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

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…

This isn't fun, it's scary and disgusting.

It (2017)
(SPOILERS) Imagine how pleased I was to learn that an E Nesbitt adaptation had rocketed to the top of the US charts, evidently using a truncated version of its original title, much like John Carter of Mars. Imagine my disappointment on rushing to the cinema and seeing not a Psammead in sight. Can anyone explain why It is doing such phenomenal business? It isn’t the Stephen King brand, which regular does middling-at-best box office. Is it the nostalgia factor (‘50s repurposed as the ‘80s, so tapping into the Stranger Things thing, complete with purloined cast member)? Or maybe that it is, for the most part, a “classier” horror movie, one that puts its characters first (at least for the first act or so), and so invites audiences who might otherwise shun such fare? Perhaps there is no clear and outright reason, and it’s rather a confluence of circumstances. Certainly, as a (mostly) non-horror buff, I was impressed by how well It tackled pretty much everything that wasn’t the hor…

Imagine a plant that could think... Think!

The Avengers 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green
Most remarked upon for Robert Banks-Stewart having “ripped it off” for 1976 Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom, although, I’ve never been wholly convinced. Yes, there are significant similarities – an eccentric lady making who knows her botany, a wealthy businessman living in a stately home with an affinity for vegetation, an alien plant that takes possession of humans, a very violent henchman and a climax involving a now oversized specimen turning very nasty… Okay, maybe they’re onto something there… – but The Seeds of Doom is really good, while Man-Eater of Surrey Green is just… okay.

Have no fear! Doc Savage is here!

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
(SPOILERS) Forget about The Empire Strikes Back, the cliffhanger ending of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze had me on the edge of my seat for a sequel that never came. How could they do that to us (well, me)? This was of course, in the period prior to discernment and wisdom, when I had no idea Doc Savage was a terrible movie. I mean, it is, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t a great movie, but it has a certain indolent charm, in the manner of a fair few mid-‘70s SF and fantasy fare (Logan’s Run, The Land that Time Forgot) that had no conception the genre landscape was on the cusp of irrevocable change.

You better watch what you say about my car. She's real sensitive.

Christine (1983)
(SPOILER) John Carpenter was quite open about having no particular passion to make Christine. The Thing had gone belly-up at the box office, and adapting a Stephen King seemed like a sure-fire way to make bank. Unfortunately, its reception was tepid. It may have seemed like a no-brainer – Duel’s demonic truck had put Spielberg on the map a decade earlier – but Carpenter discoveredIt was difficult to make it frightening”. More like Herbie, then. Indeed, the director is at his best in the build-up to unleashing the titular automobile, making the fudging of the third act all the more disappointing.

Don't worry about Steed, ducky. I'll see he doesn't suffer.

The Avengers 4.11: Two’s A Crowd
Oh, look. Another Steed doppelganger episode. Or is it? One might be similarly less than complimentary about Warren Mitchell dusting off his bungling Russian agent/ambassador routine (it obviously went down a storm with the producers; he previously played Keller in The Charmers and Brodny would return in The See-Through Man). Two’s A Crowd coasts on the charm of its leads and supporting performances (including Julian Glover), but it’s middling fare at best.

Captain Freedom to wardrobe. Captain Freedom to wardrobe on the double.

The Running Man (1987)
(SPOILERS) Now here’s a Stephen King/Richard Bachman adaptation that could do with a remake. The actual date of futuristic dystopias clocking round is usually a cue to compare and contrast, and no doubt in two years there will be legion Blade Runner articles doing precisely that (and damning/feting the worthy/tragic sequel). Actually, they might be doing it with The Running Man too, since it’s only a worldwide economic collapse announced in the opening crawl that occurred in 2017; the events of the movie also take place two years from now. Nevertheless, it has garnered some attention (most notably an Empire article) this year. Working against celebrating its anniversary on either date is that isn’t much cop, nor was it ever considered to be.

Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)
(SPOILERS) I’d heard Marmite things about Tom Ford’s sophomore effort (I’ve yet to catch his debut), but they were enough to make me mildly intrigued. Unfortunately, I ended up veering towards the “I hate” polarity. Nocturnal Animals is as immaculately shot as you’d expect from a fashion designer with a meticulously unbuttoned shirt, but its self-conscious structure – almost that of a poseur – never becomes fluid in Ford’s liberal adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel, such that even its significantly stronger aspect – the film within the film (or novel within the film) – is diminished by the dour stodge that surrounds it.

You can look dope, can’t you? Sure you can.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)
(SPOILERS) Is there a new “Vin Diesel model” for movie successes? The xXx franchise looked dead in the water after the Vin-less 2005 sequel grossed less than a third of its predecessor. If you were to go by the US total, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was a similar flunk. And yet, a sequel is guaranteed. The key to this rehabilitation appears to be borrowing from the Fast & Furious franchise rule book (or the one operating since entry No.5, at any rate): bring on the international casting and sit Vin at the top as their leader. The only difference being, here Diesel is having appreciably more fun.

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.