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Now, you know about black magic, don’t you?

Television

The Avengers
2.16: Warlock

 

A genuinely supernatural episode, one of the series’ big no-nos, for some fans. Accordingly, your appreciation for Warlock will likely rest entirely on whether you accept its premise. I regard it as one of the highlights of the second season, although the common verdict appears to be that it’s something of a disappointment.

Peter Hammond was one of the series’ best directors, and he pulls out the stylistic stops to make the most of Doreen Montgomery’s teleplay. Montgomery had a long career as writer for the big screen from the late ’30s to the late ’50s; this was her only contribution to the show, in an episode originally designed as the introduction for Cathy Gale’s character. There are liberally evident signs of this, most obviously Steed visiting her at the Natural History Museum, where she is studying skulls.

SteedI know the face forget the name. Ah yes, poor Yorick. I knew him, you know, a fellow of infinite jest.
CathyMore than can be said for you.

The Steed-Cathy repartee is firmly in place right off the bat, as is her status as a font of all knowledge (“Now, you know about black magic, don’t you?” –  including witchcraft, superstition and blood rites). Steed has discovered An Occult Grimoire at the home of this friend Peter Neville (Alban Blakelock, giving a fine transfixed performance, accompanied by simply-but-strikingly superimposed sparkly objects). Neville was, this being The Avengers, due to attend a Missile Committee meeting (always with the missiles!), but is bedbound, diagnosed with severe shock.

It’s up to Cathy to infiltrate the cause of his malaise, a black magic circle presided over by Peter Arne’s Cosmo Gallion. Arne, who gives a highly memorable, charismatic performance, was originally intended to appear in the Doctor Who story Frontios, but was murdered shortly before filming began. Cosmo’s services are for hire, in this case by Markel (John Hollis, Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back, and Sondeergard – who rocks – in The Mutants, as well as appearing in later Avengers The CybernautsThe Superlative Seven and Legacy of Death).

While the episode hedges its bets with regard to the reality of magic (“It’s not a question of will, but of faith”), there’s little doubt what’s depicted is at very least psychically effected. Neville is sent into a spin, Cathy is drawn to the coven (even though she professes not to have been under the influence, she does appear to have arisen at the appointed, incantatory time). Cathy informs Steed that psychology plays a big part (but not all?) in warlocks exerting a hold over their victims, stating that one could exert influence at a distance, and “quite probably” make someone do what they ordered.

Montgomery’s teleplay picks up on the essentials of Crowleyian magic ((“Do ast thou wilt is the whole of the law”), but it’s softened slightly through Cosmo’s credentials as “an authority on paranormal psychology”. He’s an expert in “the study of trance states, hypnosis, telepathy, that sort of thing”. The magic community is obviously a small one, since Cosmo has read Cathy’s monograph on voodoo, and despite warning her with regard to the legality of joining black magic groups, he welcomes her into his own magic circle. Naturally, he’s taken with her, offering to cast her horoscope (she was born at midnight on 5/10/30, a half-decade younger than Blackman herself).

CosmoMr Markel, you’re really a very stupid man. Like all of your kind, you only believe what you can see and what you can touch.

Markel, who is after a formula for a new propellant (another propellant!), isn’t really interested in Cosmo’s methods, though, only his results, which leads to the latter unreservedly dismissing his idiocy (“Your methods are certainly effective, Markel. He’s dead” Cosmo notes after Markel aggressively attempts to discern why Neville’s brief case is absent the all-important papers). And, when Markel demands his money back, threatening Cosmo, the chrome-domed thug is soon on the receiving end of a heart attack administered by means a voodoo doll.

Cosmo is also intent on bringing Cathy to his magical beck-and-call (“Will with me, Cathy Gale”), considering her perfect for the Ritual of Asmodeus (the demon of lust, responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires, so one guesses the episode wouldn’t have gone out if Cosmo had brought the ritual to a successful climax). As it is, there’s much writhing, chanting, and vigorously ecstatic gyration from a frenzied Julia (Pat Spender). So it’s a bit disappointing that events resolve themselves so perfunctorily (the name of the game for the show at this point). Cathy and Steed are surrounded, but Cosmo conveniently drops dead; his exertions required complete faith, so when he failed it destroyed him.

Steed is rigorously facile, throughout, chatting up a barmaid by telling her fortune (“Here’s to palmistry”) and running foul of Cathy (“You seem to think this is something to joke about. I saw too much of this sort of thing when I was in Africa, Steed” to which he responds levelly “I am only interested in who killed Neville”). His debonair attendance of Cosmo’s “very elementary” lecture, posing as a physicist, doesn’t manage to convince us that he’s a devotee, which doesn’t escape Cosmo’s notice either (“Well, for a start, his aura is wrong for a man of science”). It’s probably appropriate then that, for the third episode in a row, Cathy is centre stage. Steed is unmasked (or unhooded), tied up, and when he escapes, Cathy has already brought matters to a head.

Warlock features the penultimate appearance of One Ten (in the Studio Canal DVD release order, which I’m following), sharing pints in the pub with Steed, both in matching bowlers (“Myrtle, is this the bottom of the barrel?”), an additional incongruity with subject matter that starts with hexes and ends in a full-blooded occult ceremony. The close-out finds Steed and Cathy joking about finding something relaxing to do where someone else does all the work for a change. Such as boxing; Warlock’s certainly far from straightforward pugilism, a confident and sprightly change of tone and subject matter for the show.

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