Thingumajig, a can’t-be-bothered title for an average episode that starts well – a woman carrying a skull into a small church is horrified when the organ starts playing on its own and the lights start to strobe. Meanwhile, underground, her fellow archaeologist is so wrapped up in excavating something that he doesn’t hear her shouts. Seconds later he’s dead, having been menaced by something slithering towards him. All he leaves behind is a picture of his attacker drawn in the sand – a square outline, more or less – and a curiously molten/fused torch.
If it all sounds like a Doctor Who plot, that’s because it’s written by Terry Nation – creator of the Daleks and Davros – but The Avengers’ format starts to assert itself when John Steed and Tara King, having taken on the case, decide to split up. He heads off to investigate the scene of the death with the vicar of the church (Jeremy Lloyd), who happens to be an old mate, while Tara goes to visit an electrics expert called Truman. Truman (Willoughby Goddard) is a stock Brian Clemens eccentric who sneezes his way through her questioning.
Back at the church, meanwhile, another man has died. Yet the dig goes on. And then another dies. And then it’s realised that the fish in the local pond have all died too.
The imdb explains that Linda Thorson was ill for this episode, which explains why Dora Reisser takes such a prominent role as Inge the archaeologist. Could be. Inge and Steed spend a lot of time staring into each other eyes, time that would actually be better spent looking into the case, and if it wasn’t for the fact that there were only four more episodes teed up for production, you’d guess that showrunner Brian Clemens was trying out yet another potential replacement for Thorson.
Whatever. The actual star of this episode is Iain Cuthbertson, playing an almost gigglingly demented local who seems more keen to know what’s going on than seems strictly necessary.
What is actually going on is that Terry Nation has been doing some reading into Nikola Tesla’s ideas about the transfer of electrical power over distance – wireless charging, we now call it. And the Thingumajig that’s killing people and frying their metallic equipment is some sort of cube-shaped compact capacitor capable of loading up with massive amounts of energy. And when it discharges… zzzzzt!
“An interesting theory,” is how Steed describes it. It certainly is. The world today is still catching up with Tesla’s ideas, more than a century after his change of fortune led to him abandoning most of them. Thingumajig marks one of popular culture’s first attempts, however obliquely, to rehabilitate the ideas of a man who had at the time been almost forgotten, long before Elon Musk picked up the baton.
As for sparks in this episode, they come from some snappy interchanges rather than the story itself, which could be described as one of Nation’s Dr Who-style “running around in tunnels” offerings.
It looks like Dr Who, too, director Leslie Norman proving himself an adept at gun-for-hire work in TV after notable movie hits like 1958’s Dunkirk.
Fans of crazed scientists incensed at the way they’ve been treated by a small-minded backward world (see Tesla again) will enjoy the big finish.
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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