Let’s recap the story so far. The producers of The Avengers had signed Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg up to make 26 color episodes of the show, but the American network ordered just sixteen one year, followed by fifteen more the next. Diana Rigg declined to sign on for five more episodes, so the role of Mrs. Peel would need to be recast.
And then the production company didn’t like the eight episodes – the ones that some of us call season six – that Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens had produced in the summer of 1967. They elected to replace Fennell and Clemens with a veteran named John Bryce, and somebody decided that they might as well cast the new actress while they were changing. So while Rigg technically owed them two more installments, she was thanked for her time, and Bryce cast Canadian actress Linda Thorson as Tara King. We meet Tara in this episode, although John Bryce did not end up producing it.
A pause before continuing: it’s never, ever been fair to Thorson that Tara was introduced in the wake of one of television’s all-time greatest characters. She’s always suffered by comparison, and it’s undeniably true that a novice and inexperienced agent is a definite retrograde step. It’s also true that she got to appear in far too many complete clunkers, where she’s the best thing about the hour. However, Linda Thorson is a very, very good actress, there are some downright fantastic Avengers stories ahead of us as well as those few turkeys, and her character improves massively over time, with several standout moments. Mind you, it’s not an absolutely straight line of trajectory, and Brian Clemens’ work in the 1970s on Thriller, with one damn woman in jeopardy after another after another every week, suggests more that Mrs. Peel was a lucky break instead of the work of a keen eye for strong female characters.
Oh, did I mention Clemens? Well, they got him back pretty quickly. Bryce and his team were responsible for three stories in various stages of completion before the company realized the show was in serious trouble and was better left in Fennell and Clemens’ hands, especially since they had about two months to get the first of the episodes with Thorson to America to finish their order of fifteen. One of the first things they did was recall Diana Rigg, who was still under contract for another couple of weeks, and do a story bridging the two characters, who briefly meet at the end of this episode, “The Forget-Me-Knot.”
Clemens wrote this story in an amazing hurry and they still had to cast it and build sets, and it’s a wonder that it works as well as it does. Really, it’s just here to introduce Tara and give Mrs. Peel one last sendoff, and one last opportunity to kick a thug square in the face and send him head over heels across a sofa. We get a new boss for Steed – at least his third, although we’ll see this one again – played by Patrick Newell, and the reliable Jeremy Young is back as the villain.
I wish that the episode had been more about Mrs. Peel, and that our heroes shared more screen time together, but Diana Rigg’s farewell scene makes up for it. Their simple and quiet goodbye has always just broken my heart completely.
Mrs. Peel and Miss King get to meet very, very, briefly, criminally briefly, on the stairs, the only time that any of Steed’s partners get to share any screen time together. And they act like strangers. Shouldn’t they have met, without the audience present, during the cleanup of the villains at the Glass House? Well, Clemens did have to write this one in less than a week. It probably didn’t have many drafts. But Mrs. Peel gives Tara a valuable piece of advice and a smile, and rides off into history.
So it’s the end of a fantastic era, but, ra-boom-di-ay, Tara is here, so there’s no time to be sad.