Doubles, doubles, doubles. It’s something classic 60s TV shows seem unable to resist. The Prisoner with The Schizoid Man, Doctor Who with, well lots (The Massacre, The Enemy of the World, The Androids of Tara, Black Orchid, The Church and the Crown). I can kind of see why – they must be fun to make for the actor, and the producer gets two performances from them for the price of one. But The Avengers is one show that has managed to always to the doubles thing rather well – and this is the first of three episodes (followed by Two’s Company in the next season, and Faces in The New Avengers). I think the later efforts are rather better, but this isn’t a bad story.
It doesn’t start of well, though. There’s a long and rather odd ‘interrogation’ sequence connected with a rather unnecessary subplot to do with brainwashing and implanting multiple personalities. In a throwback to season one/two we get one of Steed’s bosses making an appearance (‘Charles’ rather than One-Something). Then there’s the holiday camp setting, which, while distinctively British, is rather awful (especially the ‘Miss Beautiful Legs’ competition).
Geoffrey Palmer is certainly a plus (his third of four Avengers, after a lost series 1 story and Propellant 23) but he is disappointingly underused.
The Avengers doppelgänger episodes are all about the psychological effects. Charles sows doubts in Cathy’s mind (whilst apparently distrusting her – knowing a ‘secret agent’ may be substituted, he explicitly alludes to the possibility it might be her, even though she is not a professional agent). Who is who? Who has been instructed to kill who? Etc. Despite all that, Cathy is far less emotional about the possibility that Steed has been dispatched than she was in Conspiracy of Silence.
Since there are two Steeds (in effect – whether one of them is genuinely a different Steed, or is Steed pretending to be different) the production makes use of Steed’s now fastidious dress to create a distinction. The ‘new’ steed makes an allusion to getting the tie knot correct – he seems to dress more loosely. Meanwhile his co-Avenger, usually equally well dressed, in one scene wanders around in nothing but her underwear (for no reason other than an apparent heatwave).