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  • title card: white all caps text outlined in black reading 'MISSION...' superimposed on a view of a deserted, dusty country lane
  • title card: the white all caps text outlined in black has changed to read 'MISSION... HIGHLY IMPROBABLE' superimposed on a view of a deserted, dusty country lane
  • The shrunken Captain Gifford stares up at the telephone which dwarfs him
  • The Saracen armoured car is bombarded by artillery
  • Steed, reduced to minature size, tries to use Schaffer's telephone to get help from Emma, the similarly shrunken Saracen is also on Schaffer's desk
  • Steed stalks along the skirting board, wielding a (to him) huge pen as a weapon
  • Emma turns her back to Steed and asks him if 'everything' has returned to normal
  • video - It sounds like rain, so Steed galantly offers Emma his much-shrunken umbrella and turns up the collar of his suit

Series 5 - Episode 24
Mission... Highly Improbable

8 stars

by Philip Levene
Directed by Robert Day

Steed falls into enemy hands
Emma is cut down to size

Episode Rating

Subject 0-5
Direction 4 stars
Music 3 stars
Humour 4 stars
Intro/tag 3 stars
Mastermind
2½ stars
Plot 3 stars
Emma 4 stars
Set Design 4 stars
Overall
(0-10)
8 stars

Overall, this is a damn fine episode. A welcome return to the sci-fi escapism and referential postmodernism that The Avengers is famous for. A clever blend of reality and sheer impossibility, as well as a dig at Mission : Highly Impossible. What more could you want?

Professor Rushton has invented a miniaturising ray, but his assistant Chivers uses it for unpatriotic activities. First he shrinks the minister who had come to examine their finances, then a snooping Captain, and finally to steal the new Saracen FV603 armoured car. The buyer - Shaffer - is unaware that Steed was inside the armoured car when it was shrunk, and has come along for the ride!. Rescued by Mrs Peel, they escape and Steed is returned to normal size, only for Emma to be shrunk. Emma then frees Steed, the Professor and his daughter, and is in turn returned to normal - "Everything? Everything!" Shaffer and Chivers are then shrunk and collected in Steed's bowler.
With rain expected, Steed offers Emma his still shrunken umbrella...

The Cars

Marque/Model Colour Number Plate
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III (miniature is a Dinky Toys Silver Cloud III 2-door coupé by Mulliner Park Ward) white GB 1
Triumph 600cc bike, saddlebags white 532 PPL
Triumph 600cc bike, saddlebags white 452 YMF
Triumph 600cc bike, saddlebags white 779 ALH
Bentley 4.5 litre 1927 British racing green YT 3942
Landrover MT4 Military truck blue/white top -
Landrover MT4 Military truck blue/white top 368 BLP (MT4 594)
Triumph TR4 powder blue, black roof NGN 444D
Saracen Armoured Car (later shrunk) tan FV603
Landrover SWB dark green,green top -
Landrover LWB hardtop pale blue/grey, tan roof -
Landrover LWB hardtop pale blue/grey, tan roof RY 913
Mercedes 230 SL Roadster 1966 white LGK 75D
Lotus Elan S3 glacier blue SJH 499D
Austin Westminster black 244 VFK

Who's Killing Whom?

Victim Killer Method
Sir Gerald Bancroft Chivers V* Thrown into garbage bin
Captain Gifford Chivers V* Hosed down the drain
* Strange ways to kill people, but they were miniaturised first.
Click a name to see the face

The Fashions

Emma's Fashions Steed's Fashions
  1. lime green sundress with white trim in curved X shape around neck
  2. frost green blouse, black belt, tan trousers, white shoes
  3. forest green high collared long-sleeved belted top & skirt (the skirt has a subtle darker green diagonal tartan)
  4. pink top? ... (not on screen for long)
  5. blue catsuit with high square collar & white laces, silver boots
  6. orange sleeveless dress with belt
  1. brown and green hunting blazer, houndstooth trousers, yellow shirt, dark brown tie, brown bowler
  2. grey single-breasted suit with flap pockets, white shirt, grey tie with white spot, grey bowler hat & umbrella
  3. navy single-breasted suit, white shirt, red tie with black spot, black bowler hat & umbrella, boots
  4. light grey suit with flap pockets and a felt collar, white pinstriped shirt, arrowhead pattern navy tie

Continuity and trivia

  1. 3:30 - Gifford gets off his bike at the junction after the short curve and walks back to look around, but the shot of him walking back has him in the middle a straight piece of road with no turning - unless he and the other riders have arbitrarily gone onto the road in front of them instead of doubling back in their search.
  2. By the way, Gifford's medals are: Korea Medal, United Nations Service Medal for Korea, General Service Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
  3. 3:38 - the titles are staggered, first with "Mission..." appearing and then "Highly Improbable" is added.
  4. 8:30 - Professor Rushton has the same vintage car prints in his office as Sir George had in Dead Man's Treasure and maybe Dr Haymes had in Murdersville.
  5. 11:50 - Captain Gifford smashes the window and a small piece of glass falls outside but at 12:10 Chivers discovers him by stepping on the broken glass outside, and there much more glass than there should be.
  6. 11:55 - Music from From Venus With Love is used here, and throughout the episode. Laurie Johnson must have thought it suited the science fiction plot.
  7. 4:21-4:33, 12:25-12:35, & 22:20 - The miniaturised Rolls Royce is a coupe, not a saloon like that shrunk, and it's been quickly painted white.
  8. 21:36-21:53 - stock footage of artillery.
  9. 23:49 and elsewhere - If the MT4 military truck they're all looking for has a worn offside tyre, why does everyone keep checking the nearside tyres of the trucks they happen upon? Both Steed and Captain Gifford check the near fore wheel of the MT4s they encounter. ('Nearside' means the side of a vehicle nearest the kerb - i.e. the left side of the cars in Britain. 'Offside' is the right, where the driver sits in British cars).
  10. Colonel Drew's medals are: GBE, DSO, Military Cross, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, France and Germany Star Defence Medal, War Medal 1939–1945, Korea Medal, United Nations Service Medal for Korea
  11. 29:36 et passim - The desk that the miniaturised Steed and Mrs Peel crawl around on has the same out-sized desktop calendar prop that was used in Death's Door.
  12. 32:13 - When he uses Shaffer's telephone, Steed reveals that Mrs Peel's telephone number is 629-6291, and must be in the Greater London 01 area (0171 these days, I guess). Shaffer's number is 01-325-471, according to the label on the dial. Why Mrs Peel has a seven-digit number in 1968 is anyone's guess, and is 629 the right prefix for Primrose Hill? Surely she's moved from NW1 to W1 with that number. (If you look closely, you can see that Patrick only dialled four numbers, but they took two different angles of it and cut it together).
  13. 32:59 and 33:03 - Steed's umbrella, lying on the desk, moves slightly when Shaffer enters the room, compare the above right with the immediate right. The Saracen has moved as well.
  14. 36:38 - When Emma is released by a shrunken Steed, she smiles impishly at him and asks, "Tell me Steed, is everything to scale?"
  15. 38:00 - Corporal Johnson should never have let the truck out the gate, Rushton hands him Gerald Bancroft's gate pass.
  16. 39:41 - When Emma is escaping from Shaffer's study, Karl is guarding the hallway, reading a book with a slightly torn dust jacket, revealing it to be Jane Austen's "Emma" (clever, that).
  17. 43:17 - Shaffer calls to his men (off camera), shouting, "Sergei! Ivan!" - but the characters are credited as Hendrick and Karl; a mistake or were they just giving the illusion of more characters?
  18. 46:22-46:33 - When Emma is restored to full size, she asks Steed worriedly, "Is everything back to normal?"
    Steed looks her up and down and replies, "Everything."
    Emma turns around to show him her posterior and queries, "Everything?"
    Steed glances down and confirms, "Everything!"
    ©1961-9 CANAL+IMAGE UK Ltd All Rights Reserved
  19. 47:10 - Product placement for Herbert Johnson & Sons as the bowler hat descends on Scaeffer and Chivers.
  20. 48:13 - Steed hands Emma his shrunken umbrella, but it was returned to full size with him when he was restored in the summer house at 42:38, he's holding it when he emerges from the sack, and again when he walks outside and is captured by Josef and Chivers. 42:38 (seen on-screen from 43:00 onwards).

    The cat's out of the bag...

    and emerges from the hut

    ...but it shrank again!
    ©1961-9 CANAL+IMAGE UK Ltd All Rights Reserved ©1961-9 CANAL+IMAGE UK Ltd All Rights Reserved
  21. Running time: 49'07"

Cast and Production notes

  1. This first draft of this episode had the title The Disappearance of Admiral Nelson and was rejected by the producers as too outlandish (it had been submitted for the previous, black and white, series). Philip must have rewitten it heavily to get it approved.
  2. Jane Merrow was a popular choice of Casting directors of the time - she appeared in lots of different television and film productions, and was reportedly one of Patrick McGoohan's favourite supporting players, great praise indeed from such a noted perfectionist. She was also screen tested for Diana Rigg's replacement, but lost out to Linda Thorson. Todd Mills has created a wonderful in-depth look at Jane and all her work at http://www.regiments.org/merrow/ - check it out now! (It's actually been online nearly as long as this site has.)
  3. All the scenes featuring Nicole Shelby as 'Brunette' ended up on the cutting room floor, but she still appears in the cast list. Here she is as Miranda, the brunette pursuer of Baron von Curt (Ian Ogilvie) in the Tara King episode, "They Keep Killing Steed".
  4. The Powell brothers, Nosher and Dinny, play the goons Karl and Henrik. George 'Nosher' Powell and his brothers (including Dinny, credited as Denny in this episode, and elsewhere as Dinney) were some of Britian's leading stuntmen; Nosher has also had two sons, both of whom are stuntmen as well.
  5. Some of the footage of the testing of the FV 603 appears in the series Department S in an episode called "Who Plays the Dummy?".
    Department S was directed at times by Ray Austin, Stunt Coordinator for The Avengers, and starred Peter Wyngarde as Jason King (he appeared in Epic as Stewart Kirby). It was an ITC production, but obviously shared a great many resources with ABC productions - the guest cast is almost identical to the Avengers. There's a rumour that the footage also appeared in an episode of The Saint, as yet unconfirmed.
A note on the timecodes
Where I have listed two sets of timecodes, the first is from the 2009-11 Optimum Releasing/Studio Canal DVD sets, any other timecodes are from the A&E and Contender DVD sets from a decade beforehand.
The new releases have been remastered and their frame rate has been changed, resulting in a shorter running time. However, the picture quality has increased markedly. I assume this is because they used a simple 2:2 pulldown (24 @ 25) when converting from the original film masters (film runs at 24 frames per second, while PAL runs at 25fps, the new DVDs are in PAL format).
This pulldown was also the cause of audio errors on many episodes, especially for Series 5, as the audio sped up to match the new rate (4% faster), rather than being properly pitch-shifted. Checking the dialogue sheets, which list the feet and frames of the reels, it looks like the speed change is around 5.04%, so there may be some cuts as well - probably from around the commercial breaks and ends of reels, as they amount to about 25 seconds. All my assumptions are based on the episodes having been filmed on standard 35mm film, which has 16 frames per foot and runs at 24 frames per second, so a minute of footage uses 90 feet of film (1,440 frames).
These audio errors have been corrected in the currently available DVDs, but the 2:2 pulldown remains. There is also the addition of a Studio Canal lead-in, converted to black and white to match the episode for Series Four, but colour for Series Five, adding an extra 18 or 19 seconds to the runnning time and making it harder to match timecodes with previous releases. It's annoying that it has been slapped on every single episode, Series 1-3 didn't suffer this indignity.
The previous Contender and A&E DVD releases didn't seem to suffer from these problems, so I assume they either used soft telecine and preserved the original 24fps rate of the film (my preferred option in DVDs) or they used 24 @ 25 pulldown (2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:2:3 Euro pull-down). Let's hope the much-rumoured bluray release will revert to native 24fps with soft telecine so we won't have these problems again.

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