Friday 23 October 2015

The Avengers - Death Dispatch (1962)

Death Dispatch was originally screened in Britain in December 1962. It’s notable as being the first episode of The Avengers to feature Honor Blackman as Mrs Cathy Gale. At least it was the first Cathy Gale episode to be shot, although not the first to go to air.

As you might expect at this early stage the character of Cathy Gale has not yet been fully established - she is almost but not yet the familiar and iconic Cathy Gale.

The plot is decent enough, if nothing startling. One of the British Secret Service’s couriers has been killed. To find the killer Steed must pose as the new courier. The story takes Steed and Cathy to several exotic locations (this is of course achieved through the magic of stock footage and adding a few potted palms to sets to give the impression we’re in the Caribbean and later in South America). A powerful politician seems to be behind the killing but his motives are, initially at least, unclear.

It’s the kind of story one associates with Danger Man rather than The Avengers but it’s well executed and well-paced. The introductory scene, the murder of the courier in a Jamaica hotel room, is particularly well done.

While it’s a good solid episode its main interest is that it gives us our first chance to see Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman together. There’s plenty of chemistry between them right from the start.

In the first season Steed had been a much harder-edged and more cynical personality than the Steed of the more familiar and better-known later seasons. Over the course of the second season his character would be slowly transformed into the charming, witty, debonair character we would come to love. That process is already apparent in Death Dispatch, with Macnee taking a more tongue-in-cheek approach to his performance.

This very early version of Cathy Gale is much more conventionally and overtly feminine. She wears smart frocks and her general demeanour is softer than it would be later on, although she is still a very competent agent and quite prepared to carry a gun and to use it. She is also more obviously a professional spy. In many later episodes one gets the impression that she has been recruited by Steed on his own initiative and that her status with the unnamed agency for which Steed works is perhaps semi-official. In Death Dispatch though she is unequivocally a full-time professional agent.

The witty banter between Steed and Mrs Gale would become one of the great strengths of The Avengers and that wittiness is already in evidence here.

I’ve seen a lot of the Cathy Gale episodes and I’m quite a fan of this period in the show’s history. I had however never seen this one before and it really is interesting to see that the potential of the Steed-Mrs Gale partnership was there from the beginning but it’s just as interesting to see that it was a partnership that was destined to evolve over time as the production team gradually figured out the best way to make use of Honor Blackman’s abilities.

An episode that every serious fan of The Avengers needs to see, and a fine and highly episode in its own right as well.

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