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.
Herewith 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”?
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.
“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
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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.
In “The Thirteenth Hole,” the bad guys are out on the links, pretending that they’re interested in their golf game. When they get to the thirteenth hole, they find an agent snooping around. Reed tells his caddy that he wants his “303” golf club. This turns out to be a rifle, with which Reed shoots and kills the agent.
Later, when Steed and Mrs Peel are heading out for their final showdown with the villains, Mrs Peel pulls a walking stick out of Steed’s golf bag. Steed says that it’s actually a sword stick, but later when they’re fighting in the villains’ hideout Steed discovers that he brought the wrong stick from home: this one is a plain walking stick, no shiny sharp objects included.
From her very first introduction in “Town of No Return,” Emma Peel is presented as being both extraordinarily intelligent and a skilled fighter. She draws on these abilities in episode after episode, helping Steed put the bad guys out of business, but it takes a while for them to catch on that she is more than just an adjunct to Steed. This is a shift that can be tracked in two episodes in particular: “Girl from AUNTIE” in Season 4 and “Correct Way to Kill” in Season 5.
When Emma tangles with the baddies, it’s usually under one of the following three rubrics, all of which eventually find their way back to Steed:
In the Season 3 episode “Death of a Batman,” Steed breaks into Lady Cynthia’s flower shop to look for clues. While he is there, he is confronted by a very large man who is guarding the shop. After a brief scuffle, Steed manages to knock him out.
The next morning, Steed is dragged out of bed by the sound of the doorbell. He opens the door, and an effusive Lady Cynthia bounces into his flat, bearing gifts. Steed, who isn’t quite awake yet, has no idea what Lady Cynthia is so happy about.