Skip to main content

I think there’s more behind these walls than just a ghost.

The Avengers
4.14: Castle De’ath

A splendidly atmospheric episode from the pen of John Lucarrotti, his last for the show, brought to vivid life by James Hill, his first, Castle De’ath is one of the highlights of the fourth season, incorporating as it does some surefooted misdirection as Jock McSteed and Mrs Peel investigate a death in the loch.


Steed: I think there’s more behind these walls than just a ghost.
Mrs Peel: What are you going to do?
Steed: I’m going fishing.
Mrs Peel: What, in the loch?
Steed: No. In the moat.

The title might suggest Castle De’ath is broader than it is, for while there are liberal does of humour and the scheme itself (“It’s all to do with the price of fish”) doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny (the fish are scant as they’ve been driven to deeper waters by the ultrasonic waves of submarines using the loch for dodgy things), the actual dramatics are played fairly straight, and the characters, while colourful, are neither wacky nor eccentric. The deft balance of elements is emphasised by the teaser scene in which a man is being tortured – on the rack, no less – and the sound of bagpipes drowns out his cries.


Mrs Peel: How do you do, Mr McSteed?
Steed: Everyone calls me “Jock”. How do you do?
Mrs Peel: You don’t have a Scots accent.
Steed: I was carried south by marauding Sassenachs when I was a bairn. But this is my spiritual home.

The duo’s assumption of identities is always good value, on this occasion particularly so. Steed is already installed at the castle upon Emma’s arrival, posing as the aforementioned Jock McSteed, rocking a natty kilt and researching a book on the disgraced thirteenth laird, Black Jamie, who was walled up in the east tower for his treachery and whose ghost still walks the castle, “playing the lament of Glen De’ath on the bagpipes”.


Steed: Isn’t it time we dropped in on the old fella?
Ian De’ath: No.
Steed: He must be lonely.
Ian De’ath: Walled up until doomsday was his sentence and until doomsday he’ll stay there.

Steed seeks the permission of the current laird, Ian De’ath (Gordon Jackson, very much in demand at this juncture, appearing in both The Ipcress File and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in the same year), to go fishing in the loch (“Just as long as you’re not one of those aqualung people” Ian tells him; “Water is the fish’s habitat, not mine” Steed replies).


Except that Steed does, of course, end up getting wet. Spied upon by right-hand caber tosser McNab (Jack Lambert), he gets the better of them for a while, pretending to fish behind some foliage while he dives in the moat, but is summarily descended on upon surfacing (or, at least, his stunt double is; he also earns his fee very evidently during the climactic swordplay with Robert Urquhart’s Angus De’ath). 


Yes, this is one where all eyes are on the severe and traditional Ian as the instigator of the diabolical plot, but it’s actually his free-spirited brother who’s responsible (although, why Angus is inviting all and sundry to stay if he's trying to keep his scheme a secret is anyone's guess). You might suspect this in a standard story, but we’re so used to The Avengers laying it all out on a plate that the deception works quite successfully.


Steed: (appreciating the portrait of Black Jamie) Fierce looking fellow, isn’t he?
Ian De’ath: You didn’t hear him last night?
Steed: Does he give regular concerts?

One wonders what Lucarotti’s source for spook material was, given that he ascribes as suspicious its erratic activity (“Unusual for a ghost. They usually operate a regular schedule”). Perhaps Steed is an amateur parapsychologist? While the episode doesn’t enter into full-on Scooby Doo territory, there are more than sufficient funhouse trappings, including an iron maiden in the basement with a secret door (that does for Angus during the final chase when it jams) and a four-poster bed with a cement canopy that manages to crush Steed’s bowler but not its intended.


Ian De’ath: You didn’t notice anything? Nothing at all?
Steed: Only the bed. Gave me a touch of claustrophobia. I spent the night in a chair.

Steed is, of course, unstintingly cheerful about the close shave (“They’ve got a spot-on service here. Tried to press my best shirt last night – while I was still wearing it”). Once he is captured and the mechanics of the scheme are revealed, the detail is a little on the superfluous/impenetrable side; as far as I can tell, we’re left to fill in the blanks of what exactly they’re up to with these two-man submarines (as McNab says to Steed “Your guess is as good as mine”; “I should think, slightly better” comes the reply). Steed correctly surmises they can’t’ just shoot him (“But the wee hole would show when they found my corpse in the loch”) and manages to escape his shackles with a lucky ricochet causing the sub pen to flood (“Going rather well”).


Roberton: The duty engineer’s been attacked.
McNab: Attacked?
Roberton: No, not him a woman.
McNab: A woman?
Steed: Bless her.

Mrs Peel is representing ABORCASHAATA, the Advisory Bureau on Refurbishing Castles and Stately Homes as a Tourist Attraction, hired by Angus much to Ian’s disdain. She’s particularly keen on checking out the dungeon, on account of Steed’s titbit (“Did you know that frogman was four inches taller when he was dead than when he was alive? He’d been on the rack”). Which means she gets jumped by heavies the first time (“Lean on me, Mistress Peel, as much as you like” invites Steed, before asking “Was there a rack down there? In good racking order?”)


On the second occasion, she is locked in all night in her nightie, causing Steed to astutely observe “I think we’ve been rumbled”. She also, during the final fight, kills a bad guy with a crossbow bolt. I don’t know: shotguns, crossbows. Mrs Peel’s really rather violent. Talking of which, I don’t think we’re fully clear if Ian dies from taking Angus’ knife to his chest. If so, it seems a little excessive.


Angus: Ay, Ian. You certainly work hard at this canny Scots bit, don’t you?

The episode’s full of lovely little moments, be they atmospheric (Steed noticing the vibrating wine glass during dinner) or amusing. At one point, he’s doing the Highland Fling in his bedroom while Mrs Peel plays miniature bagpipes. Later, or earlier, at breakfast, he’s dubiously contemplating his porridge when Ian advises “You’re right, man. There’s not enough salt on it” before liberally applying the same and offering Steed the cellar. He quickly passes it on to Angus.


It doesn’t look as if Macnee or Rigg got within a hundred miles of Allington Castle, if their conspicuous doubles are any indication, but it makes for a very nice slice of scenery and the seams showing fails to dampen the verve of the proceedings. The “walk-off” is good fun too, in which fishing comes up again. “What, in those clothes?” asks Emma of Steed’s immaculate suit. He promptly drives his – amphibious – car into a nearby loch.





















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

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…

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.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.