In “Dial a Deadly Number,” Mrs Peel goes to visit the undertaker who is dealing with the victim of the murder she and Steed are investigating. When she asks if the undertaker remembers handling matters for the dead man, Mr Tod-Hunter, the undertaker says he does, and then rattles off the specs for the coffin and talks a bit more about coffin handles.
Emma: The late Mr Tod-Hunter … he was brought here, wasn’t he? Undertaker: Tod-Hunter? In mahogany and walnut, velvet lined. Sold brass handles, Gothic style. I prefer the Corinthian fluted myself. Tasteful. Tod-Hunter. Yes, he’s with us.
What I find most compelling about this little scene is the way Mrs Peel treats the undertaker. She doesn’t interrupt him or tell him to get to the point and answer her question. She’s not mocking or contemptuous of him. She doesn’t think he’s weird for being so interested in coffin handles. She smiles at him because she likes him and she thinks he is delightful.
When she listens to him and watches him at his work, Mrs Peel sees a craftsman, someone who is dedicated to his work and wants to do it well, someone who wants to do right by the people he serves, and who is unashamed to take pride in the service he provides.
Emma Peel really sees this man. She embraces who he is, and honors him for it.
And the thing is: Diana Rigg didn’t have to play it that way. She didn’t have to play that scene with delight and appreciation. She could have rolled her eyes, or raised her eyebrows, or sneered at the man, but she doesn’t. Rigg honors the undertaker’s character too, and she honors Mrs Peel by playing that scene with respect and an undercurrent of joy.
⊕ Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes
Here I am bouncing offcelluloidbroomcloset’s ideaabout a blocking of Steed and the Major with a statue of Wellington, and what that shows about their relative personalities.
Harold Long, aka “Apollo,” is an evil psychiatrist who has gathered around him a group of military men who feel that peacetime is bunk and that their lives are insufficiently action-packed. Long has discovered that these men have a kind of physical and mental addiction to danger and violence, so he gets the men to perform random stunts in order to satisfy their craving and to prove their bravery to themselves and to each other. Long also plans daring crimes for them to execute. And the penalty for cowardice or failure? Death.
But after a highly decorated, well-respected general plays chicken with a moving lorry and loses, another officer drowns trying to cross the Atlantic in a canoe, and the serious injury of yet another officer who falls while trying to climb the side of St Paul’s, Steed and Mrs Peel are brought in by the War Office to find out what the heck is going on and to put a stop to it if they can.
In an earlier post, I dealt with issues of gender and combat roles for Steed and Mrs Peel, including an extended discussion of how those things play out in “The Danger Makers” in particular. Here I want to discuss a different aspect of that episode, the depiction of the contrast between the true courage and moral virtue of Steed and Mrs Peel on the one hand, and the depravity of the Danger Makers on the other.
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 mytumblr 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.