Monday, 9 July 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 19: Full Fathom Five

There is no escaping the fact that Full Fathom Five is a bit of a mess of an Adventurer episode, cast members go uncredited, there are too many subplots and an overall sense of a production that is coming off the rails. This week everyone is on the search for three stained glass windows that were removed from a monastery in Belgium during WW2 and buried at sea. The only person who possesses a map pin-pointing where the windows are buried is elderly sea captain Andre Gustave (Donald Eccles). In an echo of ‘The Bradley Way’ episode the sickly old man has found himself surrounded by people with sinister motives for caring for him. Masterminding the scheme is Doctor Rymans (Peter Jeffrey) who in yet another echo of The Bradley Way episode, installs a faux-nurse (Rona Newton-John, older sister of Olivia) to keep a watchful eye on the ailing Gustave. For all of their best efforts though, Gustave manages to hand over the map to his granddaughter Maria (Prunella Ransome) on his death bed. Immediately making her a person of interest to Gene and Mr Parminter, as well as placing her in danger from Dr Rymans and his cohorts.

Full Fathom Five is essentially another ‘New Adventurers’ episode with particular emphasis on Mr Parminter. Despite the fact that Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon go accidentally uncredited in this episode, Diane and Gavin do however occasionally pop up to lend Parminter a much needed hand. In fact Full Fathom Five is a rather crowded compartment of an episode, juggling plots about the New Adventurers, Maria Gustave’s plight, and the obligatory attempts to work Gene into the story. For a one-episode character Maria Gustave is allocated a surprising amount of screen time here. In another unusual move, Maria isn’t just the standard ingénue/damsel in distress that tends to be the norm for female characters in this series. Rather she is a cunning, moral question mark of a character, who forever teeters on the brink of being the piece’s villainess. No sooner as she acquires the map then Maria has her hand out for filthy lucre, displaying no qualms about backtracking on her promise to sell the map to Mr Parminter when a better offer from Rymans comes along. Thereafter Maria plays a dangerous game of pitting various bidders for the map against one another. Not only do her actions place herself in danger, but they also result in Parminter being on the receiving end of a beating and one of her grandfather’s oldest friends being murdered. In a series that is big on holding characters to account for their actions, the lack of consequences for the chaos Maria leaves in her wake is another surprise break from series tradition.

Barry Morse’s portrayal of Mr Parminter continues to be the glue that is holding the series together at this point. For an actor whose best known roles –Lt. Gerard in The Fugitive and Professor Victor Bergman in Space:1999- were deeply serious characters, it is surprising to discover what a gift for comedy Morse had. While in the previous episode Parminter had displayed flashes of efficiency, here he is back to being British intelligence’s one man disaster area. Morse is on fine comedic form in Full Fathom Five with Parminter’s inherent politeness hilariously undercutting his futile attempts to appear threatening “out of my way…please” he begs a thug, before being knocked out with just one punch. In a gag that the New Adventurers episodes are especially fond of, Parminter only wins fights as a result of ‘happy accidents’. Heavies have a tendency to charge at Parminter at the very moment he ducks down…or Parminter will offer to help an adversary to their feet only for them to collide with his hand and knock themselves out instead. In this particular episode Parminter accidentally backs into Rymans, painfully jabbing his cane into Ryman’s mid-section in the process. Sure, it is basic age old slapstick comedy material, but Morse pulls it off with great aplomb. The writers of Full Fathom Five even managed to invent a catchphrase for Mr Parminter “oh dear, oh dear”. Parminter might be as unconventional an action hero as they come but to all intents and purposes he really is ‘The Adventurer’ now, and anyone tuning into the series at this point could be forgiven for being confused as to which character the title refers to.

Another noteworthy change to the series is in its choice of backdrops. Whereas at the outset The Adventurer was as much of an open advertisement for foreign holiday destinations as any classic era ITC show, at this point the series appears to be on a mission to sabotage that appeal. These later Adventurer episodes display a true eye for the ugly, and have a habit of making Europe look as dreary and depressing as possible. This is a series with a particularly heavy jones for docklands settings; you can barely keep the series away from them. If you’ve ever wanted to see every miserable looking docklands and rusty old ship that Europe had to offer in 1972 then you’ve really hit the jackpot with The Adventurer. A trip to Antwerp’s docklands for Mr Parminter is therefore inevitable. Combine this with a visit to a building site and the picture postcard views of Nice from the earlier episodes are starting to feel like a long time ago. Suffice to say anyone watching Full Fathom Five back then would have been likely to have crossed Antwerp off their list of future holiday destinations, if not decided it was better to stay at home that year.

Noticeably absent from these fun excursions to the building sites and docklands of Europe is Gene himself. This week’s excuse for keeping him at arm’s length from his regular co-stars seemingly being that he’d rather hang out with people from Hammer Horror movies instead. Gene initially being seen in this episode in the company of Judy Matheson, one of the great British horror heroines of the 1970s, thanks to appearances in the likes of Crucible of Terror, The Flesh and Blood Show, and Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. Remaining seated throughout the scene (at, but of course, Gene’s insistence) Judy plays Claire Adams, a freelance journalist looking to pay her rent that month by getting an exclusive scoop on the life of Gene Bradley.

Given that the series revolves around Gene’s double life as a spy being a closely guarded secret, it comes as a surprise to hear Claire bring it up in conversion as if it were common knowledge. “I’ve heard that sometimes your telephone rings and you’re invited to help out in the most hazardous adventures” she tells him. Gene’s attempts to change the subject are, rather inconveniently, interrupted by his phone ringing with an invite to help out in a most hazardous adventure!! So poor Claire –who comes across as a more saner version of Ann Somerby- is denied her Gene Bradley exclusive, and has no way of paying her rent that month. Still… what red blooded good guy wouldn’t want to ditch a beautiful woman and leave her in a dire financial situation, when he can instead hotfoot it over to Belgium and hang out with a bunch of elderly monks. So, it is good bye Claire and hello Father Antonius, as Gene helps the monks to try and buy back the stained glass windows from Maria Gustave. Thus providing this week’s tenuous connection between Gene and the main plot, as well as the chance to cast another Hammer Horror alumni. Father Antonius being played by André Morell, heroic lead in the Hammer classic The Plague of the Zombies.

What with the writing being on the wall for Catherine Schell’s character and Garrick Hagon only sporadically appearing in the rest of the series, Full Fathom Five does have the feel of a try-out for future, potentially reoccurring characters in the series. While it is doubtful Father Antonius had legs as a character outside of this episode, Claire Adams had a bit more potential. The fact that Gene would have to go to great lengths to conceal his career as a spy to the women in his life is an angle rarely touched upon in the TV series (it is dwelled upon more so in the tie-in novelisation). If only because his love interests are never around for more than one episode each…such is the promiscuous yet fundamentally empty life of Gene Bradley. So the introduction of a Vicki Vale type character, forever on the verge of exposing Gene’s double life, could have brought something new and exciting to the series. Sadly it was not to be, and like all of the other new characters that Full Fathom Five introduces; Claire Adams was destined to be a one episode nay one scene wonder.

It says allot about Parminter’s growing presence in the series that whereas once he was strictly second fiddle to Gene, now secondary characters are being written around Parminter himself. Full Fathom Five being the first and last time we meet Parminter’s superior Sir Richard, who in keeping with this episode’s theme of “you don’t have to have appeared in a Hammer horror film to guest star in this Adventurer episode, but it helps” is played by Michael Gwynn, the tragic creature from The Revenge of Frankenstein. At the risk of sounding like Gene himself, how goddamn tall is Sir Richard? At 6’4’’ Michael Gwynn may well be the tallest actor to ever grace the series, and makes the rest of the New Adventurers look pint sized in comparison. Does it even need pointing out that Gene and Sir Richard never share scenes together?

Not unlike Mr Parminter himself Full Fathom Five is shambolic but not without its charm. Once in a blue moon it even manages to deliver the occasional effective blow…even if it is mainly to the funny bone than anywhere else. This is also the only Adventurer episode to come complete with its own detailed hangover cure, told by Gene to Claire Adams. So if you want to follow Gene’s advice, here is the Bradley way to make a Prairie Oyster “it’s the yolk of an egg, with Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, tomato ketchup, sprinkled on the top with a bit of pepper”. Admittedly Gene’s hang-over cure doesn’t sound too inviting…and in keeping with this week’s Hammer horror theme it actually looks like he is downing a glass of someone’s blood. Still, who knows…it might work, after a few prairie oysters Adventurer episodes like this one might even start to make sense.

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