Tricks are what Two’s a Crowd is about, and the 12th episode of series four starts with two quite good ones. First up, a shot of a plane. It’s not a real plane, but a model, and the trick is that the model plane is meant to be a model, not – as was so often the case back then – a model masquerading as a real plane.
Trick number two is played when Emma Peel arrives at Steed’s apartment to find him out unconscious on the floor. He’s not really out cold, it’s a test for Emma, which she passes with flying colours by attacking the mystery man who suddenly is attacking her.
A plane that looks like a model plane because it is, a mystery assailant who is nothing of the sort – the notion of things standing in for other things is completed by the plot, which revolves around Steed being replaced by a double, a male model who looks just like him.
But, as with the plane, is the reason why it looks so much like Steed because it is Steed, one step ahead of the enemy? And is he one step ahead of them because he’s realised they’re bugging his apartment?
The enemy comes in the shape of Warren Mitchell, so entertaining in one of the best Avengers episodes (Series 3’s The Charmers, with Fenella Fielding) that he’s been got back in to play a version of the same role. Here he’s the twitchy Russian ambassador rubber-stamping tactical decisions taken by a cold-hearted flunky played with his usual sneer by Julian Glover.
But neither of these men is really calling the shots. Instead that’s the mysterious Colonel Psev, an international man of mystery whose name clearly means something to these operators, but whose inclusion as a plot detail makes very little difference to an episode that should be a lot better than it is.
That’s in spite of an excellent performance by Mitchell, as a small man constantly fretting about his status. It’s his third outing and Clemens and the gang were wise to book him. Mitchell had just shot the pilot for Till Death Us Do Part, the show that would make him a household name (and typecast him for ever as working-class bigot Alf Garnett).
And not forgetting Patrick Macnee, who has fun playing a model only too familiar with catalogue work.
It’s a Philip Levene script, and as in Man-Eater of Surrey Green, Levene takes a spytastic idea and puts a pantomime spin on it. Roy Ward Baker adds some directorial flourishes from behind the camera and the lighting is noticeably better than usual. Budgets are clearly on the up.
And we hear the first mention of Mother, who would prop up (and often be the saving of) the Tara King episodes to come.
A big meh, for all its pluses, which also include a noticeably smarter wardrobe for Diana Rigg. Because she’s worth it.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020