With the passing of Patrick Macnee last week, chances are a lot of Avengers fans will have been rewatching old episodes of the 1960s series, and the comparisons with the new audios will be inevitable. However, to my mind, there’s no two ways round it: Julian Wadham’s Steed has become every inch the secret agent his predecessor was in the role.
This version of Steed, it’s true, isn’t quite the debonair charmer he will become when working with Cathy Gale or Mrs Peel, but he’s well on the way there in this story that was originally broadcast 22nd in that missing first season: just listen to his reaction to reports of the King’s leisure activities, or his discussion of the uses of champagne. However he can still become disillusioned, as the end of James Mitchell’s script demonstrates… This, is Mitchell writing six years before the first TV appearance of his down at heel agent, David Callan, but in many ways this feels like a Callan episode – it wouldn’t take a great deal of reworking to make it so (and indeed there was a Callan story that had similar plot beats). Also bear in mind that this was written and broadcast two years before Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was first published…
There’s not a lot for Anthony Howell’s David Keel to do – a brief telephone conversation, and an appearance in the tag scene – but he does tie the story back to the very first episode. Equally Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Carol has a small but vital role early on in the story but exits stage left leaving Steed carrying the episode. Of the guest stars, Adrian Lukis is as chilling here as Major Harrington as he was playing James Gillison in the first season of Big Finish’s Survivors.
Verdict: A dirtier side to counter-espionage than The Avengers would become known for that works well in this retelling. 8/10