This is another of those episodes of Spyder's Web which, if I'm honest with myself, I have tended to watch for their visual effectiveness & not really followed what the plot was doing, so in fact it feels like I'm coming to it fresh. We are very much back in Cold War thriller territory, with an Eastern Bloc people smuggling ring using a puppet troupe as a cover.
I love J. Smith's use of a talking myna bird - talking code - to communicate with Spyder, a device straight out of the Avengers Episode, The Bird Who Knew Too Much. I also like the touch of leaving the bird in the left luggage office afterwards, & also how the bird theme recurs later.
You see, this Spyder episode *feels* like a Series four or five Avengers episode, even Hawksworth acts more Steed-like, to my mind, more knowing & less jack-the-lad. There are simply so many Avengers echoes to the knowledgeable ear. Hawksworth adopts the unusual name of Osgood - used in Fog (Series 6) - when he goes to visit the victim's mother. Even the fact of the victim's mother being mystified by aspects of the death has overtones of Death of a Batman, although is cleverly inverted here. The location of the baddies - in reality within the British establishment, & who have let in the Eastern European troupe - is a thoroughly Avengers corruption-in-high-places trope.
Visually, of course, this one was on to a winner from the off, since puppets can hardly fail to make a remarkable impression, albeit I agree with Lottie's verdict, 'rather gruesome'. I was all ready to say that this episode was actually spoiled by the puppets, that their presence overshadowed the human actors, forcing the plot into the background.
I am relieved however, to find that my lack of understanding of this episode was merely caused by not paying attention. In the scene where Lottie & Hawksworth go to film the puppets, something happened when the puppets were being put away in their boxes: this episode suddenyl gripped me. & I was gripped until the very end.
Lottie & Hawksworth make the world's least convincing (in the nicest way) documentary makers - it is so obvious that they have spotted the air holes in the puppets' boxes. Then I like the dialogue about the confessional, it is wonderfully sinister, almost but not quite overdone, & you really can't beat a Catholic church as a setting for a murder. Incidentally Patricia Cutts reminds me a lot of a younger Honor Blackman, the way she speaks, moves & her facial expressions, but I don't know where she trained as an actress, which knowledge might help to find out why. In fact this episode brings out the real acting ability of both Patricia Cutts & Anthony Ainley, particularly in the scene where they go to see Mrs Harley together. They both come across as completely different people from their normal roles. Similarly I like the character of Mrs Harley as a foil to them.
So no great moral issues in this one, not even really the effect of corruption & what happens when people are compromised, in any great depth, although of course Mrs Harley gets a very neat comeuppance. However as a piece of television theatre it is a real gem. It is paced just right, there is little padding, it draws the viewer in, & especially, visually it can't lose. In fact I'm finding it very difficult to criticise this one, a rare experience for me!