Rewatching... The Avengers: Never, Never Say Die
My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...
"I've killed him again!"
Friday 17 March 1967
Ah, one of my all time favourite episodes. A close up of a pair of smart shoes. They are soon muddy shoes and we see a tall man walking towards a main road. It's only Christopher blimmin' Lee! He steps in front of a car, is killed and in-hospital pronounced dead on arrival. Gosh, what an opening! But the prologue isn't over yet: as the medics walk away the man's feet start to twitch, and suddenly he gets up and marches out of the hospital. Zombies...on The Avengers??! That was a superb pre-title scene, and also one of my favourite episode titles.
Then our little teaser scene has Emma watching The Avengers on TV! Who knew she was a fan too? The episode is The Cybernauts, from last series...is this some sort of clue? Isn't that the same music during Christopher Lee's zombie walk that was used in that episode too? Perhaps they've perfected those Cybernauts with human faces... Then, even more bizarrely Steed's face appears on Emma's TV, announcing that "we're needed." I'm not gong to ponder how he managed that in an age before home video because it's clearly very silly...
Talking of silly, zombie man marches off and right in front of the same car that hit him before, and the distraught driver runs back to the hospital wailing "I've killed him again!" A remarkably silly thing to say, as you would assume that the man hadn't been killed the first time after all, but very funny nonetheless!
There's a man lazing on a blanket, listening to a radio, banana in his mouth. Zombie man approaches, other man looks up in terror, there's a 'thwack!' and next thing we see is the man being wheeled into hospital, banana still in his mouth! "He's been attacked" the doctor says. "By a banana?" replies Steed! Brilliant.
The 'thwack!' noise was reminiscent of the Cybernauts 'karate chop' which again points to a similarity.
Now there's a man playing with a radio controlled boat. Zombie man approaches from behind, but this time as he's about to 'thwack!' him, the man adjusts the steering of his boat and zombie man gets confused, walking around in circles, almost attacking, then not.
Meanwhile a couple of soldiers are on maneuver in the same area. More comedy as their superior radios in and they start trudging on the spot, pretending they're not having a cigarette break! Zombie man appears, attracted by their radio. He attacks them so they fire off a round at him, but bullets don't stop him!
Steed hears about all this and goes after the man with a hunting rifle. However the man is also being tracked by a group of scientists from a nearby research facility. Steed finds and enters the man's cottage. The painted backdrop outside the front door betrays the fact that this episode was never intended to be viewed on high definition 21st century blu ray discs and large TV screens! Zombie man walks in and he and Steed fight. The scientists arrive, Steed hides and watches as they catch zombie man in a net, then he follows as they bundle him into an ambulance and drive off.
Steed learns about the research centre from Mrs Peel. It's called Neoteric Research Unit, and for those of us who still haven't twigged what's going on here, it's run by a chap called Frank N. Stone. Steed arrives, pretending to be from security. Or rather they say "oh, you must be from security" and Steed plays along with a sort of "yes, yes, that's right, security, yes".
"Mr Steed, Meet Professor Stone" his colleague announces. Mr Stone is Christopher Lee!
Emma visits Stone's cottage and finds a man there playing chess via walkie talkie, and doing a range of comedy foreign accents. Listen, it's 1967 and those accents were acceptable back then. He tells Emma that Professor Stone gets upset when he uses certain frequencies on his walkie talkie, so Emma decides they should mess about with the radio and see what happens. As they tune the frequency higher Professor Stone starts behaving oddly and has to go and lock himself away. But he soon breaks out...literally...with his bare hands.
At the cottage Emma here's a noise, goes to investigate and on returning finds the radio smashed and its owner dead or unconscious.
Christopher Lee is just perfect casting in this, playing both his trademark rampaging monster, as well as the suave villain: the best of both worlds. He's very charming, telling Steed that he'll show him what they've been up to if he agrees to back them. So what they have been doing is transferring human minds into androids (or just plain 'robots' as they were called back in the sixties). Stone shows Steed a robot duplicate of himself, his 'brain print' copied and memories preserved forever. A way of preserving the finest minds. Not a zombie after all.
Emma returns to the cottage and searches through some papers. She phones the hospital and speaks to the lady doctor, asking for Steed. But the doctor is attacked...by a duplicate of herself. Stone's colleague Penrose catches Emma and locks her up in the room with a lot of sleeping people with familiar faces. So all the other characters were also fakes!
Steed confronts Stone about the duplicates, and Stone and Penrose demonstrate the 'brain transfuser' - This is one of those cartoon brain swap devices or something. Penrose passes out. Steed and Stone go to the room where the others are locked up and Emma spots the 'duplicate' of Stone has grown a beard. So 'real' Stone is in fact duplicate Stone and vice versa! The old switcheroo.
Everyone's a duplicate. This of course explains why apparently real Stone had a funny turn earlier when the radio was tuned. There's the obligatory Big Sixties Fight, and the doctor reaches for a radio device and uses it to disable the robots.
After it all calms down a door opens to reveal duplicates of Steed and Emma. Steed's hat is removed to reveal the word 'Reject'!
The tag: they watch a party political broadcast. Emma says "can you imagine plastic politicians?" Steed, peering closely at screen replies "Who would ever know the difference?" This echoes a definite sense of how respect for authority is declining at the moment. I've seen an increasing amount of this sort of irreverent talk about politicians in all sorts of things. In this week's TV Times in fact, as well as an article about how Patrick MacNee hates ties, there's a report on increasing unrest among students, and how they no longer respect their elders. A sign of the times for sure.
So the Cybernaut clue was indeed pointing us in the right direction. I thoroughly enjoyed this one; a great mix of the increasing fantasy element of the series and a lot of quirky humor. When people look back on The Avengers, I think this is the sort of thing that epitomizes what they remember. A great introduction for anyone new to the program perhaps.