Skip to main content

My cigars. He’s been smoking my cigars… And he’s… Bitten the end off. Bitten!

The Avengers
5.16: Who's Who???

As much as the series would fall back on remakes of earlier episodes when the producers were in a tight squeeze and pushing deadlines, necessity could also be the mother of invention. While The Prisoner made the worst possible fumble of the old body-swap scenario with Do Not Forsake Me Oh My DarlingWho's Who???, borne from the twin challenges of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg wanting time off (her departure from the series was announced during filming) is largely a success.


Dr KrelmarThe mind. The soul. The entire psyche. From one body to another. And vice versa.

Which isn't to say the performances of each other's alter egos are entirely masterful. As such, I don't entirely subscribe to the commonly held view that's it's one of the peaks of the season. Freddie Jones (scarcely needs an introduction, but try The Elephant Man and Krull for size) and Patricia Haines (3.3: The Nutshell, 4.3: The Master Minds) are note-perfect as vulgar enemy agents Basil and Lola and formidable as Steed and Mrs Peel. Rigg, meanwhile, gets into the gum chewing, frisky, slack-jawed demeanour of Lola with enthusiasm when she's been swapped. Macnee, however, doesn't even seem to be trying; couldn’t he have injected a bit of his spivvyness from Two's A Crowd? It isn't a deal-breaker, but it's a little akin to seeing Tom Baker in Meglos and realising he isn't making the most of the golden opportunity to show he can play something different.


Dr KrelmarPoliticians are replaceable. What we aim to destroy is the very structure of the security system.

Part of Basil and Lola's appeal is how unlikely they seem as top agents; Freddie Jones is just plain incongruous, although thankfully, this isn't a case of Nigel Stock as Number Six, where the conceit was straight-up unbelievable. They're chalk-and-cheese to our protagonists, winding each other up about their target’s other half ("She's enchanting, delectable, ravishing. Look at those legs") and rather sloppy with their execution, so just as well what they’ve done is implausible. Their plan proves remarkably effective too, wiping out half of the floral network (Major B prefers a bouquet of agents) before they're caught up with (Major B, head of the network, is played by Campbell Singer of 2.25: Six Hands Across a Table and The Celestial Toymaker).


SteedHooper's one of our best agents. He's a very upright fellow.
Mrs Peel: (observing Hooper's body high atop some packing crates with extended fake legs) Very.

Also appearing are Peter Reynolds (1.18: Double Danger) as Tulip, Arnold Diamond as scientist Dr Krelmar, Malcolm Taylor (2.1: Mission to Montreal and The Ice Warriors) as Hooper, and writer Philip Levene as the unfortunate Daffodil.


LolaI'm going to miss you, Basil.
BasilYou're not the only one, baby.

The episode is a relative rarity for maintaining a steady line in (larky) tension over how the proceedings will turn out, with the real Steed and Emma locked up or escaping while the real Basil and Lola wreak havoc. The climax, in particular, offers effective suspense as Emma convinces Krelmar she's been swapped back and needs swapping again (KrelmarI'm glad I got hereEmmaNot half as glad as I am, before knocking him out), and then ensuring Steed is swapped back before the good guys arrive and throw a spanner in the works. 


It also has a lot of fun playing with expectations regarding typical Macnee-Rigg interaction, such as Basil slapping Emma on the arse or the two engaging in a kiss (it's a device that has been employed since in everything from Doctor Who to The X-Files). It's also aware of the propensity for slip-ups, such as Boris calling Mrs Peel Emma early on (alas, she isn't suspicious enough as result), and she repaying the favour by accidentally calling him Steed at the other end of the plot. 


SteedMy cigars. He's been smoking my cigars… And he's… Bitten the end off. Bitten!

The contrast between Boris' plebeian and Steed's gentleman ("Steed has poise. A touch of the aristocrat") pays dividends, especially in a rant about Boris finishing off his bottle of '47 and biting the ends off his cigars ("What sort of fiend are we dealing with?"), or any slight that comes to mind ("I admire your tailor old man"; "More than I can say for yours"). 


It's not all a nod of approval to the upper classes; Major B is particularly bluffed out by basing everything on snobbery ("Anyway, I know an Old Etonian when I meet one, and I promise you, that chap in there’s no gentleman"), but then, he's a not uncommon idiot in authority for the show (he dismisses Emma as not knowing the name of his barber and she replies "I might, except that you're wearing a toupee"; he also exclaims "I'm a man of intelligence. Do you take me for a perfect idiot?" eliciting the response "No one's perfect". The old ones are the best). 


Major BIt would be different if they looked like doubles, that sort of thing. That’s been done before. But swapping psyches, I ask you.

As should be evident by this point, the series is having a lot of fun with its self-reflexivity. As such, it's amusing to see trademark ridiculously handy clues (see the next episode for evidence) used to lure our heroes to a "stilt" manufacturer. Although, if Steed finds it suspicious this week, why doesn't he react the same way every time a useful address shows up? There are also a couple of chucklesome "Important announcements" at the ad breaks, clarifying the potential confusion… "For the benefit of those who have just switched on The Avengers, we'd like to explain that these two villains have swapped minds… and these are the two villains. At least, I think they are. On with the show" and "But stay viewing. It'll all sort itself out – I hope".


Mrs PeelCome on, Basil baby!
SteedComing, honey child.

I'm not quite sure about the decision to take up permanent residence by Boris and Lola, since it was established earlier that Boris felt it when Steed was hit (so what if Boris' body is killed?), but mostly, Levene makes the whacky premise work in all the right ways, including a whispered saucy suggestion when Steed is unsure if Emma is the real Emma ("And if you want further proof"; "Oohhh… Mrs Peel") and a playful exit for a weekend away, assuming the parlance of their now locked up counterparts.


















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

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I definitely agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my brother so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Quartz Banger

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

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…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

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.

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…

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…