The Danger Makers is the 13th episode of The Avengers written by Roger Marshall, the amazingly prolific writer of scripts for everything from 1959’s William Tell to 1992’s London’s Burning by way of Public Eye, The Sweeney and Lovejoy. And it’s a bizarre and fascinating story, of men doing massively foolish things in an attempt to put the fizz back into an existence made flat by the advance of technology.
All this Marshall summarises neatly in an opening sequence about a man trying to commit suicide on a motor bike by engineering a crash. We know it’s a suicide attempt – or looks like it – because when he fails the first time, he has another, more successful go at it.
The deceased man is a general and is the latest in a line of top brass army chaps who have killed or maimed themselves in suspicious circumstances.
Off, in their different directions, Steed and Peel go – he to the barracks where the recently deceased general was stationed, she to the hospital to visit a bedbound patient, another member of this odd coterie of self-harming men.
At the barracks Steed questions Robertson, a military man played to the hilt by Nigel Davenport (father of Jack). Robertson is a bluff “jolly good chap” kind of fellow who, the instant Steed leaves, picks up a gun and starts playing Russian roulette with it.
At the hospital the same thing – the man Peel wants to talk to being more interested in easing himself out the window the moment everyone’s back is turned.
The Avengers loves a mind-control plot but this goes one beyond that – it’s about men in the grip of an ideology. Their danger-seeking is self-willed. They’re in a club, the Danger Makers Society, which exists to put a bit of spice back into life and have a plan to do just that by pulling off a massively improbable heist.
And when Mrs Peel apparently indicates approval by not dismissing Robertson out of hand when he makes a grand speech explaining his theory of danger, risk, excitement and technology’s emasculating effect (how very resonant), she, too, is invited to join the club. As the episode starts to wind towards its conclusion, she is initiated into the club via a life-threatening ordeal.
Though I don’t generally go a bundle on Steed and Peel’s more military-themed adventures, this is a fine episode, stacked with the sort of supporting character actors the UK has always been great at producing. A frictionless Douglas Wilmer is a persuasively smooth shrink in the George Sanders mould, Fabia Drake is a fabulous stuff-and-nonsense hyper-posh dowager, Moray Watson the convincingly deranged plot lynchpin conveniently accoutred with a black eye patch, just in case we hadn’t twigged.
Charles Crichton directs with typical economy, wringing from one well-placed camera what lesser directors would only achieve with several set-ups and/or edits.
Fans of clothes might be able to confirm that Diana Rigg is dressed in Chanel at one point, I thought. Certainly upmarket tailoring is involved.
And fans of comical stand-in action will enjoy the big fight finish – Steed’s fencing double is taller than him; Peel is obviously being doubled by a man for the more bruise-inducing rough stuff. Didn’t they have stuntwomen back in those days?
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© Steve Morrissey 2020