As I have noted elsewhere, there are many points of contact between The Avengers and The Champions, two British television series from the 1960s, and between The Champions and The New Avengers, which aired in the mid 1970s. In those previous blogs, I wrote about how elements of Avengers episodes are echoed in some of those from Champions, and then later how a New Avengers story echoed a Champions one.
Plots and villains and action aren’t the only places where these three series intersect, however. One important point of contact is in the character of the female secret agent. In Champions, this is Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo), a medical doctor, biochemist, and agent of a private security service called Nemesis. Across the entirety of Avengers (including TNA), there were five female partners who worked with John Steed, but the one I’d like to concentrate on here is Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), since in many ways she has the most in common with Sharron.
A meditation on good vs evil in Avengers, focused on a comparison of Steed and Beresford from “Return of the Cybernauts.” This originally appeared on mytumblr blog.
First let’s make a list of characteristics Steed and Beresford have in common. They are:
financially well off
attractive to women
willing to kill to protect the people they love (yes, I know Beresford’s brother is already dead, but if Beresford had been there in “Cybernauts” he doubtless would have cheerfully killed both Emma and Steed to protect Anderson.)
So we have these two men who have an awful lot of basically positive characteristics in common, to the point where Emma feels attracted to Beresford even as she is already in a relationship with Steed. But Beresford is evil, and Steed is not. How come?
In an earlier blog, I discussed the ways in which Steed’s masculinity is sometimes treated dismissively by critics and writers, despite massive evidence to the contrary, in part because of the way the gender binary is constructed in Western society. There’s a corollary to this, deeply entwined with issues of gender and gender performance, and that is the minimization or denial of Steed’s physicality. I’m not sure exactly how or when this started, but at least since the mid-1980s there seems to have been a tendency to relegate Steed to the sidelines when discussing the physical, embodied aspects of the Avengers, with particular reference to combat with the villains.
(I’m hoping to do a more thorough workup of the history of this in the future, but for now I’ll go with what I’ve got. Also, there are other ways Steed expresses his physicality besides combat, but I’m sticking with that one for now, too.)
Well, I did promise I’d mumble some stuff about Season 6 and masculinity, so off I go.
When Diana Rigg left Avengers to become a Bond Girl, Steed’s next partner was Tara King, played by Linda Thorson. Thorson was even younger than Diana Rigg: there was a twenty-five-year age gap between herself and Patrick Macnee. Tara King, therefore, was a youngun, and not just in chronological terms. An agent-in-training assigned to Steed by the Ministry, Tara lacked the maturity and perspicacity of either Cathy Gale or Emma Peel, and she also had a mad pash for John Steed. Unlike Steed’s relationships with Cathy and Emma, which started as friendships that progressed to romance, and which were very much relationships between equals, Steed’s relationship with Tara was … different.
This was something I originally posted on my tumblr blog, but it seems appropriate to repost it here, with a few modifications.
In “The Superlative Seven,” Steed and six others are lured onto a plane by a criminal mastermind (Donald Sutherland!) who is trying to sell his method of martial arts training to a foreign buyer. The captives on the plane include a fencing master, a bullfighter, a sharpshooter, a big game hunter, a military man who has created his own system of unarmed combat (Brian Blessed!), and a strongman. And then there’s Steed. The seven of them are being taken to a remote island in order to put to the test the fighting abilities of the mastermind’s protegé, who is hidden among the seven.
While the seven are on the plane, the strongman bends a poker, which he then tosses to Steed. Steed proceeds to unbend the poker, much to the chagrin of the strongman, who had been billing himself as “the strongest man in the world.” We later see Steed engage in a bit of trick shooting with a revolver.
One of the hallmarks of The Avengers from Season 2 onwards was the way the show frequently turned gender roles on their heads, leading at least one commentator to describe Steed as a “feminized male” and his partner(s) as “masculinized female[s].” Even Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman stated in interviews that Steed took on the (ostensibly) “female” role while his partner took the “male.” Other writers often remark on the fact that Steed is given to wearing fine clothes and carrying a “bumbershoot” (yes, some writers really use that word, God help them), leading to descriptions of Steed as “effete” or “foppish.” But is Steed really a “feminized male” (a phrase that could certainly do with some unpacking), or is there something else going on?
This is the third installment in a three-part blog. Please refer to Part 1 for the premise of my argument and important background information. You can read Part 2 here.
So now we arrive at the pièce de résistance: Neurodivergent Steed. For some time now, I have had a headcanon that Steed is neurodivergent, albeit not autistic. Specifically, I think he has attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). Although the word “disorder” is incorporated into these diagnoses, it’s important to keep in mind that these are forms of neurodivergence, and therefore some of the many kinds of variation in the human neurotype: they are not mental illnesses.