Diana Rigg

The Avengers S4 E18 – The Thirteenth Hole [DVD]

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avengers4The very first review I posted on this site was for an episode of the cult 60s TV series The Avengers. In fact, the whole idea for starting Taking The Short View in the first place grew out of a longer background piece about the show I wrote for a general interest blog a couple of weeks prior to that. While I’ve returned to cover the programme only once more in the intervening years – which is just a small drop in the ocean compared with the many reviews of Doctor Who episodes and a large assortment of Nordic Noir offerings – I still nonetheless consider The Avengers to be the (unsuspecting) patron saint of my witterings here.

It was therefore with genuine sadness and deep dismay that I learned yesterday of the passing of the wonderful Patrick Macnee, who was and shall forever be inseparable from the part of gentleman spy John Steed that he created and played throughout all the various incarnations of the show over a decade and a half. He was also quite the best thing in the James Bond film A View To A Kill and his inimitable tones also struck fear into me as a young child when he lent his voice to the Cylon Imperious Leader in the original Battlestar Galactica. Macnee was 93, the same age as Sir Christopher Lee whom we also lost just the other week; and the coincidence isn’t just a numerical one, as the pair were actually at the same prep school together. There must have been something rather wonderful in the drinking fountain water there. Read the rest of this entry »

Theatre of Blood [DVD] (1973)

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Arrow Films has just released Theatre of Blood on Blu-ray, part of a major series of restored Vincent Price films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The new release appealed to me, in particular because it has an audio commentary from The League of Gentlemen (Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith) that has been getting rapturous reviews from everyone who has heard it; but my enthusiasm was held in check by memories of not actually being too partial to the film when I saw it for the first and only time, around a decade ago. But maybe my sensibilities had grown and developed since then?

I dug out a copy of the old 2002 DVD that I still had, and rewatched the film to see how I took to it second time around. And the truth is, my feelings hadn’t much changed at all: this is still a film I struggle to see the enthusiastic appeal of.

The story involves ageing Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart deciding to kill the theatre critics who have given him bad reviews and mocked him down the years; he does so in methods suggested by the various plays that he’s performed in, with the first victim stabbed to death by a mob on the Ides of March. In that sense it’s well ahead of its time and a very modern concept – this would absolutely work as an episode of Criminal Minds or remade as a B-movie in the modern serial killer vernacular. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (BBC1)

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One consistently recurring question among fans over recent years has been why accomplished writer and performer Mark Gatiss hasn’t been able to deliver a follow-up to match “The Unquiet Dead,” his first Doctor Who episode back in 2005. There was the undercooked ‘meh’-ness of “The Idiot’s Lantern” for example, and the flat-out disappointment of “Victory of the Daleks” which was only partially the result of the new-model primary-coloured candy-floss iDaleks. Even 2011’s “Night Terrors” felt like it should have been so much better rather than just acceptably decent.

Given his undoubted talents – just check out his writing for Sherlock for example – and his unimpeachable love of the series, a resounding Doctor Who success for Gatiss has been long over due. Arguably last month’s “Cold War” was the best of Gatiss follow-ups, and it was certainly pretty good and well-received even if I personally thought it narrowly failed to fully deliver. So you can understand then when I say I’d rather given up hope of ever finding a Gatiss-penned Doctor Who that I could unreservedly, unhesitatingly gush over and declare as being his best contribution to the series of all time; and I certainly wasn’t expecting “The Crimson Horror” to be the episode to prove me wrong.

Well paint me red, dress me in long johns and call me dear monster, because I’ve never been happier having to eat my words: “The Crimson Horror” was the most tongue-in-cheek fun that Doctor Who has had in a very long time. Possibly ever, actually. It is delightfully wicked and clever from first to last and shows just how good Gatiss can truly be when he slips his leash and goes on the rampage unfettered by cerebral concerns of what a ‘good’ Doctor Who episode needs to or should look like. Read the rest of this entry »

The Avengers S4 E14 – Silent Dust

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I still think of Taking The Short View as my “new” blogging venture, so it was a bit of a surprise to to realise that in fact we’ve just passed the first anniversary of the very first post. That had been a review of an early episode of the British television series of the 60s called “The Avengers”, and it seemed appropriate and fitting to mark the first birthday of TTSV with a look at another episode from that show …

This story from the fourth season of the show originally aired in the UK on New Year’s Eve 1965: Honor Blackman had moved on (and had starred in Goldfinger) and Diana Rigg had taken over as Emma Peel alongside series stalwart Patrick Macnee as John Steed. And the two are on excellent form even this early on in their collaboration, sparking off each other quite delightfully in a completely equal partnership that must have come as a shock at a time when women’s equality was still more aspirational rhetoric than everyday reality.

The script by Roger Marshall has some crackling dialogue with multiple quotable lines (“I like a wine that bites back”; Steed: “How’s your connection with industrial science?”, Peel: “Well oiled”) perfectly played by the duo. There’s also a typically intriguing premise: in this case, birds falling out of the sky for no reason but feared to pressage the release of a deadly pesticide that could annihilate all animal and plant life in the area – a concept perhaps even more darkly relevant today even than it was in the 60s.

Unfortunately the show quickly loses interest in the premise and much prefers the jauntier idea of the villains of the piece going for a country hunt – with Mrs Peel as the fox. The guest stars (including William Franklyn, Jack Watson, Charles Lloyd Pack and the ever-lovely Aubrey Morris) all seem to be playing this for broad comedy, with only the two regulars managing to pitch their performances at the optimal pivot point between drama and laughs, at least outside of a very odd hallucinatory scene (“I prefer you clean shaven”) and the obligatory whimsical epilogue (“What happens when we run out of ballast?”)

While delivering on the dialogue and premise front, the script doesn’t bother with much plotting beyond that: Steed and Peel’s investigative method is to wander around the countryside and happen to bump into just the right people, and be at the right place at the right time to stumble upon the key clue, all without any real effort or sense. It comes as a surprise to find the show so thoroughly lightweight even in what is usually described as its heyday.

But what anyone will notice compared with the earlier episode I reviewed, “Mr Teddy Bear” filmed three years earlier, is just how much more technically sophisticated this production is by comparison. Where before everything was studio-set and filmed as-live with mistakes left in and flight sequences limited to a basic prat fall, now we’re shooting on film stock and almost everything is on location. When the cast get on their horses for the hunt, it’s real horses galloping at full speed on real fields (and in an era when stunt doubles were usually painfully evident, it seems that by and large it’s the principle cast on horseback and acquitting themselves admirably throughout.)

It’s still black and white – colour didn’t arrive until the next season – but the monochrome doesn’t take any of the shine off the polish off this production. And as a reminder of Steed and Peel at their finest, it’s a tremendous example.