Skip to main content

What is that young woman doing tied to the railway line? She’ll break my engine!

The Avengers
4.8: The Gravediggers

Do you dig The Gravediggers? Yeah, it’s all right. Actually, it’s more than all right. While the series has been up to its eyeballs in eccentricity prior to this, this episode furnishes us with the particularly eccentric eccentric living in his own private fantasy world, and as part and parcel of this, stylistic conceits entirely take precedence over any notions pertaining to logic or naturalism. It’s an episode that revels in its absurdity.


It’s also Mac Hulke’s penultimate contribution to the show (his last came four years later), and one wonders how much of the wackiness was added by Brian Clemens, since its fairly atypical of Hulke. The Gravediggers begins in fairly traditional manner too, albeit an antenna rising from a grave announcing its leanings. The plot, and the masterminds, are revealed tout suite; a jamming signal will leave the country open to missile attacks without warning. Dr Palmer (Aubrey Richards) helpfully tells Steed and Mrs Peel that no one could achieve this. Why, it was the life’s work of Dr Marlow (Lloyd Lamble), who died four weeks prior. What’s more, any potential device would have to have emanated from the village of Pringby…. Where Marlow was laid to rest.


So there’s no real mystery. It’s the unfolding that’s the thing. It’s even established that Marlow is misguided rather than bad (he just wants to continue his research, and has been misled by the rotters).


Steed: Whilst you’re waggling your thermometer, I’ll tackle Sir Horace Winslip.

Emma goes undercover as a nurse (she’s making good use of that uniform this season) at the Sir Horace Winslip Hospital (for Ailing Railwaymen) while Steed decides to speak to the generous donor himself, played in full fettle by Ronald Fraser (The Happiness Patrol) on enormously endearing form. On arriving, Steed (representing The Footplateman’s Friendly Society) is welcomed aboard Sir Horace’ carriage, a stationary affair rapidly assuming the illusion of locomotion thanks to dedicated butler Fred (Charles Lamb), who rushes about shaking the carriage, presenting (literally) rolling countryside and an approaching tunnel as the affable Horace offers the Avenger sustenance, explaining “If I attempt to eat a meal without the gentle rocking and the scenery flashing by, I get the most dreadful indigestion”.


Like many an Avengers’ oddball, Sir Horace yearns for halcyon days. His particular penchant, as a rich railway man, is to see trains returned to their rightfully eminent place, since they “made civilization possible, you know…” And for the motor car, his desire is to have “the evil vehicle banished from the Queen’s highway”.


Sir Horace: What is that young woman doing tied to the railway line? She’ll break my engine!

Sir Horace’s particular quirk also leads to Steed rescuing Mrs Peel from certain doom in one of the series’ most inspired action climaxes, as she is tied to the tracks of a miniature railway with a fast approaching train. Silent movie music pipes up as Steed first casually waits at the (miniature) station before engaging in fisticuffs across not-so-fast-moving train carriages.


One-time director Quentin Lawrence handles the action with aplomb. True, Steed’s stunt double is never less than undisguised, but that’s a given in the series. The rescue of Emma, Steed changing the points in the nick of time, is especially well-executed, and earlier sequences includes a fine single shot of undertakers racing aboard a hearse as it speeds off into the distance, and a tidy fight scene on Steed’s initial visit to the hospital (“What a remarkable recovery” he notes as a man in a plaster cast reveals a gun and full mobility).


Steed: Mrs Peel, have you ever heard of an undertaker booking funerals months in advance?

Another inspired piece of lunacy finds a fully prepped operation going ahead… on a (unseen) jamming device, with Dr Johnson requesting “Forceps, scalpel, blowtorch”. Mrs Peel later taking the place of Miss Thirwell (Caroline Blakiston, Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi) in the operating theatre is a bit daft, since it’s immediately evident to all present that she’s an impostor, but I guess that’s at least a credit to recognising what a daft idea it is.


Also featuring are Wanda Ventham (Image of the Fendahl, The Faceless Ones, and Sherlock’s mum) and Steven Berkoff (the man in the plaster cast). The coda scene is a fun one, with Steed driving the train backwards as he tells Emma he always felt he was cut out to be an engine driver, but the family objected (“No sense of security, always on the move”).














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.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror any more.

Hollow Man (2000)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven very acutely critiqued his own choices when he observed of Hollow Manit really is not me anymore. I think many other people could have done that… there might have been twenty directors in Hollywood who could have done that”. It isn’t such a wonder he returned to Europe, and to quality, for his subsequent films. If Memoirs of an Invisible Man failed to follow up on the mental side effects of being seen right through found in HG Wells’ novel and (especially) in James Whale’s film, all Hollow Man does is take that tack, with the consequence that the proceedings degenerate into a banal action slasher, but with a naked Bacon instead of a guy in a hockey mask.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

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…

I have a cow, but I hate bananas.

The Laundromat (2019)
(SPOILERS) Steven Soderbergh’s flair for cinematic mediocrity continues with this attempt at The Big Short-style topicality, taking aim at the Panama Papers but ending up with a mostly blunt satire, one eager to show how the offshore system negatively impacts the average – and also the not-so-average – person but at the expense of really digging in to how it facilitates the turning of the broader capitalist world (it is, after all based on Jake Bernstein’s Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite).

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.

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.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.