Adam Adamant Lives: The Doomsday Plan
|We told you to take the tract.
It can be a lonely business, this blogging lark. Fortunately the aficionados of the more recherché television programmes, seek each other out in the darker corners of the blogosphere and compare notes. Let's face it, when people at work talk about what TV they've watched last night, nobody's going to want to hear about, say, Gurney Slade, are they? One of the gentle readers who is kind enough to reference this blog on his own is Mitchell Hadley, who recently again has referred to me. I do hope he doesn't stop blogging, he has good stuff to say, and my only sorrow is that I don't know many of the programmes he talks about. Anyway, he was talking about a post on the Classic Film and TV café blog about Adam Adamant Lives, which made me realise it has been a little while since I have watched through the series and made me dust off the discs. I find to my horror that my first post on Adam Adamant, in which I witter on about some of the background of the show, was getting on for two years ago, so it's high time I avoided apartheid in The Prisoner again and wrote about this episode.
I was going to say that I disagreed with a major point in Classic Film and TV Café piece, which is that the more modern setting of this show was a mistake and it would have been better left as a period drama. On consideration, though, I find I do agree with the idea, only coming from the other side. I found that when I first wrote about it, I would have preferred it if the producers had dropped the period details completely and made it a completely 1960s show, so perhaps I'm really saying, Write a period or modern drama, don't try to do both.
Doomsday Plan is an episode which doesn't jarringly refer to Mr Adamant's decades-old sensibilities, at least to my mind. In fact I think it may be one of the more characteristically 1960s episodes (although I wouldn't go the stake about this opinion, since the one about the dodgy washing powder is genuinely creepy), since it touches on some genuinely 1960s fears, ones which naturally keep coming up here. For a start, there is the fear of the end of the world. I have commented before that this fear became very real as the 1970s wore on (touched on here by the idea of chemical warfare). The evil mastermind in this case (in addition to doing a wonderful Hammer impression on the organ) is placed interestingly in a religious context. Viewers on the other side of the Atlantic may perhaps not realise the extent to which Britain has lost its Christianity in the years since the Second World War. By the 1960s the churches were panicking about this and trying to be relevant to attract people. The irony here is that the evil mastermind is anything but relevant, rather he peddles fairly traditional fire and brimstone. I suspect that fifty years ago, this would still have had the effect of shocking those with a Christian background. Nowadays the effect on the viewer would probably be hilarity. It is interesting to see that his mission hall is actually fairly full, yet he is clearly portrayed as a crank throughout the episode. I wonder whether his congregation are all members of his conspiracy, but that is not apparent when you first see them. The impression given is a very impressive one of a church congregation, and the sense of illusion slipping away as it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems, is very effective.
Visually, I literally cannot fault this. Scenes are all obviously chosen for visual effectiveness – actually, this has just made me think of how this visual effectiveness gave way to the largely drab scenery of the 1970s and makes me wonder how it could be. In this visual respect, black and white TV beats everything else hands down. The scenes change quickly enough to give the show interest. The characters are drawn with broad strokes, slightly larger than life, which may be one of the reasons this one works so well, because it means that Adamant is seen next to characters who match him in size, rather than next to normal people, whose proximity makes him look like a caricature. Sounds are used effectively, including hymn tunes.
This also may be one of the Adamant episodes which most apes The Avengers, and fan will recognise many echoes of black and white Diana Rigg episodes. I mean, there's an evil megalomaniac who isn't satisfied with the potting shed. What's not to love? The main difference with The Avengers, which oozes sexiness, is the complete absence of sex. Adam Adamant is at most ever chivalrous towards women, and there is never any indication of a sexual dynamic.
I've been trying very hard to think of a valid criticism of this show, and I suppose I've finally hit on one. Without the intricacies of adult life, its struggles, difficult decisions, arguments, loves, passions, a story of any description merely functions on the level of a fairy tale. And of course it is Adamant's chivalrousness which is the cause of his apparent downfall in this episode. I feel The Avengers would have come to the bit of the story where it looks as if all is lost, with much more style and sophistication. This is not really a sophisticated story at all (remember, it is supposed to be in the swinging London of the 1960s), and that limitation is imposed by the character of Adam Adamant himself. Once again, a 1960s TV show which was not intended to be chewed over in the way I am here, shows its flaws when over-analysed.
So in summary, an excellent episode, which even I would find difficult to criticise, but don't expect the glamour or sophistication of some other 1960s TV shows in the limitations of the Adam Adamant formula.