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

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

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…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.