Skip to main content

Steed! The Venusians! I told you! They’re here! They’ve landed.

The Avengers
5.4: From Venus With Love

Not the return of Venus Smith (although you can readily imagine the rumours a title like that would provoke today), From Venus With Love is the best of the season so far, which is to say the avenging business still isn't quite on top form, but there's a winning line in amiable quirkiness running through the proceedings, and as an added bonus, it's another of the series' relative rarities that keep its cards close to its chest regarding who is doing what and how until quite late in the game.


It's also further evidence of the makers' Scooby Doo approach to magic, supernatural, or in this case, aliens this season, setting up apparently death by Venusians only to reveal the truth as rather more mundane skulduggery. Someone or something is killing enthusiasts for the titular planet, members of the British Venusian Society, their corpses left with bleached white hair and faces. And the only evidence of rum doing is a strange sound and a shiny orb diminishing into the distance.


The first victims are knocked off without much chance to get to know them – Paul Gillard's Cosgrove, and Michael Lynch's Sir Frederick Hadley – as, later, is Lord Mansford (Kenneth Benda, the Minister in The Claws of Axos). Mansford's butler Jennings (Adrian Ropes) is notable for his passing resemblance to Chris Barrie. 


Bertram Fortescue Winthrop SmithSir Michael Fortescue Winthrop Smythe was actually knighted for services rendered to Queen Anne's flu.

Two more illustrious Venusiasts make a stronger impression. Jeremy Lloyd's Bert Smith ("Actually, it's Bertram Fortescue Winthrop Smythe. To be absolutely accurate") is an instant hit, and like Alan Gerrard in 4.19: Quick-Quick Slow Death, you get the impression Rigg is genuinely amused in their scene together. In a very Avengers turnabout, Bertram is a devoted chimney sweep, forced to go by an abbreviated name due to reasons of practicality and prejudice ("Too long to fit on a card and a terrible disadvantage in this business. After all, whoever heard of anyone having their chimney swept by a Fortescue Winthrop Smythe?") His family have been up chimneys since William the Conqueror, astronomy being only his second love. Alas, he gets zapped when Emma is in the next room ("Even the soot was white").


Steed: He died as he lived, in the thick of battle, bravely facing the enemy.
Mrs PeelAn enemy without a face.
SteedMade some very funny noises.

Then there's the only Doctor Who to appear in The Avengers (unless you count Peter Cushing and Richard Hurndall – no, I'm not mentioning Big Finish), Jon Pertwee as Brigadier Whitehead. We meet him recording battle re-enactments, a nicely involved bit of business as he roams the room cueing up sound effects records while he narrates. Appropriate for someone then best known as a radio performer. When chairperson of the society Venus Brown (Barbara Shelley, Sorasta in Planet of Fire, Plaxton in Blake’s 7 Stardrive, she was also in the final first season Avengers episode Dragonsfield) arrives asking for more cash ("Would you like a drink?": "I'd rather have a contribution"), the only thing missing is Pertwee telling her she's in his eyeline.


Venus BrownI am Venus Brown. You have beautiful golden aura.
SteedOh, how very nice of you to say so.

Suspicion naturally falls on the head of the Venusian Society, so it’s something of a surprise than neither Venus nor her henchman Crawford (Derek Newark, previously in 3.22: The Trojan Horse) have any involvement in the machinations at all. Steed indulges in some de rigueur flirtation ("We're not composed of elderly eccentrics, Mr Steed" suggests Crawford; "I can see that" comes the admiring reply), and pretends to be wastrel ("Following father's footsteps. He spent his life depositing money, I spend mine withdrawing it"), such that they're instantly keen to have him on board (that they want to milk him for cash – to fund their space programme – only lends credence to their presumed guilt).


PrimbleExcellent.
Mrs PeelNot from where I’m sitting.
PrimbleAh, a sense of humour. Admirable.

If they're more eccentric in motivation than personality, the true villain Dr Henry Primble (Philip Locke, 1.15: The Frighteners, 3.21: Mandrake) is the opposite, coming on as a bumbler who can't find a dropped contact lens and proceeding to give Steed an eye test (a requirement for effective Venus spotting) based on his ability to recognised types of hat ("Trilbyhomburg, ger-bowler, cap, jockey, porkpie, topper, boater, busby, fez"). Primble also shows a humorous streak when he captures and ties up Emma. The reason he's doing this? His funding has been, diverted by The Cuthbert Foundation to the Society's interest in the space project and since he couldn't beat them, he decided to destroy them.


PrimbleAnd what are you doing here, Mrs Peel?
Mrs PeelWell, I haven't come for an eye test.

The reveal then, of the cause of the deaths (one victim is a dummy of Steed in a chair in the observatory), is more of an "Okay…" than anything you want to scrutinise too closely; Primble's been sending a henchman about the countryside in a silver sports car with a laser gun on board (a laser beam explaining the bleaching effect – including Steed's bowler – and the boiling of liquid – including Steed's beer) and how something can blast a hole through six inches of solid steel. The sound effect is much more impressive, an echoing, reverberating ricochet.


Emma is practicing her fencing when Steed enters with the "We're needed" card pinned to the end of his brolly. The coda finds them invited to dinner by the British Venusian Society, in gratitude for services performed. It's an unusual direct call back to the events of the episode; they are having dinner on Venus ("A table for two, overlooking the galactic sea"). Not the planet, a relief since Steed's claret doesn't travel well. 


































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.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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.

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.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

It’s the Mount Everest of haunted houses.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
(SPOILERS) In retrospect, 1973 looks like a banner year for the changing face of the horror movie. The writing was on the wall for Hammer, which had ruled the roost in Britain for so long, and in the US the release of The Exorcist completed a transformation of the genre that had begun with Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby; the realistic horror film, where the terror was to be found in the everyday (the home, the family). Then there was Don’t Look Now, which refracted horror tropes through a typically Nic Roeg eye, fracturing time and vision in a meditative exploration of death and grief. The Wicker Man, meanwhile, would gather its reputation over the passing years. It stands as a kind of anti-horror movie, eschewing standard scares and shock tactics for a dawning realisation of the starkness of opposing belief systems and the fragility of faith.

In comparison to this trio, The Legend of Hell House is something of a throwback; its slightly stagey tone, and cobweb…