Monday, 25 November 2013

Spyder's Web: The Executioners

Spyder's Web doesn't go in for titles in the same format as the later series of The Avengers, but if it did this one would be called 'in which Mary Whitehouse goes seriously off the rails'! In this episode a serious contemporary issue comes under the microscope: the question of indecency & censorship was very hot stuff through the 1960s & into the 1970s. Once again this realism distinguishes Spyder's Web from the world of The Avengers, which was self-consciously unreal, although this episode otherwise feels very Avengers. It is about an organisation called The Executioners, who supposedly kill those it considers immoral. The organisation consists solely of very Establishment figures indeed, who appear to take the law into their own hand. Here the Establishment is investigating the Establishment.
Once again sticking to its own time serves this programme well in making it respectably of its age & without pretence. it is unlikely nowadays that anybody would walk into an office & announce that they work there since yesterday, & have this elicit no surprise. This reminds me of the way Georgina Jones always manages to get a job in the place of Adam Adamant's latest case at the drop of a hat.
We get a glimpse of 'J Smith', the putative boss, who communicates marvellously by means of talking through a picture. Once again Arachnid productions sticks firmly to its own time & contemporary technology: no science fiction here. In this episode this is contrasted with the extreme traditionalism of Lord Rashmore's household. I particularly love the way the permissive film that Arachnid Films announces as a lure to The Executioners is called 'Libido 72'!
The plot of this episode works much better than that of the first episode because it is simpler, despite the twist at the end. In fact the twist in the plot - once again all is not what it seems - takes this out of the league of a straightforward thriller.
Given Lord Rashmore's own chosen solution to the ills of the modern world it is ironic that Wallis Ackroyd is reading Schopenhauer whose philosophy is about doing just that. Other philosophical issues in this episode include the rights & freedom of the individual, the use & misuse of power, & appearances versus the reality of morality. This last is embodied in the encounter of Lord Rashmore & Lottie Dean towards the end. Rashmore has all the appearance of being an upstanding gentleman, yet is suspected by H.M. Government of putting people to death because he disagrees with their morals, but he is actually not as bad as he appears, although I frankly found his approach to the people he 'treated' distasteful in the extreme. Lottie - who is pictured as the rock-solid one concerned by the possible effect of Hawksworth's actions - arrives at the house dressed as a nun, the embodiment of purity & care for others. She & Wallis try to compromise Rashmore's henchman with an appearance of trying to seduce Wallis. Rashmore sees through this - the apparent baddie seeing through the respectable facade of the actual goodies, which forces them to put him to sleep with a pin. This to my mind is no worse than he does to the people he 'treats' for their morals. Hawksworth comes across as much more morally ambivalent. I find his statement to Rashmore when he arrives at the house as unconvincing. He comes across as a bit of a Bertie Wooster 'silly ass' character in this episode, again a good contrast with the other characters. Plus of course much of the point of this episode is what would happen if the great & the good go completely off the rails.
Visually this episode works really well, Rashmore's traditional house contrasting well with the modern offices. Characterisation is strong, despite a larger cast the major characters are clear & well developed. I love Lottie Dean as a nun: the nuns' habits towards the end contribute well to the visual effect - especially when Lottie walks into a games arcade in the habit. The pace is just right, the interest is maintained, exactly the right hints are dropped to mislead the viewer without actually cheating by saying the diversionary tactic.
Unusually for me I'm frankly finding it difficult to criticise this episode. I would have liked more exposition of what happens to the six who have taken the law into their own hand, but I suppose that would have spoiled the morally ambivalent point of this episode. Of course in the age of Mary Whitehouse is paints those who set themselves up as moral arbiters, as dyed in the wool villains!
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