I've also seen him in a POIROT, FIREFOX, an episode of RIPPING YARNS, JABBERWOCKY and LISZTOMANIA. (Mind you, I had to look all this up to be reminded of it...)
It's funny that, by comparison, I've never seen the guy who played the main villain in anything else... (but the guy who played the similar role in the remake was a real stand-out in several things)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Steed has the cushy job of escorting a top scientist who's just made a major breakthrough on a voyage to New York, and bids Cathy Gale a fond farewell. It's clear he was trying to invite her along, but she preferred having him out of her hair for awhile. But the scientist's wife informs Steed that her husband has suddenly decided to enter into "meditation" at an exclusive country rest-home, Adelphi Park, at which no one, apart from relatives, are ever allowed to visit. Thus begins a very twisted tale involving deception, doubles, marital infidelity, tax fraud on a massive scale, and a quaint funeral parlor whose specialty is MURDER!
As a series, THE AVENGERS continued to slowly evolve from beginning to end, and this episode marks another step in that. Apart from being shot on video, it looks and feels very much like a 4th-season episode with Mrs. Peel. You've got a mystery that slowly unfolds as the story progresses, some interesting locations, an unusual premise, and some very eccentric characters, especially the scientist's wife and the greedy funeral director.
It also marks several first for the series. 1)Steed is seen wearing a pin-stripe suit, making him more "Edwardian" than ever; 2)the action climax is shot entirely outdoors on film; and 3)the epilogue features Steed & Cathy drinking champagne.
At its core, "THE UNDERTAKERS" is Malcolm Hulke's BRILLIANT satire (or vicious attack, take your pick) as the insanity of the British tax system. 15 years before Robert Holmes took aim at it in the DOCTOR WHO story "THE SUN MAKERS", Hulke points out how the Inland Revenue will take 80% of a millionaire's money when he dies-- UNLESS of course they give it away as a gift, but only if this is done at least 5 years before they die.
As Batman's nemesis The Joker once said, "And you SEE why I am FORCED to crime!" Frankly, apart from the various murders committed in order to keep the scheme a secret, I'm on the side of the CROOKS in this one! The clue to the mystery first crops up when the scientist's wife tells Steed, "What with death duties, being rich hardly seems worth the trouble." And she's right. It's well-known that many of English's richest have fled the country, in order to avoid unconscionable high-income tax brackets. What those in government fail spectacularly to realize is, if every person in the country paid the exact same percentage of their income on a flat-rate basis, they'd probably be taking in far more than they are, since EVERYONE would be paying their actual "fair share". (And that goes for the US as well as the UK.)
Pretty deep thinking for "light entertainment", HMM???
THE AVENGERS: DEATH OF A BATMAN
Steed & Cathy vs. Insider Trading *****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Attending the funeral of his old army "batman", Steed learns the man, who worked as a draftsman, somehow legally racked up an enormous fortune. This leads to he & Mrs. Gale investigating the financial dealings of a bank and various investment transactions.
Put simply, "DEATH OF A BATMAN" may be the single most TEDIOUS episode of THE AVENGERS ever made. I know some stories do lean on the "technical" side, but this is ridiculous. If it weren't for the various characters involved, the details of the story would be enough to baffle or bore anyone who wasn't into finance and accounting right into unconsciousness.
Further, I must admit this is the 2nd episode in a row where, until one of the parties involved decided to resort to MURDER to cover up his illegal dealings, I was, frankly, on the side of the crooks! They were helping various small English companies to succeed in the world market, and thereby strengthening the country in general. And while they did it by illegally using insider information AND selling and re-buying other people's stock holdings in order to make a profit, NOBODY was getting hurt.
The more I thought about this, it reminded me of a pair of James Bond stories... CASINO ROYALE, and the 1987 movie THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. In both, someone entrusted with certain funds decided to mis-appropriate said funds, in order to make themselves a huge profit, after which they would take the original money and put it to the use it was supposed to go to in the first place. Of course, the Russian government did not take kindly to one of their agents (or generals) doing this, so I suppose the English government wouldn't either.
Highlights of this story, as I said, are the guest cast, which this time includes Philip Madoc (who I always remember for his various appearances on DOCTOR WHO). The main perpetrator is played by Andre Morell, while the son of the man who died and thereby started the whole investigation (and who gets greedy when he finds out what's going on) is played by a very young David Burke. I kept staring at him, wondering, "Where have I seen him before?" Only when I looked him up online did I realize that this story featured, effectively, 3 different "Dr. Watsons" in the cast! 1-Andre Morell (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, 1959), 2-Patrick Macnee (SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK, 1976) and David Burke (THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, 1984).
THE AVENGERS: NOVEMBER FIVE
Cathy Runs For Office; Steed Manages Her Campaign *****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You'd think a story about a stolen nuclear warhead would be really THRILLING, wouldn't you? Guess again!
It all starts with the results of a local bi-election (the sort of thing MONTY PYTHON liked to make fun of, except if they were involved, at least it would be more entertaining to watch). As results are read off, and one candidate congratulates the other, the winner begins to read his acceptance speech... when he's SHOT DEAD (in the face!!). Horrors. As the question of WHO will take his place in the run-off election is raised, the plot begins to thicken (and into a near-impenetrable mess).
As with several (many?) other AVENGERS episodes, "NOVEMBER FIVE" focuses on a particular field of endeavor. In this case, two-- politics, and marketing. The center of attention in the story turns out to be an advertising and marketing firm whose specialty is handling political campaigns. And trust me-- it's even more tedious than it sounds. Eric Paice, whose own specialty seems to be especially tedious stories (he penned 8 AVENGERS episodes, all within the first 3 seasons) somehow manages to take what should be a gripping mystery and turns it into the kind of thing that made a show like MONTY PYTHON almost a necessity.
As the plot progresses, it comes out that 3 very different motivations stem from the theft of the bomb. 1)One of the people who stole the bomb sends the government a blackmail note demanding a huge sum of money for its safe return (well, that was to be expected, right?). 2)Someone else decides to use the information about the theft to cause a scandal and BRING DOWN the current government, forcing them to resign in disgrace. 3)Another person involved in the theft has been offered another huge sum of money NOT to return the bomb, but rather, let it be DETONATED right in the House of Parliment! If you can work your way thru this morass, it follows that 1) and 3) cause a falling-out between the baddies.
As usual, it's characters who save the day... albeit, in this case, only barely. Arthur Dove (David Davies) proves to be the least corrupt of the characters involved, and actually comes across rather honest and charming, especially when he's flirting with Mrs. Gale while admitting he's bored to tears by his long-time wife, who's stuck with him thru thick and thin. And Mrs. Ellen Dove (Ruth Dunning) admits also being bored to tears by her husband, while mostly amused by it all, and winds up making friends with Cathy at the same time. When both Doves nearly fall victim to the story's REAL baddies, you can't help but be overcome with anxiety, hoping that somehow, rescue will come before it's too late. And sure enough, it does. In fact, my favorite moment in the story is when Mrs. Dove lays into one of the baddies while Cathy takes care of the other.
I can only imagine that once the show switched to film production, and Brian Clemens & Albert Fennell were in charge, stories like this were deemed "too cerebral" and were replaced with those containing more visuals, more action, more location filming, and more outrageousness. Speaking of visual, I'd say Production Designer Douglas James put in the best work in this story, as his "Ad Agency" set looked like it would have been right at home in one of the Diana Rigg episodes.
Thank you for posting these reviews, Mr. Kujawa. I clicked on your post, expecting it to be about those other Avengers, and was most pleased to see it covered the television ones, instead. And particularly from the Cathy Gale years.
Like most Americans, my first familiarity with The Avengers was when it ran in the U.S. in the late '60's, and it was certainly an appealing show. The American broadcasts began with the first season the show ran in colour, which was the second season with Mrs. Peel. Of course, by then, the classic Avengers conventions were solidly in place. On those merits alone, I enjoyed the series. Like many, I found the shift to Tara King to be a general decline in the incisiveness of the series. At the time. Having viewed the Tara King era much later, with older, wiser eyes, I realise that those seasons weren't the disaster which is generally assumed. They weren't quite as witty or sharp as Steed and Peel or what came before, but once the show found its "level", so to speak, with Tara as a character, there were quite a few episodes that were noteworthy.
Once my Avengers interest was piqued, I began to research the history of the show, and when technology caught up, I was able to view quite a few episodes from the Steed-and-Gale years and even some sequences from the original incarnation with Steed and Dr. Keel.
Taking into account the entire run of The Avengers, I find that I prefer the Cathy Gale era the most. A few things emerge as reasons for my preference. The scripts from those years seemed more grounded, less fanciful. As you point out, during that time, some of the classic Avengers conventions appeared---Steed's vintage cars and stylised Edwardian suits. The banter between "top professional" and "talented amateur". But the plots, while occasionally arcane or outré, never became outrageous as the stories during the Steed-Peel era occasionally did, especially in the colour years.
And, as you pointed out, the Steed-Gale stories tended to be more cerebral, which is an upcheck for me.
There was a harder edge to the way Steed and Gale approached their cases. Murder and assassination, death overall, wasn't taken as semi-casually as in later years, and the fact that Steed and Gale might have to kill their foes wasn't swept under the rug, but was a very real factor. That harder edge also extended to the relationship between Steed and Mrs. Gale. Where Emma Peel seemed to throw herself into Steed's cases with gusto, and look upon Steed himself as a true and loyal friend, Mrs. Gale had a relationship with Steed that was slightly more contentious. Often, she resented being pulled into one of his missions and equally often, she resented being manipulated by him. In fact, there were times when she was highly pissed over it.
And then there is also the fact that I find Honor Blackman a most fetching woman. That never hurts.
So, I appreciate whatever views you bring to the topic and hope you include some more of your observations about the episodes from that era. Or any Avengers era.
I've read that ABC in America began with the B&W episodes ("THE CYBERNAUTS"), but as it happens, I have a very clear memory of my very first episode-- "EPIC". I saw it in B&W, which no doubt helped make it SEEM moodier than it was. Didn't see it again until at least 15 years later, when I discovered it may have been the most GOONY Mrs. Peel episode ever. ("The Total Destruction of Mrs. Peel" -- a C.C. Von Schnerk production!!!) So my intro to Mrs. Peel was of a very independant, capable woman who all the same was JUST vulnerable enough to need rescuing one in awhile. Just my type of girl (even at age 7 or so).
When ABC moved the show, it took me ages to find it, on Monday nights. I think it was exactly like what happened to THE OUTER LIMITS, except that started on Mondays at 7:30 and moved to Saturdays at 8 PM. In both cases, they took a show that had been successful in one time slot and moved it opposite on of the HIGHEST RATED shows of the time-- instant ratings suicide. IDIOTS!!! ABC.s money made the show a huge success, then ABC's incompetence murdered it.
I liked Tara-- not as much as Mrs. Peel, but she was nice.
It took a long, long time, watching reruns in the 70's, for it to slowly sink in that the show was becoming one of my all-time favorites. I watched THE NEW AVENGERS from the beginning, and could not understand some of the negative attitude thrown at it. I had such a THING for Purdey for many years, and it was a real kick when THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA finally made it to American theatres at the same time that THE NEW AVENGERS was being shown here for the first time.
My first Cathy Gale episode was the only one available on video at the time-- "DEATH OF A GREAT DANE", which had been remade as a 5th-season Mrs. Peel story (and not quite as good). When A&E got the 2nd & 3rd seasons, I had the bizarre experience of being able to watch 2 versions of the same episode simultaneously on 2 VCRs and TVs-- and by the counters, realized every A&E episode had 8-1/2 minutes cut from them. OUCH! How did they even make sense???
I'm currently on my 4th viewing of the Cathy stories. By the 2nd or 3rd time most of them-- even the "really dull" ones-- had grown on me. But I found myself in the last couple weeks watching 3 "tedious" stories in a row, and somehow being inspired to comment on them (in as humorous a fashion as I could).
I found it easy to get into her stories initially no doubt because they looked and felt so much like early DOCTOR WHO, which was also shot on video in cramped studios. (It flips me out that Sydney Newman was involved in the creation of BOTH shows!!!)
My favorite season, if I have to narrow it down to one, is probably the 4th. Still B&W, very moody, but on film and on location, and I do prefer Mrs. Peel to Mrs. Gale. Cathy's the sort I find very impressive, and I'd enjoy becoming friends with. Emma is more someone I'd find easier to ask out. (Compared to Venus Smith, who I'd LOVE to have as a girlfriend.)
There's ONE guy at the IMDB boards who over the last couple years has made a habit of derailing every thread there with long-winded posts and arguments knocking EVERY era of the show, EXCEPT Cathy's. And I mean, he not only knocks Emma and Tara, he also knocks Brian Clemens, Albert Fennell, Ray Austin and (GASP!!!) Laurie Johnson.
A couple years ago, a friend sent me a CD of Laurie Johnson's music-- all original soundtrack stuff. And I was totally blown away. EVERY track on the thing is so memorable! They just haven't had TV music like that since the 60's.
I think my favorite Honor Blackman character may be Hera, Queen of the Gods (in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). She comes across as a much nicer version of the character than is usual for Greek myths.