Skip to main content

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20

A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.


Of course, in the such glorious days as these of HAARP and – alleged – weather control, an evil corporation (Granny Gregson’s Glorious Grogs Incorporated, its factory engaged in the fermentation of intoxicating liquors; selling various invidious varieties of vino, basically – this is a fine episode for alliteration) indulging a localised downpour “for about a year” seems almost innocuous. Although, they have the right general idea for their nefarious scheme; providing “relentless, never-ceasing rain” to order: “It’s the biggest military weapon since the nuclear bomb” (and we had one of those a few episodes back).


Steed mentions cloud seeding in passing (but not Wilhelm Reich), but isn’t clear quite how the diabolical types are supposed to have achieved this in Colin Finbow’s sole teleplay for the show. Sidney Hayers, in his second spin in the director’s chair following The Cybernauts, delivers inventively, particularly when it comes to finding such unlikely elements as a manhole in the middle of field. My favourite visual signature, however, is the Naked Gun-style cartoon body print puddle left by a drowning victim (John Kidd’s Sir Arnold Kelly).


Part of the problem with this one is that the villains aren’t remotely interesting, even given the estimable presence of Geoffrey Palmer in his fourth and final appearance in the series. Dr Sturm (Albert Lieven) – geddit? – at least has a suitably despicable torture technique, though, possibly inspired by the previous year’s Goldfinger, strapping Emma down on a vegetable press (“Well, I will just have to squeeze this information out of you”).


Steed: What is it?
Joyce: Old bark.
Steed: Must have put the dog in it, too.

More memorable is Steed’s obligatory object of flirtation (“Can I help you?”: “Anytime”), Joyce Jason (Sue Lloyd, for whom Michael Caine memorably made an omelette in the same year’s The Ipcress File), particularly his pestering her for wine purchases (vegetable wines, hence the press: “Have you ever tried to tread potatoes?”) before settling on Buttercup (“Now, that’s more my cup of tea”). Macnee’s on great form as an infernal nuisance (“See he gets what he wants and get the idiot out of here”).


Jonah Barnard: The flood cometh!
Mrs Peel: Yes, well I’ve put a down payment on a canoe.

The supporting eccentrics don’t quite attain classic form, alas, although Noel Purcell is memorably boisterous as prophet of doom Jonah Barnard, mocked by villagers and preaching to a congregation of a boy and dog, transforming into highly pugilistic mode (“Mr Steed, I’m not a violent man by nature, but when faced with the problem of survival…”) and strangling a villain with gusto (“Hallelujah!”), the latter possibly a wry commentary on religious extremism.


There’s also Mr Cheeseman himself, Talfryn Thomas, in typically scene-hogging mode as Eli Barker, with the occasional memorable line (“Poaching isn’t like stealing, is it?” he comments of his drowned brother’s career path).


Mrs Peel: Gentlemen should knock before entering.
Steed: What are you, a sparkle in a seaweed soda?
Mrs Peel: No, I’m a kick in the nettle noggin.

The highlight, as it often is, is the interplay between Steed and Emma, from his casual rescue of her (above), to a discussion of Eli’s demise (“It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!”), to Steed expressing surprise at Jonah’s accusation of Emma entering a pit of iniquity (“Is she a very sinful woman?”) to the flattening of Steed’s bowler (“It was over very quickly. I don’t think it suffered”).


Indeed, there’s nigh on a torrent of good lines (“Lovely weather we’re not having” and the titular “There seems to be surfeit of H2O in this vicinity”), the bare bones are promising, it’s fun seeing Steed hopping in and out of different costumes according to location rather than design, and Emma’s always dressed to impress, but this one never quite gets beyond an arresting premise.















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

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.

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.