Revisiting the mind-transference territory of the disastrous Who’s Who??? there’s a much stronger espionage pretext for the sci-fi element in line with the general New Avengers style. Unfortunately, this is just as contrived as the brain drain stuff: the “three handed game” is a ways of conveying a top secret change in American military strategy to the UK by using three agents with a photographic memory to each bring 1 in every 3 words so that if caught individually, they couldn’t give anything intelligible away. It’s not clear to me why this is significantly better than giving three agents with ordinary memory a copy of just their 1/3, and maybe – I don’t know – also using a code…? The only in-story purpose, of course, is that there is a clever machine that can transfer memories (or skills) and so the three handed game provides a problem for this solution.
The machine itself is not treated consistently. The first demonstration, conducted on the spy Juventa, has no ill effect on him. Every other time it is used, the memory ‘donor’ is disorientated, debilitated or dead. When Juventa discovers Steed is onto him, he declares that his hideout is ‘blown’ which is fair enough, but also that he is too (despite the fact he knows they’ve been monitoring him since he entered the country) so he transfers himself into an irritating tap-dancer he kidnapped earlier for…reasons.
Part of the reason this is not much fun to watch is because the villains rather dull – at the moustache twirling/dozy thug end of the spectrum. Our heroes are rather lazily written with their least interesting traits accentuated – Purdey being ‘quirky’ cooks Steed and Gambit a marshmallow pie because “marshmallows are in season” (“It could’ve been omelette fin herbs” even if that might not please Steed the omelette purist) – Gambit kicks some doors down, playing up the well developed adolescent aspect his character. As a team, in this case, they are completely ineffective – preventing each of the three couriers from having their memories sucked dry. It’s actually the couriers who make the most pleasing, if fleeting, incidental characters. (The doc from Target! is also unusual in reappearing, albeit once again briefly.)
The showy ending is the most fun bit of the episode. Purdey gets centre stage in a tap-themed solo fight with Juventa solo while Steed and Gambit just operate the spotlights. The well-judged flourishes here make up for the forced and grating Look (Stop Me…). It’s not the worst of The New Avengers but after several significantly superior stories, it’s a bit of a low point for the first series to go out on.