Three men and a woman called Circe politely call on the country home of Steed's friends, married couple Bill and Laura Bassett. Unfortunately their visit turns sinister as they plan to ... See full summary »

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Episode complete credited cast:
...
...
Tom Adams ...
Fenton Grenville
...
Laura Bassett
Michael Gwynn ...
Bill Bassett
Hilary Pritchard ...
Circe Bishop
Garfield Morgan ...
Gilbert Sexton
Keith Buckley ...
Ernest Lomax
John Comer ...
Sgt. Ronald Groom
Anthony Sagar ...
Norman Clifford
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Three men and a woman called Circe politely call on the country home of Steed's friends, married couple Bill and Laura Bassett. Unfortunately their visit turns sinister as they plan to implant explosives into the throats of the couple and send them off to destroy a nearby peace conference. Happily for the Bassetts - and the conference - Steed is coming to visit for the weekend, and he knows what to do. Written by don @ minifie-1

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14 April 1969 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Going for the Throat
14 May 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The 'home invasion' thriller has become a staple of pop culture since the sixties. Hollywood alone has spun out as many variations on the theme as it can collectively imagine, from the classy (Panic Room) to the risible (Firewall). Frank Sinatra in 'Suddenly' arguably initiated the recognisable sub-genre - with Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games', it reached a horrific climax.

The conventions are easily identified. A gang of ruthless criminals break into the home of a happy family, disrupting their lives and taking them hostage. As a rule, they are told t sit tight and behave themselves whilst the villains get on with their scheme - often involving the expertise of one of the parents (usually Daddy). However, the family fights back and overcome their opponents (The horror of Haneke's film is the way it undermines almost all of these conventions). The form may be the principle modern morality play about the need for family unity and the repulsion of outsiders.

'The Avengers', inevitably, has its own particular twist on this familiar tale. The gang in this case are a cultivated bunch, scrupulously polite and tasteful. They don't use violence to gain access to the house - in fact, they don't even use outright trickery. Instead, they rely on the good manners of their prospective hosts and a little verbal ambiguity. They know that this upper-middle class couple and their faithful servant will comply with them up to a certain point rather than rudely demand to know who they are - in fact, they will help them carry in their luggage.

This is very much a tale about snobbery and etiquette; Bill and Laura are the middle class victims of upper class killers, and the killers know it. Just as the villains utilise politeness to gain access to the house, they threaten and order their hostages about in the manner of an etiquette lesson. When Steed arrives unexpectedly and starts causing trouble, they take him out on a game shoot (arranging for an accident to occur, of course), the sport of the upper classes, not the nouveau riche. The criminals waste no time in finding fault with their hostages' taste, determined to prove themselves superior to their helpless victims. Does it trouble their consciences less to terrorise the tasteless? Sexton can barely contain his contempt for the coffee he finds in the house - surely such a rich couple could afford something better? Circe doesn't like the curtains, and Grenville criticises Bill's terror itself - hysteria is hardly the correct behaviour for a man. In every way, this rich couple are found to be 'non-U', and thus fair game for the impeccable Grenville's team. This is why Steed's victory over Grenville in the party game is so provocative - he has proved himself more discerning in an important field (classical music)than his opponent. Being able to distinguish whale bone from ivory by sound alone sets Steed above Grenville - hardly surprising, as Steed has always been depicted by the series as the ultimate gentleman. Grenville seems loathe to admit any flaws in his own character - note the way he stresses that leaving out Steed's bowler and umbrella where Tara could see them is less of an error than her letting him observe that she has seen him.

Circe, a sorceress who bound men to her will by turning them into pigs, is reconceived here as a surgeon, who binds men to Grenville's will by inserting bombs into their throats. Hillary Pritchard's ostentatiously eccentric performance (matched perfectly to an ostentatiously eccentric character) marries the two, as she floats around after dinner in a blue dress. She uses plastic surgery to change her own form, growing bored with her own noses. As motivations go, it's certainly unique.

Elizabeth Sellars is at the other end of the scale, perhaps the most realistically written and played character since Honor Blackman left the series. She must have a hidden sense of whimsy, however - the vintage car in the hallway she decorated is a surreal touch.

There are no children in this family, a fact that is never alluded to. Sergeant Groom is the closest thing that Bill and Laura have, and he's bumped off ten minutes in. Most 'home invasion' stories rely on threats to the children to both subdue parents and ultimately motivate them to fight back. There can be no fighting back here, however - not with a bomb inside the hostage's body; a new level of invasiveness, a microcosmic reiteration of the main plot. There is a real and unique sense of violation in this episode.

If there is a flaw amid all these new found hard edges, it's that they make the tag scene seem rather tasteless. By this point, however, the series seemed to have forgotten how to leave our screens each week with a charming grace note any way, so this is par for the course. Certainly, it doesn't take much away from the best latter-day episode of the series.


5 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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