Rewatching... The Avengers: The See-Through Man
My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...
Friday 3 February 1967
Mad inventors and nutty eccentrics seem to have become a staple ingredient of The Avengers. This week’s combines both with an eccentric inventor. He’s called Quilby and is played by Roy Kinnear, who I know from such things as comedy. The series has gone all HG Wells as Quilby claims to have invented an invisibility formula and has sold it to ‘the other side’ (a Russian agent called Major Vazim).
The episode also features Warren Mitchell (who I know from such things as comedy but have also been seeing an awful lot of in these action series) as a comedy Russian ambassador called Brodny. I particularly remember Mitchell playing a comedy Italian taxi driver in a couple of episodes of The Saint. Apparently Brodny is a returning character from an episode last year, but I can’t say I remember him.
The great thing about The Avengers is that no matter what the quality of the script the episodes are always a joy to watch purely because of the absolutely effortless performances from MacNee and Rigg. You can’t take it seriously of course, otherwise you’d get all cross and pompous about the duo’s glib one liners upon finding dead bodies. But this is a world, like James Bond, where characters being bumped off is all part of the fun, so one shouldn’t dwell on thoughts of Austin Powers style policemen breaking sad news to the deceased’s relatives!
I enjoyed the scene where Steed pays an apparently absent Vazim a visit, and goads Brodny into admitting feelings for the Major’s wife, suspecting that the Major is around and listening. There was no real need for Steed to do this, I think he was just being mischievous. The Major’s presence was a bit obvious though considering Brodny had been chatting to him when Steed knocked on the door, and Brodny’s panicky shouting could be heard three streets away I expect!
At this point Steed seems to be buying the whole invisibility story. Later when he meets up with Quilby’s assistant Ackroyd at a park bench he asks “Is this seat taken?”, prodding it with his umbrella to make sure! Hearing a sound in the bushes he goes to investigate and returns to find Ackroyd dead in the children’s play park. The sight of the corpse hanging from a still rotating roundabout is spectacularly gruesome, and very The Avengers!
Of course in the end there is a rational explanation for all this. Well, I say rational… actually it doesn’t hold together very well. The invisibility was just a trick using levers and relays in a control room. The headless man was a fake body suit. But wait a minute…we saw doors appearing to open and close themselves when nobody in the episode was watching. Why bother faking that if there’s no one to see it? We saw Steed and Emma get knocked out by an invisible person…how could they not have seen their assailant? We saw Brodny offered a drink by an invisible hand. We saw an invisible hamster (called Bertha)!
I love the bit where Mrs Peel is escorted at gunpoint by Brodny and completely fails to take him seriously, smiling as he vainly tries to play the hard man, and eventually casually disarming him. In a time where the best most actresses could hope for is an ‘assistant’ role, it’s wonderful to see a series where both male and female leads are completely equal.
At the end Brodny pleads with Steed not to have him deported as he has tickets for the next “Bittles concert”. Odd hearing the Beatles name checked in a series that makes a point of isolating itself from the real world!
Anyway, it was quite entertaining if you don’t think too hard about it, though not amongst my favourite episodes. Played very much for laughs this week, a long way from those early videotaped episodes. Roy Kinnear is always fun to watch and the two regulars were on top form.