And so, to season 2. As is well document elsewhere, following a prolonged equity strike, Ian Hendry did not return to the show but it carried on with Steed (Macnee now elevated to top billing). Of course, the original premise of Hot Snow does rather suggest that Keel is an occasional partner for Steed and from that it is easy to extrapolate that he may have other ‘talented amateurs’ who help him out. Daring to think differently, they tried casting a woman in the role.
Although the production is still ‘as live’ the schedule must have changed since these were not shot in the order they were aired. Since I’m watching these in broadcast order, the first episode is a Cathy Gale episode even though the first three shot weren’t (and this isn’t even the first Cathy episode produced, it’s the fourth). She gets no introduction at all. She and Steed are clearly well known to each other and appear to have an established modus operandi – although Steed rather treats Cathy as a subordinate (which she seems to find easy to ignore). Cathy knows who Steed works for and what he does (she even gets briefed by a colleague of Steed) but she also gets to do a bit of her own stuff: chatting to a fellow anthropologist. Keel’s surgery set up was supposed to represent ‘normal’ and this maybe a residual trace of that concept; but the show is fast moving away from normal… It’s almost incidental, anyway, coming late in the episode and serving a plot point.
Another contrast with the start of the previous season: Steed is not the undercover man in this. Indeed, whereas in Hot Snow Steed implies that anonymity is essential to his work, he’s now got a high enough profile to serve the rôle of the target (or hitee) for Mr Teddy Bear.
The opening crime – a murder on live television – is suitably outlandish for The Avengers. The titular villain, who speaks through a teddy and uses unfeasibly elaborate assassination techniques – is splendidly colourful. We see Steed’s apartment (and his dalmation) as well as Cathy’s. The script is playful and classy. Production is polished and there’s a spacious sense of scope that suggests either a step forward in production or a considerably better budget. In short, it is recognisably The Avengers already and the episode would not be out of place coming in season three. The only noticeably atypical elements are Steed appearing in a state of undress, and a certainly lack of Cathy beating anyone up – although Honour Blackman is cool, sharp, and immensely confident in the rôle already.