Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Avengers: Small Game for Big Hunters

The maid has the dinner on, all is quiet outside in the compound and I am thinking of having a sundowner so it's time to think about a blog post.
What has prompted me to write a post about Small Game for Big Hunters is that I think it gets an unfair hammering on the internet. It seems to me that the key to understand where this Avengers is coming from is to think ourselves not only into the world of the Avengers, but also into the time that this episode was happening. The world of The Avengers is of course the epitome of Britishness - and I will be the first to acknowledge that it is a Britishness which never really existed. Remember how many of the episodes are about Our Sort of People who have gone bad and bought into some diabolical mastermindery? The point is that The Avengers save Blighty and the empire goes on undisturbed for another day.
And that is the point of this episode: it is important to remember that this episode was being filmed at the absolute dying end of the empire. It was an empire which we were proud of, but that the majority of the viewers of this show would never have experienced at first hand. It was in the 1960s that the last remnants of the Empire gained independence as autonomous nations, and if you listen to what is actually being said in this episode, that perception of loss is ever-present.
In true Avengers style, this episode also brings to the fore the fact that the outposts of Empire are not only open to corruption by deceit, but were also open to being used by men who were definitely Not Our Sort of Person. This is an interesting fictional counterpart to the things we British did to the Kikuyu in Kenya and the way South Rhodesia really did go its own way as Rhodesia under Ian Smith a decade later, supported only by the apartheid government in South Africa. This episode really does pick up on the way things often went to pot in the colonies.
And yet... this episode is very much criticised for the fact that Kalaya is not a real place. Not only is it not a real place, but it is depicted as a sort of generic 'colony'. Even the natives are of several different ethnicities from different parts of the world! This is of course a valid criticism of the show's production, however I feel that since we are in Avengerland it should be viewed more sympathetically. As we know one of the points of the world of The Avengers is that it isn't real. There is a rule in the show that black people are never seen, and neither is blood: reality isn't really allowed a foot in the door here. Hence, when a simulacrum of a former colony is set up just outside London, the unreality has to be really loud-pedalled. The depiction of Kalaya is therefore interesting as a digest of every idea of what 'the colonies' were like in every jingoistic schoolbook ever. The 'native drums' which are criticised as grating after a while, are of course part of this set up. There is a twist here - the apparent 'superstition' of the Kalayan people is used by the white people who are the baddies, to cover up their planned crime: this at the same time that Kalaya has gained independence and thus entered the 1960s, including throwing out its colonial masters. The whole 'colonial' edifice hides the fact that the baddies in this one are white people: and how Avengers can that be?
There is a thoroughly modern message here, which subverts the usual pattern of an Avengers. While the thoroughly British gentleman saves the day, the reality is that the world has changed and there is no longer a colony to save. This is without any of the usual ambivalence that goes along with modernity in The Avengers and much of the other TV of the 1960s. Of course there is also a postmodern message in the wish to retire to Hertfordshire, which for the purposes of this episode is exactly where 'Kalaya' is!
These are the reasons that I think this episode is criticised unfairly. It is really best seen as a relic of the age of African independence and serves as an interesting reminder that the uber-Britishness for which The Avengers is famed, is actually set against a backdrop of change for Britain.
Frankly I suspect that this is an Avengers the viewer will either love or loathe, and I love it myself. I can't even see the problems with the plot, whcih I think (without checking) I have seen described as 'incoherent'. Perhaps it's just me, but I would definitely call this Avengers Our Sort of Television.

2 comments:

Grant Goggans said...

I haven't seen this episode in years and years, but it's on the agenda for my blog for the fall, and I'm really curious how I'll view it. When I first saw it in the 1980s, I really enjoyed it and it was one of my favorites, and when I was rewatching many to write reviews at a since-closed Avengers site called Quite Quite Fantastic Ltd, I still enjoyed it a lot.

John said...

Well as I say I was surprised at the hammering it gets on the internet: all it needs is a bit of understanding and contextualisation.
I'm sure as a man of taste you'll love it all over again.