Skip to main content

Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil, birds, animals, man.

The Avengers
4.13: Silent Dust

Revisiting Season Four, several episodes have fallen slightly in my estimation, but Silent Dust (along with Dial a Deadly Number) is one that has gone up. The plot isn’t all that, continuing the horticultural (and pesticide) theme of Man-Eater of Surrey Green, but it has a great supporting cast, and in Avengers terms that’s often the difference between a hit and a dud.


Juggins: And what if they don’t pay up?
Omrod: Oh, they will. After we destroy Dorset.

The prologue shows birds dropping dead (so decisively, they look taxidermied, although much more convincingly than the plastic bat on a wire that menaces Emma later), meaning Steed and Mrs Peel are called on to investigate rural crimes in rural climes, she posing as a representative for the British Trust for Ornithology and catching the eye of local rich landed fellow Omrod (William Franklyn, Quatermass 2, Cul-De-Sac, GBH). Who, of course, is up to no good, planning to hold the country to ransom with his three accomplices. They want £40m, or they will release a failed-and-deadly-to-all-plant-life organochlorine fertiliser.


A very definite environmental theme can be found in this one, much as in the earlier The Grandeur That Was Rome (the very visible hunt protesting also signposts current themes in Roger Marshall’s teleplay). Steed is informed “Kill the earthworm, Steed, and ultimately you kill everything. Soil, birds, animals, man”. If Sir Manfred Fellows (Charles Lloyd Pack, father of Roger and grandfather of Emily Lloyd) had changed worms for bees, he’d be remarkably topical. Sir Manfred, of Fellows Fertilisers, meanwhile, reliably informs Steed regarding marketing that “If it smells like peaches, people won’t believe it does any fertilising. We had a winner last year. Smelled like old socks”.


There's a subplot concerning Claire Prendergast (Isobel Black), the daughter of the man who developed Silent Dust, that fails to go anywhere very interesting (aside from Mrs Peel posing to have her bust sculpted. No, not that bust). Omrod brought the scientist to the village (Manderley, but there are no du Maurier references).


Omrod’s cohorts, who will get £10m a piece, are thuggish Juggins (Jack Watson, Edge of Darkness), Miss Snow (Joanna Wake), whose family has lived in the area for centuries and whose land recently turned sour (Omrod has only been there 14 years, so is considered a newbie) and Croft (Norman Bird, Mr Braithwaite in Worzel Gummidge, amongst many others), who is out of sorts over not receiving royalties for the roses he bred.


Juggins: I just slit a sow’s throat. You could hear the squeal three mile away.

All these characters are memorable, with Juggins a “bloodthirsty brute” keen on slaughtering bullocks and knocking back scrumpy by the flagon. He also has a hankering to breed cows (“You’ll be able to cross an Aberdeen Angus with a cottage loaf” Omrod tells him of his prospective fortune). When he hears Steed is looking for land to buy, he’s forthright with his threats (“I’ll give him some free, for nothing… Ay, six foot of it for nothing”). 


Juggins particularly relishes the hunt (“Tally ho. Tally bloody ho”), announcing “I’ve got a brand-new cleaver that needs christening”, so it’s particularly fitting the he should be dispatched in embarrassing fashion by Steed, on horseback, with a hunt sab “Down with violence” placard smashed over his head.


Croft is less notable (“His roses bloom but he got the blight”), although one must assume that, during the hunt climax, he gets as far as he does attempting to do for Steed with a sickle because Steed has already taken a bit of wear and tear previously.


Steed: Raging drunk.
Miss Snow: I beg your pardon?
Steed: If it’s a man, raging drunk. If it’s a horse, raging colic.
Miss Snow: You think so?
Steed: All the classic symptoms.


Wake, who has something of the Joan Greenwood about her delivery, is one of the episode’s great delights, her indulgent interaction with Steed (putting on the extra-posh gentry pose) proving laugh-out-loud funny. Steed furnishes her with advice on her horse’s symptoms (“Fire the vet. Don’t let the horse lie down. Keep him walking”), leading to the following exchange:

Miss Snow: Tell me, do you know a lot about horses, Mr Steed?
Steed: Do a bit of steeplechasing.
Miss Snow: Oh? I’d have thought you were a little too tall in the saddle.
Steed: Oh, I don’t know. Comes in handy. Pop the old feet down. Help the animal over the sticks.


Besides Snow’s amused response, there’s Emma’s reaction to “too tall in saddle” and as is her initial one to Steed going to talk to Snow (“I’ll see what I can pick up here”: “Mmm, I’m sure you will… Pick up something”). Later, when it’s decided Steed must be rid of, Miss Snow comments “Such a pity, he’s just the sort of risk I fancy”. 


There’s further innuendo when Emma and Steed are sussing out the suspects: “Miss Snow? She’s got a good seat” observes Mrs Peel. “She’s got a good seat” concurs Steed. Miss Snow later beckons Steed aside on the pretext of further horse problems: “Can’t keep him away from the trough. Just seems to want to keep on drinking all the time”. “Oh dear. Once had an auntie like that” he replies. Appropriately, its Emma who takes her down during the hunt.


Omrod: Ever done any hunting, Mrs Peel?
Mrs Peel: A little.
Omrod: Fascinating. Pit your wits against a master of craftiness and deception. Point and counterpoint, finally cornering him. And killing. It’s a wonderful day spent. Well, what about it?
Mrs Peel: I’ll let you know.

Franklyn also makes the most of enjoying his villainy, be it putting the moves on Mrs Peel or engaging in an exchange with Steed, now up and about after being shot by gamekeeper Mellors (Conrad Phillips, also seen as a doctor in The Prisoner episode The General). Neither shakes hands when Steed arrives unannounced. “Sorry, oil” comments Ormrod, who has been seeing to his shot gun. “Sorry, buckshot” replies the slinged Steed.


Steed: He mistook me for a partridge. Seriously ruffled my, eh, wing feathers.
Omrod: Oh, I must speak to him. Tell him to be a little more–
Steed: Accurate?
Omrod: Careful.


The incident with Steed and Mellors takes place after the former has been earlier warned off (“I have orders to shoot poachers”. “That’ll keep them down” Steed ripostes cheerfully). He’s then winged by Mellors (there’s no visible blood, however) and steps in an animal trap, hiding from the gamekeeper, before later stumbling in on Emma in one of the farm buildings.


The scene in which she extracts the bullet finds Steed hallucinating himself as a sheriff, along with Wild West wanted posters for Omrod and Mellors. Emma’s a quack doctor, sporting a moustache, mutton chops and an over-sized bottle of Red Eye, extracting an enormous bullet (“I prefer you clean shaven” he comments, when he comes around). Perhaps the dream sequences in Too Many Christmas Trees went down so well they thought they’d have some more of that.


Quince: Oh, you shouldn’t have done that. You gave me quite a turn.
Mrs Peel: Why were you watching me?
Quince: Watching you? You’re mistaken. I was watching for the birds.
Mrs Peel: Oh? Any particularly one.
Quince: The black-capped pectral.
Mrs Peel: The black-capped pectral hasn’t been sighted in England for a hundred years.

Also worthy of mention is the great Aubrey Morris (The Wicker Man, The Prisoner’s Dance of the Dead, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deadwood) as birdwatcher Quince, who is concerned about the missing martlets and ends up strangled by Juggins and buried under a pile of apples (“Cut off in mid-warble?”). 


Steed: As you know, in this estuary there used to be all sorts of lovely martlets. ‘The temple-haunting martlet.’
Mrs Peel: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 2, Banquo.

Steed and Mrs Peel as should be evident, are on fine form. There’s an amusing opening scene in a punt, with Steed chilling a rosé in the river (“Ah, I like a wine that fights back”) and advising Emma why they should be concerned over the absence of feathered friends (“Think of the poor bird watchers. Their gumboots and disappointed faces”).  


Mrs Peel obliges with much of the action work, as per usual, although it has to be said common sense deserts her on several occasions, most notably when Omrod confronts her with a gun; she overcomes him, then leaves it to flee from Juggins.


The coda is one of the most heightened yet, with the duo in a balloon, Emma concerned over whether he knows how to control one of these things; Steed giving a puzzle look in response to “And what happens when we run out of ballast?





















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef