The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 23: Murdersville): good episode with suspense, tension and some horror

Robert Asher, “The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 23: Murdersville)” (1967)

Major Paul Croft (Eric Flynn) has retired from the army and bought a mansion on the edge of the village Little-Storping-on-the-Swuff, an idyllic little place with a pond, so his childhood friend Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) offers to drive him there where his valet Forbes (Norman Chappell) should be unloading the furniture from the car and moving it inside. On arrival, the two discover a lot of smashed crockery in the driveway. Croft assumes Forbes is down at the pub dead drunk so he runs off to the village while Peel snoops about and discovers Forbes dead near a log. Someone whacks her from behind and when she wakes up in a doctor’s surgery, she is told she crashed her car. Unconvinced, she tries calling for the police to report Forbes’s death but when the sergeant arrives, takes down the details and drives off, she sees he is not dressed in full regulation uniform.

Peel attempts to escape and accidentally discovers the bodies of Croft and Forbes in the doctor’s spare room. Earlier, Forbes had been killed by two men who were supposed to help him move the furniture, then laid next to the log and later moved to the doctor’s surgery. Croft, on arriving at the village, stumbles into the village library and sees a businessman kill another. For being a witness to a crime, he is also killed. Furious and upset, Peel beats up the doctor and almost brains him with a telephone. She tries to escape the village but after running through fields, is captured and imprisoned in the village museum where she meets four prisoners who inform her that the entire village, at one time on the verge of dying out due to lack of money, is now in the business of killing people on behalf of crooks who pay them loads of dosh to do so and hushing up witnesses, with Forbes and Croft the latest victims.

Subjected to waterboarding on a dunking stool, Peel is forced to tell the villagers that her husband will miss her so they frog-march her to a telephone to phone him. She phones Steed (Patrick Macnee) instead and gives him a heavily coded message that she is in trouble. Satisfied, the villagers imprison her again, planning to take her out to sea in a helicopter where she will be dumped. Steed however turns up in the nick of time, releases Peel and the other prisoners, and together he and Peel put a stop to the villagers’ extortion racket with a custard-pie fight.

The plot is played for laughs, the acting is unremarkable and the ending deeply unsatisfactory – Steed and Peel waltz off to yet another party when they should have been attending the funerals of Croft and Forbes, and Steed wiping tears from Peel’s eyes – but there are some dark undercurrents to what is basically a satire on the provincial and narrow mind-set of small-town people. In some ways, the message that gets through the fluff is still a timely one: when a community is desperate due to the local economy drying up, and someone comes along promising a cornucopia of riches, without the necessary information they need to check out the offer the people may sell themselves to the Mephistophelean benefactor, unaware they have entered a Faustian pact that imprisons them forever to greed. In this way might gangs create their territory and continue to extort payment from the people under their “charge”, and petty vendettas begin between and among rival groups and factions within a community. The plot-line strikes me as cruel to working people caught between continuing poverty and joining in communal crime and murder, but even in TV and movies life isn’t always fair. The whole thing might have worked better if the village had been reworked into a modern-day estate where the landlord has been replaced by a crook and all the tenants choose to work for the crook to save their jobs – but if Steed and Peel free them and help them to rebel against the landlord, that would be too, er, socialistic.

Overall the episode is enjoyable with plenty of suspense, tension and a moment of horror when Peel is dunked in the pond but the silly pie fight is anti-climactic and detracts from the plot. This could almost have been a Hitchcockian piece along the lines of “Psycho” and I’m rather sad the producers threw that opportunity away.

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