If you’re a Callan fan, then you’re going to love this episode of The Avengers, as many of the ideas which permeate that series are in Ian Potter’s recreation of James Mitchell’s script, which Potter has built around the John Cura telesnaps of the tale. Mitchell had a jaded opinion of human nature, and a pragmatic view of the world and both come across in this, which is – bar what are effectively tag and teaser scenes – a Steed solo affair. The relationship with One-Ten is also more acerbic (shades of Callan’s Hunter, and indeed the Bond/M attitude of the 1970s films from Diamonds are Forever onwards) and Steed is rather more of the double entendre merchant than previously.
It’s adult drama in the proper sense: characters aren’t simply good guys or bad guys but propelled by forces outside their control to act in ways that might be contrary to their nature, and there’s no guarantees of redemption. There’s also an interesting use of interior monologues, particularly for the enemy agent.
Death on the Slipway shows an alternate way that The Avengers could have gone, down the gritty Le Carré-esque route of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold rather than the more outré flamboyance that we’d come to know (and have been reminded of with the comic strip adaptations). It’s a great performance from Julian Wadham as this much harder version of Steed, and it’s such a shame that we have so few opportunities left to hear more…
Verdict: A harder edge variant of The Avengers that works very well. 9/10