Skip to main content

Do you think the world’s ended and they forgot to tell us?

The Avengers
6.21: The Morning After

This one seems to get something of a mixed reaction, which rather surprises me. Along with the not-dissimilar-in-premise 4.15: The Hour That Never Was, it was one of the highlights of my first-run Avengers experience, and revisiting the series stands up even better than its Season Four counterpart. Much of that is down to John Hough’s superb location work and sure feel for suspense, but Brian Clemens also ensures the plot maintains a sense of mystery, while the odd couple/ Midnight Run/ The Defiant Ones handcuffed pairing of Macnee and Peter Barkworth (1.22: Kill the King, 3.16: The Medicine Men, 5.9: The Correct Way to Kill) is an absolute treat.


Tara: He's a double agent?
Steed: Quadruple, would be nearer the mark.

Steed and Tara ensnare Barkworth’s Jimmy Merlin (great name) as he attempts to sell them a nerve gas agent he’s just purloined from the Ministry for TSI (“You mean you were going to sell the exclusive rights to as many buyers as possible?” Steed asks him later), but he knocks them out with a nerve gas capsule, which he also succumbs to before he can escape; waking a day later, Steed finds the entire town deserted (shades of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and The Quiet Earth) and drags the protesting, handcuffed Merlin with him to investigate. 


I can’t help thinking that leaving Tara to sleep it off was the least wise of possible choices, but as canny as Steed is in various respects here, he also shows himself liable to blinkeredness; it takes him quite a while to come round to the position that foul play is afoot (“I would probably have been sent to the area anyway” he suggests at one point), and even longer to accept at that Brigadier Hansing (Joss Ackland) is involved.


Merlin: Perhaps they all went to the Moon.

The cat and mouse on the streets is played for maximum effectiveness, avoiding the thuggish Sergeant Hearn (Brian Blessed, 5.12: The Superlative Seven) and his men, who show what they’re capable of early on when they execute “looter” Cartney (Jonathan Scott), actually a man from the Nuclear Fission Committee. There’s a particularly well-staged altercation in the bank, as Hearn is held captive and the squad are ordered to drop their guns, enabling Steed and Merlin to escape.


Jenny: You mean they actually shot someone? Here in a little English town?
Steed: Well, there is a state of emergency.
Quite how reporters Jenny (Penelope Horner) and Yates (Philip Dunbar) have managed to do a much better job of remaining undetected than Steed and Merlin, driving around in a TV van oblivious to the mortal peril they’re in, slightly undermines the overall dramatic tension of the piece, but for a series that has never exactly built itself around edge-of-the-seat thrills, this one maintains that element remarkably consistently. 


Yates: Well, it’s incredible that you don’t know. The whole world knows.
Steed: Well, I hate the whole world having us at a disadvantage.

The reporting duo provide the official half of the story: that the Eastern Hemisphere Trade Commission Building, which was vacated nearly two years before, has been discovered to house an atomic bomb, the culprit unclear since twenty countries occupied it. It was found by pure fluke, as Hansing was on manoeuvres in the area and detected radioactivity. This falls apart as Merlin recognises Major Parsons (Donald Douglas, Vural in The Sontaran Experiment, Grenlee in Rumours of Death) as Gregor Parminsky (“He’s an eastern agent. A cutthroat. A pirate. A mercenary”), but Steed still thinks they need to warn Hansard, even though he admits “I thought that the situation was becoming more straightforward”. The discovery of trucks filled with four platoons of nuclear shock troops drugged and unconscious rather dampens this notion. 


Hearn: It’s the machine part that really gets him.

To get the truth of the matter, Blessed is thankfully on hand to uncork a bottle and turn into an exposition machine. The plan is to plant a bomb, not defuse one, and then demand a ransom of £40m once the residents have been reinstalled, to be paid in fifteen minutes (they already know how long it took to complete an evacuation). Hansing’s motivation is pride, bitterness and anger at being told he’s going to be replaced, “made redundant by a machine. That’s a lot for a man to swallow”. 


Hearn: Your friend wasn’t very brave.
Steed: He’s a big disappointment to me.

It’s a clumsily introduced scene, but Blessed pulls it off with typical gusto (he has much more of a presence in the episode than Ackland). It’s a scene that also concludes amusingly, as a now awake Tara tackles Hearn but both end up asleep (again in her case) when Merlin returns and lobs a capsule at the sergeant. 


Merlin: Oh Steed, let me off the hook. I’m too young to die.
Steed: You’re over twenty-one.
Merlin: If I were eighty, I’d still feel the same.

What really elevates this episode, though, is the banter/reluctant camaraderie between Steed and Merlin, the latter looking for an excuse to leave, the former humouring his ward only so much. Steed spends much of the time rigidly unmoved regarding Merlin’s culpability (“The situation changes nothing”: “That’s what I admire about you. Your flexibility”), having brought a gun along that Tara notes isn’t like him.


Steed: I thought we’d seen the last of you.
Merlin: Well, I couldn’t do that. Bad for business. You’d spread it around that I was unreliable.

But when Merlin does get the chance to abscond, he has second thoughts. As Steed notes, Jimmy’s reasoning isn’t entirely valid (if he ends up dead, no one will be able to impugn Merlin’s name) and it leads to a lovely end sequence where, as per Midnight Run, the captor sets the captive free (“Goodbye, Jimmy. Do try and keep out of trouble”). 


Hansing: From what I gather, they roam the streets with complete impunity!

Brian Clemens has fashioned a winner all over here, one where he smartly draws attention to the plot holes (Hansing above) and has numerous amusing lines dished out (“Professionals! Instead, I’m surrounded by rank amateurs!”) The coda is a bit clumsy, given the preceding quality (Jimmy has been up to his old tricks, stealing a box of luminous dust – the “empty” box Steed has just opened), but you can forgive that in an episode where, by dint of scripts rather than lead chemistry, the final season has pulled ahead of its predecessor.









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

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.