Skip to main content

Now then, you show nanny where you keep those pretty little missiles.

The Avengers
5.14: Something Nasty in the Nursery

Once Upon a Time, the penultimate episode of The Prisoner, sprang to mind more than once while rewatching Something Nasty in the Nursery, with its regressed adults and distorted guitar twangs announcing the sinister. It's very nearly a great episode, the only thing letting it down being the lack of any rug pull or shift in perspective beyond the initial setup.


Mr GoatI can guess why you’re here.
SteedYou can?
Mr GoatAn aura of proud fatherhood surrounds you.

What it has in spades is style, very much of a woozy, psychedelic lilt thanks to James Hill's impeccable direction (he might be the most consistently impressive of the series' returning craftsmen). From the moment Wilmot (Dennis Chinnery, Gharman in Genesis of the Daleks, as well as appearing in The Chase and The Twin Dilemma) picks up a bouncy ball – baby bouncers – and the screen becomes a swirl off hypnotic blue and  yellow, accompanied by nursery rhyme music, we know we're in good hands. 


WilmotMinisters of the Crown, my colleagues, personal friends.
SteedIt's ridiculous.
WilmotQuite, these men are from the best families. They're British to the core!

Rather like What the Butler Saw, the setup finds suspicion falling on three individuals when vital defence secrets are known to be leaking. And at least two of them are very familiar faces, Paul Eddington's Beaumont (2.17: Immortal Clay – The Good Life co-star Penelope Keith is credited as Nanny Brown) and Patrick Newell's Sir George "Georgy Porgy" Collins (4.1: The Town of No Return, Mother-to-be, of course, The Android Invasion). There's also Webster (Paul Hardwick). 


The ruse, as (over-) elaborated by Mr Goat (great name, memorably played by Dudley Foster – the crazy dentist in 4.14: The Hour That Never Was, Cavan in The Space Pirates, and here memorably sinister in a Norman Bates kind of way as alter ego Nanny Roberts) to someone who knows full-well anyway; it requires the handling of a baby bouncer, whereby, "Absorbed into the skin, this drug produces feelings of infancy. But the memory remains unaffected, enhanced even, as long as they feel secure". And susceptible to being asked questions about top secret information. 



Mr GoatNow then, you show nanny where you keep those pretty little missiles.

Eddington and Newell, in particular, give commendably infantile performances ("Here cuddles. Come here. Here’s a good boy"), and there are some quality moments with our lead duo, Emma coming under the influence and a fake-out where Steed is assumed to be likewise (except he's wearing gloves, pretending he’s been dosed, and proceeds to rip up the map showing the locations of those pretty little missiles).


The episode features a number of incidental pleasures, including Steed's visit to Old Martin's Toy Shop ("Toys for the offspring of the nobility"), where there’s disappointment that, even though he’s gentry, he isn't landed – as Avengers Forever points out, Mrs Peel doesn't take that particular trip, as teased by the opening haiku – a sequence in which Gordon (Trevor Bannister as a loathsomely enthusiastic heavy) attempts to run Emma down, and Mr Martin's (Clive Dunn, 47 but playing 20 years older, and sans moustache) death via gun-in-a-box. 


There's also an attempt on Steed's life with a bomb that ends up in his tuba, which is unceremoniously straightened for a resultant sight gag. And Steed is left with a coterie of mewling babes, none of whom are ultimately revealed to be real (they're dummies in the prams); "Ah, just like you. You'd make a dreadful daddy" chides Emma on entering.


The crimes are at the behest of GONN (the Guild of Noble Nannies), not one of the best acronyms. The "Mrs Peel we're…" comes via a children's carousel, while the coda finds the duo self-reflexively crystal gazing ("I see some writing. It says 'Watch next week' "), as Steed leads off with some cryptically unanswered insights into the fathomless depths. 



















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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.