Take-Over it was called in 1969 when it first aired. In the intervening decades the word takeover has lost its hyphen but this episode of The Avengers remains fresh and watchable precisely because of its antique quality.
But first a bit of a prelim – man being escorted to prison makes a run for it when the car he’s in breaks down. Instead of chasing after him, his guards just hang back and watch. They even pull out cigars. Then one of them flicks a lighter, and the running man immediately falters, then falls to the floor choking. Dead.
With the opening credits out of the way, the plot proper gets underway. Tara is off for a weekend of sailing, Steed is off to the country to visit old friends for a weekend of hunting, shooting, wining and dining.
Linda Thorson as good as dispensed for another episode, it’s Patrick Macnee we’re following. But what Steed doesn’t know is that his old friends Bill and Laura are already playing host to a quartet of strangers who have arrived unannounced and proceeded to make themselves at home in their house.
Tom Adams, Garfield Morgan, Keith Buckley and Hilary Pritchard play the foursome. They arrive, and Laura and Bill at first assume they must be acquainted with the newcomers – they seem like their sort of people and in any case Bill and Laura are the sort of Brits who doesn’t want to make a fuss. And so instead of saying “who the hell are you” they let them in.
But the new arrivals don’t waste much time and have soon announced what they are there for – they intend to use Bill and Laura’s house as a base to sabotage a nearby peace conference.
Writer Terry Nation has quite a bit of fun playing with our expectations of criminal behaviour – this lot dress for dinner, enjoy a sherry as an aperitif, complain about the absence of flowers on the table, the lack of real coffee, and so on. Civil and civilised.
And then Steed arrives. It’s February and he’s loaded up with Christmas presents – a hangover, he explains to what he assumes to be Bill and Laura’s other friends, from the days when he and Bill were Japanese PoWs.
What now opens up is a potential plot hole – surely a man this highly trained would spot that something was amiss? That coercion rather than a conviviality is what’s really going on here? Filling that hole is the charm of John Steed, Patrick Macnee laying it on thick as the ideal weekend guest, at one point taking part in a very recondite after-dinner parlour game involving the identification of pieces of avant-garde music.
Wits are taken out and sharpened, particularly those of Steed and Grenville (Adams), in nicely terse scenes that give this episode its USP.
At what point does Steed twig? Does he realise what’s going on from the off? We’re never quite sure, but by the time he and his friends’ captors head off for a bit of shooting, we’re pretty sure he knows, and they know he knows. But who is going to break first?
Robert Fuest’s cinematic direction keeps the very studio-bound episode moving and Terry Nation has a few neat ideas up his sleeve – like breathy blonde bimbo Circe (Pritchard) turning out in fact to be a genius at both miniature bomb design and microsurgery. Remember that choking guy in the pre-credits sequence?
And when Tara King does eventually turn up to save the day, she’s dressed in leather, a callback to Avengers action women of yore.
Doesn’t Macnee look middle-aged, though? 47-years-old and possibly in need of a country weekend himself. Or maybe he’d had too many of them. Either way, within weeks he’d be free to have as much R&R as he wanted.
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The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.
© Steve Morrissey 2020