The Diabolical Masterminds of Series 4 (1965-6)
MENSA gone mental! That's how the tabloids would report these villains. The fresh-as-a-daisy Holly Trent, games mistress at an exclusive girls' school and fitness instructor for conferencing delegates turns her mind to thought control and espionage, utilising the internal piped radio network of the girls' rooms to warp the brains of visiting intelligensia.
She has realised a way to harness unused brain power - genius power - for evil purposes such as stealing military secrets and hardware, and robbing banks. Selling her gains to the highest bidder, she operates behind the literally shadowy persona of a distorted voice and an ambiguous silhouette; her minions doing the dirty work - Desmond Lemming and the burly blonde guard being the overt presence. Any potential leak or opposition is rubbed out by way of hypnotised pawns committing murders on their behalf, their hands remaining clean all the while.
Their plans go to pot when Steed decides he wants sleep uninterrupted by pop tunes, and when he convinces Mrs Peel she acting without her own volition, the villains days are numbered, but the formula is a bit complex." />
A dating agency becomes a front for a Strangers on a Train plot - perfect strangers are recruited to dispatch those who stand in the way of other customers. Adrian Lovejoy seems the villain behind a mass of recent killings, but he turns out to be merely the ruthlessly efficient manager of the rubbing out mob lorded over by Jessica Stone.
The originator of the 'diabolical mastermind' tag, Dr Sturm is a formidable scientist, developing a rain-making machine, but I'll be blowed if I know why.
Is this where they got the idea for the film? They should have looked to Dr Armstrong for a stronger villain, but there we go. His minions are similarly unconvincing, Geoffrey Palmer is just too nice to really be a villainous Martin Smythe, and Joyce Jason seems to be nothing more than a slightly nervous buffer between the public and the true machinations of Grannie Gregson's Vegetable Wines. Frederick is the only convincingly evil one, but he's played by stuntman Terry Plummer, who is adept at the evil grimace when attacking people.
A sleeper in every British outpost, all over the globe! That's the daring scheme concocted by Philip Leas, an RAF medico turned traitor who has discovered the power of ultrasonic sounds in brainwashing people. He's sold out to the other side for a pretty penny, and with the base closing down and the personnel being posted to the four corners of the globe, his employers have him act.
Supported by a surprisingly small contingent of henchmen, he knocks out the entire camp population with amplified ultrasonics, then he and his minions ferry the unconscious victims around on a milk float, brainwashing each officer in turn.
Overlooking the arrival of the Avengers proves their downfall - Steed is not so easily brainwashed, and finding Mrs Peel's watch doesn't help their cause any. Freeing a trussed-up Mrs Peel and uncovering the mystery of the camp leaves the vanquished villains laughing all the way to the clink.
Fitch, a returned sapper who can't get used to civilian life (was this a common theme of the time? It turns up again and again) is employed by a nefarious gang of insider traders to expedite their road to riches. He doctors paging devices, inserting fine needles into their mechanism, so that a telephone call to the pager will kill its owner by thrusting the needle through his heart - this probably wouldn't work with women, they rarely use a breast pocket.
Ben Jago and his lover, Mrs Boardman, fit up the businessmen and get the unwitting Henry Boardman to push their devices on their victims; they are truly diabolical, as is their minion Fitch. Boardman's business partner, John Harvey is the power behind the throne, however, and involves the broker Frederick Yuill in the scheme. He's ruthless, and will happily dispose of members of his own gang if they becmoe a weak link. They're all ably supported by the butlers of Boardman and Yuill, whose financial companies they use for laundering their gains and disguising their activities.
None of these people are the actual villain, the true mastermind is a plant from outer space, capable of controlling the minds of humans, and needing human flesh to feed upon. You can also see it in the picture on the left, hidden under plastic sheeting.
A prominent botanist, Lyle Peterson, discovers the plant and is quickly brought under its spell, and more scientists flock to its siren call. Peterson's manservant Lennox is similarly affected and rampages around the countryside abducting scientists and killing the curious. As the plant grows, its demand for human flesh increases and soon all but the deaf villagers are consumed by its gaping maw. Nowhere near as nice as Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors , this reminds me more of the Doctor Who episode The Seeds of Doom.