Combined Right Mixture of Extravagance and Menace

"Last Friday night's edition of THE AVENGERS  (ABC, February 18) was vintage stuff.  Just lately I thought the series had been losing its flair for the exotic and the absurd.  An unwanted touch of scientific realism had even entered with white coated villains plotting away in laboratories.  However Brian Clemens' "A Touch Of Brimstone" had just the right mixture of extravagance and menace.

The opening was riveting.  An armchair backed threateningly towards the camera, swivelled round and was seen to contain Peter Wyngarde at his most aristocratic.  He switched on a television set and laid out his liqueur chocolates with great care while a bulky figure on the screen talked about Anglo-Russian relations.   He watched with amusement as the man selected a cigar from a conveniently placed case.  We saw the reason for his amusement when, as the man's argument reached its height, the joke cigar suddenly exploded.

This was a prelude to a plot about an attempt by the Hellfire Club - - modelled on the famous eighteenth century band of rakehells - - to embarrass the Government before staging a brisk coup d'etat.  Preposterous?  Of course.   But what mattered was that the villains behaved as if they took it all seriously while Steed was able to point out the ludicrousness of the situation.  "Follow that chair!" he cried, as a sedan chair packed with explosives flittered past at the Hellfire Club's annual rave-up.  Earlier on he had explained to a shaken aristocrat his patent hangover cure, "National Anthem.  It soon gets you on your feet."

Brian Clemens' script was full of throwaway quips of this nature.   At the same time, it managed to convey a strong sense of impending danger at certain moments - as when masked figures encircled a gentleman who, rather unsportingly, wished to register a complaint against the Club.  James Hill's direction was also deft and came close to accomplishing the difficult task of making an orgy look convincing.

Patrick Macnee's Steed is by now unimprovable.  One's only regret is that he has not had more chance to exploit his comic timing and thoroughbred appearance outside this particular series.  Opinions about Diana Rigg's performance are divided.  I feel that she has made a definable character of Emma Peel, something without much help from the scriptwriters.  And whatever her costumes - last week she was a strikingly clad Queen of Sin - she has looked constantly fetching.  Friday's episode also had an immaculate performance from Peter Wyngarde as a villain straight out of Debrett."

From The Stage and Television Today, England, February 24th 1966.

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