5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy “haunted house” yarn, Scooby Doo style.
Mrs Peel: Do you believe in ghosts, Steed?
Steed: Someone does.
Others to mention in the same breath are Castle De’ath (apparently spooky goings-on masking more nefarious ones) and Death at Bargain Prices (a plot to set off nuclear weapons in the country). The graveyard set, meanwhile, has been recycled from From Venus with Love. The haunting aspect is tenuous to say the least; it’s the presumed-dead, previous Duke of Benedict (Edward Underdown, earlier of 4.2: The Murder Market), thought lost in a mine cave-in. He’s gone walkabout from a subsurface town that he and his fellows have been forced to build for an army set to take over the country, once the latter have rained down a nuclear holocaust.
The currency in untoward undertakings underground wasn’t just the stuff of extravagant plots by diabolical masterminds during this period; a few years later, Penda’s Fen would feature a radical protagonist passionately holding forth on what lies beneath at the behest of the homegrown government.
Mandy McKay: FOG believes that all ghosts are friendly. People have always been frightened of ghosts, but have you ever considered that they may be frightened of us?
The ghostly subplot introduces the most readily identifiable trad-Avengers ingredients of this particularly period: the eccentric supporting characters, here personified by the representatives of FOG and SMOG. The former is also The Living Dead‘s effective twist villain; it’s pretty clear estate manager Masgard (Julian Glover, 4.11: Two’s A Crowd) is a bad seed as soon as we clap eyes on him, but Mandy McKay (Pamela Ann Davy, 2.1: Mission to Montreal) really does appear to be a loony ghost obsessive (“Ghosts are all around us“), who refers to them as “poor things” and is the purported representative of FOG (Friends of Ghosts).
Davy’s performance is suitably OTT and hyperventilating, such that it comes as a surprise when she turns a gun on Steed late in the day, revealing herself to be a cohort of the unnamed country at the centre of things. It’s also something of a surprise that Steed earlier succumbs to her charms, (“If you think you can make me change my… that you can twist me around your… that by rolling those… beautiful blue eyes“). Unless he secretly wanted to. Less of a surprise that she should be ultimately dismantled by some judo chopping from Mrs Peel.
George Spencer: The society doesn’t believe in ghosts, Mrs Peel. We fight legend with logic, folklore with facts. You may rest assured; the dead Duke of Burgundy does not walk this area.
Her (brief) adversary in opinions (as a fake FOG-er) is George Spencer (Vernon Dobtcheff, 4.9: Room Without a View), holding up the sceptics’ position through SMOG (Scientific Measurement of Ghosts). They, rather like James Randi’s later CSICOP, deny the existence of “Ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night“, as Mrs Peel puts it. Presumably, FOG is a genuine body, if he’s aware of it, and Mandy’s appropriating their colours.
Also to be seen are drunk Kermit (Jack Woolgar, Staff Sergeant Arnold in The Web of Fear), gamekeeper Tom (Alistair Williamson, 1.1: Hot Snow) and publican Hopper (Jack Watson, 4.13: Silent Dust). The latter’s presence instantly drawing suspicion, if you saw his previous series appearance, although he turns out to be one of the good guys.
Steed: The Duke’s estate. Hotly defended by gamekeepers.
Mrs Peel: Isn’t that their job?
Steed: Yes, but not when they shoot at things out of season.
Mrs Peel: What’s out of season now?
More than holding up the serious end, amid all the silly spookiness, is Glover, on particularly brutish form. We first see him laying hands on Steed after he has been shot at by the gamekeeper, much to the Avenger’s casual disapproval (“You’re in danger of ruffling my feathers” he responds to being told to stay away, hitting Masgard’s hand with his bowler).
Masgard: Cellar?! Do you mean he’s been down…? Do you mean you’ve…
Duke: He’s referring to the wine.
It’s Masgard’s rashness that leads Steed to confirm his suspicions; finishing his claret, Steed compliments current Duke Geoffrey (Howard Marion Crawford, 4.22: What the Butler Saw) on his wine cellar. Masgard assumes he’s actually visited it. It should be noted that Glover’s forced to wear a very silly red helmet at one point, which he quickly removes (ex of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451). Most sensible. That kind of thing could kill a career.
Firing Squad Captain: It is customary to ask. Do you have any last requests before you die?
Steed: Yes, would you cancel my milk?
Although Emma gets abducted at the midpoint, she ends up having to save Steed when he follows suit and is stood in front of a firing squad (the last occasion was 3.25: Esprit De Corps). Rather alarmingly, she machine guns the entire troop, the most wanton act of violence we’ve seen from her so far. There’s no remorse whatsoever; she’s ice cold, even given the act is justified (“For that, you definitely get a mention in my will” avers Steed).
Mrs Peel: Did your whole life flash before your eyes?
Steed: Yes. Infinitely enjoyable.
The subterranean set is impressively designed and effectively shot by director John Krish, who previously did a bang-up job with the time-travel effects in Escape in Time. Brian Clemens wrote this one – most of this clutch come from him or Philip Levene – from an idea by Anthony “Public Eye” Marriot (Marriot protested his lack of credit). The result is a daft story, but agreeably so. The coda, in which Emma is working on the Bentley, continues the long-since exhausted vehicular motif I hoped we were rid of, and also references the preceding story (“Ghosts in the engine“). And, of course, features drinking.