The teaser to this episode is, quite unusually, a complete red herring. Steed and Tara set a trap for a double agent, which goes wrong… But that’s not a set-up for the story, it just puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time. The actually teaser was worrying, because it opens with another villain in a clown mask (after Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One)… this will always prompt a shudder of horror) and it’s not the sinister type of clown (Have Guns…). There is comedy ‘business’ during this one-clown raid on the Ministry of Top Secret Information. But don’t turn off yet! It doesn’t last long. It’s just to establish the double-crossing no-good Merlin, who falls into Steed and Tara’s trap – but as it is sprung, fills the room with sleeping gas and tries to run for it. But the crafty Steed has locked the door… So they all snooze a long time, and when they wake up, the world outside is deserted…
I have no recollection of seeing this episode before. I think I would if I had because I really like it. There are strong echoes of one of my favourites, The Hour That Never Was, in the first half, though the first thing that sprang to mind was an episode of The New Avengers called Sleeper (that’s one of my favourites, too). Indeed Merlin suggests the sleep capsule was more powerful than he thought – the germ of Sleeper right there in Clemens’ mind?
Suddenly – half way through – it turns into one of those stories that is so big, everyone in the country knows about it (a bit like White Dwarf ). And you think – I don’t remember this happening – but it’s too big not to have made the papers? Is The Avengers set in a parallel universe? This is familiar in Doctor Who, of course, where there’s a £5 coin and a king in the 1990s, a huge battle between Daleks and Cybermen in Canary Wharf 20 years later, and strangely unrecorded historical instances of a Cyberking and a dinosaur turning up in Victorian London… It always annoyed me slightly until Children of Earth, which illustrated how it can allow a cracking story to be told. It happens once of twice in the Cathy Gale era (springs to mind) but here and in Sleeper it allows a cracking story to be told.
There’s a sudden info dump, and then the mood has switched – from the excellent, eerie deserted town, to cat and mouse with reporters and rogue soldiers running around trying to ransom the country with an atom bomb. Give me a plot about an madman with an atom bomb over silly stories about the idiots in Mother’s security service any day.
For the second week in a row (in transmission order) Linda Thorsen gets a holiday. Steed is gets a new partner, much better than Lady DFB, in the form of the Merlin. He’s devious, selfish, and apparently untrustworthy, but they are literally manacled together. They make a highly entertaining couple, and I’d have loved to see more adventures with the two of them! In fact Jenny Firston, the journalist introduced in the second half would also have made a decent regular partner for Steed.
Brian Blessed, having been relatively subdued in The Superlative Seven, gets to do some good shouting as the sergeant to Joss Ackland’s Brigadier.
Steed brings his own gun to the meeting with Merlin in his briefcase: “That’s unusual for you” says Tara (but then she probably hasn’t watched The Sell-Out). There’s a policemen’s helmet lying in the deserted street, but no policeman occupying it, so I guess that doesn’t break the ‘no policemen’ rule.
Despite a rather feeble tag scene (luminous dust – er, why?) this is easily the best Tara King episode so far, and a wonderful surprise!