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

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.

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.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Repo Man (1984)
In fairness, I should probably check out more Alex Cox’s later works. Before I consign him to the status of one who never made good on the potential of his early success. But the bits and pieces I’ve seen don’t hold much sway. I pretty much gave up on him after Walker. It seemed as if the accessibility of Repo Man was a happy accident, and he was subsequently content to drift further and further down his own post-modern punk rabbit hole, as if affronted by the “THE MOST ASTONISHING FEATURE FILM DEBUT SINCE STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DUEL” accolade splashed over the movie’s posters (I know, I have a copy; see below).

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.