Mrs Peel comes of age in The Hour That Never Was, the ninth episode of series 4 and a typical classic-era Avengers based on unlikely goings-on in locales almost devoid of people.
“Comes of age” because in this episode she is clearly smarter than Steed, being the first one to notice that time appears to have stood still – it was 11am when they crashed while pootling down a country road towards a reunion at Steed’s old air base, and it’s still 11am some time later as they wander around the base, which is now seemingly suddenly deserted.
She’s also dressed in a style that’s hipper than usual – low-slung trousers, big fat belt, a vest that shows off her toned shoulders to good effect. The production team have clearly twigged that Diana Rigg is a major asset in terms of both acting nous and physicality.
If Mrs Peel is an up-to-the-minute dolly bird, John Steed is the counterweight, a newly middle-aged man now recounting drinking stories from his youth with a gleam in his eye as if it were yesterday.
But where are they, all these drinking buddies? And why have they disappeared just as the base is gearing up for its farewell shindig, after which the personnel will be “scattered all over the globe… wherever we’ve got an airbase” explains Steed to Peel, unwittingly laying out the reason for the disappearances – dirty tricks by persons whose interests are unaligned with Britain’s.
It’s an impressive episode, in plot and staging. Not only is everything frozen in time, which includes rabbits on the runway, a goldfish in its bowl, but at a certain point in the proceedings we get to see that opening accident all over again, the aftermath of which plays out in a completely different way. No Mrs Peel. The mess now full of chaps celebrating, Gerald Harper as the hail-fellow-well-met RAF bon viveur pressing drinks on a bemused Steed.
This idea – alternate timelines leading to wildly different outcomes – seems ahead of the zeitgeist. 2018’s Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch, famously used it to wild acclaim, but then writer/creator Charlie Brooker is heavily influenced by 1960s/70s mysteries (Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Tales of the Unexpected, The Outer Limits etc).
But there’s another modern resonance in this tale. Towards the end, as the mystery is solved and the culprits are revealed, they are referred to as “influencers”. Then, it’s malevolent foreign forces wreaking havoc on suggestible plastic minds who are the baddies. Now, it would be just as possible to point the finger at the liberal elite, mainstream media or deep state. Though, let’s face it, foreign forces working in secret have been known to gain traction in the West – Russia, China and Syria spring to mind.
But even more obviously, from the perspective of our Instagram/YouTube era of cheery stooges of capitalism, here’s The Avengers predicting the rise of influencers decades before it happened.
But never mind all that – there’s a good fight scene towards the end in a room filled with laughing gas (didn’t Adam West’s Batman do something similar?). And Roy Kinnear makes another Avengers appearance, this time as the only sentient human on the base, a vagrant who has made a career scavenging from RAF bases – “best dustbins in the business,” he exclaims, a moment of comic relief in a great episode that’s one of The Avengers’ standouts.
I am an Amazon affiliate. Clicking on the link earns me a (vanishingly small) commission
© Steve Morrissey 2019