The Avengers: Series 3, Episode 3 – Man with Two Shadows

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Shown the same day that RA (“Rab”) Butler made his big pitch to be the new leader of the Conservative party after Macmillan’s shock resignation (Butler’s big speech was a total fail), Man with Two Shadows also plays with the idea of the wrong man – the double being so fruitful a concept that The Avengers would return to it often, as did a lot of 1960s TV. Perhaps the widely prevalent notion of “false consciousness” – there is a right way of seeing things and a wrong way – has something to do with it.

Another well worn path is that of someone being killed before the opening credits have rolled. In this case it’s a spy called Gordon who is offed by his exact spitting image, who has been hiding in the wardrobe.

We cut to an interrogation, where another spy is being debriefed/interrogated by Steed, who is amazed and confounded by the man’s personality – it’s all over the place. One minute he’s American, the next a Nazi, but reigning over all his multiple bits and pieces is the fact that this spy is a gibbering wreck. What the man does reveal, however, as he chaotically zigzags from one personality to another (nice bit of bonkers acting by Terence Lodge) is the existence of a “doubles” program which is replacing key people in the country with their exact copies.

A quick visit to the apartment that Steed and Gale share – more bickering than flirting this time out – and we’re off to the holiday camp where the double of the spy Gordon is now hiding out and where, we soon see, a double of John Steed is about to replace the real thing, when he gets the chance.

Crime writer James Mitchell’s neat script throws in a bit of real colour here – the spy has struck up a holiday romance with a young woman called Julie (Gwendolyn Watts), a chatty romantic sort who’s convinced this dreamboat is going to propose to her. Gordon, or his replacement, is horrified by this development. For starters it’s a complication he doesn’t need, and secondly she’s way below him in terms of social class. I say!

That’s enough plot, apart from to say that at some point Mrs Gale is going to have to work out which Steed is which, and try not to kill the wrong one. The slightly comic, slightly kitchen-sink romantic sub-plot apart, it’s an efficient bit of low-budget sci-fi, with the likes of Geoffrey Palmer, as a doctor called in to provide a bit more scientific bottom to the episode, helping to keep things moving along.

Cathy gets a fight scene and what stands out is that Honor Blackman is notably better at the martial arts than she was – she’s been training. And the camera following her, that’s also much more nimble than we’re used to, especially considering the standard of TV shows in the 1960s.

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© Steve Morrissey 2019

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