Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Avengers: Tunnel of Fear

What's not to love? A ghost train where people disappear and an escaped convict bursting into Dr Keel's surgery - what could be more Avengers than this episode. The famous rediscovered first series Avengers episode arrived and I've leapt straight onto it. This post will therefore be some rather rushed first impressions and a more leisured analysis of the episode may follow at a later date.
Completely first impression is that I am horrified that the ghost train in the show is almost *exactly* like one that I remember going on at Dudley Zoo as a child and which my mother probably rightly criticised as ropey. I suppose it must have been very run down if virtually idential ones were running fifteen years earlier!
Second impression: Keel is who we expect him to be - the doctor whose life is continually being turned upside down by incursions from The Underworld. But then I suppose real doctors should be used to dealing with all sorts of strange things happening at all hours of the day and night.
My third impression is a delightful one. Steed is the Steed we all know and love from the later series. He doesn't come across as the shady character I have come to expect in the first series at all. He bursts into the surgery preceded by his dog, who proceeds to get friendly with the escaped prisoner. He comments that she is a very good judge of character and then makes the very Steed-like comment to the effect that there is hardly anyone she likes at Westminster! I also love that when he later goes off the funfair the dog is left with his boss to look after, and particularly in the hypnotism scene where he is so obviously poking fun at his questioners.
In fact Steed is so very Steed that in a truly Avengers-magical-omniscience- Steedly way he next turns up in an 'Eastern' costume announcing the dancing girls at the fun fayre. I love the zeal with which he does this, and the evident enjoyment he takes in this. I also love that the dancing girls act is raided by the police. This is just so Avengers it isn't true! I commented in my last post on The Frighteners, that there are a number of scenes in the episode which speak very loudly of the world of The Avengers, and that is also true of Tunnel of Fear, so I feel that this is perhaps a hallmark of the first series (of course I can't claim to have watched the whole of the series so please treat this impression for what it is - an impression). Far from the stodginess of a lot of the TV of this age, to me this means that The Avengers already made a feature of effective visuals, eccentric people and effective or demimondaine settings.
One of those settings would definitely be the funfair itself, which is something which fascinates me. For a start there is a point where a night's takings are mentioned and they seem to me a fantastic amount of money for the early 1960s. The world of the fair has always been one which is seen as rather dodgy (it's a world to which you run away, for example, and traditional prejudice has always been against people who travel for whatever reason). Add to that the elements of chance and sleight of hand, and the funfair perfectly provides the eccentric characters and dodgy setting required by an early Avengers episode. In fact it's beyond dodgy - I personally can't remember ever being to a funfair which had dancing girls! It may seem tame by today's standards, but I think the fact the act is raided by the police and patronised only by men indicates that this is a very adult funfair act indeed!
I do have some criticisms, I'm afraid. While I'm naturally very deferential of the show and relieved it has resurfaced after so long, I will bravely state them. After about the halfway point I found myself losing interest in this episode. I found it very talky and it was as if it lost the momentum and visual interest of the first half - an alternative view may be that it is more like a standard detective show of the time. This will either be to your taste or it won't, but personally I prefer the weirder end of The Avengers. The momentum picks up again towards the end.
I have read people on the blogosphere say that this is a bit pricey for a single Avengers episode - I don't think it is, and I'm notoriously difficult to part from the contents of my wallet. The restoration is superb (I think it looks rather better than most of the series 1, 2, and 3 episodes I have seen) and more particularly there are a number of significant extras. The booklet in the box is one which I have actually found myself reading, and I'm particularly glad that there is a cartoon story included. On the actual disc there are a number of interviews and series one episode reconstructions.
Tunnel of Fear was always an episode which I wanted to see, because it sounded as if the plot would be interesting and the visuals stood to be effective, which is why I'm so very glad that I have managed to see it in its entirety finally - the screenshots I have previously seen didn't suggest the exotic nature of Steed's role, for example. I am truly very glad to have now seen it - and I'm interested that it isn't quite what I expected it to be. It exceeded my expectations despite a slow patch in the middle. I am incredibly grateful to all involved in its rediscovery and production, particularly the private collector who owned it. If any other private collectors have an odd episode available I would dearly love to see it. I suppose it is now unlikely that that will happen, but that's what I've been saying for years and (fingers crossed) it worked in producing this episode, didn't it?

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