Since episode 1 is incomplete and episodes 2-5 are missing, this is the earliest surviving episode of The Avengers. Having missed his debut because of the loss of the 2nd & 3rd Acts of Hot Snow, will we finally get to see how Steed was portrayed by Patrick Macnee back when the show was so young?
No. He’s not in this one.
This is a solo outing for Ian Hendry’s Dr Keel which is fairly unusual. There are many later episodes that are Steed-lite (such as The House That Jack Built, The Joker etc.) as well as episodes that are Peel-lite (The Superlative Seven) much as Doctor Who now had Doctor-lite episodes (the splendid Love and Monsters, Blink etc.) As far as I know there is only one other episode where Steed does not appear at all – another lost season 1 story. Instead, the rôle of the professional is taken by a Supt. Lewis, a plod with a touch of the man-flu, while Carol Wilson steps up to be a sort-of side-kick to Keel.
Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner) is Keel’s new nurse/receptionist, a post which became vacant when her predecessor (and Keel’s fiancé) was shot dead. She appears to be quite well established, at this point, although she doesn’t seem to know much about Keel’s Avenging activities. Nor is she quite an Avenger in mould of Cathy Gale – here she’s essentially the damsel in distress, although I think Hafner reacts quite magnificently – she’s calm, resourceful and brave.
Despite the absence of Steed this feels hugely more like The Avengers I’m familiar with. It’s got the glamour – a circus, a beautiful high diver – and the international espionage (the circus is cover for agents of Radeck). It’s evocative – there’s a lovely scene under a bridge beside the Thames – all in all a million miles from Hot Snow. Like Hot Snow it was directed by Don Leaver, but this is much more typical of the man who shaped the visual style of The Avengers (and, incidentally, directed one of my favourite episodes of The Bill). This one’s scripted by the excellent Dennis Spooner.
Highly entertaining – and to think 40 years passed after it was broadcast before anyone saw it again!