“Mr Teddy Bear,” the first episode to air in Season 2, and the first to feature Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, is full of references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve published several of these on my tumblr page already, but by request I’m aggregating them here and adding some I’ve found since.
Holmes texts are from Doyle’s original; images (when available) are from the Granada series with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.
The Norwood Builder
“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” begins with Holmes lamenting that there are no more great crimes or great criminals to investigate. He’s bored, and he wants a good problem to solve. Then Mr MacFarlane arrives with a tale of woe: he’s about to be charged with murder, and wants Holmes to help him clear his name. Holmes jumps at this like a trout to a fly, and has a hard time concealing his delight.
“Arrest you!” said Holmes. “This is really most grati— most interesting. On what charge do you expect to be arrested?“
“Upon the charge of murdering Mr. Jonas Oldacre, of Lower Norwood.”
My companion’s expressive face showed a sympathy which was not, I am afraid, entirely unmixed with satisfaction.
Steed: The viewers got good value last night.
Pathologist: Better value than you think. He was murdered.
Steed: You’ve made my day.
In “Mr Teddy Bear,” Steed says “You’ve made my day” in response to the pathologist’s statement that the victim was murdered. But Steed has a much kinder heart than Holmes does. Holmes really is happy that he has a murder to investigate, whereas while Steed enjoys a good challenge, the cheer drains out of him when he learns the victim did not die a natural death. Matching wits with the bad guys might be fun, but murder itself isn’t a laughing matter. He’d really rather that folks didn’t go and get themselves murdered at all.
The Blanched Soldier
Like Holmes, Steed has a gift for close observation and deduction. Sometimes he is able to surprise others with it. In “Teddy Bear,” he does so with One-Ten by showing that he already knows who the suspect is.
One-Ten: Biggish overheads.
Steed: Not really, not for him.
One-Ten: Him? What do you mean, “him”? Are you running to clairvoyance these days, Steed?
Steed: No more than you. I see you’ve got his file out already.
This kind of thing happens frequently throughout the Holmes canon, but the one place where the dialogue is most similar is in a late and less well-known story titled “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier,” which was published in 1926:
“Mr Holmes, you are a wizard…. You see everything.”
“I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see.”
The Blue Carbuncle
Later in the episode, Steed questions a motorcyclist who appears to be working for Teddy Bear, and who was following Mrs Gale as she rode out to meet with Teddy Bear the evening before. A portion of dialogue in “Teddy Bear” echoes that in Doyle’s Holmes story “The Blue Carbuncle.”
The Solitary Cyclist
After her meeting with Teddy Bear, Cathy steals a cigarette box, thinking that it might have fingerprints on it that they can use. Steed is unimpressed.
Steed: What it comes to is this, then. You saw no one, he probably wasn’t even in the same building. He spoke to you through a teddy bear doll; he inspected you through a closed-circuit television link. It wasn’t his true voice—it presumably was being fed through a rack of stuff like that. And you brought back with you a cigarette case which may or may not have prints on it, which in turn may or may not be his.
Cathy: You, of course, would have done a good deal better.
This exchange echoes one between Watson and Holmes in “The Solitary Cyclist.” Like Cathy, Watson has been sent to try to get information on the man who has been following their client. Watson comes back with some information, but Holmes finds it useless.
“Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to the scullery-maid. Williamson! It conveys nothing to my mind. If he is an elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints away from that athletic young lady’s pursuit. What have we gained by your expedition? The knowledge that the girl’s story is true. I never doubted it. That there is a connection between the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubted that either. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson. Who’s the better for that?”
The Final Problem
References to this story are diffused throughout “Teddy Bear.” The things that seem to hearken back to Doyle’s story are:
- Steed’s appreciation for Teddy Bear’s ingenuity and success
- Teddy Bear’s penchant for working from the shadows and masterminding killings without being directly involved in them himself
- That the conflict between Steed and Teddy Bear takes on a personal cast
- Teddy Bear’s attempted murder of Steed
With one exception, all of these references seem to be aligning Teddy Bear with Professor Moriarty and Steed with Holmes.
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“He is the Napoleon of crime”
Holmes describes Moriarty as
“the Napoleon of crime…. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order.”
Like Holmes, Steed relishes the opportunity to go after a worthy opponent. While he will do everything he possibly can to catch and stop Teddy Bear, Steed still has a deep appreciation for Teddy Bear’s skill and ingenuity. First, he describes to One-Ten how Teddy Bear booby-trapped a German officer’s cigarette lighter during the war:
“He had an American hand grenade made into a table lighter. He picked it up one evening to light a cigar, and found someone had turned it back into a grenade again.”
Later, he tells Cathy about how Teddy Bear killed a client who refused to pay, and then disposed of the body in a spectacular and public fashion:
“They dropped his body by helicopter right onto the exhibition square at the trade festival in Zagreb. It made a nasty splash….”
When Steed examines the mechanism by which Teddy Bear claims the first victim of the episode, he is gratified to have someone of that caliber to match wits with:
And when he argues with One-Ten about whether he should stay on the case, Steed is honest about the affinity he sees between himself and Teddy Bear:
These two scenes echo Holmes’ sentiments about Moriarty in “The Final Problem“:
“I was forced to confess that at last I had met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill.”
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“like a spider in the center of its web”
For each murder he carries out, Teddy Bear sets up some kind of booby trap that kills his victim: an electrified microphone; a cigarette lighter turned grenade; a set of clockwork pills filled with cyanide. All of these are engineered so that Teddy Bear need not be at the scene when the murder happens, and he maintains an aura of mystery around himself such that his true identity cannot be discerned. Thus it is that he continually escapes capture.
Moriarty does business in a similar fashion, working from behind the scenes using agents in his employ and setting things up in such a way that the origin of the scheme cannot be traced to him:
“A duel between you and me”
Not all the references identify Steed with Holmes, however. At one point, Steed suggests that the situation with Teddy Bear has become a personal conflict between them:
The parallel statement in “The Final Problem” is made by the villain, Moriarty.
Steed’s “him or me” statement follows close on the heels of his admission that he knows exactly how Teddy Bear feels. Holmes and Moriarty also feel a kind of collegial respect for one another, so the temporary connection of Steed and Moriarty is not misplaced.
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“You have already been assaulted?”
In “The Final Problem,” Moriarty’s agents make three attempts on Holmes’ life in quick succession:
Steed only has to contend with one attempt from Teddy Bear—poison smeared on his telephone receiver. Steed administers the antidote just in time, but Teddy Bear comes much closer to killing Steed than Moriarty does to dispatching Holmes.
The Empty House
When Holmes returns from the Great Hiatus (his three years’ absence after defeating Moriarty at Reichenbach, in which battle Holmes was assumed to have perished), he shocks Watson badly when he takes off his old bookseller’s disguise and reveals himself to be Sherlock Holmes, very much alive and kicking.
Steed does something similar to Cathy in “Teddy Bear.” Cathy thinks he is dead because Teddy Bear has sent her a picture of what they both think is Steed’s dead body. Cathy is looking at this picture and trying to process what it means that her best friend is dead when Steed sneaks into her flat and steals up behind her.
The Final Problem, Again? Or A Study in Scarlet?
Both “Mr Teddy Bear” and “The Final Problem” end with the death of the villain. But in some ways, Teddy Bear’s demise is more reminiscent of events from Doyle’s novella “A Study in Scarlet” than it is of the death of Moriarty at Reichenbach.
In Act III, Teddy Bear captures Mrs Gale and tries to get her to take a pill which he assures her is a sleeping aid that will merely knock her out. Cathy nearly takes one. But eventually it becomes clear that Teddy Bear will not escape. Cathy tells him that if he doesn’t want to experience being carted off to jail maybe he should take one of the pills and knock himself out. Teddy Bear takes one, but the pills are deadly poison, and he dies moments after a final exchange with Steed and Cathy.
In Doyle’s novella, the use of pills that could either be deadly poison or completely benign figures largely. The murderer, Jefferson Hope, uses the pills in his conflict with Enoch Drebber. He captures Drebber, and tells him he must take one of the pills while he takes the other, as a means of testing who is in the right. Drebber gets the one with the poison, and dies.
Hope, however, is not long for this world himself. He is captured by Holmes and Inspector LeStrade. He is able to tell his whole story before being carted off to jail, but he suffers from an aortic aneurysm: basically he carries a ticking time bomb in his chest. Hope is never brought to justice, because he collapses and dies in his jail cell during his first night there.
An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes and John Steed
While Steed and Holmes have a good deal in common—intelligence, courage, tenacity, skill—the only Avengers episode to make so many explicit connections between the television series and the Sherlock Holmes canon is “Mr Teddy Bear.” Perhaps that’s for the best: Steed, like Holmes, is very much his own man. It might be fun to make comparisons between these two characters, but in the end they each inhabit their own worlds. And that’s as it should be.