5.15: The Joker
It seems this remake of Don’t Look Behind You, the second redo of the season following The Correct Way to Kill reduxed as The Charmers, is generally highly regarded in relation to its Cathy Gale era original. I have to admit, I can’t really see it, and coming after last season’s also-leading-Avenger-lady-trapped-in-an-isolated-house near-remake (The House That Jack Built), it comes across a bit like flogging a dead horse. What The Joker has in spades is production value, cleverly directed by sure-hand Sidney Havers and draped with a level of plushness the Cathy Gale era couldn’t muster. It isn’t enough, though.
Even some of the lines are straight lifts, particularly annoying when they’re good ones and you feel as if you’re listening to a comedian repeat a well-received joke until it loses all lustre (this happened with Michael Gough in The Correct Way to Kill too, and here finds Steed joshing again about the name Sir Cavalier Rusicana/Rusagne).
So Steed, having taken a tumble down the stairs (later revealed to be courtesy of a cunningly-placed tripwire) and fortunate to escape a poisoned playing card when Major George Fancy – John Stone of 3.14: The Secrets Broker and Quatermass II– pops his clogs instead (Fancy’s a great name, so a shame nothing was made of it), is unable to accompany Emma to Exmoor to meet Cavalero.
Ola: I was reading – an Italian book. I don’t understand Italian at all.
Once there, she meets his whacky ward Ola (Sally Nesbitt, uber-loopy and giving off something of a Paula Yates vibe), who serves her dinner and then naffs off (apparently). And then, just dropping by for a cup of sugar – I mean, his car has broken down – Strange Young Man arrives (Ronald Lacey, bringing the sinister just as you’d expect from the great actor).
Strange Young Man: Do you recognise me?
Mrs Peel: Should I?
Strange Young Man: No, I’m travelling incognito. It’s a fact.
Nesbitt and Lacey turn in effective variations on Janine Gray and Kenneth Colley in the original, the former just as nutty but slightly less sexually eccentric – the character’s also distinguished by being invited in on the finale – the latter more restrained and consequently more effective as an unsettling force (though I do like Colley’s performance). I particularly enjoyed Lacey’s “Da-da-da-da!” when he reveals to Emma that the telephone line has been cut.
Prendergast: A few insignificant refugees.
Mrs Peel: No human life is insignificant.
It’s really only in respect of the mastermind behind it all that The Joker scores significantly above the original. Don’t Look Behind You featured Maurice Good as a rather adequate Goodman, but Peter Jeffrey is just the right level of manically obsessed as Prendergast. As with the original, we learn he was duped by Emma, made to think she loved him while she and Steed were setting a trap, and as with the original, Steed appears to put the wind up the villain, just in the nick of time. Although, I much prefer this entrance, hiding behind a giant playing card (“Oh dear, do you think I frightened him?“)
There are some artful choices of decor, such as that alternation of Emma’s skeletal face of spades on the door at the top of the stairs with the joker. The Joker generally gives off the air of the immaculate, while the Laurie Johnson-composed Mien Liebling, Mien Rose is effectively unnerving, but it’s an episode that leaves me respectful yet unmoved. The variant “You’re needed” is spoken by Steed after hurting his leg, while the coda has him playing solitaire before they try out card tricks on each other (“The sum of the two numbers equals the vintage year of this champagne“; “Now that’s a trick I won’t spoil“).