Improbable and fluffy, They Keep Killing Steed is a prime screenplay by showrunner and writer Brian Clemens, and a clear sign that the series is entirely back on track with a plot pivoting on the ideas of doubles – a classic Clemens trope.
The fluidly cinematic Robert Fuest does directorial duty in a plot that leans heavily on Patrick Macnee – he plays at least four, possibly five Steeds, created to undo a peace conference by substituting the real thing with one of the obviously dodgy fakes.
Tara King, meanwhile, gets a “double” plot of her own, when she’s co-opted by himbo babe-magnet billionaire Baron Von Curt (Ian Ogilvy) to act as his decoy wife to deter the lollymouthed pussy posse who assail him wherever he goes.
But rewinding to the beginning, the entire idea is summed up in a neat opening sequence – two men in a bunker release a third man from a mask. It looks, but does not sound, like Steed: “Dispensable,” they conclude, and kill him immediately.
We cut to Mother, organising the security on the peace conference from a lake, accompanied by silent strapping blonde Rhonda, and then quickly to the real Steed and Tara King, at a crummy hotel (you can almost smell the damp) where the peace conference is to take place. And then to Ray McAnally and Norman Jones as Arcos and Zerson, names and accents indicative of bad-guy status.
In that loquacious way that villains have, McAnally’s Arcos lays out the plan – kidnap Steed, replace him with one of the copies, sabotage the peace conference. And so it plays out, until the real Steed – who has in the intervening period been picked up by a bogus taxi, knocked out and is now prisoner at the subterranean facility rather than dead in a ditch somewhere – breaks free, uses the same tech to copy the face of one of his captors and makes his escape…
The stage is now set for one of those Clemens dances between real and fake as the plot spins towards its climax.
It’s a good story and well told, hang the improbability, with Clemens at certain points deliberately withholding information that would make things a lot clearer but less enjoyable.
As for Tara and her “stand in” scenario as a billionaire’s beard – no, the Baron isn’t gay but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that that’s what Clemens might have originally have had in mind – it’s also a neat story but has absolutely no connection to Steed’s “double” plot.
In an attempt to yoke the two together, Clemens has the Baron suddenly making an appearance at the peace conference, for reasons which make no sense – he has no security clearance unless just the fact of being very rich, a baron and blond is enough. There’s a touch of the “hey, it’s The Avengers” shrugging justification here which is the price (I suspect) Clemens thought was worth paying for a scenario that gets a lot in to its 50 minutes of self-contained plot.
Bernard Horsfall – one of those TV actors who never stopped working – is drafted in as a spy sidekick to Tara King at the conference and McAnally – pronounced Mack-an-alley rather than Muck-anally (just an FYI) – is reliably malevolent as Arcos.
An episode that relies on everyone knowing where their marks are and hitting them when required, it’s a slick return to Avengers form.
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The imdb refers to this as season seven. I’m saying six, along with most of the fan sites and Wikipedia, and in line with the pretty much definitive Studio Canal box set. The reason why the imdb and others say seven is because they’re taking the final block of eight Emma Peel episodes as a separate season. But since there were only eight episodes in that production block, lumping them together with the 16 episodes of what everyone agrees is season five brings the total up to 24, much closer to the usual Avengers run of about 26 episodes.
© Steve Morrissey 2020