Target is by and large a very good New Avengers episode. The trio—Steed, Gambit and Purdy—are involved in target practice and some agents are being killed off one by one. The whole affair takes place in an old, isolated town, and this is reminiscent of "Game." The effect is good and Gambit is jumping around the place with guns blazing against lifeless dummies, avoiding the targets, unknown to him that the targets have fatal poison darts.
Purdy has become a victim of one of the darts and her target practice score is 99%, but the other 1% is "the one that kills you" as Gambit said to Purdy in the training. Steed's scores are, of course, 100%, and Purdy is not impressed with her score, but unknown to the team this score is fatal—until the end. Five agents in top physical condition are dying all over the place and the man behind these killings is Draker, with his partner Coco, who is very like Nick Knack in The Man with The Golden Gun, a not-too-good James Bond film of the seventies.
There is a definite change in the makeup of the villains in The New Avengers. They are not as eccentric as in the early Avengers, as for example the Steed/Peel episodes. When The New Avengers came out in the seventies, there had been a break of up to four years and times had changed, but the atmosphere of The Avengers remained the same. I am not sure if three characters were a good idea, and certainly Steed was not the main character in the new series.
Garth Hunt was good in The New Avengers, as Gambit always performed Martial Arts very well in the series. Joanna Lumley as Purdy was a very good "Avengers Girl," not an easy thing to do, and of course Joanna Lumley is an excellent actress today.
One stunt that I noticed in this episode was when Gambit was avoiding some bullets: he made for a door and jumped through the glass. I did not find this a good tactic, especially when the door on opposite side was opened. Its not something that one would notice unless you looked carefully at the scene.
So Steed, Purdey and Gambit are pitted against a wooden villain with a foreign midget sidekick ripped straight from The Man with the Golden Gun. Why, therefore, is this episode quite so entertaining?
For a start, Ray Austin's direction is uniformly excellent. After the confusion created by the quick-fire opening sequence, mirroring that of our heroes, the tension is neatly built around the series of target practice tests undertaken by the various participants: from Myers, aiming only to impress his one-woman audience in the hope of setting up some entertainment for his impending leave; through Purdey, whose attempts at the perfect course are frustrated first by the interruption of her round and then by one ominous stray shot from above; finally to Gambit. This is a particularly memorable scene and serves as a tense counterpoint to the previous rounds in that the audience and Gambit himself are aware that this time it is the real thing: he is fighting for his life and those of Purdey and Steed. Although Gareth Hunt could have made more of this, the tension for the audience is very tangible and highly effective here.
The short scene between Steed and Professor Lopez is one of the highlights of The New Avengers series in reminding us that, although faced with the grittier drama surrounding him, Steed stands intact as the English gent, refusing to compromise his standards of dress despite the intense heat, and politely devouring his host's dubious hospitality.
The faults are all too obvious, not least Keith Barron, who lacks not only the presence required to play what amount to the principal villain, but also the subordinance to be an effective servant of Ilenko. Gareth Hunt also compensates for underplaying his target practice shoot by overacting woefully in the wake of Purdey's "death." Deep Roy as the mute Kloekoe is a rather obvious cliché, but the scene in which he poses as a child on a bicycle who rides into Steed, with the gradual realisation that he has injected the latter with the deadly curare, is quite genuinely disturbing and a credit to Spooner and Austin. Steed's own suffering at the hands of the curare is also well handled with his driving of the Land Rover under its influence being particularly memorable, as is Steed's tossing the bottle of antidote into the fortunately safe hands of Gambit. This serves as a macabre throwback to the campier Emma Peel episodes, with the darker overtones of Steed under the influence of a deadly substance rather than merely going for the style.
Yet this is certainly one of the better New Avengers episodes and is a highly enjoyable way to spend fifty minutes, due in no small way to the script from veteran cult TV writer Dennis Spooner and tight direction from Ray Austin, and memorable thanks to the vaguely amusing set design on the target practice range—including statues of Steed, Gambit and Purdey—as well as the destruction of a certain vehicle favoured by a gentleman rivalling The New Avengers for ratings at this point, a gentleman from whose employment a certain Dennis Spooner had resigned a decade earlier...
While it gets off to a shaky start, it certainly has a reputation among fans and non-fans alike as the one that sticks out most in the memory. This probably has more to do with the well-photographed and staged shooting range scenes than anything else. But there are faults to be picked. Pat seems to be more disengaged here than he does in other episodes. Keith Baron's skills as a villain were better underplayed in The Professionals than they were here. His menacing laidback approach verges more on boredom than anything else! And calling a small Indian Kloekoe (which sounds more suspiciously like Cocoa)? Oh dear! Nice to see Deep Roy in action again, though!
What we do get, however, are some marvelous scenes with Purdey and Gambit. Purdey is still fighting off admirers, but her scenes on the range and her defiant, independent, free will are brought out quite well by Jo and Dennis's scripting. Check the scenes on the range and when Steed and Gambit rush to her rescue at the flat. It must be said, though, that this is more of a Gambit episode. He does most of the legwork, manages to save the day, and we even get to see the more emotional side of him. In the face of what was in store for him in the second series, it is a treasure to behold. His obvious feelings for Purdey, respect for Steed, and ability to do the job when it comes to the action are well played by Gareth, although he could have done without that awful "If she dies" scene in the Range Rover.
All in all a pretty good episode, not quite one of the best but certainly almost there. Memorable sequences, well-paced plot, if a bit lacking in some areas. 7/10.
A sunny and fun story, suffused with genuine Avengers charm. It's a crying shame the great Frederick Jaeger was rained off and only appears in one scene. It's a corker, though, with Purdey demonstrating her reflexes by catching his pencil, behind her, with her boot.
The Avenged?: A whole stack of agents, amongst others. Bruce Purchase in his British indoor "Amazon jungle" calls to mind the eccentricities of the monochrome Peel era. Lovely stuff. Bradshaw's horror, as Gambit unknowingly prepares to kill him, is a great moment too.
Diabolical Masterminds?: Robert Beatty shows up mainly so that there's someone for Draker to kill: Keith Barron is fine as this soft-spoken, always-calm developer of the "killing machine." Deep Roy is magic as the murderous Kloekoe, especially in the tricycle scene and the blowpipe—leading to the way Gambit kills him (blowing his ice-dart back down his blowpipe!). All three work well together and it is refreshing not to see hordes of expendable henchmen.
The Avengers?: One of the best for our dynamic trio, especially Purdey's ambition to beat Steed's perfect "100%, three times in a row" score. Purdey's full attempt on the range is great fun. Gambit is very good in this, no smugness at all.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: I love the Avenger mannequins (especially the "Steed" who repeatedly doffs his hat to victors on the range).
Bizarre?: The curare is administered in bullets or darts made of ice, yet they do not melt in Draker's room-temperature office. The dummies do look and move too much like people in masks sometimes, but in the post-Cybernaut age maybe animatronics has indeed moved on that much. It also makes them suitably unnerving.
The enforced under-use of Frederick Jaeger is recompensed with other fun telefantasy faces (John Paul of Doomwatch, plus Robert Beatty, Bruce Purchase and Deep Roy—important players in episodes of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 among other shows). It's well-directed, Ray Austin employing some great technical camerawork such as the curare-affected blurred vision, rather than relying on action set-pieces. And the police box is a nice touch.
"Planning to disrupt the tourist board?" is just one good line in "Target." The seventh episode of The New Avengers is a good one. It is also the last episode to not have animated titles. The plot of the episode was a great one and the cast was great. Who (other than the writers for the show) would have thought of having a target range shoot deadly South American poison out of the guns? I like that Gambit was worried Purdey was going to die, and would track down her murderers. I give "Target" 4 bowlers.
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