Some poor quality stock footage signals that this episode takes place in Jamaica, at least to start with, and from there becomes a bit of a globe-trotter for Steed and Cathy, with Steed posing as a courier delivering important dispatches from Britain, after the original courier has been murdered. They face some fairly incompetent enemies this week, who are out to kill them right from the start. At the airport, they bizarrely wait patiently while Steed finishes his phone call to Cathy, although he’s clearly playing for time, allowing her to rescue him.
There are some fairly odd turns of events throughout the episode, though, and it doesn’t pay to think too much about the story. After the initial attempt on Steed’s life, the next time we see Steed and Cathy they have left their attackers for “the airport police to handle”, without questioning them first, making some flimsy excuse about needing to make a train connection. This all happens off screen, perhaps because it doesn’t make a lot of sense and would have been difficult to film in any way that didn’t draw attention to that fact.
Later there is a very fun sort of stake out in a hotel room, where a moustached villain breaks in to Steed’s room, only to turn up dead, killed by another of the villains. It’s another odd turn of events, and with nobody able to go in or out it seemed like being a rather interesting locked room mystery, until Steed figures out that somebody must have come down from the room upstairs by rope. That does lead to a great scene where Cathy pretends to be a maid, speaking some perfect Spanish. Were there no limits to Honor Blackman’s talents?
The guest cast is all relatively forgettable, with few of them surviving long enough to make much of an impression (although Travers at the British Embassy is a lot of fun), and unfortunately the main villain is probably the weakest performance of the episode. It’s a bit of a strange one, this, because Richard Warner was probably the most experienced and successful actor in this whole thing, and yet he regularly stumbles over his words and over-enunciates every line. I’m not sure if he was having a bad day, or wasn’t really trying, although the final showdown is great, with Miguel’s daughter finding out her dad is a crim for the first time. It’s probably the most convincing and interesting way that the tables have been turned for any final showdown in The Avengers so far, with Anna’s surprise distracting her father, and Cathy using her as a shield, which is very clever, but with a little hint of ruthlessness.
Speaking of ruthlessness, Steed is formidable when he knows he has to save Cathy. We really see his tough side, attacking a man who has the knowledge he needs, and threatening him with his hands around his throat. This is a man on a mission, and nothing is getting in his way.
The relationship between Steed and Cathy is interesting in this one. Cathy seems to have mellowed towards Steed since their earlier episodes, a bit more indulgent of his slightly over-familiar behaviour for two work colleagues, with a friendly rather than edgy tension between them. We are actually seeing here a relationship in reverse, as this was their first episode to be filmed, so what actually happened was Cathy growing in her independence and holding her own a bit better as time passed. In reverse order that works equally well, with their relationship becoming closer instead and the two of them clearly having quite a lot of fun in each other’s company.
I’m not sure I understood the motivations of the villains entirely here, but that relied on a load of waffle at the end from Steed as he explained what it had all been about, so I don’t think it really mattered anyway. With limited interactions between the heroes and villains throughout the episode, the point of this was instead seeing Steed and Cathy placed in one dangerous situation after another, and finding increasingly inventive ways to come out the winners. They are so fun to watch that I think that’s all we needed. RP
The view from across the pond:
When you consider The Avengers, it’s a shame that everyone thinks of Captain America, Ironman, Black Widow and the rest rather than John Steed and Cathy Gale. It’s not that these are more exciting; the truth is, many of these are very slow especially by comparison to today’s Avengers, but it’s the cleverness of the characters that gets you. And I’ll tell you, no matter how much I love Black Widow as a character, she doesn’t hold a candle to Cathy Gale. I’ve admired Gale as a character for a while now, but Death Dispatch really got me with one specific thing…
So the episode focuses on the death of a courier, killed in Jamaica for some pretty mundane documents. Steed goes undercover as the next courier to try to find out who is behind the murder and why. Initially, Steed and Gale come up with a clever strategy for luring out some bad guys using a few telephone booths, but this was where I questioned their logic. At one point, Steed goes silent and Gale tries asking if all is well, but when Steed is allowed to speak (and gives her a clue) we see she was only a few yards away. I wondered why she didn’t just turn around the moment he went silent; it could have been done naturally, if that was what her concern was! I rolled my eyes, unimpressed! But then she gets her moment to shine brighter than the sun when she poses as a Spanish housekeeper. Monroe, the man she’s spying on, catches her outside his door. Pulling her in, she feigns ignorance and tells him she doesn’t understand English. Smiling, he says he’s going to find out what she knows even if he has to hurt her. And then the moment of brilliance, both from the character and the writer: without missing a beat, she smiles back and nods happily. The reason that was so amazingly clever is that she knows enough to ignore his words and respond to his physical actions as one would if they don’t know the language. That one moment impressed me so much it won the entire episode top marks!
Don’t misunderstand, this episode is a good one but it’s weirdly set up. It seems like this should have been the first episode to introduce us to Cathy because Steed’s boss mentions that he will be accompanied by a “Catherine Gale”. Steed appears to know her which means this could be any time during their adventures together, but it comes off as more of an introduction. Through the episode there’s a bit more intimacy developing giving credence to an earlier episode where they clearly were behaving in a less than professional way with one another. (Note too, that Steed describes her as “blonde, beautiful, blue eyes”. Clearly he is attracted to her!) Sadly, Steed never seems to shine as brightly as Cathy. He seems to make a few blatant blunders like walking into the lion’s den then losing in an altercation and only by the grace of Anna Rosas walking into the room does he escape. Anna is the daughter of chief baddie, Miguel Rosas. His love for his daughter is the only real reason Steed and Gale escape. The weirdest thing is that this villain never seems to have a bigger motive than being an information broker. (Ah, now that’s clever if that’s part of a bigger organization that I’ve suspected before! Time will tell.)
There are a couple other quick things worthy of comment. Diplomatic immunity seems to be Steed’s “out” for getting away with literal murder; this offers a clue regarding how they avoid criminal charges after the events of nearly every episode. Also, this episode offers a bit of comedy when a dolt answers phones and hangs the receiver up on the wrong phone thus cutting off the important call he was on. I actually laughed out loud for that brief scene.
“The back of my neck doesn’t feel right.” I had that same feeling at the start of this episode but by the end, I was seriously impressed. I had taken a few weeks from the show and maybe I needed a little break because this felt fresh and inspired. Glad to be back with The Avengers! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Dead on Course