After time travel in the previous week’s episode, Escape in Time, The Avengers’ augmented interest in sci-fi gets another workout in The See-Through Man, a plot all about invisibility and its dastardly uses.
Comedy is the overarching tone and self-parody the effect as first one person then another is killed by an invisible man (he is referred to throughout as “he”, even before it’s been established that he is a he). Indeed, before the opening credits have even rolled a factotum at the Ministry of Defence has been dispatched by an unseeable assailant, all very nicely done by director Robert Asher.
Two bits of minor but annoying Avengers furniture are then quickly dealt with, first the pithy subhead (Steed Makes a Bomb; Emma Is Put to Sleep), followed by the “Mrs Peel, We’re Needed” command/salutation/entreaty from Steed to Peel, delivered this week from down the lens of a microscope.
It’s all meant to be too, too witty but is in fact already, after only a few airings, too too tiresome. The new-style opening has also robbed viewers of what was one of the more enjoyable aspects of The Avengers – the plot explication data-dump handled as a cross between sparring and flirting by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.
Gripes aside, it’s a “proper” Avengers episode – fanciful and ludicrous, yet handled at speed and with wit. Warren Mitchell turns up again as Soviet ambassadorial operator Brodny (third time, I think) and his scenes with Steed are again an object lesson in oneupmanship, between characters and actors, as the two opponents in spying weigh personal admiration against bigger loyalties.
Mitchell has had another think about Brodny and plays him this time out as about one third Groucho Marx, Brodny’s frock coat adding to the impression.
In a good episode for proper character actors, it’s Roy Kinnear as the madly eccentric scientist who invented the invisibility formula, and Moira Lister – whose legs are made much of – as the steely wife of invisible assassin Major Vazin, Lister playing her as a cross between Mata Hari and Rosa Klebb.
Comedy, as I say, is the idea – everyone has a comical accent or eccentricity. Warren Mitchell even tries a bit of that old standby – comedy running.
The cinematography is noticeably better than it is in the usual run of episodes, DP Wilkie Cooper having had a career in the movies before arriving for this, his first TV job. There’s a car chase featuring an invisible driver, which is done pretty convincingly for 1960s TV and a big fight finish between Lister and Rigg, which is also handled well by director Asher, though some of the punches being thrown are a bit feeble.
Thanks to Philip Levene’s brisk script, it’s a very good episode in concept and delivery, though the series has now lost the darkness and mystery which were a key part of its makeup in the Cathy Gale era.
In other words, good though it is, if you’re looking for a “jumped the shark” episode, look no further than The See-Through Man.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020