Dead On Course
When I first saw this episode, I thought, "Hello, Jon Rollason isn't in the opening titles—this can't be a good omen," and so I was expecting a Venus style story, i.e., not very good. But first impressions aren't gospel.
Although the subdued opening sequence of the plane crashing into the pylon sets the scene of the episode fairly well, Margo seems to be just a tad out of place with a rather comic scream. This is all very grim, even for an early episode, as it has already got a higher body count then usual at only five minutes in. As with most episodes scripted the first season, the subject matter is more "real life" and is significantly different from the Emma Peel and Tara King seasons. As with "The Frighteners," "Hunt the Man Down," "Dirtier by the Dozen" and "Trap," "Dead on Course" would make more sense as an episode of Brian Clemens' The Professionals, despite the lack of a car chase.
This brings us to Jon Rollason as Dr Martin King. He may not be brilliant, but he is a heck of a lot better than Venus Smith, although I doubt he looks as good in a dress. His character I find more likable than Cathy Gale, as she does seem like a cow compared to Emma, Tara and Purdey. Whether or not it is because of behind-the-scenes knowledge of a reflection of Eric Paice's script, I can't help but feel that Rollason is on a marathon just to get out of Ian Hendry's shadow. As the episode goes, Rollason manages to give the role something different than that which Ian Hendry gave Dr Keel. It's interesting to compare the two; Ian Hendry is by far the better actor, but King and Keel are misplaced. Dr King is far more down to earth, and benefits the stony nature of the scripts at this stage; he would have been better in the first season, whereas Hendry's Dr Keel is more eccentric and would look more in place in the second season. Dr King is a much better fiddle to the ruthless Steed.
What's amazing is the lack of time Steed and Dr King spend together in the episode, with King doing most of the legwork; again, this is probably due to it having been written for Ian Hendry. You get the impression that Steed and King go back a while, and their relationship is much closer to the Steed/Gambit relationship of The New Avengers.
The plot isn't very Avengeresque, but the absurdity factor is raised by the convent and the machinegun-wielding Mother Superior. The plot just doesn't make sense—why risk burning the cash? What happens at the end? It feels as if there was a page missing from the script and we've lost the mastermind's defeat. How come no mention is made that one of the nuns is clearly a man?
Despite these flaws, this episode is still enjoyable. Donal Donally is great as Vincent, the stereotypical dumb Irishman. His scenes with both Macnee and Rollason are a joy to behold; we actually feel some sympathy for him. However, some of the Irish accents let it down, with the man searching the wreckage being the worst.
As with "Mr Teddy Bear," Richmond Harding's direction varies from good to bad. We have some nice touches in the convent with the many wide angles and poor lighting giving the place an eerie edge, and there are some nice edits in Joyce's Public house. Peggy Marshall is great as the villainess, what with her school mistress tone of voice.
Best line: Steed: "You slept well I trust." Dr King: "Swimmingly."
The bottom Line: Flawed but fun. 3.5/5.
Dead On Course
Up, up and away: Shooting on the second season of the Avengers gets off to an uncertain start after the enforced 7-month break (due to a strike). Keel is gone, Carol is gone, so is Keel's "cosy" surgery base. Once again the Avengers are branching out abroad, this time only across the Irish Sea. Plenty of stereotypes: spirits in the breakfast coffee, "Shamrock Airport", lots of blarney about nuns. Sounds like a recipe for disaster but somehow this story provides enough intrigue to keep one awake.
The Avenged?: The crime is a variation on the old wreckers who used to lure ships onto rocks with false beacon fires. This time, passengers on jet liners have received the treatment, all for the sake of a case full of banknotes. Oddly, despite using petrol to ensure a post-crash fire, some of the survivors are kept prisoner. Why?
Diabolical Masterminds?: The machinegun-wielding Mother Superior who has hijacked the nunnery presages "The Eagle's Nest". Vincent had me convinced that he was a fleeing innocent, cleverly realising the gig was up when Steed arrived and so putting on an act as the only helpful informer — which even fooled Steed. Vincent's suspicious boss (Doyle) was the red herring in the mix. The twist worked well, though I began to suspect Vincent when he'd already packed a bag for Canada despite being told to rush to steed without delay. It was a good idea to have him run out on his companions in crime, taking the loot.
The Avengers?: Dr Martin King is an adequate replacement for Dr Keel. He has a certain cheerfulness that Keel didn't, less cynical but nevertheless wary of Steed's old tricks. His weary digs at Steed's early-morning perkiness speak of an old acquaintance, and they seem to trust and admire each other's skills.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: Steed gets some kind of rustic walking-stick (not a shillelagh) and a rather affected cigarette holder which he insist on sporting every time he makes a 'phone call. He is turned out impeccably despite trotting around dusty cellars, an eerie nunnery-morgue and possibly a crash site. King looks a bit rumpled after having to sleep "swimmingly" in damp lodgings. Both are rather terse, although Steed perks up when around the air hostesses. He also talks on equal terms with the co-pilot's likely widow, the balance of professional urgency and respect is just right. Good acting.
Bizarre?: Possibly the only story where an act ends with Steed loudly proclaiming what a "jolly good idea" it would be to feign a visit to "the gents" (toilet)! This facility also forms a plot point later on as an alibi for wandering the cellars. Most odd. And one of the nuns has five o'clock shadow. The blinking corpse has already been remarked upon, but as it happens during the zoom in to his face just before the commercials, it's a very unfortunate glitch (but unintentionally hilarious).
Dr King is a cheerful fellow (wonder if he and Tara are related?). Reasonable use is made of the cramped sets. Some fun is to be had with the elderly crash analyst whom Steed disgruntles at the airport; peevishly he remarks that Steed will eventually take over the running of the airport — which he does, to the man's grim amusement! Three bowlers.
Dead On Course
Plot: Excellent. I was sure I had this one figured out and then I was totally surprised by one of the greatest plot twists of the series.
Humour: Poor. Not a thing.
Acting: Good. A great performance from Donal Donnelly. Jon Rollason seemed to know he was only going to be there for a few episodes. He just didn't seem to have any reaction with Steed except for his little outburst at the beginning of the episode.
Music: OK. The great Johnny Dankworth theme was present, but I don't remember hearing another piece of music.
Miscellaneous: I wish we had a background story on Dr. Martin King; that would have truly helped develop his character. When they zoomed in on the "dead" pilot, his eyes were twitching quite a lot. Steed's reactions to Irish coffee was quite interesting; I have never had Irish coffee, but I have had Irish breakfast blend tea before and it is quite strong. This episode was rather slow up until act three, and other than one of the best plot twists of the series, it has no redeemable value. The ending was very abrupt, rushed, and badly edited.
Overall Rating: 4/10
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