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If we are going to talk about Chris Boucher’s Star Cops (and, you guessed it, we are) then we may as well get something out of the way and discuss the theme music right at the start. Now, I am aware my taste in such matters is not entirely in tune with the popular consensus – I am one of the few people I know who finds ‘Faith of the Heart’, a.k.a. the theme tune from Enterprise, to be quite a pleasant listen – and that no less an authority than Kim Newman, someone whose judgement I usually find impeccable, has declared that the Star Cops theme is ‘the worst theme tune of any TV show ever’. What, worse than the theme to Captain Zep – Space Detective? Sample lyric, ‘Across the stars, he’s on his way, it’s Captain Zep to save the day!’ (I know you’re curious. Go and google, I’ll be here when you’ve had enough, which could well be very soon indeed.)

The theme from Star Cops, known either as ‘It won’t be easy’ or ‘Theme from Star Cops‘, depending on how imaginative you are, is a mid-tempo piece of blues-pop by Justin Hayward. It’s not really my usual cup of tea, but I must confess to finding it rather agreeable – it has a sort of lugubrious wistfulness to it which appeals to me. That said, it is an unusual choice of theme for a hard SF TV show – I believe the logic behind it was that people who wouldn’t necessarily choose to watch a hard SF TV show might stumble across the mid-tempo blues-pop, find themselves charmed by it, and stick around for the following fifty minutes or so of gritty police procedural and variably-realised zero-gravity effects.

The tune carries on playing into the opening sequence of An Instinct for Murder, written by series creator Chris Boucher himself and first broadcast in July 1987 (in the baffling slot of eight thirty in the evening on Mondays). This segment at least is strongly conceived and quite well realised: a man goes for a swim in a lake, only to be set upon and drowned by two scuba divers. This is intercut with an astronaut on a space-walk being attacked and his suit sabotaged by two other figures in space-suits. The stuff in the lake is passably done, the spacewalk sequence surprisingly good, considering this is a BBC series from the middle 1980s, and it does give the theme tune a chance to reach an epic guitar solo which doesn’t usually get heard over the credits (it’s just getting started when they finish).

Overseeing the investigation of the death in the lake is our hero, Nathan Spring (David Calder), whom we quickly learn has little time for computer analyses of incident reports or the arms-length approach to police work which has become standard at this time (it is a recognisably near future: publicity for the series indicated it was set in 2027, not that there’s a great deal of reference to this in the actual script). The computer suggests it was an accidental drowning, but Spring is not convinced, rather to the exasperation of both his underlings and his superiors.

Largely, it seems, to get rid of Nathan, his boss has forced him to apply for the post of commander of the International Space Police Force: currently a part-time force of twenty or so, which the major powers would like professionalised. Spring doesn’t want the job, and his girlfriend (a slightly shaky relationship is skilfully suggested) wants him to get it even less, but the script is very clear about the political aspects of all this, and Nathan soon find himself heading for the European space station Charles de Gaulle, in Earth orbit.

There he meets the local ISPF inspector, David Theroux (Erick Ray Evans), whose real job is as one of the station’s traffic controllers. Theroux is making his own investigation into a string of mysterious suit failures, which the computers again have decreed to be within the realms of statistical probability. However, the death of a visiting politician while on a space-walk gives the issue a sudden urgency, and Spring and Theroux find themselves working the case together.

The first job of An Instinct for Murder is to establish the world, characters and format of the show, so perhaps it’s not really surprising that the actual murder mystery here ends up feeling a little under-developed: it turns out the killings are an attempt to discredit the Russians, who currently have the contract to do space-suit maintenance, and perhaps stoke up the coals so the Cold War burns a little hotter (like virtually everyone else, even in 1987, Star Cops completely fails to anticipate the collapse of the Soviet Union). Then again, this is always a problem when doing a detective story in an SF setting: you need to establish what’s normal and routine and possible in this world before you can start showing the anomalies and oddities which make up the clues the detective needs in order to break the case.

In other respects, however, the episode does a very solid job: you can tell Boucher is working incredibly hard to keep Star Cops grounded in reality and entirely free of the fantasy elements which usually dominate television SF (Boucher had previously written twelve strong episodes of the BBC’s premier science-fantasy show as well as script-editing the whole of Blake’s 7). It’s very cynical and naturalistic – even the title is meant ironically, and there’s a running gag about people quoting lines from The Magnificent Seven at each other, something which is utterly believable but the kind of thing which never happens in most TV series nowadays.

In terms of the near-future setting – well, again like everyone else, Boucher didn’t anticipate smartphones – at one point Nathan wants to watch the news in a restaurant and the waitress wheels in a small black and white TV on a trolley – but teleconferencing seems to be routine, even if people seem to favour huge wall screens over laptops or tablets (this does work well visually, though). Nathan even has his own virtual assistant, a small portable AI called Box, although it’s made clear that this is not common technology. Box mainly functions as a plot device and is rather reminiscent of Orac from Blake’s 7, though less obnoxious.

The episode doesn’t get everything right – for some reason Boucher doesn’t name the two most important guest characters, who are billed simply as ‘Commander’ and ‘Controller’, which is an odd touch, and while the special effects (‘Weightlessness by Eugene’s Flying Ballet’ – though, to be fair, the same company had the same gig on 2001) are as good as the BBC could manage on this kind of budget at the time, that’s still not saying a great deal. But the setting is intriguing, Calder is an engaging lead, and you do want to see where they take the series next. For a series which was essentially strangled at birth by the BBC, and marked the end of serious science fiction on British TV (at least, for many years afterwards), this is much more promising than its reputation might suggest.

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That well-known TV face Peter Bowles makes the first of his annual Avengers guest-villain appearances in Martin Woodhouse’s Second Sight, which ultimately turns out to be a bit less weird and interesting than it first appears. An experimental transplant operation is about to take place, with living corneal tissue being harvested from a donor at a Swiss clinic and brought to the UK, where it will be grafted into a blind millionaire named Halvarssen (John Carson). Steed is overseeing the project on behalf of the government, which at least provides him and Cathy with a route into the story, even if one inevitably wonders why this affair falls within the (admittedly vague) remit of Steed’s department.

Various things about the project just don’t add up: why all the rigmarole about transporting the corneas from Switzerland to the UK? Why doesn’t he just go there himself? And, given that these are living corneas, it follows that the donor will be sacrificing their own sight to give Halvarssen the possibility of regaining it (apparently there’s a 30% chance per eye of the transplant taking, though the person saying this turns out to be low moral character and probably should not be trusted). Isn’t there something very ethically dubious going on here?

Well, as you can probably guess, all turns out to be not quite as it first appears, and – as noted – perhaps less interesting. The actual reason for the tissue transport turns out to be the first one you might think of (the plot device involved has turned up in other places since), and the series is back on slightly shaky ground with a trip off to Switzerland for much of the episode (the kind of foreign excursion which was routine in series two but has been much less common this year): rather to Cathy’s annoyance, Steed manages to insert her into the situation in the guise of being some sort of medical and biological expert: something she complains is beyond even her awesome polymathic abilities.

Still, the episode is redeemed by being pacy, with a well-told story for most of its running time (there is perhaps the odd wobble near the end). Some good performances, too: Peter Bowles makes a smooth and plausible main villain, and there’s a well-scripted scene between Steed and Halvarssen, which, amongst other things, sets up another high-quality final ruck, this week featuring a gun battle where one of the participants is blind. Not a truly great episode, but probably above average.

On to The Medicine Men, written by Malcolm Hulke and initially transmitted on the 23rd of November 1963 (I mention this only because most books and articles on vintage TV give the impression that only one programme worth mentioning was shown on this date). Despite the title, this one doesn’t have a doctor in it, but it does concern the pharmaceutical industry, and touches on some reasonably contemporary concerns.

A Chinese woman dies in suspicious circumstances at a Turkish bath in London (what I personally find rather mysterious is why she goes into a steam cabinet wearing such heavy mascara, but that’s by the by). It turns out she was investigating counterfeit medicines being sold in what we would now call the developing world: the packaging and branding of respectable, legitimate companies is being duplicated (or almost duplicated) and the markets flooded with substandard knock-offs. Once again, it initially seems like slightly small potatoes for Steed and Mrs Gale to get involved in, but then again I suppose there is that murder to consider.

Well, it all turns out to involve adulterous shenanigans at the company the episode primarily features, a disreputable ‘action’ painter, Mrs Gale going undercover at the Turkish baths (one carelessly framed shot of Cathy in the shower has Honor Blackman briefly sharing more with the audience than she probably intended), Steed going undercover as an utterly preposterous Icelandic art dealer, complete with fur hat and thick accent, and much more beside. The story does turn out to have some stakes, in a slightly contrived way: the villains’ plan becomes one to create anti-British sentiment in the former colonies by releasing deadly fake medicine in identical packaging to that of British companies. There’s also a lovely moment where Steed finds himself held at gunpoint by a rather over-confident villain. ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t find one with a silencer,’ smirks the bad guy. ‘That’s all right, I could!’ beams Steed. Pop!

‘That hat’s not a patch on your bowler, Steed.’ (Here all week.)

In the end this is another episode which probably gets a bit too unravelled in the final act, but is redeemed by some of the incidental pleasures I’ve outlined above. We’re at the point now where the by-play between Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman is usually enough of a pleasure to make up for whatever weaknesses the rest of the plot may have: the running joke in this one is about them practising their putting and chip shots while discussing the case, and of course the final punchline to the episode is that Cathy’s handicap is half Steed’s, much to his obvious shock. Lots of fun, regardless of the plot.

Next, Rex Edwards (who I believe is a new name to us) contributes The Grandeur That Was Rome, an episode which apparently led to Honor Blackman receiving a fan letter written entirely in Latin – when Patrick Macnee passed it on to his old Latin tutor (but of course…), it proved to be outrageously pornographic, to the point where they couldn’t contemplate actually showing her the translation. The episode itself perhaps doesn’t live up to the quality of this anecdote, but it’s another one you could certainly imagine appearing (perhaps in somewhat modified form) in season four or five.

Strange crop failures and livestock diseases are afflicting Europe (shades of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) which leads Steed to the offices of a leading feedstock company – but who could be attempting to bring about widespread famine and the associated social upheaval? The trail eventually leads them to Sir Bruno Luca (Hugh Burden), a millionaire scientist and businessman with a fixation on ancient Rome and who is, as you might be able to guess, as mad as a muskrat. Luca wants to reinstitute the Roman Empire (with himself as Caesar, naturally), and is looking to do so by causing plagues and funding an autocratic political movement.

Well, any episode which concludes with a togate and gladius-wielding Steed taking on the bad guys obviously has things going for it, even if the technical limitations of the video-taped episodes mean this doesn’t have quite the panache or scope of some of the episodes that will come to follow it in the filmed seasons. Hugh Burden is unafraid to be, ahem, expansive in his performance, but much of the plot is relatively down to earth (it feels like there’s a lot of poking about in the offices of feedstock suppliers). Still, the way this episode eschews entirely a conventional espionage or crime-related story in favour of a lunatic mastermind seeking world conquest does mean it feels very much like a harbinger of the more outrageous episodes of the Emma Peel years, and it’s nice to have just a taste of things to come.

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James Mitchell’s Man with Two Shadows is an episode with a number of elements suggesting he hasn’t quite got the hang of The Avengers house style yet: the hook scene mostly concerns the actor Daniel Moynihan taking his trousers off and putting them back on again. This happens more often than you would have thought possible, given it’s such a short scene. The episode is largely set in a British holiday camp (another element which, to the modern viewer at least, hardly screams glamorous escapism) and the hook sees Moynihan (playing a character named Gordon) in his chalet. He takes his trousers off. He opens his wardrobe – only to find another Gordon in there with a gun, waiting for him! The second Gordon shoots the original and then sets about taking the dead man’s place. Fake Gordon takes his own trousers off. After a moment’s thought, Fake Gordon then puts Original Gordon’s trousers on. Cue the title card. Let’s just say it could all be a bit slicker.

Steed is dragged into proceedings by a meeting with a former double agent named Borowski (Terence Lodge), who has been caught by the Other Side and subjected to odd procedures which have left him with an interesting range of multiple personalities – quite how and why are not gone into, as they are not pertinent to the plot – they’re just there to make Borowski a more interesting character and add some character to what would otherwise be quite a dry pipe-laying scene. Borowski raves on about plans to replace key individuals in the British establishment with identical doubles, suggesting that a scientist and a top spy are amongst the targets.

Clues lead Steed to the holiday camp in question, and he brings Mrs Gale along to back him up (Honor Blackman has a very different hairstyle to her usual one in this story, almost enough to distract one from her various swimsuit scenes). The mangled body of the original Gordon has turned up, so Steed also gets the man’s doctor and dentist to come with him, for a full examination (a spurious reason for this is come up with). But could this all be a trap? It turns out a duplicate Steed is already standing by… The possibility has certainly occurred to Steed’s superiors, one of whom is also taking an interest. If it ever looks like Steed has been replaced, Mrs Gale is to terminate the duplicate.

Not, perhaps, the most original of premises for a story, and one they revisited (rather less plausibly) in the New Avengers episode Faces, in which London’s homeless population apparently contains a double for every single member of the security establishment. This one works a bit harder to seem sensible, stressing the amount of time and effort it takes to create one of the duplicates (Steed’s double complains it’s taken five years of hard work.)

Nevertheless, a solid episode: you can tell the programme-makers are taking advantage of the fact they’re not making the episodes as-live any more, as this one would have been almost impossible to achieve under those limitations. Mrs Gale gets a cracker of a fight scene with one of the henchmen come the climax, tussling away in the camp ballroom as a waltz tinkles away in the background, and it finishes on a great character moment – Steed decides to leave the fake Gordon in place, as he’s a very useful channel for supplying the Other Side with credible misinformation. But what about his fiancee? Shouldn’t she be told? Steed is at his most amoral; Mrs Gale is morally outraged, naturally. As I say, solid stuff.

Up next, The Nutshell is the first of two episodes from the obscure writer Philip Chambers, and it enjoys a very positive reputation, amongst the writers of at least one major Avengers website anyway. It opens with a very striking young woman in a wetsuit engaged upon some sort of covet mission; it’s Edina Ronay, again, getting a bit more to do than in her previous appearance in the series. (Perhaps my head is getting too easily turned by a set of cheekbones and a fringe, but I’m wondering if Ronay wouldn’t have made a terrific Avengers girl herself.)

(I make no apologies…)

Steed, meanwhile, is having tea with Mrs Gale, and revealing he is a believer in the MAD doctrine which shaped a lot of strategy during the Cold War. Let us be charitable and assume this is a sign of Steed’s innate pragmatism and cynicism, rather than outright foolishness. The phone goes, summoning him urgently to a meeting – what’s more startling is that Cathy was warned ahead of him this would be happening, and is under orders to go along as well.

They are off to the Nutshell, a top-secret nuclear bunker (‘the nutshell’ is one of those laborious acronyms you often find in spy-fi stories; this episode is full of them). Here they are placed under the command of top man Disco (John Cater) – this is another acronym – and told that Big Ben – yet another acronym – has been stolen. Big Ben is one of those lists of undercover agents which are always prone to being nicked (see the first Mission: Impossible film and Skyfall) and it has to be retrieved – but who would know about the security at the bunker?

Steed would, it seems: he goes straight off to see Ronay, who is playing Elin Strindberg, a Swedish escapologist and contortionist (excuse me a moment – >sigh<). It looks like Steed himself has orchestrated the break-in and is intent on passing the secret list to somebody from the Other Side. Can he possibly have gone bad?

Well, of course he can’t, it’s Steed, but that doesn’t stop this from being a particularly involving and tense episode (even if Edina Ronay isn’t in it quite enough). For once Steed seems to be operating entirely independently, and Cathy has no idea what he’s up to, and the audience is also kept well and truly in the dark until the closing minutes of the story. Is this, as some have suggested, the single best episode of the videotaped incarnation of The Avengers? Well, I think I’m going to keep my counsel on that for the time being, but it is certainly in the top bracket of the series up until this point.

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The third season of The Avengers begins with the appearance of a name which was notably absent throughout the credits of the second: that of Brian Clemens, undoubtedly the most significant behind-the-camera contributor to the series (not to mention The New Avengers, for which he wrote over half the scripts). Clemens wrote a couple of episodes of the first series (though not, as is sometimes stated, the very first), but this marks the beginning of his regular association with the show, as we will hopefully see.

This adds to the sense the opening episodes of the series give: that The Avengers has suddenly become much slicker, quirkier, and more confident. (I understand some behind-the-scenes changes in terms of how the episodes were actually recorded – no longer quite as-live – may have had something to do with this.) Clemens’ first contribution of the season is Brief for Murder, which is lots of fun even if it doesn’t entirely seem to hold together.

A man is on trial as a noted traitor to his country, but the prosecution is failing, mainly due to a brilliant defence exploiting every legal loophole in the annals of British justice. Key is the prosecution’s failure to produce the man’s alleged contact – the mysterious ‘Johnno’, a well-dressed, well-spoken man-about-town in a position of trust. (Switched-on viewers may be able to anticipate what this is leading up to.)

Well, the man is acquitted, to the chagrin of all right-minded folk, especially Mrs Gale. Steed, however, seems to be great pals with the traitor, who – you guessed it – calls him ‘Johnno’. Mrs Gale expresses her disgust to Steed and goes so far as to suggest Steed himself is a traitor and working for the Other Side. Steed is outraged, and threatens to start proceedings against her.

He ends up going to the same solicitors who handled the treason trial, Jasper and Miles Lakin (played with possibly a bit too much relish by John Laurie and Harold Scott), who are as a corrupt a pair of crooks as you could imagine: in return for a substantial fee, they help would-be criminals to plan and execute whatever nefarious scheme they have in mind, all with an eye to their being able to present an impenetrable defence when and if it comes to court. This suits Steed, who has it in mind to kill Mrs Gale…

Two diabolical masterminds, yesterday.

Yes, it’s all a scheme to get evidence on the crooked solicitors, but well-told. The problem is that it goes on for most of the episode, which leads to a rather busy and possibly slightly confusing final act. There’s also the slight problem that – so far as I can see – we’re never told who the real Johnno is, or why Steed initially came to befriend a traitor and a blackguard. Are there two Johnnos? If not, why are the defence making such a big deal of it? As I say, a fun episode, but probably best to enjoy the details rather than worrying about the plot.

The same is really true of Malcolm Hulke’s The Undertakers, which opens with a very Avengers-y sequence where a bunch of undertakers carrying a coffin arrive at an office, shoot the man working there, and carry him away in said receptacle (possibly it’s a bit Prisoner-y, too). A classic Avengers hook, I would say.

The episode proceeds with Steed looking forward to a tour of the USA, looking after a prominent scientist who is due to have a series of important meetings.  ‘I’ll send you a postcard!’ Steed promises as he takes his leave of Mrs Gale. ‘Remember to put a stamp on it this time,’ is Cathy’s deadpan response. However, Steed doesn’t get his trip, as the man he is due to accompany has apparently gone into retreat, at a very exclusive retirement home, where visitors are not allowed without an invitation. Luckily it turns out that the place is looking for a new assistant manageress…

It all turns out to be something to do with inheritance tax (that old stand-by of escapist action-adventure stories). If nothing else, watching The Undertakers will give you a better understanding of early-60s tax law, always assuming Hulke bothered to do his research properly (I have great respect for the writer so I expect this is the case). Apparently the inheritance tax rate was at something around 80% at this time, which if you are the partner or child of a rich bod is far from ideal. One way of dodging this would be for the money to be handed over prior to death as a gift, with the crucial caveat that the original owner had to continue to breathe for another five years after making this act of generosity. Can you see where this is going?

Yes, all the secluded folk in the retirement home have actually been killed by the undertakers, but the illusion that they are still alive is being preserved so the death duties can be dodged when their passing is eventually announced. I think. Once again, it does all get a little bit confusing, and much of the execution doesn’t quite have the kind of lightness-of-touch one might hope for given this is The Avengers. However, there are some other fun, quirky touches: there’s an early instance of Steed displaying his mastery of brolly-fu when he gets a fight in a room full of coffins, for instance.

Also of interest is the climax, which is a lengthy gunfight in the grounds of the retirement home, with both Steed and Mrs Gale taking on the two main villains. This is shot on location, on film, in broad daylight, and possibly constitutes another first for the series (although filmed sequences become increasingly common and lavish across season two): it feels much more like a season four moment than something from season 2. It provides a big lift to the climax of the episode, which is probably just as well given the nature of much of the plot. Not surprisingly, tax law is not a topic one readily associates with The Avengers.

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So, after my less than entirely satisfying encounter with late-period Enterprise and the serialised storytelling which seemed to define the series at that point, it seemed sensible to check out a much earlier, non-serialised episode and see if this was any more to my taste. (I know I have looked at a couple of first-season episodes in recent weeks, but not with any particular intent beyond just watching the show with my critic’s socks on. Some people have a critic’s hat, I have critic’s socks.) I ended up watching the first ‘normal’ episode to follow the pilot: Fight or Flight, first shown in October 2001 and written by the show’s creators, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.

The episode kicks off with another of those peculiar non-grabby cold opens which are practically part of Enterprise‘s format: Hoshi visits the sickbay to look in on one of the animals genial Dr Phlox is looking after. Then again, part of the premise of the story is that the Enterprise has been out in space for a couple of weeks and nothing worth mentioning has happened, beyond discovering a slightly poorly slug, so it’s a bit difficult to see how else they could have pepped things up a bit.

Various things are used to establish the fact that this is still a ship and crew that is coming together: Phlox still treats the humans as specimens to be observed, there’s an odd squeak under the floor of Archer’s room, the torpedoes won’t shoot straight and T’Pol is a mood hoover in whatever room she happens to enter. Everyone (apart from the Vulcan) is getting frustrated by the lack of activity and is keen to get on with some proper exploring.

They get their chance when they come across an alien cargo ship, apparently derelict in space (the Easter egg in the script is that the aliens eventually turn out to come from Axanar, which later – which is to say, back in the 1960s series – had a medal named after it, not to mention a fan-made Trek movie which ended up causing immense ructions between the Trek rights holders and creative fandom). Despite T’Pol’s declaration that the Vulcan thing to do would be to let well alone and carry on with their original course, Archer goes aboard and insists that Hoshi comes along to translate, despite the fact she gets claustrophobic in an environment suit. The ship seems abandoned, until the boarding party discovers some odd machinery hooked up to the corpses of fifteen or so of the original crew, who have been murdered and strung up from the ceiling…

Fight or Flight does do a good job of establishing that the Trek principles that were in effect throughout the series set in the 2360s and 2370s no longer apply here in the 2150s: Enterprise is one small ship slowly heading out into a largely unknown galaxy, without the immense power of Starfleet and the Federation to back it up. There is much more of a sense of peril, which is most effectively communicated by the fact that Archer’s initial response to finding the dead crew is to pull his people out of there and warp out of the area as fast as possible.

Needless to say, they go back, but run afoul of the aliens who murdered the other ship’s crew, and here the episode’s A-plot and B-plot rather-too-neatly intersect, as you might expect from a Berman and Braga script: Hoshi has been struggling all episode with the realities of exploring the unknown, and has been contemplating asking to be taken home so she can return to a purely academic environment where she is more comfortable. But, needless to say, when the climax arrives, she conquers her self-doubt, develops the ability to speak an alien language practically spontaneously, and saves everyone from the bad guys. I suppose it makes up for the fact that most of her earlier scenes made heavy use of an extended metaphor where she was compared to a sickly mollusc.

It’s not just the pacing which is sluggish. Ha! Ha!

It’s all very glib, pat, and predictable, and it feels like it’s taking up bandwidth that could have been more profitably used to develop more interesting elements of the story: the murderous alien villains seem quite promising, but turn up too late to do more than be generically threatening before they are disposed of, for example. However, for me the really interesting development of the episode is one which barely receives any emphasis at all.

To begin with, Archer and the other human characters are just keen to start exploring and meeting new alien species, which is fair enough: this is the sort of thing which a lot of Trek pays lip service to, although (if we’re going to put on our pedantic socks) only a comparatively tiny number of episodes, across all the series, revolve around genuine exploration. But exploring only goes so far in terms of creating conflict and drama, and so there has to be a little bit more to it than just being menaced by natural phenomena and hostile aliens – it can’t just be scientific observation, there has to be an element of virtuous self-expression to it as well. Starfleet ships don’t just zip around looking at stuff, where possible they get involved and try to do the right thing – you could argue that the whole notion of the Prime Directive is, in dramatic terms, just a device to increase the conflict involved in this kind of situation.

The shift in Archer’s attitude from ‘let’s explore!’ to ‘let’s explore virtuously!’ thus seems to me to be what this episode is really about, but – in what seems to be another key Enterprise trope – rather than handling it through a dramatic scene, with different characters arguing their points of view, and the actors getting a chance to shine, Archer just thinks about it at lot, mostly off-camera, and eventually announces his decision to everyone else. It is in the failure to provide these key moments of character, tension and drama that Enterprise seems to consistently fall down: it seems to treat the resolution of rather hackneyed character arcs, most of them limited to individual episodes, as being of higher importance. Having hit upon a successful formula during the making of TNG – most latter episodes are built around a single character tackling a particular issue in this way – they seem to have been reluctant to abandon it, and it’s this which keeps Fight or Flight from being a more satisfying episode or reaching its full potential as anything more than meat-and-potatoes Trek.

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The issue I’ve previously mentioned in connection with TV in the early 60s – that there seems to be only an extremely limited talent pool available – is once again apparent when we come to Six Hands Across a Table, an episode which doesn’t quite warrant such a florid title. Not only does it feature Philip Madoc in one of the lead roles (Madoc previously turned up as a suspicious foreigner in The Decapod, back at the start of the season), but it is written by Reed de Rouen, who also appeared as a bad guy in The Removal Men.

This is a slightly more routine episode than either of those, though still not really The Avengers-that-we-know-and-love. A consortium of shipping moguls are planning on constructing a revolutionary new vessel, but one of their number is threatening to split with the plan by involving the perfidious French in the project! That’s not the kind of attitude that made Britain great. The removal of their errant associate is the top item on the board’s agenda…

The new ship is such a prestige project that Steed is keeping an eye on things and liaising with his French ‘opposite number’ (the mind boggles at what the French equivalent of Steed might be like), and he does not share the insular and Francophobic attitudes of the conspirators. What complicates matters, and makes this rather more character-driven than almost any other Avengers episode you might care to mention (well, there’s that New Avengers episode where Purdey falls for Martin Shaw…), is that one of the leaders of the plot is the father of an old friend of Mrs Gale’s (it looks like he must have been about fourteen when he became a dad), and he and Cathy have recently developed a bit of a thing…

Most of the rest of it concerns boardroom arguments, tricky business with stocks and shares, union troubles, suspicious accidents at shipyards, and people complaining about the decline of British industry: only the prospect of Mrs Gale in love makes it especially memorable. Steed seems to be actively trying to wind her up about it, as usual: only at the end, when the story is resolved and she seems genuinely upset, does he come close to actually showing any sympathy. Being Steed, this takes the form of his asking if she fancies giving him a lift, but such is the extent to which the relationship between Steed and Mrs Gale has been established that it does speak volumes. That bit’s good, Philip Madoc is always very watchable; the rest, not so much.

Season two concludes with John Lucarotti’s Killer Whale. In the course of a prolific career, Lucarotti is perhaps best remembered as the writer of a series of historically-set science fiction stories produced by the BBC in the early to mid 1960s; this is a much more… well, I was going to say realistic story, but as it concerns the intersection of boxing and the smuggling of rare whale products, perhaps that’s overstating the facts. It’s perhaps not quite as odd as  – to choose a vaguely similar example – that Babylon 5 episode which mingles bareknuckle boxing with Jewish funerary traditions, but it’s not that far off.

While round at Mrs Gale’s place ravaging the drinks cabinet, Steed meets Joey (Kenneth Farrington), the star pupil at her judo class down the local youth club (how does she find the time…?). (Farrington is visibly in his mid-to-late 20s, which might one to wonder what kind of ‘youth’ club this is, but it was the sixties, people aged more quickly, I suppose.) Apparently Joey is a handy boxer, too, but doesn’t have the cash to try going pro (again, just how old is he supposed to be…?). Steed offers to bankroll and manage him, until Cathy smartly steps in, recognising when Steed is up to something: he may provide the money, but she will do the actual managing.

Her instincts are quite right, as it turns out Steed’s apparent act of generosity is just a pretext to justify his hanging around at the boxing club of one Pancho Driver (Patrick Magee). Steed is on the trail of people smuggling ambergris (a whale extract used in the production of perfume) and is pretty sure the gym is a front, but his investigations so far have turned nothing up. Hence his scheme with Joey.

The details of what follows are not especially memorable, given the care with which the premise is estabished: adding Joey to the mix shakes up the usual dynamic slightly (he is almost a proto-Gambit, able to pull his weight in the fight scenes), and Magee is as effective a presence as usual. But it is, as usual, slightly mechanical, studio-bound stuff, with uninspired plotting, people turning up dead just in time for the ad breaks, and not fantastically well-staged fight scenes. I find myself a little reminded of The Decapod, again, even though that was about wrestling rather than boxing – although that particular episode was just so weird it was sort of memorable in a way this mostly isn’t.

Anyway, we thus come to the end of a season which is, any way you look at it, a mixed bag. One is inevitably reminded that TV drama 57 years ago was almost unrecognisably different – filmed as-live and studio-bound, this seems to have acted as a spur to the creativity of the programme-makers rather than a limitation. No TV drama nowadays would contemplate doing a story set in Jamaica, Peru and Chile, and make it entirely in the studio; likewise, no TV show these days would respond to losing its lead actor the way The Avengers did: promote the second lead and then introduce a rotating cast of new partners for him. The experiment is ultimately a successful one, given it allowed them to see that Mrs Gale’s character worked best and drop Venus Smith and Dr King (although I understand that King was only intended as a stopgap for use in scripts written for season one’s Dr Keel). I expect that season three will prove rather more consistent and see a gradual shift towards the ‘classic Avengers style’ I keep going on about. We shall see.

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Deep in The Avengers‘ second season we come across Man in the Mirror by Geoffrey Orme and Anthony Terpiloff, such a thin piece of work that it does seem to suggest a production team struggling to keep things together. Most of it isn’t that bad, I suppose, it’s just very slow and obvious.

After an opening which features a man being found dead at a funfair, there’s an extended sequence of Steed turning up to a briefing and chatting with various colleagues: which would be an interesting insight into the way his department operates, were it not for the suspicion that it’s really just filler. On this occasion he’s working for the first time with yet another superior, One-Six (Arthur Gover): Steed’s new boss is a stickler for procedure and is clearly not much taken with Steed’s more swashbuckling style, suggesting that a protracted stint of office work may be good for Steed’s attitude. The particular assignment is to investigate the recent apparent suicide of a man called Trevelyan, an expert in cryptography – if it really was a suicide, the department can relax and not worry about having to change all its codes. If not…

Venus takes Steed’s dog for a walk to the funfair where Trevelyan was found dead at the top of the episode and enjoys herself with the camera Steed has lent her (apparently he wants some pictures of the location where the body was found and has sent her here deliberately, which is just as well or this episode would be based on a completely preposterous coincidence). However, when the photos of the hall of mirrors are developed, one of them shows a man’s reflection – it seems to be Trevelyan! Could he still be alive?

You can probably work out the rest of this one for yourself, although your version may end up with more twists and a slightly more cohesive and rewarding climax than the episode they ended up making. Pretty mundane, ambling stuff, and the apparently obligatory musical interludes where Venus does a couple of numbers don’t really help much (she started off as some sort of jazz singer, but in this one she’s singing the folk song I Know Where I’m Going from the Powell and Pressburger film of the same name). Undistinguished and unmemorable.

Much the same is true of Conspiracy of Silence, from the typewriter of Roger Marshall, which is part of that subset of Avengers episodes concerned with circuses and killer clowns. (Possibly I am overestimating the frequency of this particular trope.) This is, as you might expect from a second season episode, towards the naturalistic end of the spectrum, and concerns an Italian circus performer, long established in England, finding himself unwillingly activated as an agent of the Mafia. Suffice to say that if he wasn’t before, he is now the crying-on-the-inside kind of clown. Quite why the Mafia have singled out the clown as their hitman of choice is not clear, as he seems both temperamentally and physically unsuited for the role. However, we shouldn’t be too upset as his assigned target is none other than Steed, who has been making a nuisance of himself breaking up the Mafia’s drug pushing activities.

The clown turns out to be about as much use as a contract killer as you might expect, missing Steed at short range while our hero is out walking his dog (Sheba not Freckles on this occasion). Even worse, he drops not only his gun, but his briefcase, which contains various helpful clues as to his identity. (What kind of a hitman, or indeed a circus clown, carries a briefcase around with them?) Steed wastes no time in inserting Mrs Gale into the circus in order to discover what’s really going on.

A little trouble in a big top.

The premise of the episode, not to mention the opening section, is so dubious that it really struggles to recover; there are some interesting characters, but also a few duds, and much of it is played as a melodrama (for example, many of the scenes between the clown and his wife). There is some interesting tension in the Steed-Gale relationship (a bit more than usual), but other than the circus setting there is little to elevate the episode or make it especially memorable.

The last of the Venus Smith episodes heaves into view in the form of A Chorus of Frogs, which is supposedly the best of the bunch. I can see how you might think this, but on the other hand it is one of those ‘exotic’ episodes which I don’t think the series ever handles especially well. A part-time agent (basically, a mercenary) turns up dead in the Med, apparently of the bends, having seemingly been dumped from the yacht of millionaire Archipelago Mason (Eric Pohlman). Steed, who is on holiday in the area and sporting what Mel and Sue used to call le fashion nautique, meets up with One-Six who packs him off to investigate what Mason is up to: the complication being that the dead man was part of a tight-knit crew of divers known as the Frogs, who are intent on doing a spot of avenging of their own…

This is by no means the worst studio-bound Avengers episode set largely on a boat, but the bar in this area is set particularly low. It’s okay, I suppose: the tension between Steed’s activities, those of the Frogs, and those of Mason and his backers from the Other Side, creates an interesting dynamic even if the actual revelation of what’s going on is relatively pedestrian (tests on a new type of bathyscape which could revolutionise the production of midget submarines). Much of the fun of the episode comes from Steed having to stow away on Mason’s yacht, which requires him to hide out in Venus’ cabin, much to her chagrin (once again we have to accept the apparently monumental coincidence that she just happens to be singing in the vicinity of where Steed has an assignment in progress): she and Steed even butt heads in a very mild way, although her general uselessness as a sidekick is still much in evidence, as are the musical numbers (Julie Stevens sings straight to the camera some of the time, which is a bit jarring). One other odd quirk stems from the fact that there were apparently only about twelve people involved in making British TV in 1963: Frank Gatliff, who was in an earlier episode of season 2, reappears here as a different character. All in all this is a reasonably good episode; the best of an indifferent bunch.

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Some friends and I were having a discussion just the other night about the virtues (or not) and place (if any) of serialised storytelling in Star Trek. I say friends, but most of these people I’ve only met (and by met I mean ‘have begun to talk to via internet audio messaging’, as we live in four different countries) recently and all we have in common, I suspect, is a shared interest in Star Trek and games related to it. Things therefore got a bit fraught when I suggested I’m not necessarily a fan of ongoing storylines; our DS9 fan strongly argued that this was the best of the Berman-era series, which inevitably rolled on into a somewhat heated debate about whether Voyager is, in fact, any good at all, and so on. I nearly had to step in and calm everyone down.

The odd thing is that while I’m not at all a fan of Discovery (or Picard, much), and these are shows which are largely defined by their serial nature, I do like Deep Space Nine a lot, mainly because it does have that big, overarching storyline running for most of its seven seasons. Am I just having another one of my little interludes of total inconsistency? I would like to think not. I think this is really a case of plot as opposed to meta-plot; in DS9, the meta-plot about the Dominion threat to the Alpha Quadrant powers is there from the middle of the second season, motoring along in the background, but most of the episodes are standalones without particular continuing threads. In the newer shows, pretty much everything runs from one episode to the next.

As it happens I was thinking about this just the other day, when I watched a couple more episodes of Enterprise. Why am I watching so much Enterprise late at night at the moment? Well, to be honest, under lockdown, I find myself watching reruns of the original series and TNG two or even three times a day on regular TV, while a run of Voyager recently concluded and my sense is that DS9 really demands a complete rewatch if you want to fully appreciate it it. Plus it seems that Enterprise still has a bit of a bad rep – our Voyager fan has never even watched it – and I can’t resist an underdog.

The episodes I watched were Affliction and Divergence, from quite near the end of the show’s run. The story starts with the Enterprise returning to Earth for the launch of her sister ship, the Columbia, to which chief engineer Trip will be transferring for personal reasons. However, trouble is afoot, taking the form of genial Dr Phlox being kidnapped by persons unknown.

Well, naturally, Captain Archer won’t take this sort of thing lying down, and sets off in pursuit of the abductors (that old reliable Trek plot device, the Vulcan mind meld, gives them a clue as to the species responsible), but things are complicated by the fact that tactical officer Reed seems to have an agenda of his own. His initial reports that the Orion Syndicate may have been responsible starts to look very suspect when the ship is attacked by a Klingon vessel – although the Klingon boarding party is a decidedly odd one, the warriors in question lacking their bumpy heads and looking like nothing so much as members of a post-grunge rock band under a lot of fake tan…

Phlox, meanwhile, has found himself in a Klingon medical research facility (Klingon ideas about medical ethics are quite as alarming as you might expect) and discovered the truth: a plague is sweeping the Klingon Empire and he has been ‘recruited’ to find a cure. What the Klingons don’t initially come clean about is that the virus is one derived from human attempts at genetic augmentation (the same ones that produced Khan, he of wrath fame, back in the 20th century) – but rather than genetically enhanced super-warriors, the result is a new breed of human-looking Klingons who quickly expire, although not before infecting those around them.

Naturally, the Klingons aren’t keen on telling anyone about their little mistake, hence the attack on Enterprise, which was mainly to sabotage the main reactor – it soon becomes apparent that unless the ship maintains a velocity of at least warp five, it’s going to explode, which is a bit of an issue given that’s barely below its emergency maximum speed…

I have to say that I find myself very ambivalent when it comes to this particular story, even at a conceptual level. The origins of the whole thing surely lie in the thirtieth anniversary episode of DS9, where there is a very droll gag about the difference between the original series Klingon make-up and the more elaborate prosthetics used ever since the movies got going (‘It is not something we talk about,’ declares Worf, deadpan). Prior to this, explanations for the difference had ranged from there being different subspecies of Klingons (bumpy-headed ‘pure’ Imperial Klingons and human-Klingon ‘fusions’) to there being no actual in-universe difference, just a presentational one. The motive behind Affliction and Divergence is basically to continuity-cop the difference in Klingon appearance away.

What it all really boils down to.

And part of me, the tiny hard-core Trekkie part, really likes and responds to this particular impulse. The fact that Discovery (and, to a lesser extent, Picard) break so profoundly with established continuity is not the main reason for my dislike of them, but it is certainly a factor. But on the other hand, there is also something slightly mad about devoting eighty or ninety minutes of your TV show to resolving continuity inconsistencies that have developed over the course of a nearly-forty-year franchise: this is not a question your average viewer would have been burning to discover the answer to. In the past I have been deeply critical of long-running series and franchises that became overly-obsessed with their own lore and continuity.

(Perhaps if Enterprise hadn’t been canned and the original series-style Klingons had made more appearances, and the ramifications of the ‘human’ virus had been explored further, the episode wouldn’t feel quite so niche. But this turned out to be the last major piece of Klingon-focused Trek of its era.)

Perhaps part of the problem is that the episodes just feel like a piece of continuity-copping: it doesn’t feel like there’s any other compelling reason for the decision to tell this story. The big high-concept set piece – Star Trek does Speed! – comes midway through the story; the conclusion is a very generic late Berman-era space battle (the kind where people stand around on the bridge shouting out percentages as CGI starships zap away at each other inconclusively) while Phlox tersely issues medical technobabble.

Most of the rest of it feels almost entirely procedural, and here we come to the issue of the serialised storytelling: this episode refers back to many previous ones, including such elements as Archer’s recent experiences carrying the soul of legendary Vulcan Surak, Trip and T’Pol’s personal relationship, Reed’s relationship with the enigmatic Section 31, xenophobia on Earth, and so on. All this is probably more acceptable if you’ve been following along with the series to this point, but it makes for a much less satisfying experience watching the episodes in isolation.

Perhaps I’m doing the final series of Enterprise a disservice, and the episodes aren’t intended to be watched this way – the fact the season is almost entirely composed of two- and three-part stories is probably a clue to this end – and I know that these particular episodes are well-liked, by the cast and crew at least. But I have to say that for all that I appreciate the impulse responsible for them, I enjoyed them rather less than the best episodes of the first couple of seasons. Perhaps in the end this, like DS9, is a show you really need to watch from start to finish to be able to properly appraise.

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I know I have complained about the slight level of confusion that seems to pertain when it comes to the running order of the second season epsiodes of The Avengers, but I suppose this is somewhat understandable given the episodes were transmittedly well out of their production sequence: Warlock was only the fifth episode to be produced, but ended up being held back until late into the season, next to The Golden Eggs, which was broadcast less than a week after it was completed. This wouldn’t ordinarily be noticeable but for a very peculiar quirk of casting: Peter Arne plays the villain in both episodes (they are different characters). Arne is issued with glasses and a false moustache for Golden Eggs, and gives a very different performance, but even so. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen nowadays.

Other parts of the episode remain dismayingly topical. The house of an eminent research biologist is burglarised, but he insists nothing was taken. Steed is not so sure and sends Mrs Gale in to investigate, undercover as a reporter. It soon becomes apparent the scientist is covering something up. Meanwhile, the thief who carried out the robbery, on the orders of ruthless dealer-in-secrets Julius Redfern (Arne), is really not feeling at all well…

It turns up the thief has whipped a couple of golden eggs which were being used to culture a deadly new virus, Verity Prime, which causes respiratory failure in its victims. Needless to say it is up to Steed and Cathy to recover the eggs before something catastrophic happens. (Well, maybe: no internet or DVDs in 1963, when this episode was transmitted, which would have made lockdown an absolute ordeal, but on the other hand Alexander Boris Johnson was still years away from being born, so the government response to a lethal virus outbreak would probably have been more capable and perhaps its members even inclined to respect their own rules.)

Quite heavy stuff in places, or so it seems at the moment. The episode nevertheless isn’t afraid to play certain scenes with a light touch: after the hook scene, it opens with the suggestive image of Steed and Mrs Gale having breakfast together – it turns out her flat is being refurbished (again?) and Steed has agreed to put her up in return for her cooking for him. Later on there’s a scene where she is trying to glue a vase back together while some exposition goes back and forth, and of course the inevitable happens. Arne’s performance is also remarkably arch given the seriousness of the plot.

In the end, this is another solid but slightly atypical episode, a bit more Cathy-centric than usual (Steed is almost completely absent during the climax, vaguely suggesting he was somewhere in the area when Mrs Gale brings this up with him), and with a hard edge to it in places (three characters are killed and their bodies destroyed with thermite to stop the virus spreading). Not bad at all.

Venus Smith comes back for School for Traitors, in which Steed once again displays prophetic powers by inserting her into the locale of his next mission before he’s actually been assigned it (on this occasion his handler is One-Seven – I can only assume Douglas Muir, who plays One-Ten, was busy that week). A student at one of the great old universities of England (Oxford, Cambridge, Hull) commits suicide under slightly suspicious circumstances, especially when there were previously reports that the young man was being blackmailed. Have agents of the Other Side managed to infiltrate the British higher education system?

Well, of course they have, although as this episode aired only a couple of weeks after Kim Philby, one of the notorious Cambridge spies, fled to the Soviet Union, it’s not the most far-fetched of premises. To be honest, the whole episode is rather down-to-earth, maybe even mundane: the various bright young chaps of the university are suborned not through anything especially scandalous but by being persuaded to forge a signature on a cheque. Chief honeytrap is Melissa Stribling, a few years on from Dracula; her partner in crime is Reginald Marsh, who will probably be best remembered as playing Sir Dennis in many episodes of Terry and June. Various people get bumped off but the only memorable bit comes when Venus is sent some caustic face-cream and Steed sticks her head down the sink before she can explain she hasn’t used the stuff. Decent performances, though, I suppose. Venus Smith is obviously no-one’s idea of a classic Avengers girl, but I must confess I find Julie Stevens’ portrayal of her to be rather endearing, even if the musical numbers still drag somewhat.

Malcolm Hulke returns for the next episode, writing alone, and the result is The White Dwarf, another early episode with distinct science fiction overtones – handled quite seriously, too. A distinguished astronomer is murdered while observing the movements of a star – this is the white dwarf of the title (the episode handles the astronomy quite decently). Steed fills Mrs Gale in on the background, which is more momentous than usual: the astronomer had predicted that the small, intensely heavy star would enter the solar system and collide with the sun, dragging the Earth with it. The question is when and if the news should be annnounced to the public and other governments (Britain is the only country aware of the possibility). It must be said that Cathy and Steed are both very matter-of-fact and unmoved by the possibility of impending armageddon, and seem quite happy to press on with investigating the scientist’s murder. (It’s tempting to draw parallels with the BBC’s enjoyably daft 2018 cop show Hard Sun, which had a vaguely similar premise.)

Mrs Gale is packed off to the observatory, where the death has been hushed up to avoid revealing the truth about the dwarf star, and finds the usual mixed bag of suspects, while Steed sticks around in London and works on figuring out who would stand to benefit from a delay in determining whether or not the world is doomed. (It turns out that Steed is so laid back because he’s quietly sure the world will not end, on the grounds that there is no precedent for this happening. Very uncharacteristic woolly thinking, I would say, and at least Mrs Gale does take him to task for his spurious logic.) His investigations eventually lead him to a bunch of tycoons aiming to take advantage of the disturbance in the global stock market that will ensue if the news of impending doom is announced and then rowed back upon…

Again, one is impressed by the composure involved in coming up with such a scheme when everyone (apart from Steed) seems to think there is at least an equal chance that the theory of the approaching death star is correct, but so it goes. You could argue that the episode is built on a slightly flawed premise – there is no tension involved in the question of whether or not the world is ending, because we the viewers know it won’t – but it’s still another episode with a unique flavour to it. Hulke’s left-wing politics are on display in the choice of villains, obviously, but he’s by no means the only writer to have bad guys solely motivated by greed. This one scores points for originality, for well-drawn characters, and for a climax which is – rather unusually – shot on film, on location (though, again, Steed seems a bit out of character as he turns up packing a handgun). Nevertheless, another step towards The-Avengers-as-we-know-and-love-it.

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Box of Tricks is written by Edward Rhodes and Peter Ling – Ling is possibly best-remembered for co-creating the, erm, well-remembered soap opera Crossroads, but don’t let that put you off. Well, not entirely. This is another Venus Smith episode, although since her last appearance she has had a pixie cut and possibly acquired some sort of recreational drug habit, to judge from the way her personality has changed: perky and effervescent don’t begin to cover it.

The episode opens with a magician’s assistant turning up murdered in mid-act (a tired variation on the old ‘vanishing woman’ gag, and the fact the script repeats it before the first ad break doesn’t help), which is bad news for the nightclub where the deed takes place. Luckily, they get Venus in as a replacement act (it seems that Steed has been acting as her agent and wangled this, although the line explaining why has either got lost or isn’t given enough emphasis). Steed’s current assignment is to work undercover in the house of a distinguished elderly general as his masseur, from where it has been established there is a security leak of some kind.

For quite a long time there seem to be two plots running in parallel, in the nightclub and the general’s house, and the connective tissue turns out to be a Dr Gallam (Edgar Wreford), a plausible-seeming faith healer. Gallam’s particular schtick is to insist his subjects carry around a sealed box containing curative substances, the revelation of which marks the point at which any half-awake viewer can figure out what’s really going on in this episode. Not especially distinguished, but watchable – one is inevitably curious about what the original version of the story would have been like, as it was intended to include Steed, Venus, and Cathy acting as a troika. As it is, you can see why Steed tends to work with more capable partners than Venus, who is rubbish in a fight: he has to take on all the villains himself, and while he approaches this in his usual nonchalant style – at one point lighting a fag in mid-scrap – he ends up having to rely on a guest character to help him win the day.

Doreen Montgomery’s Warlock is a definite outlier as episodes of The Avengers go, pushing the series into areas you really don’t associate it with, but in a way this does add to its odd appeal. It also has a certain significance for being the episode originally intended to introduce Cathy Gale to the series, although it was eventually pushed back to much later in the running order and most of the duo’s scenes together refilmed – although not quite all of them, resulting in various odd little moments like Cathy calling him ‘Mr Steed’ at one point, which really does feel not quite right.

Given the title, it’s not entirely surprising that the episode opens at some kind of witches’ sabbat, although these seem to be syncretists rather than Satanists considering that their ritual includes voodoo drumming, hermetic symbols on the floor, and traditional Chinese iconography on the wall (given the famously primitive conditions under which these episodes were made, the hermetic symbols may just be the marks showing the actors where to stand so they’re in shot). The focus of their attention is a photo of a distinguished-looking older man.

It turns out this chap is a top missile boffin, whom Steed is supposed to be taking to an important meeting – but when when Steed turns up to collect him, he’s still in bed, seemingly frozen stiff and eyes frantically boggling. The doctor suggests there’s nothing actually wrong with him beyond some kind of psychological shock, and an odd plant found in the man’s hand, together with his extensive library of occult tomes, leads Steed to wonder if there isn’t some sort of occult connection.

Mrs Gale, of course, is an expert on the occult (add that to her lengthy list of areas of expertise) and Steed tracks her down to the Natural History Museum, where she’s helping out with the fossil collection (palaeontology, too) where she gives her opinion as forthrightly as ever: black magic really can have an influence over people who believe in it. One-Ten eventually meets up with Steed and reminds him of another important government scientist with an interest in the occult, who died in mysterious circumstances a few years earlier.

Our heroes’ investigations lead them to the occult bookshop of the resplendently-monickered Dr Cosmo Gallion (Peter Arne), whom we the viewers already know is the warlock leading the witch cult from the top of the episode. Gallion has hit upon a scheme to bolster his income from the bookshop by luring important government scientists into joining his coven, putting the ‘fluence on them, and then making them give their secrets away to the Other Side (what the supposedly materialistic leaders of the Other Side will make of their agents employing a magician is something the episode leaves to the imagination). Can Steed and Mrs Gale put a stop to Gallion’s rather bizarre scheme?

Peter Arne in the first of two back-to-back villainous appearances.

As I say, a definite outlier for the series, not least because it includes elements more normally associated with fantasy and horror. Never mind what Mrs Gale says about black magic ultimately being only a subjective, psychosomatic phenomenon, there are scenes here where Gallion uses his powers to great effect against people who clearly don’t believe in the supernatural – so the episode seems to be suggesting that magic is real, in Steed’s world at least! It’s fascinating to speculate how the series could have developed differently had the writers decided to follow up on this notion, rather than going with the more science-fictional elements that eventually became commonplace in the show.

All interesting stuff, and the episode opens strongly, but the episode unravels before the ending and the pacing is a bit iffy in places. Montgomery also seems to be struggling to quite get a handle on Steed’s character – he actually gets drunk at one point, which seems very out of character, and spends most of the next scene trying to get Cathy to go back to his place with him. I suppose it’s understandable, given Warlock was written when the character was still being developed, but given these scenes were mostly reshot, it’s a shame they couldn’t have been tweaked a bit too. Nevertheless, an episode with more than enough originality to make it very watchable.

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