In the Season 2 episode “Warlock,” Steed has to track down the person who murdered Peter Neville, an important British scientist who was working on a top-secret formula, and who also later murders Mrs Dunning, Neville’s housekeeper. With the help of Cathy Gale, Steed discovers that Neville was involved with a black magic circle, and that the members of this circle are implicated in his murder, having been hired by an enemy agent to use occult means to coerce Neville into handing over the formula to the opposition.
This episode was first broadcast in the second half of Season 2 (it’s the eighteenth episode, out of 26, and the twelfth to feature Mrs Gale), although it was originally intended to be the first of the Cathy Gale stories.* Even though it was reworked to function as a later case and appears later in the lineup, it still makes more sense if “Warlock” is construed as Steed and Cathy’s first case rather than one that comes later in their partnership, especially much later. In “Warlock,” they’re clearly still getting to know one another: Steed really has absolutely no idea what to do with Mrs Gale, who is unlike any other woman he’s ever met, and she is herself still trying to decide whether she likes working with Steed or not.
“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.
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: