Season 3

Some Avenging Thoughts on International Women’s Day

When Avengers first aired, it was a show starring Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel, and John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee) was a secondary character. When Hendry quit after one season, the producers decided to make Steed the main character, and to give him a female partner. They hired Honor Blackman for the role, as Catherine Gale. Because they had a bunch of Hendry scripts left over, and because they didn’t have a budget to commission more, they ended up adapting scripts originally written for the male character of Dr David Keel to the female character of Catherine Gale.

The Gale era of Avengers was a watershed in television history. Catherine Gale was the first female character on television to be treated as not only the complete equal of her male partner, but as better than he was at some things. And not only that, it was done with utter seriousness: Steed was in no way threatened by Mrs Gale’s skills and strengths (in fact, he is regularly bowled over by her), and her character was not written either with lampoon of gender roles in mind or as any kind of misandrist.

Catherine Gale was a PhD in anthropology; a supremely intelligent woman who could think her way out of almost any problem; a judoka who could pummel the tar out of pretty much any opponent (Blackman actually learned judo for real for the role and did her own stunts); a crack shot and big game hunter; a freelance contractor who could do anything from help manage a charity to write essays about medieval couture to catalogue a museum. She helped Steed collar the bad guys on a regular basis, working side by side with him as his equal, not as his subordinate or sidekick. She never played the damsel in distress, and although Steed had to rescue her occasionally, she had her own chances to repay the favor when the baddies captured him.

Catherine Gale would become the inspiration for the character of Emma Peel, who maintained the relationship of equals and high level of badassery of her predecessor. Both characters have been a source of inspiration for generations of women audience members.

But it was Catherine Gale, PhD, a woman who took no shit and gave no fucks, who broke that barrier first.

So here’s to Honor Blackman and Catherine Gale, original badasses both.

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“It’s Her Business to Be Suspicious”: Cathy Gale and Steed’s Identity in “Man With Two Shadows”

“The Man With Two Shadows” hinges on an enemy plot to create doubles of various important people and have the doubles kill and then take over the lives and roles of their originals. Steed and Cathy find out that Steed is one of the people who is going to be replaced, and Steed admits that at one time he had been captured by the bad guys who are making the doubles but that he escaped after four days. They also discover that a man named Gordon who is at the holiday camp where most of the action takes place isn’t really Gordon, but is in fact his double.

After Cathy returns to London to see what Charles, Steed’s supervisor, has come up with, Steed is attacked by his double in an attempted murder that Steed manages to foil; the double is killed instead. But the possibility of Steed being a doppelgänger weighs heavily on Cathy, and by the end of Act II she has become uncertain that Steed is, in fact, real-Steed. She gets orders from Charles to kill Steed if she thinks that he could be the doppelgänger. But Cathy also is unconvinced that Steed is fake-Steed. So she engages in a tour-de-force of logic by which she convinces herself that Steed is who he says he is, and also outs one of the other doubles involved in the plot, a man posing as a member of Parliament named Cummings.

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“Don’t Tell the General I Played Mendelssohn”: Music and Torture in “Man With Two Shadows”

Content Notice: This entry contains references to torture, anti-semitism, and Nazism.

Music has many functions within human cultures: entertainment, artistic expression, worship. Most of these functions, and the associations connected with both the music and the function, are positive. But in some cases, music has much less pleasant associations and uses, especially when it is employed either directly or indirectly as a tool in a program of torture. Two early scenes in the Season 3 episode “The Man With Two Shadows” incorporate the interconnection of music and torture, first for double agent Pieter Borowski, and then later for Steed.

Pieter Borowski and Mendelssohn

In Steed’s first scene in this episode, Steed’s supervisor, Charles, asks him to help interrogate Pieter Borowski, a double agent who is now in British custody but who was subjected to heavy torture and brainwashing by the enemy agents who had captured him some time ago. The result of this brainwashing is that Borowski now assumes a set of shifting personalities that were forced upon him by his captors. These personalities include a Gestapo Kommandant, a Russian nobleman who died in 1860, and an American thriller writer. Borowski shifts in and out of these personalities, often in response to some trigger in the conversation.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

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.

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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.

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An Eagle, a Dog, and a Fox All Walk Into a Bar: Animal Symbolism in “Build a Better Mousetrap”

In a career spanning over thirty years of television directing, Peter Hammond frequently made creative — and even groundbreaking — uses of camera angle and props. Among the signatures of his style are shots requiring sometimes complicated alignment of the actors, innovative camera placement, and the incorporation of props and set furnishings into shots and scenes in ways that often have significance to plot or characterization or both.

According to imdb.com, Hammond directed a total of nineteen episodes of The Avengers, nine of which were from the first season and thus have unfortunately been lost, with the exception of “The Frighteners.” The other ten were from Seasons 2 and 3, all of which are extant, and elsewhere I have discussed how Hammond uses props and the alignment and placement of the actors’ bodies to help tell the story in the Season 3 episode “The Golden Fleece.” Here, though, I’d like to discuss a different element of Hammond’s directorial style: the use of animal symbolism as commentary on plot and character in another Season 3 story: “Build a Better Mousetrap.”

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Cunning Old Foxes II: Vamping Steed

She’ll mix you a potion, lace the brew with drugs, but she’ll be powerless to bewitch you, even so.
– Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles

Another in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.


John Steed is a master trickster who well knows the efficacy of flirtation and sex appeal in dealing with the women he encounters when working a case. Sometimes he’s frank and friendly with them, at other times ridiculously gallant, inhabiting a character drawn with broad strokes.  Whichever persona he decides to employ, his behavior is always calibrated to the particular situation and the person with whom he is interacting. Because of his skill as an actor, and because he is usually able to correctly read his audience, he is often successful in getting the information he wants.

But what happens when Steed is the one being vamped? What happens when the master trickster is the intended victim of flirtation combined with deception and assumed identity?

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The Art of the Two-Shot in “The Golden Fleece”

“The Golden Fleece” is one of the better episodes of the Gale Era, not only because of its relatively strong story and fine performances, but also because of the skillfulness of the direction. Throughout the episode, director Peter Hammond creates artful effects by using symmetry and mirror image in the blocking of the Steed/Gale two-shots. Shifts in which character is foregrounded along with the positions of the actors’ bodies relative to one another and to the space they occupy and, occasionally, shot length all contribute to the overall effect, and sometimes have significant interactions with the motions of the plot and the character arcs within it.

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