Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Avengers: The Decapod (Venus Smith was an Avengers Girl)

I have projected for some time a series of posts based on the character of Venus Smith, who appears in six episode in the second series only. I've entitled this series Venus Smith was an Avengers Girl to make my approach to the subject about as obvious as it can get. Who knows, I may even next do some posts on Jon Rollason was an Avengers Girl! Joking apart - the existence of other partners to Steed in the second series gives the lie to the common perception that The Avengers can be divided into Gale, Peel, & King eras, & that's it. In fact there is a far more complex relationship between the protagonists of this show. Of course Steed was only ever a rather shadowy, louche figure to start off with, appearing out of nowhere to push Dr Keel in the right direction. A similar dynamic pertains with Jon Rollason - interesting how the doctor theme was continued. I like the series 2 episodes before Mrs Gale became a fixture in series 3, where Steed has several different partners & the partners often have more screen time than him. I think the reason is that I feel it would be so much more true to the shadowy Steed's character to duck & dive a bit, to have friends & contacts everywhere. In the nature of his work he *should* have contacts in all sorts of places - in some ways I find the toff he later became a bit of a disappointment.
Yet the Venus Smith episodes are not a favourite with the fans at all. *Nobody* seems to like her, to the extent that I've wondered at times whether there's something wrong with me because I do. She is often criticised because she increasingly turns into a teenager as her episodes progress - that's obviously a mistake of production to my mind. In the introduction to the episode on my boxed set Stevens says she hadn't done much acting before landing this role. This may be some false modesty, it is plain that she had worked extensively in television before this role; acting apart she even went on to be Harry Secombe's personal manager for many years (a biography is at http://theavengers.tv/forever/bio-stevens.htm). In this episode her modesty is belied by the surprising maturity of the role she plays , to my mind, when allowed by the script, despite only being in her mid-twenties. Her lines really suit her - I like the repartee about whether it would be cheaper to get a dog than the bodyguards. I don't even object to the songs - her voice also sounds mature, I wonder whether in the manner of the time she smoked (incidentally we get to see Steed smoking a cigarette in a holder in this episode, although he looks to me to be smoking more like a cigar or pipe man than the deep intake of a true cigarette smoker, & yes he's in his nineties now). I'm forced to the conclusion that series 2 was a time when The Avengers lost its direction somewhat following the loss of Hendry, & tried different things as possible ways forward.
And what an episode this is, it's quite one of my favourites: once again I seem to be on my own in this estimation & Avengers Forever, for example, calls it uneven & only gives it two bowlers (http://theavengers.tv/forever/gale1-3.htm). I'm actually going to find it difficult not to forget my stated aim of rehabilitating Venus Smith in my admiration for this episode. I think the reason for my appreciation of this episode is that there is something so right about it: it takes place in exactly the milieu I would expect Steed to inhabit: essentially seedy, but one also frequented by the great & the good. Surely every city has its dodgy nightclubs & seedy boxing clubs - I can certainly think of the sort of places Steed would frequent locally (cough - more Digbeth than Jewellery Quarter). Steed is a shadowy figure who may or may not be on the 'right' side - here he produces more of the dirty old man persona that only appears fleetingly later in the series. To me the earlier Steed is *supposed* the be a loung lizard & somewhat louche. Here I find the light cast on both his & Venus's personalities interesting. Steed thinks nothing of deceiving her, it's all in a day's work & his apology to her is blatantly insincere. Smith is astoundingly forgiving - & also naïve - since she also falls for the president. Many mothers may not think to warn their daughters against presidents of Balkan states who can forge passports at the drop of a hat, so this Avengers episode may stand as a salutary warning. In this Venus is even more young & naïve than Tara King, who is frequently criticised because she was too young a character for Steed & looked up to him too much. Miss King was less naïve than Miss Smith, yet Miss Smith is this strange mixture also incorporating a fully-fledged woman perfectly capable of tearing a strip off a foreign president, let alone Steed. There is an interesting parity between dodgy Steed & dodgy President. The ambassador is quite plainly the power behind the throne.
Needless to say there are some sixties standard actors in this one, Philip Madoc & Paul Stassino, but the quality of the script means the actors' own presence does not distract from the characters. I like the way a relatively small number of people are used to create the wrestling scenes: if you listen to the wrestling scene without looking, it sounds as if it's in a much bigger arena. My one criticism of this episode - I'm not sure it is really - is in the character of the decapod: he looks ridiculous. In this, though, I can detect a foretaste of the future of The Avengers - even at this early stage there are characters who are so heavily caricatured they're not real. This is also where I feel the criticism of Venus Smith falls on its face: the Jon Rollason episodes of this era are much more realistic, even the Cathy Gale ones are. The Venus Smith episodes are not real, despite the apparently gritty setting of this one. In this Miss Smith is a more accurate prediction of what was to come than, say, Mrs Gale. This, in my eyes, makes her an Avengers girl with the others.
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