unable to open his watch and calling on Fitch’s skills to do so (“Having trouble with my watch… The button’s stuck”) as the latter flees across the room in panic at his prospectively imminent demise.


Harvey: There are two occasions in life when one shouldn’t speculate. When one can afford it, and when one can’t.
Steed: Thanks for the advice.
Harvey: Not mine, Mark Twain.

The best sequence involves wine, however, albeit this aspect isn’t as well-integrated into the plot as in The Secrets Broker (and it wasn’t well integrated there at all, but at least it was a consistent thread). Steed is inveigling himself into the world of stock market investments (the chairmen who died all saw share prices plunge in the aftermath, with a banker in common, although it is his lackey John Harvey (Bowles), rather than Clifford Evans’ Henry Boardman, who is the ringleader), and their elitist methods finds him called upon to partake in the delicate art of wine tasting.


Shot by Leaver in the manner of a western gunfight, Steed and Boardman stand at opposite ends of the cellar giving their take on the plonk in question. Boardman identifies his Latour ’59 immediately (“A hit, a palpable hit”), while Steed takes his time honing his options, before picking a “Chateau Laffite-Rothschild…1909, from the northern end of the vineyard” (Steed may not pass his IQ tests, but he knows his drink).


There’s more cellar action at the climax as Steed emerges from behind a barrel and announces “I just couldn’t stay away. It’s that Chateau Rothschild”. This extends into the alcohol-fuelled coda, with Emma guessing the wine in a manner we could all see coming (“Nose or palette?”: “I read the label”).


Ruth BoardmanI have an appointment with my hairdresser.
SteedAre you sure?
Ruth BoardmanCertain.

Bowles is on good form as John Harvey, but as with Second Sight, he’s making more of the material than he has on paper. Jan Holden (previously of The Undertakers) is strong as Boardman’s promiscuous missus (“A true gentleman doesn’t know of a lady’s promiscuity” chides Emma when Steed confesses his suspicions). 


SteedWhat’s the Club Special when it’s at home?
WaiterOh, that’s one layer of delicious prawns, one of egg mayonnaise and lightly toasted rye bread. I can recommend it, sir.
SteedSplendid, at least one of us will enjoy it.

Steed’s ever playing up the sly dog (“Oh, Mr Steed” replies Suzanne – Tina Packer, Anne Travers in The Web of Fear – when he emphasises studying round figures). He’s subject to a decent assassination attempt by bikers in an underground carpark and shows wanton disregard for Mrs Peel’s cover when he greets her at the bank (she professes to be from Barbados and he remarks upon the absence of a tan). And then there's his wonderful menu put-down (above). Most of the episode plays well in individual increments, then, but it falls down somewhat in conveying a compelling plot.











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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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.

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.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

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…

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…