This episode suffers from a slow pace, a lousy performance by Isobel Black as Clare Prendergast, and terrible special effects, including stuffed birds falling out of trees and a ridiculous fake bat encountered by Mrs. Peel. On the other hand, you get to see Steed riding a horse, and the foxhunt scenes are very nice. The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable (Oscar Wilde, if you didn't know) never looked so good.
The opening features role reversal: Steed reclines in a punt, holding a parasol, while Mrs. Peel handles the punting pole. I like the scene where Steed tries to pick up Miss Snow in the pub. Steed is not successful, and Mrs. Peel does a pantomime illustrating "struck out" in the next room.
Towards the end of the episode, Steed strides around manfully in full hunting gear, carrying a whip. This is for fetish purposes only—Steed never carries a whip when he's actually riding a horse. He's probably opposed to cruelty to animals! The scene where Juggins pursues Mrs. Peel is a bit more brutal than necessary, but at least he gets his comeuppance at the hands of our hero Steed!
Trivia: The title, "Silent Dust," is probably a reference to Silent Spring, published 1962, which was a pioneering book by Rachel Carson detailing the impact of pesticides on the songbird population. Juggins twice mentions "scrumpie." What the heck is that? From context, I think it means "moonshine." Also, why is it necessary for Mrs. Peel to strip down, then wrap herself in a sheet, just to pose for a portrait bust? Also, Mrs. Peel wears the same goofy outfit in this tag scene as she does in the tag for "Death at Bargain Prices."
[Stephen in Australia notes that scrumpy is a kind of home spun, very rough, very strong (apple) cider. Not in the same league as moonshine for potency—it isn't a spirit—but it's not for the faint-hearted, either.]
Starting with this episode, more of the monochrome Emma series become misses rather than hits for me. Yes, this is one of the misses. Now understand that there really isn't anything wrong with this episode—or the others for that matter—it's simply that it didn't capture my attention as easily as most. It almost seemed as if some piece of the magic dust that made The Avengers what it was had just fallen away. What part? I don't know, just some small part of the equation was missing.
There is a plot to destroy the ecosystem in a large part of the country starting first with the earthworm, and moving its way up. The tool used to accomplish this feat is a chemical called silent dust. Of course it's up to Steed and Mrs. Peel to find the dust and the dastardly villains who plan to use it. They search, the question and they snoop... and then, naturally, they catch their man... or men and a woman.
I do have to say that I totally enjoyed the final scenes during the fox hunt with animal activists protesting the hunt. All the while, the villains are doing their best to kill Steed and Emma.
2 out of 5 bowlers.
"Silent Dust" is a masterpiece. A prescient story about eco-terrorism, it cleverly depicts the intrusion of our increasingly artificial environment into the bucolic world of the past.
Many reviewers comment about the poor special effects—the mock birds and the bat marionette—without considering the possibility that these "effects" were intended to be exactly what they were: conspicuously artificial. The change in scene from real birds happily chirping in their nests to poorly-made imitations being thrown on the ground is startling. Not only are we troubled that birds are dying, but we are annoyed on a deeper level. The obviously fake birds are incongruous, unsettling. They simply don't belong.
The countryside is a picture perfect piece of 19th century England—at least 19th century England as envisioned by those who never lived there—with rolling meadows, quiet ponds, horses, horse manure, and fox hunts. There's not a motor car in sight. It is beautiful and serene and unreal. Places like this don't exist any more. When Steed, clad in his Edwardian best, is shot by Mellors, he doesn't bleed. Emma, treating his wounds, is transformed into an Old West sawbones, complete with a jug of Red Eye and Bowie knife. These things aren't possible, at least in the real world. But they can happen here, because reality hasn't yet disturbed this place. It lurks nearby in the darkness, though, like the synthetic bat that threatens but does not bite.
Fellows Fertilizer, on the other hand, is the epitome of reality, pursuing better living through chemistry with the creation of artificial fertilizers, flavorings and scents. When one of its projects goes awry, it casts the developer from its midst, never to be spoken of again. In so doing, it provides Omrod with the means to impose the artificial upon the pristine and permanently introduce plastic birds to paradise.
Despite the ominous plot, "Silent Dust" is actually an optimistic story. The Earth does not gladly enfold its defilers to its bosom—as Prendergast's ashes consigned to the mantelpiece attest. After all, the government can pay to keep the countryside pure and people of good will can fight the forces of pollution. Moreover, the hunt protestors remind us that everything in the past was not idyllic and that some constructs of modernity do indeed represent progress.
P.S. Steed's horsemanship is really cool, too.
This was an entertaining episode with an interesting premise and a decent pace. Steed and Emma are as great as ever, especially during the opening with Steed serving wine at river temperature. What spoils this episode are the villains — too horrible for my liking and far too realistic. Avengers villains need to be more eccentric — the humour and escapism are why I like it. This was just disturbing, especially the "pig killer."
What adds to the horror here is Steed getting shot. I was not expecting this, and our hero being as mortal as us does not sit well. Steed should be our charming superhero! But it does provide the excuse for the wonderful and kinky dream sequence with Emma wearing a moustache.
What makes "Silent Dust" work so well for me is its wilful disregard for realism. The same script might easily have been played deadly serious (aside from occasional witty repartee), with disturbing violence, and all-too-real villains, and made a passable, if nastier than usual, episode. It has been observed that the whipping scene here has inspired little comment compared to the scene in "A Touch of Brimstone". The difference, I think, is tone: "Touch" is played straight throughout, with no deliberate shrugging off of reality in every second scene.
But at every turn the apparent seriousness of "Silent Dust" is delightfully undermined by the whimsy of the direction and playing. The opening sequence of the countryside being laid waste is filmed in a style reminiscent of cheesy horror of the kind Roy Baker knew so well, with its stock footage of birds and bats (!) intercut with stuffed birds and rubber bats falling to the ground (à la Hitchcock's The Birds of a few years earlier) and a spooky corpse-like scarecrow which, the director tempts us to believe, is somehow casting an evil influence upon the land. And in a way it is, metaphorically speaking: if the scarecrow can be seen as a stand-in for another unburied dead man, Prendergast, inventor of silent dust and silent dust himself.
Emma and Steed hove into view in a boat, and having explained the serious ecological-catastrophe premise of the episode, Steed steps out, seemingly in mid stream, with nary a splash. Mellors the gamekeeper is at once a nasty brute and a snicker-inducing reference to a better-known gamekeeper (his namesake, Lady Chatterley's lover), and Juggins' alcohol and animal abuse are horribly and hilariously over the top ("You should've 'eard that sow, 'twere like music"). Emma's surgery on Steed is played not as a serious, sweaty pulse-racer, as it would in any other "action" show, but as a jokey Old West hallucination. Through the hallucination we see enough to know how serious and unpleasant the business at hand is, but we just can't take it seriously enough to be genuinely concerned. The villains inexplicably don't think to send one of the "thugs" to kill Steed, but instead the rose-grower... and he puts up a pretty good fight! Rather than the usual "thriller" music, the Emma hunt is accompanied by cheerful upbeat "walk in the park" music, mixed in with bits of the series' theme, and becomes comically toot-y as Juggins begins cracking his whip. In the same scene, the violence and Emma's genuine distress is continually intercut with funny images of Steed, riding in like the knight in finely tailored armour we always knew he was, with a "Down with blood sports" sign for a jousting rod. And finally, the murderer who had jokingly said that he'd cut off Emma's ears when he killed her, is soundly spanked. To kill him, as would be so easy with that conveniently spiky sign — and as was a fit fate for the series' next Emma-whipper — Steed would have to take him seriously, which just wouldn't do.
Throughout the episode I was struck by a nagging sense of incongruity about the villains, which I finally realised was this: these people — the nouveau riche village newcomer, the gamekeeper, the Old-Money horsey girl, the gross odd job man, the wimpy rose fancier, all seemingly getting along like actual friends and equals, and not as mere back-stabbing associates of necessity — would never hang out together. (I speak of course of the fictional stereotypes they represent, not of actual people who might fit those descriptions.)
Why all the whimsy? Is the show here testing the waters, seeing how much real-life violence and nastiness they can get away with if they dress it up as a silly lark? Or just for the sheer originality and delight of being silly in a world which takes all these things awfully seriously? This is one of my "ideal" Avengers episodes, featuring my favourite blend of half-real, half-surreal, half-just-being-silly. And in Avengerland that adds up to perfect TV.
"Silent Dust" is a sort of ecological episode for the protection of vegetation and animals. Apart from the teaser, this episode is a good one. No car in sight; viewers can almost breathe the good air of English countryside thanks to much location filming. The dry tree of Manderley and the Minister's conclusion explain quite well the plot.
There is humour from the beginning between Mrs Peel and Steed—"No stamina" "No comment!"—but the best line of this episode is delivered by Sir Manfred Fellows: "It (the fertilizer) smelt like old socks!" I also like Mrs Peel's mimic when she watches Steed and Miss Snow in the pub.
The music during the fox hunt is quite good and make the whip scene more entertaining than frightening. Look at Emma's and Juggins' faces as Mrs Peel's foot is caught by the whip: they seem about to laugh.
We also have the scene when Mrs Peel is wrapped in a sheet to get her bust drawn (!). It adds a touch of eroticism which emphasizes Diana Rigg's beauty.
"Silent Dust" is not one of the top five of the monochrome season, but is nevertheless a good episode quite pleasant to watch and re-watch.
Plot: Very Good. If you could kill all the earthworms in a large area, it is very probable it would destroy or at least damage the ecosystem. If someone could do this to the entire country, they would be a large threat.
Humour: Very Good. I loved the bit where Steed was pelting Juggins with the protest sign. Of course, who doesn't love the Emma with Moustache sequence? The tree falling when Steed pulled off the twig was an good sight gag. "Mellors?" "He mistook me for a partridge, seriously ruffled my wing feathers." "Oh, I must speak to him... I must tell him to be a little more..." "accurate." "careful."
Acting: Good. Nice to see Aubrey Morris, who I recognized from The Prisoner. A good performance from William Franklyn, who played a great, truly English villain. I loved Macnee's accent when he was talking to Miss Snow.
Tag: OK. Good question.
Miscellaneous: Is this the same Prendergast as in "The Joker"? When Steed was fighting Croft, the scene very annoying as it switched back and forth between the fight and the hunt, in so doing the music faded in and out. The bat flying at Emma when she entered the cottage was very annoying, and very unnecessary. This episode did feel uneven.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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