The sixth episode of the series (numbers two to five having vanished) and we’re edging into what would later be familiar Avengers territory. There are devious foreigners, a complex plot and a surprising amount of agency for the female sidekick.
Dennis Spooner’s screenplay concerns a woman throwing herself off a London bridge into the Thames, an act which Dr Keel (Ian Hendry) just happens to witness as he’s on the way to a party. Being a public spirited chap he rushes down the steps to the river, where a passing copper and a swarthy type with a thick accent are already on the scene. The woman is dead, but there’s not much water in her lungs and Keel wonders if there might be a cause other than drowning.
Back at the police station, the duty detective is only to happy to accept conjecture as part of Keel’s witness statement and the doctor is soon heading off with his new receptionist to check out what’s going at a visiting Soviet circus, whence the trail points.
There, without divulging the entire plot, all is revealed, after much skulking, gunplay, hostage taking, bodyswapping and fisticuffs.
Directed by Don Leaver, it’s a satisfying little chamber piece shot almost entirely on claustrophobic studio sets – the doctor’s surgery, the cop shop, backstage at the circus – with some usefully choreographed fight action to spice things up. Again, there’s the clear attention to blocking and tight framing – this is a well rehearsed episode making the most of those unwieldy studio cameras – and again no one cares too much if a line is fluffed. It all feels very live.
No sign of John Steed. He’s not in the episode at all. But Ingrid Hafner as Carol (Keel’s new receptionist, after the death of Peggy in the first episode) has a surprising amount to do for a female character in the early 1960s. She’s not only brave but also resourceful, coming up with a useful bit of cunning trickery to outwit the Soviet thugs as they try to put their dastardly plan into action. She’s not yet a karate-chopping dynamo but is clearly a Cathy Gale/Emma Peel/Tara King in utero.
But. What is also clear from this episode is that this show’s entire premise will not do. Ordinary doctors do not get involved in international espionage, even if completely by accident. Nor do they get taken into the confidence of hard-pressed cops trying to work out who or what killed an unfortunate young woman. Class deference can explain some of it – working class cop deferring to nicely spoken gent etc etc – but in the long run, something is going to have to give.
Of course it turned out it was going to be the excellent Hendry – who went off to a film career and a lifelong battle with the bottle, leaving urbane Patrick Macnee to rule the roost after the series was given a conceptual makeover. But that’s another story.
© Steve Morrissey 2017