The Avengers might just as easily have been called The Amateurs, since that was the original premise of the show – a bunch of freelance helpmeets called in to assist gangmaster John Steed in the solving of various cases too tricky to be handled by the usual agencies.
No, it makes no real sense, but in Dead on Course, which was the 14th episode to be shown in series two, the concept remains vibrant and Jon Rollason’s Dr Martin King is the amateur called upon to help Steed work out why an experienced pilot would steer a plane into the sea off the coast of Ireland. Steed and King are there not because of the crash itself, but because it has happened before, and the doctor is involved – flimsy reason – because he is some sort of expert in dead bodies.
Flimsy or not, King is soon on the case, up at the convent where the dead bodies have been taken and quizzing an order of nuns – and it’s a silent order, as it so often was in the 1960s.
It’s a subtle episode, nicely written by Eric Paice, who gives secondary characters more depth than is often the case – the Irish crash investigator bridling because his expertise is being called into question by these johnnie-come-lately Brits, for instance.
The whole set-up allows British TV to indulge in a bit of flagrant Oirishry, in fact, with Donal Donnelly giving particularly good value as a garrulous eejut who works at the local pub (again the pub) where Steed and King are staying.
As for the nunnery, it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot that one of the sisters appears to be a mister. But is it going to be part of the big denouement, or did they just run out of actresses?
There’s a lot of plot to get through, and quite a lot is made of the difficulty of getting the Catholic Church to behave in the way that everyone else in Ireland would – legal jurisdiction seems unclear (not that it’s mentioned at all, but this is exactly how the sexual abuses and various baby-farming ops run by the Church in Ireland went unchecked for so long).
Patrick Macnee is, as ever, a marvel, using little dollops of theatrical technique to overcome the odd fluff, letting his voice boom when he’s conscious that the microphones are in danger of rendering his voice too tinnily.
It’s noticeably a very studio-bound episode, though that’s offset by snappy writing and fast line readings by all involved.
Not bad at all, and the combination of nuns and planes is a fairly unusual one, outside of Airplane and the disaster movies it was spoofing.