Another excellent piece of stylish nonsense revived by Big Finish on audio here. There’s a leak in the cypher department at the admiralty, and the twist is that secrets are being delivered via the crocodile enclosure at a private zoo (the zoo setting is echoes later in The White Elephant). This has the perfect combination of down-to-earth crime (blackmail), espionage, and eccentricity (the zoo keepers).
But perhaps the best thing about this is Steed is undercover as a clerk in cyphers at the admiralty. A civil servant impersonating a civil servant. As he is undercover in a less than glamorous position, Steed has to observe office hours (this would be the sort of thing Cathy or Emma would have to do later.) The seasoned spy, over-qualified for the work he’s doing, observing petty office rules, reminded me a little of Leamas in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. But it also offers some priceless interplay: Steed, taking his civil service lunch break, offers Keel a sandwich.
“What is it?”
“Pate de fois gras, old boy.”
“In a sandwich?”
“One has to keep down appearances.”
Since Steed is undercover, he has a legend, which includes a fictional wife. When he explain the relationship to Keel:
“She doesn’t understand me. But she has money, you know.”
“Does she have a sister?”
His name undercover, even at this early stage, is “John Steed”. Although when he’s at the zoo, he is know as Mr Archibald. It’s also notable that Steed wears an eyepatch in this one, just as a villain did in One For The Mortuary and Cathy did in The Medicine Men.
Whilst undercover, Steed is picked up by a prostitute. He needs to give the impression that he can be blackmailed, knowing he is being recorded. But blackmail only works if there is something on the tape… so how far did Steed go…
If there’s a small criticism of the story to be made, it’d be that it’s not quite clear why there’s a need to use the crocodile enclosure as a cut-out, since the blackmailed spy meets with the recipient of the secrets. But it’s entertaining enough not to want to worry with that.
It’s an excellent production, and once again it is worth mentioning what a treat the music is this episode. All round, a first class production.