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If it's Monday it must be...

August 18th, 2015 (01:11 am)

...The Avengers and Doctor Who keeping me company while I work.

The Avengers: Man With Two Shadows
One of the most involving stories of the Steed/Mrs Gale era. With series three underway, there is a greater amount of intimacy implied between Steed and Gale and this helps this particular tale, initially of complex brainwashing and then of doppelganger agents of a foreign power being substituted for members of 'our side', including Steed. This being the Saturday late-night studio video era, with the series being made for a domestic audience there is a chirpy northern lass who is romanced by an agent who is then switched, the real agent's body being dumped 300 miles away at Dawdon "near Newcastle" - a north-east England reference being one of the signatures of writer James Mitchell. Said woman's presence also offsets the increasing professionalization of Cathy Gale - she's a "stablemate" of Steed's, who seems now to accept espionage as her business. Not long before she was still arguing with Steed over his subterfuges, such as being taken to dinner at a restaurant which Steed happened to be investigating, leading to a pillow-fight (The Golden Fleece). I don't know how long this development is maintained. Patrick Macnee continues to enjoy himself thoroughly, portraying both Steed, his double, and Steed pretending to be his double, allowing for behaviour both a little more formal and a little more louche than usual.

(The previous episode in production, Death a la Carte, amuses awkwardly by casting the then reasonably-youthful Henry Soskin, alias writer Henry Lincoln of Yeti and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail fame, as an elderly Arab emir whose staff are conspiring to remove him from this life. The make-up is good, as is Soskin's performance, but Soskin would probably not be cast today.)

Doctor Who: The Last Adventure
The publicity surrounding Big Finish's latest Doctor Who audio convinced me to visit the Big Finish Doctor Who universe again. The Last Adventure isn't a single story, but four connected ones over different phases of the sixth Doctor's extended era, which as a whole provide an arc leading to the sixth Doctor's regeneration. In the first, he's accompanied by Miranda Raison as Constance Clarke; the second, India Fisher as Charley; the third, Lisa Greenwood as Flip; and the fourth takes place while the Doctor is travelling with Bonnie Langford's Mel. The four stories set up a final attempt by the Valeyard to subvert the sixth Doctor's existence and take his place, the common theme being 'psychic extraction'. One is treated to all the strengths and weaknesses of the sixth Doctor's era: Colin Baker's acting is often overstylised and melodramatic but he is capable of conveying great pathos. The dialogue often needs work - I'm not sure that I like the Doctor dramatising himself so much that he talks about having an arch-enemy, for example - and Michael Jayston's Valeyard cackles maniacally far too much for my taste. Of the companions I'd not met, Constance is a strong, practical foil to the sixth Doctor and works very well with Colin Baker, while Flip veers too far towards setting up a conflict between the Doctor and youth culture which is too well-worn and never really works where the Doctor is concerned, because it places him in opposition to a vital sector of the audience. Fanservice is of course rife, and mars some of the final scene with clunky dialogue for Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy to speak as one personality takes over from the other; the most successful example, though, comes in Matt Fitton's Stage Fright, the third story, where the Doctor and Flip join Jago and Litefoot (still played by the remarkable Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter) in an investigation not only with echoes of The Talons of Weng-Chiang - time-travelling megalomaniacs evidently don't have an original idea in their heads - but where the re-enactment of parts of old adventures is the fuel for the plot. It's uneven, and the final segment largely didn't have the effect on me that it sought, but the sixth Doctor's final snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat is not just Moffatian timey-wimeyness without the archness, it's one of Colin Baker's best-judged performances.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/2015/08/18/if-its-monday-it-must-be.html.


Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: August 19th, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)

(I've been hors de combat for a week due to house-moving disrupting internet, but am back now!)

I watched Man with Two Shadows a couple of weeks ago. I thought it stands up well, especially Steed's ruthlessness at the end, something not pursued from the next season. I think this is the first episode where Steed reads Tintin too.

Death a la Carte is rather sillier, continuing Steed's Mr Benn-like ability to pick up unusual skills when required.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: August 19th, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)

The Steed of the later filmed series makes much more sense somehow if one knows he's founded on the more ruthless Steed of the videotaped era; though I rather like his extensive skill-set.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: August 19th, 2015 09:03 pm (UTC)

One day I ought to watch the whole series in order, but at the moment, much as I like much of the Cathy Gale era in small doses, I don't think I can face the whole thing in one big hit. And as for the second season of The New Avengers...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: August 19th, 2015 09:21 pm (UTC)

I like the Blackman episodes but they are difficult to absorb in large numbers. This season is more varied than the second New Avengers series, though.