5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.
I do, however, love the new opening titles, my favourites of the show, Sergio Leone stopping off in Kensington with a few days to kill. The show's boosted production values may not extend to disguising the Macnee and Rigg body doubles/stunt people (although there seems to be a sight gag in a hospital at one point you might think was drawing attention to this very thing) but there's definitely added flash involved, as Gordon Flemyng (the two Dalek movies) visits Wembley stadium for the first shot; the budget's all up there on screen.
Pemberton: What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear. The inner fabric of us all, Mrs Peel.
Less so in Philip Levene's teleplay, which feels very familiar, even if it hasn't quite been done before. Cargill's Pemberton and his Business Efficiency Bureau are bumping off the competition of Brian "Foggy" Wilde’s ceramics manufacturer Raven – who seems a fairly low-grade client for such a ruthless business – via a method of frightening them with their worst fears to the point of death or incapacitation: open spaces, mice – Bernard Horsfall comes a cropper there – speed, birds, spiders.
As one would expect, Steed employs their services to kill Mrs Peel. Unfortunately, he rather messes up by fibbing in response to every question they ask him (there's a a lie detector in his chair). A fight in a quarry ensues – a popular location this season, but at least the leads' doubles are getting out in the fresh air, I guess – with an implied death by toppling bulldozer.
Pemberton: You're extremely well adjusted, Mrs Peel.
Mrs Peel: And just look where it's got me.
There's an amusing subsequent interrogation of Mrs Peel. Well, about as mirthsome as this episode gets, as she irritates Pemberton with her mockery ("I know, it goes around and around, and it all comes out here" she observes of their method) and proves resistant to analysis (the fear index admits she is "beyond capacity").
Raven: Ah, a lesser-billed white-chested nighthawk.
Steed: Charming, quite charming.
Raven: Not quite charming enough, Mr Steed.
Wilde's also good value in his scenes with Macnee, Steed presenting himself as a representative of the Monopolies Commission and completely failing to grasp Raven's idiosyncratic grasp of ceramic quality ("Mr Steed – that’s perfection!" he intervenes, as Steed is about to follow Raven's example and smash a piece).
Mrs Peel: Somebody tipped a display cabinet on me. Half a ton of china came raining down. Quite unnerving.
Steed: (avoiding Emma's chips of plaster) I can imagine how he felt.
The regulars have, of course, honed their interplay to an effortless art, with business including Steed avoiding Emma's sculpting chips and a new introductory strategy: a box of chocolates reveals a "Mrs Peel – we're needed" card, a motif that will run throughout the season. As such, the final gags are (mostly) less OTT than in Season Four, here restricted to some interplay about what to do with chocolates but no champagne ("Now, that really frightened you, didn’t it?")
The Fear Merchants' guest cast includes Annette Carell (B in The Prisoner: A. B. and C.), and Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell in Robot), but even Cargill and Wilder can't prevent it from being a decidedly run-of-the-mill affair.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.