Two episodes—”The Hour That Never Was” from Season 4 and “Get-Away” from Season 6—feature Steed reminiscing about his past in the presence of his partner, and introducing her (or attempting to do so) to very old and dear friends of his. Beyond this superficial resemblance, the way this works is very different in each episode, and each says a great deal about Steed’s partner (Emma Peel in “Hour” and Tara King in “Get-Away”), her relationship to him, and her relationship to his past.
A note: Some of the ideas about Steed, Mrs Peel, and time presented here—especially the idea of Mrs Peel as Steed’s anchor in time and connection to the present, and the function of Steed’s past in “Hour”—are from blogs by a fellow tumblr (celluloidbroomcloset), which you can read here and here. I also discuss Mrs Peel’s function as anchor to reality for Steed here.
Mrs Peel and “Hour That Never Was”
In this episode, Steed is bringing Mrs Peel along to a reunion of his old unit at an RAF base. When Steed crashes the car trying to avoid a small dog that darts out into the road, they need to walk to the camp. All along the way, Steed regales Mrs Peel with tales about the war and his days at the camp. Mrs Peel listens politely, but she seems a little distant. It’s not clear whether she really wants to be there or not.
They arrive at the camp only to find that everyone seems to have disappeared. For the remainder of Act I, they wander around, trying to find out what happened. They go into the bar where it looks like the party already had been started, but there’s noone there. They go into the quarters of one of Steed’s friends, but he’s missing, too.
In “Hour That Never Was,” Steed is actively working to involve Mrs Peel in aspects of his past. He does this by telling her stories, by explaining to her the meaning of various things they encounter, like a hole in the fence around the base—still unrepaired twenty years later—that let Steed and his buddies sneak in and out of camp to go drinking. He doesn’t want Mrs Peel to miss anything: he wants her to understand how this part of his past worked, and how he fit into what was going on there, and when she disappears, when she is removed from the ability to participate in Steed’s past, Steed comes unglued and his world falls apart. He is not returned to a normal flow of either time or reality until he finds Mrs Peel.
Tara King in “Get-Away”
In a previous blog I discussed the party scene at Steed’s house at the beginning of “Get-Away.” Tara’s role is problematic for reasons I outlined in my earlier post, but here I want to concentrate on the apparent parallels between this episode and “Hour,” and to point out some vital differences between them.
In “Hour,” Steed is Mrs Peel’s host, since he invited her as his guest, but the actual hosts of the party are Steed’s friends. They’re the ones who are throwing the party at the RAF base. Steed and Mrs Peel drive out to the base in order to attend the party. This is reversed in “Get-Away,” where Steed is the one throwing the party, the guests are coming into his home, and Tara is doing her best to function as hostess to them. They seem pleased with her efforts, and are at pains to compliment and thank her for them.
In both situations, Steed is introducing his partner to old friends, people from his past who matter to him a great deal. But there’s one glaring difference between these two scenarios: in “Hour,” Steed is making one effort after another to bring Mrs Peel into his past, to make her feel welcome and included, to help her understand important things about his time there. But while Steed’s inclusion of Tara in “Get-Away” is polite and, up to a point, thoughtful, he makes no real attempt to draw her into his world. The men tell stories laced with jargon, acronyms, and catchphrases that are terrifically meaningful for the three of them, but about which Tara cannot possibly know anything. Steed’s attention is all on his buddies, the memories of experiences they shared together, and his obviously deep feelings of indebtedness, gratitude, and friendship towards them.
Steed makes a heartfelt toast to his friends; Tara watches from the sidelines
The men reminisce; Tara asks Steed to explain what they’re talking about. It’s worth noting that while Steed begins this part of the scene sitting next to Tara, he eventually drifts away from her, and goes to rejoin his buddies.
For all her work as hostess, Tara can’t do much more at this gathering than stand on the periphery and observe. Except during the times when she commands their attention by pouring champagne and passing canapes, she remains relatively unacknowledged by Steed and his friends. She has to prompt them to explain what all the jargon and acronyms mean—they’re lost in their shared memories and the bond that creates, so they don’t think to include her by taking the initiative to explain themselves. Then, after their guests have left, Tara once again tries to redirect Steed’s attention towards her by making it a point to tell him how much she liked his friends, as though she assumes he needs her approval of them, which presumption she overtops by informing Steed that he must like them, too. Steed’s reply, however, is all about the men and his relationship to them, not a response to Tara’s feelings about them. Steed owes these men his life, and that’s a much graver obligation than any handholding Tara might require.
The Past, the Present, and the In-Between
The primary shift between “Hour” and “Get-Away” is the locus of Steed’s world. In “Hour,” Emma is Steed’s world, and he attempts to bring her into his past. It is Emma who anchors Steed to reality, and while Steed’s past is physically represented by the airbase and his friends there, it is only when Emma is with him that Steed feels secure and connected both to himself and to his own past. That security is lost and that connection threatened when she disappears, and becomes more and more tenuous the longer she is gone, with the result that a normally unflappable Steed becomes increasingly frantic. Even when he finally finds his buddies having mysteriously resumed their party, he cannot join in the festivities because Emma is not with him. It is by saving Emma, and then by her in turn helping him save his friends by fighting to defeat the villains, that the gap between Steed’s past and present is closed, and he is once again his whole self.
In “Get-Away,” by contrast, Steed’s world is located in the past he shares with his friends, and even in his past conflicts with the villain Ezdorf and his murderous colleagues. Tara, representing his present, is in many ways much less real to Steed than his past is, a past that slips away from Steed as his friends are murdered one by one, and as the villains lose their own lives in the conflict with Steed. Emma also is in Steed’s past at this point, so it is no wonder that his world is still located there and not in his present with Tara.
In “Hour,” Steed is caught in a liminal space between his own past, represented by the airbase and his friends there, and his own present, represented by his relationship with Mrs Peel. Whereas Steed’s liminality in “Hour” was for him a limbo of between-ness, a threshold state between his own past and present, in “Get-Away” the liminal figure is Tara, who stands on the threshold of the doorway into Steed’s past, but it is a threshold which, try as she might, she cannot cross. It is like one of those enchanted doorways in fairy tales, where every attempt to enter results in finding oneself once again on the outside.
Although there are many superficial connections between these two episodes—Steed inviting his partner to a party; Steed sharing things about his past—the way in which Steed’s relationship to each of these women plays out is completely different. Emma Peel, unlike Tara King, is able to act as Steed’s anchor, and Steed wants to draw her further into his world. Tara, on the other hand, notwithstanding how much Steed cares for her, is always on the periphery of his life. Unlike Emma, Tara carries little weight. Steed doesn’t actively exclude her, but he doesn’t try to draw her in, either. And the reactions of these women are different as well. Emma seems to be resisting joining Steed in his past, at least at first, while Tara actively tries to insert herself into it.
Steed cares very much for these two women. But only one of them has the power to mold reality for Steed. Emma Peel is Steed’s reality. Without Mrs Peel, the world becomes a shadowland, a place that is unreal, because his spirit is always with her.