Spyder's Web: Spyder Secures a Main Strand
Adam Adamant Lives! (Which I've also been watching & will be posting on) is often thought as a major imitator & competitor to The Avengers, wrongly in my opinion. I feel a more convincing historical descendant of The Avengers is Spyder's Web, which is not to say I think it (or even Adam Adamant) was consciously imitative. I think it more likely they & other series picked up things from the zeitgeist of the time.
That said, for me Spyder's Web in many ways feels like a Cathy Gale-era Avengers. The opening scenes of this episode - the chase across the field & the double-cross - are pure Avengers, because of the way they introduce the enemy & the element of insecurity, & place them within a pastoral idyll. This sense of English security containing rottenness is continued in the next scene, of a car drawing up to a solid middle-class home & the domestic conversation which follows.
However the man is supposed to be head of Exportease, which is a cover for an intelligence bureau: an interesting parallel to Arachnid productions, also a cover for an agency which does special jobs direct for the government. Miss Dean is actually nosing about Exportease right from the start, & nothing is what it seems in this episode of Spyder's Web. This would actually be my one criticism: the plot requires intense concentration, since it's so complicated. The characters are also not clearly introduced or adequately developed - except Lottie Dean & Clive Hawksworth - to become clearly defined. This may be partly because the series was originally broadcast in colour & this is one of the episodes which only survives in black & white. The twist in the plot, that Hawksworth is being as it were tried out for Arachnid Productions, even though he is already a secret agent, is not obviously coming until it does. Incidentally as Hawksworth is in Lottie's office to meet the Spyder, I love that he passes a poster of Peter Wyngarde (Jason King) adding a marvellously camp touch.
Hawksworth's character clearly has some John Steed elements - eccentric & individualistic, smart, sassy, & sexy, & yet also strangely an embodiment of tradition - his flat feels very much like Steed's series four flat. Harksworth's repartee is intelligent, meaning he could easily be underestimated, & there is definitely a chemistry between him & Lottie Dean. She also comes across as intelligent & sophisticated, providing a perfect amount of tensions between the two characters.
I very much like the relative lack of technology in this show - communication between agents is either by notes or by slides, which by 2013 standards makes it seem like the dark ages. I particularly love the scene in which the three suspects are summoned by strategically-placed notes. The makers of this programme were right to avoid the use of either up-to-the-moment technology or imagined futuristic technology, because it means the show has aged better. Slides used in a projector were widely-available technology of the time, & so the show is not pretending to be anything it isn't.
And oh, how dated it does seem! - I don't mean this as a criticism, more as a plain statement. Until the moment Hawksworth & Lottie meet, & spark off against each other, it moves very slowly, very talky. It makes me wonder how this was received in 1972 - surely it couldn't have been considered serious drama, with the jokes about smoking made over a corpse, & even in the early 70s there was more lively telly than this. Spyder's web is often, rightly, compared in terms of production values to Cathy Gale-era episodes of The Avengers, but I feel they move more slowly.
I like the sets enormously, they are extremely visually effective. The external scenes don't look so good, & thus don't work so well in television terms, yet the internal scenes seem so very studio-bound. And yet I like Spyder's Web enormously, for reasons which I'm finding it difficult to put into words. I think what I like is the feel of it: the forty years since it was first broadcast are enough for it to feel far away in time & speak of a different age. It doesn't attempt the unreality of the Avengers, but I think attempts & succeeds at its quirkiness. The two protagonists are real characters - cards I suppose you could say - & I can't imagine for an instant that people that individual would last long in their world nowadays. It speaks to what is almost a different age from now, which is exactly how the Avengers succeeds, except to describe a world which never existed. The world of Spyder's Web may or may not have existed but it is now too far away to know.