In “Room Without a View,” Steed and Emma go to visit Dr Wadkin, who has mysteriously reappeared after going missing several years earlier. Varnals, a Ministry official, describes what he thinks happened to Wadkin: he was brainwashed and kept prisoner in Manchuria, probably in a place called Nee-San.
We learn towards the end of this scene that Steed likely was a prisoner there. He seems to have an intimate knowledge of what the conditions were like, which he describes during a brief period of what appears to be some kind of dissociation. During that moment, Steed is detached from what’s going on in the room, from the other people there–including Mrs Peel–and is obviously in some emotional or psychological distress.
But Steed’s distress doesn’t begin with the mention of Nee-San, specifically. It starts much earlier, when Varnals says that Wadkin seems to have been brainwashed. There’s something about Wadkin’s physical condition, and maybe the fact that he’s playing with an abacus, plus the mention of brainwashing, that gives Steed pause.
He shrugs it off, though, and puts on a bluff facade, teasing Varnals for relying on official reports for his information. But the facade doesn’t last. Varnals explains a bit more about what he thought happened to Wadkin, and Steed begins to withdraw again. This time it’s not so easy for him to shake it off. His affect flattens, and he has a thousand-yard stare.
Steed steps away from Varnals, and begins recounting what it was like to be in Nee-San: the bad food, the sounds from the outside world, a clock that only strikes three. He’s clearly reliving time that he must have spent there himself.
It’s not until Wadkin starts stating “Three o’clock!” over and over again that Steed comes back out of himself. He can’t indulge his own pain about his imprisonment: he has a job to do, which is to find the people who tortured Dr Wadkin and stop them from hurting anyone else.
One of the cool things about this scene is that although Steed briefly shows a great deal of vulnerability—he dissociates, he explains in detail something unpleasant about his past, which he rarely does—he’s not ashamed by it. He takes it in stride as something he will need to deal with, something that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And while it’s not something he goes around shouting from the rooftops, it’s not something he feels compelled to hide at all costs.
Steed was at Nee-San. He was badly treated there, very likely tortured. He knows what that is like and it makes him angry that Dr Wadkin and probably the other scientists who disappeared had to go through that as well.
Steed is very in touch with his emotions. He doesn’t see them as weakness, and his empathy is one of the reasons he does this job, and does it so well.
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