Season 4

Undertaking Respect

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.

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Courage, Virtue, and Woundedness in “The Danger Makers”


Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes


Here I am bouncing off celluloidbroomcloset’s idea about 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.

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Cunning Old Foxes IV: Hiding in Plain Sight

But famed Odysseus’ men already crouched in hiding —
in the heart of Troy’s assembly — dark in that horse
the Trojans dragged themselves to the city heights.
Now it stood there, looming …
— Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles

Another in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.


Going under cover is one of the most important things that Steed does in his quest to capture the bad guys. Sometimes he goes under relatively deep cover, assuming an entire identity complete with back story and profession, sometimes even with an assumed name. He does this kind of cover most frequently during the Cathy Gale era, for example in “Death a la Carte,” where he poses as chef Sebastian Stonemarten in order to prevent the assassination of a Middle Eastern Emir, or in “Mission to Montreal,” where he pretends to be a steward called “Jim” on a cruise line while trying to stop the transfer of top secret material to the opposition. Most of the time, however, he goes under his own name, even if he is pretending to be something other than an agent of the Ministry, as he does in “Surfeit of H2O,” where he assumes the persona of a loopy, extravagantly gallant wine merchant in order to gain access to the baddies’ lair.

In cases like “Death a la Carte,” Steed doesn’t want to give away anything about his own true identity. Protecting the Emir depends on Steed staying well under cover, so he uses an assumed name and behaves entirely as though he were a normal chef. In other instances, as in “Surfeit of H2O,” it’s unclear the degree to which he wants to misdirect the baddies: his behavior in that particular instance is odd enough to make the secretary a bit suspicious, but it’s hard to tell whether or not Steed wants her to wonder what he’s really up to.

And then there are the episodes where he is working in a grey area between being under cover and tipping off the bad guys that he’s on to them, places where he hides in plain sight. Steed seems to have more than one reason for doing this: partly it’s just fun to tweak the villains’ noses and watch them flail as they try to figure out what he’s really after; but also he’s dropping hints along the way that he’s on to them, that their schemes are about to be exposed, thus giving them an opportunity to stop their bad activities and turn themselves in before he has to actively fight with them. Of course they never do stop, they never do turn themselves in, and I doubt very much that Steed expects them to even if on some level he hopes that they will.

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Lady Secret Agent Badassery

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.

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The Champions Meet the Avengers

thechampions-theavengers-01Herewith the continuation of my series examining confluences between two 1960s British television programs: The Champions and The Avengers. For the basics about The Champions, follow this link to the initial blog.

The Champions: Richard Barrett, Craig Sterling, and Sharron Macready

Case Study #2: Master-Minding the Panther’s Nutcracker

the master minds: written by robert banks stewart; julian wintle, producer; uk release date 6 november 1965
shadow of the panther: written by tony williamson; monty berman, producer; uk release date 15 january 1969
nutcracker: written by philip broadley; monty berman, producer; uk release date 2 april 1969

LOG LINE: A highly placed public servant breaks into a super-secure vault and attempts to take top-secret documents. He accidentally trips an alarm and is caught in the act. He can’t explain his actions because he has been brainwashed.

The beginning of the Avengers Season 4 “Master Minds”? or of the Champions “Nutcracker”?

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Neurodivergence in The Avengers, Part 1: Hickey in “Hour That Never Was”

The Avengers is a quirky show full of quirky characters. Many of these are common-or-garden eccentrics, people who unabashedly love what they love and don’t care what anyone else thinks about either them or their hobby. But a few of these characters exhibit additional traits strongly suggesting that their behavior might have its origins in something beyond being a little odd or having a passion for a particular activity. Two in particular, Hickey in “Hour That Never Was” and Professor Poole in “Winged Avenger” behave in ways that indicate (to me, at least) that these characters might be neurodivergent in some way. There are also hints dropped throughout the series that Steed might himself be neurodivergent.

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Nine-Tenths of the Law of Chivalry

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“But you would have gone to Ali’s defence? Physically?”
“Under different circumstances, certainly.”
He did not seem angry at my disobedience, just puzzled. Finally he said, “But women do not fight.”
“This one does,” I answered. He held my gaze, then looked sideways at Holmes.
“This one does,” my mentor confirmed.
— Mahmoud Hazr, Mary Russell, and Sherlock Holmes in O Jerusalem by Laurie R King

◊  ◊  ◊

One of the groundbreaking aspects of The Avengers from the beginning of the Cathy Gale era was that Steed’s female partners were treated as his equals, and hints were often dropped that the women might be even better than he was at some things, or smarter in some ways. This was done in absolute seriousness: Cathy Gale and Emma Peel were written neither in a humorous attempt to undermine Steed’s masculinity, nor in order to lampoon the women as ball-breaking viragos.  These women are not caricatures: they are strong, skilled, capable, and intelligent, and expect to be treated accordingly. Steed certainly does that: he accepts Cathy and Emma just as they are. He is not threatened by their talents, but rather celebrates them, and Steed’s delight in his partners and what they can do is one of the finest aspects of those relationships.

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