Though broadcast towards the end of the Tara King era, My Wildest Dream was made towards the beginning. It marks the point where Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell had fully taken back control of the series from John Bryce and were able to start banging out episodes that were theirs through and through, rather than rehashes/cut-and-shuts of stuff Bryce had finished or half-finished. This was the first of that bunch.
It looks, perhaps no surprise, like an Emma Peel-era episode. Defiantly so, in fact – big bold colours, wide, empty sets, a pop-art influence. The dialogue is more Peel-era too – rat-a-tat-tat, knowing and smart.
The story is by Philip Levene and has a classic-era Avengers opening to it. A man climbs up a metal back staircase, gains access to an apartment and stabs a stranger brutally and repeatedly. Except this isn’t someone’s apartment, it’s a doctor’s office, and the stabbed man isn’t a man at all, it’s a dummy.
The face on the dummy is of the man’s boss and the doctor, a practitioner of “aggresso-therapy”, is played by Peter Vaughan. And though Vaughan was endlessly versatile, he did have a particular gift for the sinister. The good doctor is not curing the aggression but amplifying it.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tara is fending off a fop (Edward Fox) in a tux who is trying to get into her pants, though dinner is what he’s dangling as an intro. And while Tara runs through her defensive strategies, another unfortunate (Murray Hayne) is being tutored by the sinister Dr Jaeger in the elimination of a rival (Hugh Moxey).
Moxey has soon joined the large pile of bit-part actors whose sojourn on The Avengers didn’t last very long. Both dead characters, it turns out, were on the same board of directors. And before you can say “bit between teeth”, Dr Jaeger is working on another one of them, Slater (Philip Madoc) and trying to get him to kill Winthrop (John Savident, later, as Fred Elliott, a mainstay of Coronation Street).
The question is not so much why is Jaeger doing this – we know that will be revealed in the fullness of time – but why is his sulky hot nurse (Susan Travers) making anonymous tip-off phonecalls to Steed?
The answer is – because 50 minutes isn’t a long time and, plotwise, things need to keep moving. And sure enough Steed is soon visiting Dr Jaeger, passing himself off as a disturbed man who thinks he’s a horse – “It must be on account of my name,” he says, the episode’s funniest line.
Acme Precision is what all the dead men have in common, and this is another of those “board members keep dying” episodes full of fine character actors all hired because their faces remove a layer of storytelling necessity.
Edward Fox would hardly fall into the character-actor category, though at this point he was still bouncing around waiting for his breakthrough. He bides his time here with a role that appears to be warming up Hugh Grant’s later persona – posh, smug, floppy haired and with on eyebrow perpetually raised.
Though its position near the end of the run suggests Clemens and co didn’t rate it that highly, My Wildest Dream is not a bad episode at all, though it does seem to end all of a sudden, as if time just ran out on everyone. Sometimes that’s the best way to go.
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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