Monday, 23 December 2013

The Avengers: Killer Whale

Oh dear, this series 2 Avengers episode doesn't half get a bashing, for example:
'A  very strange brew, combining the theme of the week�in this case, boxing�with a lesson in the evils of smuggling substances derived from endangered species. While it is reasonably well produced, the clash of topics is just plain odd. There is a lot of attention and screen time devoted to boxing fights, which might be interesting if you're into this sort of thing. Otherwise, there is little to recommend this episode, sorry to say. Sad way to close the season, considering the gem that just preceded this dud.' (http://theavengers.tv/forever/gale1-26.htm)
I *almost* completely disagree with this assessment of this episode. The Young Avenger's review on the same site (http://theavengers.tv/forever/gale1-26yav.htm) comments that the sheer strangeness of this episode's plot makes it one that the next season should be in envy of. Personally I would expand this to say that the strangeness & many of the cinematographic techniques used in this episode makes it more like a Series 4, 5, or even 6 episode.
For a start it begins with a classic use of the magical omniscience much used in later series: we see Steed at the boxing club, there is no explanation given of what he is doing there, why he has gone there, how he seems to know Pancho & be involved, nor how long he has been going there. Of course I can see it as part of Steed's persona that he is the sort of person who *would* know about boxing & have had a go at it himself at school. He fits in as if a fixture but there is no reason given. This is a device much used in later series, it's actually a fantastic way to make a smooth plot because it frees the plot of the need to explain.
This applies to the first scene with Mrs Gale. Steed has entered her empty flat without her permission & is helping himself from her drinks cabinet. She enters already with Joey. Again no explanation of how she knows him (star judo pupil), why he is with her, etc. This means that only two minutes in most of the main characters have been introduced! Less than three minutes in Steed has brought up the subject of whales - this really is a lightning introduction to the episode. It is clear that Steed knows what is going on at Driver's Gym.
It doesn't come under the heading of magical omniscience, but is there anything Mrs Gale doesn't know about? Joey is 'one of the best amateurs' she has seen at his weight. Even as a judo teacher taking on the management of a boxer is quite something. The multitude of skills & learning she has is quite astonishing. Of course it is quite possible Steed deliberately waited there in the hope she would bring Joey home.
This episode allows a development of Mrs Gale's character, while Steed tends to remain his normal, relatively shadowy, self. She adds boxing promoter to the strings to her bow, but what I find interesting is the protectiveness she feels for Joey, & how concerned she is to get him out of Pancho's gym once she realises that Steed has used him as a way in to the gym, exposing him to danger. She's not averse to a piece of the action, of course, presaged by appearing at the gym dressed in leather: the feminist Mrs Gale is the real hero of this episode.
I will grant you the particular combination of dress designer & boxing promoter may seem strange, but this is exactly the kind of seedy, underworld, finger-in-all-the-pies connection that The Avengers are fighting. A valid criticism is that the boxing club is unconvincing: my opinion is that the dress designer is also unconvincing. I would argue that this is because they are only drawn in with broad strokes - they are unreal while not quite having the unrealness of, say, PURRR, in later series. This also allows the marvellous scene of Steed ordering a wardrobe, sight unseen, for his niece: this is also not real, since I refuse to believe any uncle has that intimate a knowledge of his niece's measurements!
The somewhat underdeveloped setting does not detract from the genuine dangerousness of the set up here: Mrs Gale of course susses that Joey's fight to get into the gym has been rigged against him, & accuses Steed of trying to get him killed. The feeling of menace & immediate danger is palpable throughout this episode. I suppose we could call the men we are dealing with 'desperate men', & it is blatant from the word go that they are in it to the death.
There are some repeat Avengers guest actors in this one: for me chief among them is John Bailey as Fernand & looking much less grey than he does even a couple of hears later, & Fredric Abbott, who does a marvellous act as a hardman sailor, responsible for bringing the ambergris into the country. Ken Farrington is cast as Joey, & this casting seems to me to be one of failings of this episode. He was pushing 30 when he played this role: surely too old to be going to a youth club & have the time available immediately to take up full-time boxing training. He also plays it too eagerly, he's like a bouncy young puppy: even if you're not hard as nails when you enter a boxing club you at least would act it, rather than leaping up into the ring & bouncing off the ropes. I think Mrs Gale's motherliness towards him suggests a younger actor was envisaged for the part. Apart from this one (unfortunately very key) exception I find all the guest actors convincing.
My only other major criticism is that just over half way through, when Joey & Mrs Gale are locked up in the laboratory the plot slows down too much with what the gang are doing. Also the fight scenes (both on & off the ring) are too slow & often badly arranged.
Visually, considering this episode is completely studio-bound, it isn't at all bad. Some of the scenes feel more like theatre sets than television sets - I'm thinking of the dress studio, & the changing room at the gym is very obviously a one-sided set only. In many ways I personally prefer the music of series one to three: it sets the tone for The Avengers as the adventure series with noirish overtones it started out to be. The high point for me are all the scenes in Mrs Gale's modernist nightmare flat, where comfort has clearly been sacrificed on the altar of 1960s fashion. I do love the way Steed gives Mrs Gale a bottle of perfume that is a gift from the Treasury, that they don't know about. All in all not a bad Avengers episode: not my favourite of the Mrs Gale ones but not the dud it is made out to be.
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