The first minute of each of these episodes, running up to the title card, is designed to enthral the viewer, to grab and intrigue us. So it’s a bit of a cheat to pull away and find we’ve been watching a film being shot; and reality is a little less colourful. And then, even when we do get a juicy murder, the story jumps forward into a rather humdrum tale of life aboard ship. Square jawed square Martin King (in his first appearance, also the first to be shot) has to carry the first half of this episode until Steed appears. He is a medical doctor like Keel (this was obviously a left over script from the first season in which Keel being a physician was essential) but alas, without Ian Hendry’s charisma and he’s quickly become my least favourite Avenger. He is looking after a self-obsessed starlet with enough self-awareness to drive herself to the edge of breakdown. It’s a performance that occasionally threatens to become interesting, but for the most part veers into caricature.
At the heart of this story is an intriguing doomed romance between two unlikeable yet oddly sympathetic people who are entangled in the deceitful endeavours of an international espionage ring. Unfortunately it’s all but swamped by the melodrama – this is even more theatrical than any of the first season – and not helped by an unusually high number of technical snafus (bumped cameras, boom mics in shot, etc). It’s easily the weakest (surviving) story so far.
On the plus side there is some champagne in this one – even if Steed only serves it, and doesn’t get to drink it, being undercover as a steward. This rôle provides my favourite moments in the episode as Steed elegantly conveys wine or cigarettes to King’s cabin, and then as King signs the chit he drinks and smokes them for him!
For once, there’s someone else ‘working’ for Steed, although he makes a point that she is being paid. This, of course, underlines the fact that the regular co-Avenger is an amateur, in it fight injustice/for the love of the game (or whatever). However, as an Avenger, King lacks any of the cool disinterest we expect of the likes of Steed, Cathy or Mrs Peel (he has more in common with Venus in The Decapod in this respect – he seems to develop an emotional investment). Even Dr Keel had an insouciance that foreshadowed the amused detachment that came to typify The Avengers.
Interesting. But Cathy next time, please. (Or even Venus.)