Skip to main content

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers
2.22: Murdersville

Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).


SIGNWelcome to Little Storping In-the-Swuff. Voted the best kept village in the country. Please help us keep it that way.

Certainly, substitute The Wicker Man's religious zeal for Little Storping In-the-Swuff's murder racket, and you have a not dissimilar banding together of locals to fund their way of life. And in Mickle (Colin Blakely), a truly loathsome, cackling gumby who wouldn't be out of place menacing Dustin Hoffman. If Murdersville goes wrong anywhere, it’s in fluffing his comeuppance. 


He and Hubert (John Ronane) ought to have something much nastier in store than a pie in the face and a clout round the head with a library book after leaving Croft (Eric Flynn, The Wheel in Space, coming off as a bit of a Ben Daniels of his era) and Forbes (Norman Chappell, 1.2: Dance with Death, 1.23: Dead of Winter, 3.15: The Gilded Cage, 4.4: Dial a Deadly Number) very dead (for ex-army types, they aren't very handy at all). Catharsis is lacking with regard to the most despicable villains since A Sense of History.


Jeremy PurserLittle Storping has become a boomtown.

There's something disturbingly plausible about the human nature aspect of Clemens' premise, in contrast to many crazy Avengers plots. We’re told two men showed up one day, one murdering the other in front of whole village and offering them £1m to keep their mouths shut. There were only four dissenters (one amusingly seems to be permanently gagged, and it's unclear how they go to the toilet, but I guess people don't need to in The Avengers. There also don't seem to be any pesky kids about to mess things up). It's a chilling idea – even more that, having done it, they agreed to offer the same service to others for a fat fee; the town's wide open.


The early scenes, as Forbes is plied with pints at the pub before being accosted at his major's house (Mickle and Hubert being particularly unpleasant towards the crockery) is deeply unsettling, emphasising that kind of irrational, random violence one doesn’t like to suspect of the inbred yokel.


Steed is out of the picture for much of the proceedings, but this is a vastly better use of Emma than having her menaced in a haunted house. Admittedly, she's rather slow on the uptake for someone who's normally very quick, managing to repeatedly convince herself that Dr Haymes (Ronald Hines) is a good guy. Although, in balancing fairness, the likelihood that the whole village is in on the scheme is probably the last thing she'd expect… outside of The Town of No Return. She's also rather easily done in by a helicopter buzzing her. No wonder Steed's required to show up to rescue her again.


The location itself is especially perfect (it's Aldbury, which also featured as Swingingdale in Dead Man's Treasure), and the high noon sequence on the main road of the hamlet as Emma is surrounded by pitchfork wielding locals and must take flight, taking down a few with her, is very cool. More disturbing is the waterboarding/ witch ducking scene, in which Rigg's stunt double is held under for a worryingly long time.


Mrs PeelKiss little Albert for me, and Julie, and Gordon, and baby Brian.

Mrs Peel is amusingly made to join the dissenters in medieval shackles, hers being a chained chastity belt. Even more amusingly, when she agrees to talk, she confesses who knew she was coming: "Only one person. John. My husband". Also known as Johnsey Wonsey.


Steed's almost as slow on the uptake as she is during their phone conversation (a good thing no one was listening in), but there's a definite buzz from his entering the fray to tidy up; "I was admiring your er… old customs" he says to barmaid Jenny (Sheila Fearn) of her legs, before smashing shotgun wielding landlord Prewitt's (John Sharp, who'd go on to appear in The Wicker Man, and was previously in 2.13 Traitor in Zebra) head into the bar. "I hadn’t even criticised the beer" he notes of the hospitality.


SteedIt may surprise you to know that I've had very little experience with this type of garment.

Steed also gets the best line of the episode in response to Mrs Peel's chastity belt. Other notables in the cast include Banks (Robert Cawdron 4.22: A Touch of Brimstone) Maggie (Irene Bradshaw, 1.13: One for the Mortuary, 2.19: The Golden Eggs) Higgins (Joseph Grieg, The Sensorites) Jeremy Purser (Geoffrey Colville, The Evil of the Daleks) and Miller (Tony Cauntner, Colony in SpaceEnlightenment, Ensor Jr in Blake's 7 Deliverance). An uncredited Gareth Thomas also appears as an assassin.


SteedI don't know why you had to put it on in the first place.
Mrs PeelYou were there. You saw for yourself. For protection. And on that occasion, it served its purpose.
SteedTrue. Not only are we going to be late for this party, but the ambassador is going to take it as a personal affront.
Mrs PeelOh?
SteedWell, we all know his reputation as a womaniser, but to turn up in armour. It really is very inconvenient.
Mrs PeelYou're telling me. I couldn't find a dress to match it.


The teaser (Mickle and Hubert nonchalantly play dominoes outside the village pub as a murder takes place) is one of the best. And the coda, in which Emma is still wearing (stuck in) the knight's helmet she donned for the showdown, finds Steed able to extract her before getting his head stuck himself: "My knight in shining armour. Have a sip" consoles Emma, offering him a drink.  An episode high on atmosphere and serviced with one of the best premises the show has seen.

























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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.