Mind control as a plot driver became The Avengers go-to narrative, and it gets another outing in Stay Tuned, a fine example of the show’s ongoing attempts to recapture old glory.
It takes flight quickly – Steed with a ridiculous amount of baggage heading off on holiday. And then Steed some time later, also with a ridiculous amount of baggage setting off from his apartment to go on holiday again, only to be met by a bemused Tara, who tells him he’s been away for the past three weeks, and she’s got a postcard to prove it.
We know something is going on because a) that’s the way these things tend to work and b) we saw Steed being knocked out on his first attempt to get away. And flowers that were fresh and perky are now all wilted and sad in their vase. Time clearly has passed.
So, one of the country’s top agents is missing three weeks of his life. You’d have thought a flag of even a faint shade of pink would have gone up. But no, instead Steed visits a shrink under his own steam, only thinking to alert Mother and whatever agency he works for after he’s tried to kill both himself and Tara in an attempted death by car crash.
Keeping up the holiday theme, Mother is actually on leave, and so Steed reports instead to Father (Iris Russell), a blind woman – reinforcing the agency’s reputation for bizarre senior appointments with bizarre honorifics.
What Steed doesn’t know, but we do, is that Steed has been got at. We saw a man called Proctor (Gary Bond) knocking him out on his first attempt to go on holiday. And since then he Steed’s been wandering around in a state of post-hypnotic suggestion.
Fate, chance or poor plotting play a hand, nudging Steed and King towards a part of London where shady shrink Kreer (Roger Delgado), his moll Lisa (Kate O’Mara) and rented muscle Proctor (Bond) all hold the key to the mystery. But first, a fight – Tara and Kreer, followed by girl-on-girl action featuring Tara and Lisa, with more block-of-wood sound effects than are strictly necessary. Clearly someone’s been watching kung-fu movies.
The improbabilities of the plot to one side, it’s a decent enough episode, fast moving, thanks to a tight Tony Williamson screenplay, and with flavoursome support by Delgado (later the Master, Doctor Who’s nemesis), the relatively unknown O’Mara, who’d become British TV’s favourite vamp, and Bond (star of 1971’s cult Australian masterpiece Wake in Fright).
It’s also noticeably darker in terms of psychology. There’s genuine jeopardy here, with director Don Chaffey throwing in expressionist camera angles and lens distortion to indicate Steed’s increasing confusion about which way is up.
Consumer-electronics trivia side note. At one point Steed hands a cassette tape to Father. The format was only about four years old at the time and was just beginning to be taken up on a mass scale. Was this its first TV outing?
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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