A claustrophobic, creepy episode with Cathy alone in a country house, gradually becoming more and more frightened – and with good cause. The Avengers are so cool that when even the slightest fear is shown, it’s incredibly effective.
This story is quite different in style – both disproving and proving a suggestion @lone_locust made recently to me – that the Cathy Gale episodes are all just spy stuff. This story clearly isn’t – but in a sense it’s the exception that proves the rule. It’s Brian Clemens’ 4th script for the show and it has his fingerprints all over it. The nasty, almost fetishistic power games that get played on the strong central female character form a theme that runs through several episodes – The House That Jack Built, Murdersville, and the remake of this very episode, The Joker.
Although this is one of the best episodes in this season, it’s only the second time I’ve seen it. The Joker I have seen many times and in my view it is even better; the production is slicker, the music is even more effective, and the wacky strangers are at least as wacky as here. There’s some clever alienation (“the wires have been cut dah dah dah” is what would happen in a movie situation, explains one character, as Act 1 ends with the usual “dah dah dah dah”). Less successfully, there’s a slightly weird psychedelic photo montage of eyes towards the end – perhaps a little over-ambitious for the production facilities available to the show at this point.
What is particularly interesting here is the different dimension we see the the Steed/Gale relationship. For once Steed isn’t after something (it’s only when this Steed-the-schemer narrative recedes that I notice how tiresome it has become). It’s lovely to see him picking flowers for Cathy. It’s also, I believe, the first time we see Steed’s Bentley and the pleasure he takes in it – and in Cathy’s company – is endearing as well as charming. Hurray for Steed’s Bentley! These moments of genuine generosity give a little glimpse of the mechanics of the Steed/Cathy friendship (“I like to see the company you keep”) which go beyond the usual working relationship.
There’s some cracking dialogue (“Frantic hat!”) to go along with the utterly loopy characters.
“Do you play tennis?”
“I hate tennis. You’re not a dentist are you?”
This was broadcast in the year that From Russia With Love was released in cinemas – in which Bond rumbles Red Grant when he orders red wine with fish. Ola: “I adore red wine… It is fish.”
Because the plot of this one relates to some unseen Cathy/Steed backstory, we are effectively told that Cathy was working with Steed in 1953 – so it’s just as well the ‘meeting’ in Warlock was re-written. It’s a long time, and it suggests Cathy would have been awfully young when she left Africa. Cathy is still suspicious of Steed – ready to believe he set up to go through this ordeal, despite her fierce denials.
A terrific episode, a blue print for many to come, and a real tour de force from Brian Clemens who was just beginning to show what he could do with The Avengers.