We finally arrive in upstream waters in Second Sight, first broadcast on Saturday 16 November 1963. As far as The Avengers is concerned, “upstream” means rarefied settings, no civilians or members of the public on view, posh accents, plots full of techy marvels and lots of improbable bullshit – ideal spawning territory for Avengers episodes to come.
Corneal grafts are what it’s all about. Which weren’t that techy in 1963, since the first one had been carried out in 1905, but still rarefied enough, especially if you add to the plot a mysterious Swiss clinic, a living donor (living people usually want to hang onto their eye) and a donee who has all the affectations and grandiosity of a Bond villain – Ernst Stavro Blofeld had made his first appearance in From Russia with Love just a month before and Marten Halvarssen (John Carson) is cut from similar cloth.
Steed and Gale fit into this how? He’s in Switzerland, where he’s been instructed to bring the precious corneas (or so he thinks) back to London, where Mrs Gale is posing as a doctor, waiting for the grafts to arrive. Why doesn’t the donee go to Switzerland, and cut out all this courier nonsense? That is all explained in a throwaway remark from the unsettling and blind Halvarssen, but really it’s just to give the plot the impression of reach and movement, otherwise the entire episode would all be set pretty much in one room.
Adding to that impression of scale, size, opulence is the plot turn that takes Mrs Gale off to Switzerland, with tame eye specialist Dr Spender (Ronald Adam), where this supposedly highly trained surgeon is subjected to the most breathtaking sexism – “You’re a woman after all,” says Spender at one point. “Please leave these things to me.”
These interactions, like the transitions between “London” and “Switzerland”, help bulk about what turns out to be a very thin screenplay by Martin Woodhouse. But director Peter Hammond directs with a minimalist flair, making good use of the camera’s limitations – tight angles, odd rakes, and some impressionistic focus at one important moment.
Also on the plus side, Carson makes an excellent hissable bad guy, and Peter Bowles is on hand as an arrogant but smart smoothie co-ordinating things at the villains’ end – a career playing just such characters was about to take wing.
Verdict? Not bad, though the “undercover in the underworld” angle is beginning to become a little tired by this point, whether it’s Steed or Gale doing it.
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© Steve Morrissey 2019