Murdersville feels like a very loose rewrite of a Cathy Gale-era Avengers episode, though having wracked my brains, I don’t believe it can be.
The hallmarks are there though – old school English village, locals, a pub – real life, in other words, which the Emma Peel-era Avengers (Cybernauts, invisible men, an extra-terrestrial) so far has kept as far away from as possible.
There’s human warmth, too, which is also odd. In The Avengers, when someone dies it’s the opportunity for a quick gag, James Bond style. Not so here, but that’s because Mrs Peel has no one to quip with, against or at, since Steed is back at the ranch, and this is an extra-mural episode featuring an off-duty Emma helping old childhood friend Major Paul Croft (Eric Flynn), recently back from some outpost of Empire, move into the charming locale of Little Storping in the Swuff, one of the country’s best-kept villages, we’re told.
And sure enough, local yokels are consuming warm, flat English beer from jugs and playing dominoes while exchanging the smallest of small talk when Major Croft’s batman (yes, really) arrives to smooth the path for the incoming officer-class gent.
But this is no normal village, these no normal villagers. In short order, alerted to his arrival by his batman, the major’s belongings have been trashed by the pub locals, and soon murder is also afoot…
Once Mrs Peel and Major Croft arrive on the scene things move slightly more into Avengers territory, with Emma shifting immediately into investigation mode. But the villagers are ahead of her and she soon winds up bonked over the head. The result of a prang in her car, the locals insist, when she wakes up later in the pub.
In a plot-tastic episode, things now start to move at speed. Steed is summoned by Peel in a coded phone call – she makes out to the ransom-hungry drinkers that he’s her husband, alerting Steed to the dangerous situation with her first “darling” – Mrs Peel makes a run for it, is chased by a helicopter (!) and finally winds up in the local museum locked in a chastity belt, only to find the real locals, the ones who wouldn’t sign up to the dastardly hoax going on out in the real world – the village has become a commercial murder enterprise. If you’ve got someone you want killing, this is your place.
No, no criminal mastermind, no megalomaniac trying to take over the world, just a mafia style racket involving the denizens of a charming English village who are all paid handsomely for their compliance (the ones who will comply).
En route to the finale we get to see a medieval scold’s bridle in action and a ducking stool, reminders that real olde-worlde English villages weren’t always all about cream teas and quaint pubs.
Spend a minute thinking about it and the plot is ridiculous, Brian Clemens almost over-reaching himself this time. But some fine playing sold it to me, at least, in particular Colin Blakely and John Ronane as the beer-swilling yokels with a particularly avaricious glint in the eye.
As I say, it lacks the wit and banter you’d have got if Steed had been there as a sparring partner, but this gives space for a development of Peel’s character – she’s vulnerable here, with less time for the cocked eyebrow and the sharp tongue.
And with all the running around she has to do, you’ve got to wonder about that outfit she’s in. It’s Crimplene, which tends to smell. Enter Mrs Peel, exit Mrs Pee-ew!
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Whether this episode is part of Series 6 or a continuation of Series 5 is moot. I’m going with the convention embraced by StudioCanal’s 2014 boxset and plumping for it being a late entrant to Series 5. It was originally conceived that way.
The imdb prefers to say we’re now in Series 6 (a short one of only eight episodes), while the Avengers Forever site leans towards calling this Series 5 (though it draws a distinction between two distinct production blocks – 5A and 5B).
There’s not much in it either way, but lumping this episode in with Series 5 means all the Emma Peel colour episodes are together, and since Series 5 is often referred to as THE classic series, that’s an advantage.
© Steve Morrissey 2020