Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Avengers Series 5 Episode 17: The Return of the Cybernauts

Compared to the original Cybernauts episode, this is very much a continuation of the same themes that I commented on in my previous post on that episode: the threat of technology if it should get out of hand, the danger of establishment figures going to the bad, conflict between the world of tradition and the brave new world of the future, and especially an ambivalence towards the world of technology opening up.
This episode uses exactly the same visual devices as the last one did to make essentially the same points, starting immediately from the cybernaut bursting into a stately home, exactly the same way The Cybernauts started, indicating the irresistible break-in of the technological world. Other visual devices repeated from The Cybernauts are repeated contrasts, such as Beresford using a computer contrasted with Mrs Peel going through paper records; even the toaster sequence at the end is a contrast in terms of low-tech safe technology compared to the cybernauts. The device of attempting and failing to kill a cybernaut with a gun is also repeated. Even the denouement is similar with Steed turning two cybernauts against the baddies.
Once again Steed and Mrs Peel have different approaches to futuristic things: for example Mrs Peel likes Paul Beresford's modern bronze, and Steed doesn't like it at all. An ambivalence towards technology and the future is indicated by Steed having a car phone in his otherwise vintage car.
There is a slight difference in emphasis here over The Cybernauts: the establishment is no longer seen as the benevolent or neutral force to be protected. This is shown when Professor Chadwick comments that he has also previously created 'a new horror': that this was for a (or presumably the ) government is shown by his comment that his only reward then was a pittance and a government pension. This places the government's evil doings on an exact par with Paul Beresford's, *in Professor Chadwick's eyes*. This differs in allowing that possibility but also creates yet another level of ambivalence: in The Cybernauts Armstrong was merely one disaffected scientist, but here the Avengers are protecting the world from people who see their evil as justified by being on a par with what the government does.
Beresford's own reason for what he does is also different: it is purely and simply a personal vendetta against the Avengers on the part of Armstrong's brother, to revenge his death.
Mrs Peel and Steed's relationship differs here, rather than acting like an old married couple, his concern for her is almost fatherly when he talks to her about how at home she seems with Beresford.
Once again I love the truly Avengers touches of this episode: the ditsy secretary who says to the cybernaut that big men 'send' her. My favourite bit of it is I think also open to criticism: when Beresford takes control of Mrs Peel through a watch and brings her straight to him is both great visually and also so ridiculous that it could only happen in The Avengers. I love the sitting room of Paul's house: I love the way the Avengers repeatedly show the outside of a house and then an interior that couldn't conceivably be in the building. For a house of that size the sitting room is impossibly small. I love the contrast of the completely modern interior with the shelves of leather-bound books (some of them a set that repeatedly appear in Avengers sets, including Steed's Series 5/6 apartment) and I love that the sitting room has a bar.
I would repeat my criticism of The Cybernauts: the number of well-known actors distracts from the plot somewhat (in addition to Peter Cushing there are Fulton Mackay (Porridge) and Charles Tingwell (Emergency Ward 10 and the Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford)), and I do feel that Steed and Mrs Peel need to be showcased against a relatively bland background of other actors. Similarly the cybernauts don't look so good in colour as they did in black and white - nowhere near as sinister, but I do love the bit where one is being driven along in a car to kill Beresford's lawyer.
Just one unfortunate visual thing: some of the movements made by Steed and Mrs Peel in the closing credits unfortunately mirror the cybernauts' movements! So once again a mixed review from me: I think I would probably rate it slightly less than The Cybernauts because it is not so effective visually - the sets aren't as good for example - and it is actually an episode trying to hitch a ride on the tails of another.

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