Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Avengers: Get-A-Way!

It's lucky I have never attempted to write an actual book about cult TV - I would never have been able to stick to the train of thought for long enough, and the periodic medium of blogging seems to suit my way of ruminating much better. You will see that I started posting about Series 1 episodes of The Avengers last year - I will return to that, I am sure. I wrote then about the feeling I have of being almost frightened to blog about my favourite TV shows, in case I reach a point where I have blogged about them all and there are no more. Well, I have actually found myself returning to a programme I have already blogged about and found it wasn't the end of the world, but I have found myself somewhat held back by the fear I spoke of. This has prevented me writing so much about my favourite shows, so that is what I am going to do. I chose this Avengers episode to write about by literally shuffling the discs in their boxes and landing my finger down on the index, secure in the knowledge that I would be unable to find anything in The Avengers that I didn't want to write about.
The first thing to say about Get-A-Way! is that it immediately presents an anachronistic mixture of apparently mediaeval monastery (or the non-Catholic's idea of what a monastery would be like), contrasted with the then up-to-date technology used by the service which guards the men held there. This is not the first time The Avengers has a creative 'prison' - the rest home in Noon Doomsday is as much a defensive prison as the one in this show - with the problems of entry and exit reversed.
The scene of Rostoff's escape is again juxtaposed with the scene of drinks in Steed's apartment - the evening dress suggests solidity and reliability in the visual language of the show, and the fact that Miss King is the only woman makes it clear that this is a professional gathering rather than one of friends. The threat is similar to the one in Noon Doomsday, in that it is aimed clear at Steed personally, or rather he is the obvious ultimate target after the others have been knocked off one by one.
The science-as-great-white-hope-yet-open-to-misuse theme, which occurs so often in the TV of this era is amply shown in the fact that the opposition have developed a chemical to make people invisible. The names of the criminals and the fact of the chemical being (rather unconvincingly) hidden in a secret compartment in a vodka bottle, indicates that the enemy is somebody on the other side of the Ironfrequently Curtain, placing this show very much in its own time.
We know who the enemy is, but this show really makes me wonder about the nature of the organisation Steed and Tara work for. The fact that fruits are used as the password for the prisoners' cells, is very much in line with flowers being used as the names of agents in Who's Who. This is one of the things I like best about The Avengers - it is touches like that which stop it being merely a standard spy show, and inject a sense of the ridiculous. I love that the prison is set up in a pseudo-monastery, that the agents wear pseudo-habits, and that the prisoners' cells are, well, monastic cells! It is a wonderful example of the unreality of The Avengers, because none of this would happen out here in the real world! Incidentally I see that the external shots of the monastery use Ashridge House in Hertfordshire, which did actually start out life as an Augustinian monastery in the thirteenth century. Unfortunately I think the unreality is carried a step too far, as I will show below, because once it is apparent that Steed is going to be targetted he is left on the case and refuses further protection. One would think that Mother would have stepped in at that point to do something.
I was surprised to find at least one negative, in fact dismissive, review of this episode on the internet, saying that the episode is only saved by Peter Bowles's performance; I have read another review saying that the beginning of the episode is too weak (both of these are on the theavengers.tv website. I personally disagree: I find Peter Bowles an unconvincing Russian and an unconvincing baddie. I also disagree about the beginning of the show, which I think draws people in excellently. Rather I think there are things wrong with this episode, but I would put them elsewhere: by the twenty minutes point of this show it is obvious that Steed is going to be targeted by an 'invisible' assassin. This creates the dual weaknesses that the organisation don't force him off the case into hiding, and that the story becomes a straighforward hunt for the solution to the invisibility conundrum. Unfortunately the solution to that is very obvious by the 25 minutes point, making the rest of the plot a rather thin one. We know that Steed will be hunted down, but we know that The Avengers will find the solution to the problem and stop him being killed. We know what causes the invisibility and the rest is filling. Even given that The Avengers is typically much more about atmosphere and characterisation than plotting, this is a major weakness. Obviously I do feel there are flaws in this episode, but just don't agree on where they are!
Otherwise I have a feeling that this one isn't a favourite of the fans. It scores consistently high on the internet sites where you can score TV shows, but I have found a lack of actual written reviews online, which I think is interesting. It suggests to me that if it was more popular somebody like me would have leapt online and written about it! Another weakness, which is completely personal and one I am not sure would have applied at the time, is that Peter Bowles is far too familiar in other roles to me, to be convincing in this one. Now I come to look, I see that he was warned on leaving RADA that he would never play an Englishman because of his swarthy looks, and I see that his early TV work consisted entirely of playing 'foreign villains', so perhaps he was more convincing to others that he is to me!
My main question about this one though is, would Steed really have been in any fit state to give anyone a lift after a night of drinking champagne? And what does it say about his attitude to safety that he offers George Neville a lift home? Even granted that this was a long time ago, the offer of a lift does genuinely surprise me!
My conclusion on this Avengers episode is that it is one of the weaker ones of a superlative series, and so still far from being rubbish. It is another case where a show intended to be seen once with no opportunity to pause or rewind it, may not stand up to the sort of examination I am subjecting it to. It is an example of the more lightweight Avengers episodes which can still be wonderfully entertaining. I do particularly like the closing scene where it appears that Steed is invisible.

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