Television Review – The Avengers – The Maneater Of Surrey Green
An unusual episode from 1965.
Though The Avengers TV series (not to be confused with The Marvel comics or movie franchise) was often very heavily science fiction themed, with a plethora of mad scientists, Cybernautic robots and even shrinking rays, stories of alien invasion were extremely rare, with this one being a very good exception. Such stories were mixed with camp James Bond parody spy stories to the point at which you rarely saw the join.
Maneater is quite different – Drawing on both The Quatermass Experiment and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers as an influence, with a hint of The Day Of The Triffids, this deals with an alien plant form trying to take over Middle-England.
This works for having no central over the top villain – the largely unseen plant possesses a group of brainwashed horticulturists and gardeners. One girl watches without feeling as her boyfriend is electrocuted when he tries to get to talk to her – a very creepy scene that is worthy of an outright horror movie. Her indifference to his death is nastier than the electrocution itself.
The heroes are protected by hearing aids, when they discover that the deaf, (as opposed to the blind in Wyndham’s Triffids tale), are immune to the mind-control field the plant generates. Nailing it is simply a case of applying a strong weed-killing herbicide, but will the plant let them near enough to apply it?
There are many original innovations and well-staged scenes here, notably the fight between MacNee’s Steed and temporarily plant possessed Diana Rigg (Mrs Peel). What really makes the SF element pronounced is the discovery of the crashed space-craft that proves to be one sent from Earth, into deep space, with its now skeletal astronaut having unwittingly brought the plant-spores home with him. The Avengers would never again suggest that our Space exploration was so advanced.
Some absurdities are a joy as in the army identifying the alien problem on discovery of the astronaut but pulling back to leave Steed & Peel to take care of the whole situation. It makes a change from the all out war defence strategy seen in many stories of alien attack.
Athene Saylor as an ageing, eccentric, deaf botanist is great in a role where she seems to be impersonating Margaret Rutherford.
The episode has lots of innuendo humour. Steed admires a series of nude female statues in a botanist’s house, and the closing hay-ride for Steed & Peel is about as subtle as Godzilla. A later Doctor Who adventure from the Tom Baker / Elizabeth Sladen era, The Seeds Of Doom, has a very similar plot.
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