Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Avengers: Chorus of Frogs (Venus Smith was an Avengers Girl)

This is the final Venus Smith episode in Series 2 of The Avengers. I get the impression, at least judging from the relative lack of critical hammering I can find online, that it is perhaps the most popular. I find this strange, because personally I've always found it *very* difficult to get a handle of any sort on this episode - I'm hoping that this may be because I've been watching it rather passively, & certainly one of the reasons I started blogging about TV was to make me watch it in a different, more attentive, way.
Not the least interesting thing for me about this episode is the commentary by Julie Stevens on my boxed set. She makes a number of interesting points, from the point of view of this series of posts considering how Venus Smith stands as an Avengers girl. First from my point of view is that she defines two different Venus Smiths, defined by the hair, a more mature one in the first two Venus episodes, then the younger-acting one of the remaining ones. She didn't have any choice or influence over this, it was something thrust upon her by the producer. Her hair was cut short by Vidal Sassoon, in contrast to the wig she wore at first, & also ahead of the prevailing style of the time, since she comments that everyone else was wearing a beehive & short hair hadn't come into fashion yet. The later, younger-seeming, 'perky' Venus appears to be Stevens's preferred of the two.
Stevens also comments on Smith naivete. Exactly chiming with the point that everyone makes about her, that anyone else would just tell Steed to go away. She identifies that there must be 'something' between them, but whatever Venus gets out of her danger-inducing relationship with Steed, it's not sexual, it's more a brother & sister relationship. My own enduring impression is that the idea at this stage of development of The Avengers seems to be that Steed has all sorts of friends & acquaintances whom he can rope in to things - Dr Keel was the first. The nature of these relationships is necessarily rather cloudy - Stevens takes it that Venus & Steed already know each other on some level before Venus's televised adventures with him begin. However, despite the difference in relationship from that of Mrs Gale & Mrs Peel, Stevens clearly sees herself as an Avengers girl, the one who is always missed out in pub quizzes!
This episode is interesting in all sorts of ways apart from the plot. The sets are so much better than they have been up till now that it really gives the show a different look. This episode in particular shows what a different age it was made in - it is set in Greece, but the complete absence of location filming or even stock footage means it could take place virtually anywhere. A mere decade after this show Jason King went all out with the sophisticated locations, although as I remember from only having seen a couple of episodes a long time ago, even that only suggested locations with stock footage. On the other hand Steed's boss is at liberty to - presumably - fly all the way to give him information when it could have been done with a telegram or phone call.
I like Steed's status as a stowaway in this episode - very much in the earlier vein of Steed as rather dodgy character who turns up unexpectedly in odd places. I like the way this episode, while set in a completely closed environment, resists becoming a mystery a la Agatha Christie. I like that we viewers retain enough omnipotence to see the functioning of the baddies. As a mystery, though, when the interested parties gather in the state room it is like the scene where they gather in the library & the detective says why he has gathered them there! Unfortunately as a mystery it both gives too much away too soon & is also quite confusing because of the convoluted characters & goings-on on the ship.
This episode has my favourite of Venus's songs, The Lips That Touch Kippers, which can be found at http://www.dissolute.com.au/the-avengers-tv-series/series-2/songs/224-a-chorus-of-frogs-kippers.mp3 Stevens reveals that she chose this song herself. Visually this episode isn't as interesting as some because interiors on a ship are, well, interiors. I suspect this may be a case where the uncritical viewer of fifty years ago may have found something to admire in the lives of the rich, but visually it falls flat on its face now. Similarly the only possible 'issue' present in this episode - corruption & the things people will do when cornered of desperate - also falls flat on its face, swamped by the lengthy development before the issue really raises its head just before the denouement.
In conclusion I feel that my opinion of Venus Smith's standing as an Avengers girl has changed as a result of watching these six episodes with greater attention to what is happening. I blithely subtitled this series of posts 'Venus Smith was an Avengers Girl', because that is how I have thought of her since I first saw the episodes in which she appears. I have actually only seen them since I got the boxed set: my original viewing of The Avengers was Channel 4's revival in the 1980s, in which they only showed colour episodes, & I never owned any of her episodes on video. She came as a pleasant surprise to me when I first saw them - having read the decidedly mixed opinions of her, & I think I was fast to jump to the conclusion that she was the Avengers girl that time forgot. I like her enormously, more in the vein of Tara King than the others. The differences in roles that I have identified would certainly put her in a different stable from Mrs Gale & Mrs Peel, the archetypal Avengers 'girls'. There is also an obvious change in her character during the course of the episodes, which I feel reflects a relative unsureness in direction for the series. What she is really, therefore, is a try-out for a possible direction that did not prove to be much of a future, causing her status as an Avengers girl to be terminally compromised.
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2 comments:

Chofaim Porovitch said...

I applaud your championship of Venus. :-) I'm so used to seeing her dissed I had to re-read parts of your review!!

Great review, thanks!

Cult TV Blog said...

Thank you. Glad I'm not the only one with a soft spot for Venus.