Things go technological in the 12th episode of series two – The Big Thinker – a tale of a big brain computer called Plato and the scientists who minister to it like Delphic virgins in white lab coats.
Hanging on like grim death to the notion that Britain was still at the forefront of things cyber in the early 1960s, the plot turns on the demise of a scientist – frozen to death after getting caught inside the workings of an electronic beast that gives the UK a crucial lead in tech and spying – at which point Steed and Gale are sent in to investigate.
I say Steed and Gale, but the most notable thing about this episode is that it’s dominated by Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale. It was a rare thing for a woman to take pole position in TV shows at the time, and perhaps came about because Blackman was getting “honorary male” status, as a holdover from the show’s original conceptual idea, which was to have Steed partnered with a fellow male.
Talking of males, Anthony Booth (father of Cherie, the future wife of PM Tony Blair) plays Dr Kearns, a wayward scientist, possibly half-modelled on Alan Turing – brilliant, hectoring, troubled and with an eye on the ladies (so not entirely modelled on Turing), and a bit of a gambler, which takes Kearns and Gale into town, where the scientist gets into a spot of gambler’s trouble.
Mrs Gale is ahead of him, of course, and helps him out in one of many displays of debonair noblesse oblige, a role that usually falls to Steed.
Booth, a left wing firebrand in real life, deploys what he probably thinks is a radical chic acting style to counter the cool aristo posing of Blackman. It’s highly erratic in terms of line readings, vocal inflection and physical gesture. It probably infuriated the other actors and whatever its motivation it’s highly off-putting here, though it does at least add energy to a story that seems to be going out of its way not to be involving.
There’s banter aplenty, and at least the sparring between Gale and Kearns helps bridge the chasm of ennui that threatens to open up at any minute.
It’s Honor Blackman’s episode, Patrick Macnee wandering in here and there as if to remind us that he’s the titular star of the show more than for any real plot advancement. And she acquits herself well, carrying the show in much the same way as she flips an assailant over her shoulder, with ease.