Skip to main content

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers
4.1: The Town of No Return

The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.


One might even construe an almost pre-emptory meta-quality to The Town of No Return, anticipating as it does a welter of strange small villages, unfriendly locals and loveable eccentrics. Terence Alexander’s “Piggy” Warren is his impostor’s perception of an eccentric English flight lieutenant come pub landlord complete with ridiculous moustache, while Jeremy Burnham’s vicar is a bit daft because all vicars are, aren’t they (“I’ve got bats in my belfry, you know”)?


If the episode opens with one of the series’ most indelibly daft and memorable images – a plastic bag comes ashore (very The Prisoner), only to unzip itself and reveal a fully-suited gent who walks up the beach and asks directions for Little Bazeley by the Sea – it also sets out the cart for unforgivingly studio-bound close-ups and inserts, as does the subsequent fencing fight between Steed and Emma, obviously stunt doubles with a patchy voiceover from the stars, and the inevitable day-for-night filming. All this is much more unforgiving on spangly Blu-ray, of course, but such brazen sloppiness is part of the series’ distracting charm – the budgets grow exponentially higher (everything here is more elegant and suave, from the classy titles and iconic new theme to the playful incidental music that makes the repetitive score dumps of the previous era seem coarse and clumsy), but the joins still show.


Steed: Have you ever fancied yourself as a teacher?

Steed and Emma are flirty in their first scene too, with Steed slapping her arse, and again later, after he has his attempts to snoop curtailed (“Isn’t it time you were in bed? You have to be up early tomorrow”). The former has also had his gentility stacked up, if that’s possible, in one of those scenes that tend to make the plot itself incidental to the incidentals, as on the train down to Little Bazeley – to investigate where four agents have been lost – Steed announces “No restaurant, I’m afraid. We’ll just have to rough it” before revealing an endlessly deep carpet bag from which he produces a tea set (“India or China?”), a steaming kettle and a cake holder (“Are you sure you won’t have a marzipan delight?”)


Steed: They don’t exactly seem to welcome visitors.

Because, truth be told, the plot of The Town of No Return is fairly unremarkable once you get past the trappings. It’s a mysterious and deadly village (town), with fake locals and dodgy doings down below. It’s almost an archetypal Avengers plot, which makes it seem a little too familiar. 


Steed and Emma are dissuaded from exiting the pub at night (marching can be heard, the windows are nailed shut, and upon their seeing several patrons exiting with shotguns, Piggy informs Steed and Emma “Just off to do a spot of badger hunting. It’s er, more fun at night”), there’s a church apparently filled with choral voices but which is actually a tape recording (The Time Meddler had the run on that ruse by over a year), and some exposition both good (Steed discovers the real Piggy’s memorial) and lousy (a man lathered in clay announcing “Below, below!” to Emma before passing out).


But there’s a lot of fun being had at key points too. Emma smiles when held at gunpoint, rather than reacting with alarm, as would be traditional elsewhere. When it comes to unveiling the villain’s plot (they plan to take over the country piecemeal, “the next town and then the next and the next and the next”), she adopts the mode of the teacher she is posing as, with Steed sat at a much-too-small school desk. (Speaking of schooling, one has to respect the very blood-thirsty artistic verve of the nowhere-to-be-seen children.)


And in the climactic fight, while Emma has rough and tumble with villains including the head teacher (Juliet Harmer, of Adam Adamant Lives!), Steed is trapped with heavies behind a descending steel door; when it rises again, they’re all in a state of subdued disarray, Steed’s steel-capped bowler having proved devastatingly effective.


Piggy Warren: Jar or two of jolly old splash, what? Ha-ha.

Alexander is having a lot of fun with his silly old major impersonation, while Patrick Newell (The Android Invasion) essays his first of two guest star spots in the show before assuming the regular mantle of Mother. Here he’s the outsider fated to be charged by bloodhounds and found semi-buried on the beach the next morning.


Steed: All this is supposed to go on the horse, you know.

But it’s the effortless rapport between Macnee and Rigg that really sets this opener off so splendidly (this is most likely accounted for by being shot twice; Rigg replaced Elizabeth Shepherd and it was completed some way into the season). There’s Emma’s amused response (“What happened to pussy-footed pussy?”) to Steed’s pronouncements of surreptitious spying skills (“I can move like a cat in carpet slippers”) when he returns empty handed and in turn his to her being tied up in a stable (“Have to cut down on the oats”).


And then there’s the advent of the (admittedly variable) larky, whacky coda scene, invariably involving doubling or back projection, and here finding them on a scooter, Steed holding on to Emma, as it recedes into the distance. The Town of No Return isn’t the best of Season Four by a long chalk, but it’s very much the shape of things to come.


















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…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

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…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.

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.