The Tara King era of the show suffers because, obviously, it doesn’t have Diana Rigg in it. But also because the comedic elements – the whimsy – lost their finesse and delicacy, and began to suffocate the other story elements. (Though it’s not a favourite story, Two’s Company demonstrates how the show could balance broad comedy with emotionally gripping drama.) This episode is an example of that kind of extreme whimsy (“6 bodies in an hour and twenty minutes” – discovering corpses is choreographed as a joke with no emotional reaction at all). And, as it happens, it doesn’t have Diana Rigg in it (much), thus putting it on a parr with that inferior era.
When I rewatched this in the 90s, I was looking forward to it; I remembered Emma in her bird-cage, ringing the bell like a budgie. To be honest, when I first saw it, I probably enjoyed all the comedy, but that wore thin on the rewatch. Now, I’m inclined to rate this the weakest of series 4, worse than The Man-Eater of Surrey Green which was off kilter but entertaining on its own terms.
We’ve had Steed-lite and Cathy-lite episodes before; this is the first Peel-lite story and so Steed is paired up with a substitute who is even set-up in-story as a fake Mrs Peel – Liz Fraser as Georgie Price-Jones. Georgie is an actress, so there’s a similarity between this pairing and that with Fenella Fielding’s character in The Charmers. Fielding managed to do clueless but charming a lot better, though; and with the formula dictating the need for a fight, Georgie sees of an assailant by accident, whilst reading one of the real Mrs Peel’s self-defence books. It’s a clever idea, I suppose, but it comes across as self-parody and rather self-indulgent. It’s also rather a contrivance to have her hanging around Mrs Peel’s flat on her own, when there’s no reason to be there and no real time has passed (Steed is still in his taxi full of his holiday luggage.)
Bernard Cribbins is fun running a knitting circle – calling it like a barn dance – but he’s under used. Too little of him.
Steed uses an alias – a rare occurrence these days – choosing to go by Wayne Pennyfeather Ffitch after rummaging among his business cards.
The title would be a reference to The Man From UNCLE which debuted the previous year (perhaps influencing the jokey, comedic tone). John, Paul, George and… Fred are the Jacques brothers. I wonder who that could be a reference to?
Mrs Peel is sought after because she is a cypher-expert. Another skill to add to the list…
Tag scene transport: Steed and the real Mrs Peel in some funky three wheel thing, the Georgie in the Bentley.