Series 1 — Episode 26
by Terence Feely
Production completed: 27 September 1961. First transmission: 30 December 1961
TV Times summary
Two women show their interest in Steed when, on a lone mission, he risks his life and samples outer-space
The following episode summary is written from the published synopses, other previously published material and Leonard White’s scrapbook of notes and Tele-Snaps as this episode is now lost. There may have been changes made during filming. I have made a few assumptions, marked with footnotes, to try to explain gaps and plot holes. My breaks in the acts are based on when significant cliff-hanger events or changes of location happen and may not be completely accurate.
With work nearly completed on a new material to shield astronauts from radiation, saboteurs prepare for one final assault. Complicated inter-personal relationships within the team suggest a traitor and Saunders, from Security, tracks the gang. Meanwhile, Steed rescues Saunders from being killed by the enemy agents. With the saboteurs in custody, the traitor is unmasked as Susan Summers she is apprehended in the act of trying to strangle one of the other scientists.
Late at night at a research lab, a technician wearing a lab coat strides through the deserted lab with a clipboard, checking off equipment on his inventory. When he enters the radiation testing chamber, one of the radiation suits that had apparently been hanging empty comes to life and the menacing, alien figure lurches across towards the chamber. Its gloved hands close the chamber door and spins the wheel, locking the lead-lined safety door. The technician sees that he’s trapped inside and frantically tries to turn off the equipment inside as the figure sets the controls at the main board outside. Realising he’s unable to turn anything off or contact the outside world1, the technician stares out of the observation window, his fate sealed...
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is sent to investigate the attack on the technician and when he arrives he’s greeted by Lisa Strauss (Sylvia Langova), who is discussing improving security with the facility security officer, Saunders (Alfred Burke). Lisa directs Steed2 to the office of the chief scientist, Redington. Redington (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) tells Steed that the technician’s clipboard and radiation meter provided no clues and he explains the scientists have been researching radiation-shielding equipment for astronauts. He shows Steed a sample of a new, light-weight radiation-proof fabric they’ve developed. There have been a few disruptions to their research recently, but nothing like this!3 Redington tells him the technician survived the exposure to radiation but is in hospital and unable to return - and was unable to identify his attacker, who had been wearing the old, helmeted, radiation suit.
While they’re talking, the glamorous young scientist Susan Summers (Barbara Shelley) is squeezing on one of the newer, lighter spacesuits. She’s the assistant to another of the scientists, Jack Alford (Thomas Kyffin). She sidles up to him in the tight costume, the taut spandex distracting him from his work, and proceeds to whisper sweet nothings in his ear. Saunders, passing by on his way to see Redington, pauses at the bottom of the stairs and frowns at their intimacy. Alford sees him and breaks from Susan’s embrace, returning to his review of test results.
Redington is not in his office when Saunders gets there though, as he’s taken Steed to see Dr Strauss, who demonstrates how they can manipulate materials inside a second test chamber by the use of a pair of mechanical, hydraulic arms - and uses them to pick up a shielded isotope holder inside a special lined, radiation-proof compartment inside the chamber.4 Susan stands nearby, eavesdropping on their conversation and pretending to read a magazine; she smiles to herself when she learns who Steed is.5 Steed and Redington return to his office and Alford is imperiously summoned in. Saunders tells Alford in front of the others6 to stop fraternising with his assistant - it’s not allowed at the facility as its a security risk and slows down the testing. Alford takes the public rebuke very badly and goes and tells Susan, who consoles him by saying Saunders is just jealous.7 When she takes a break from work, she enters Saunders’ office and, while looking abashed when Saunders admonishes her as well, concludes by telling him firmly to keep out of her private life.8
A while later, in the main lab, Susan enters and sees Lisa and Redington working closely together with the Lead Technician (Keith Barron) and Steed at another table. Susan turns to Steed and archly observes that some people can get away with breaking the rules while others get a slap on the wrist, and then leaves to get out of the radiation suit she had been testing. Steed sidles up to Lisa and discreetly asks if she know what Susan was talking about but Lisa denies all knowledge. A short time later, Lisa slips out and enters the change room where Susan is showering after stripping off the suit and they have a blazing row - overheard by Steed, who has padded silently after Lisa - about Lisa being hypocritical for telling Susan not to be with Alford when she is with Redington and just as likely to compromise the project.9
Steed calls his boss, reaching his secretary (Amanda Reeves). After a bit of Moneypennyesque playful banter she puts him through to One-Fifteen (Eric Dodson), a pompous bureaucrat who tells him the project must not fall behind schedule and he needs to crack on - the saboteur is clearly someone inside the facility... Sure enough, Alford has entered the second test chamber which houses the dangerous isotope and is silently sealed inside by the saboteur, now dressed in a radiation-shielding hood and gown. The saboteur turns the wheel to open the shielded compartment and expose him to the radiation. Watching from outside, the attacker uses the arms dexterously, just as Lisa had done that afternoon,10 and when Alford realises they’re taking the isotope out of its compartment, he intervenes, desperately trying to close the compartment manually. The arms rise up and fasten tightly around his throat, pressing through his radiation suit and strangling him. At that moment, Steed enters the lab and hears the commotion; he rushes to save Alford but is unable to stop the saboteur from escaping.11
The next day, Steed and Saunders convene in Saunder’s office to discuss the ongoing sabotage. Saunders tells him he has a lead that he’s chasing up if Steed will continue his own discreet enquiries. Steed warns him the enemy has nearly killed twice already but agrees to the plan. As soon as he’s gone, Saunders turns on the CB radio on his desk and delivers a cryptic message; an Eastern European voice squawks back details of a rendezvous...12
Steed meanwhile has bravely volunteered to take the place of the injured Alford in the next experiment. He’s stripped to the waist and Redington and Strauss cover him in electrodes with metal bands around his chest and wrists, recording his response to the G-force pressure test13 he is to undergo. The experiment quickly goes wrong, Steed racked with pain as the pressure soars to an unbearable level and he passes out as we fade to black...14
Lisa and a second technician (Morris Perry) frantically shut down all the equipment then Lisa rushes into the chamber. She is relieved to find that Steed still has a pulse... barely. When the technician checks, he finds that someone has tampered with the equipment, accentuating the stress level of the test and intending to kill Steed.
Saunders meanwhile has gone to the pub to keep his rendezvous and arrest the saboteurs. He finds Boris (Steven Scott) standing at the bar, talking to the landlord (Michael Robbins). He’s a bit wary of the situation, and rightly so as a man in a raincoat appears next to Boris after they start talking. When Saunders fails to convince them he is a fellow traveller,15 the man in the raincoat indicates he has a gun when the landlord’s back is turned, and confiscates Saunders’ pistol. The landlord gapes in surprise as Boris and his henchman leaves with Saunders, their drinks hardly touched. When Boris reaches their hideout in a disused mill, he calls a contact and reports he has Saunders, who used their call sign exchange and must be onto them. He smiles as he hangs up and announces the contact will take care of everything...
Having recovered from his recent ordeal, Steed goes to Saunders’ office and finds a report where Saunders has recorded his cracking of the spies’ code and gone to apprehend them. Feeling apprehensive about this, Steed travels to the pub as the sun sets and asks the landlord if his friend had been there, describing Saunders. The landlord confirms he left with two other men abruptly, but doesn’t know where they went. As they talk, a tall, scar-faced ex-soldier who is playing darts in the corner edges closer, eavesdropping on their conversation. When Steed goes outside, the man follows and calls after him in the street. He introduces himself as Peters (Herbert Nelson), another of One-Fifteen’s agents, and says the enemy agent Boris has taken Saunders to a disused mill nearby.16 He had been waiting for back-up but now Steed is there, they go to the mill and enter silently, taking Boris and his henchman by surprise. Now rearmed, Saunders joins Steed in questioning the spies but they refuse to talk.
It’s now nighttime but Strauss and Redington are still at work at the lab - they’re realised they have made a terrible mistake in their calculations and are feverishly working on their sums. Lisa is apprehensive, given recent events, that they will have to perform another test, but Susan offers to assist them. Back at the mill, Boris is obstinate and refuses to talk until Steed strong-arms him over to the slowly revolving mills and presses one of his wrists down toward the turning cogs. A bit more pressure and his hand will be torn off - Boris screams in fear and tells them everything - Susan Summers is his contact and the saboteur at the facility!
Back at the lab, Lisa gives Redington an affectionate squeeze of the hand as she leaves for the final test, she’s sure her lover’s calculations are right now,17 but when she reaches the testing area, Susan is nowhere to be seen. She has put on the old helmeted radiation suit and creeps after Lisa like a Robot Monster from Another Planet. Steed and Saunders come tearing back to the facility and ask Redington breathlessly where Lisa and Susan are. Astonished, Redington says they’ve gone into the lab to set up the experiment while he double checks his calculations. The two security men burst into the lab and grab Susan, who is trying to strangle Lisa with her gloved hands. She is unmasked and escorted away as Lisa sobs on Redington’s shoulder.18
- The Tele-Snaps show him standing over the indicator board and intercom inside so I assume he was flipping switches and getting on the radio to no avail.
- There are no Tele-Snaps covering Steed’s arrival but as Lisa and Saunders appear in the “cast in order of appearance” list between Steed and Redington, it seems likely he met them when he arrived.
- A lot of the plot for this episode seems to be the same as The Deadly Air, which also revolves around sabotage at a research laboratory. Given how close together in production they were, one wonders if any of the same sets and props were used.
- There are Tele-Snaps of this sequence. This is a set-up for a red herring later on, see footnote 10.
- This is a slight guess - the Tele-Snaps show Susan smiling as she watches Lisa demonstrates the arms. Two Against the Underworld by McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, p. 433) suggests she is smiling about Lisa fobbing off an advance from Steed.
- There are publicity stills showing Steed and Redington in the office with Saunders and Alford which seem to be from this scene. There’s also a shot of Susan and Alford outside the office, which looks like Alford is about to go in and she’s reassuring him, so I have assumed an imperious summons.
- The Avengers by Dave Rogers (ITV Books/Michael Joseph 1984 paperback reprint, p. 23) mentions this plot point.
- Two Against the Underworld by McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, p. 433) suggest Susan’s actions here. The Tele-Snaps and publicity photos confirm that Saunders speaks to Alford in Redingon’s office, then there is a sequence where Saunders is in his office and Susan enters, lights a cigarette, and presumably tells him where to get off - she looks more contrite in the Tele-Snap than she does in the publicity still.
- The Avengers by Dave Rogers (ITV Books/Michael Joseph 1984 paperback reprint, p. 23) and Two Against the Underworld by McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, p. 433) give the subject of the heated argument in the showers. There is also a Tele-Snap near the end of the episode which shows Redington and Lisa holding hands.
- I feel sure the arms were used as a red herring to suggest that Lisa were the saboteur.
- Two Against the Underworld by McGinlay, Hayes & Hayes (Hidden Tiger/Lulu hardback, 2015, p. 433) suggests Steed is knocked flying by one of the exterior mechanical arms when he tried to intervene.
- It’s not mentioned in any other synopses but I think the writers would have loved another level of red herring in this scene.
- Exactly what the experiment is supposed to be is not mentioned in any of the synopses but it resembles G-force tests on astronauts in the Fifties and Sixties. It seems likely it was either G-force or low pressure testing to explain the TV Times description of “he risks his life and samples outer-space”
- I’ve gone for a Doctor Who-style cliff-hanger but the Tele-Snaps could be read either way, it’s possible the break in Acts was after Steed is freed from the test chair and is recovering in Lisa’s arms.
- No country is named, as is common for The Avengers when dealing with Cold War espionage themes, so I’ll just assume they are Communist agitators from an undisclosed foreign power.
- Herbert Nelson was an ex-Commando and stunt man who appeared in may television shows in the Sixties before moving to Australia. He was famous for horse stunts as well as regular acting and action work. I’ve assumed he was either one of One-Fifteen’s men, or one of Steed’s helpers as there is one publicity still at the mill where you can just see him in the doorway at the back, after Steed and Saunders have turned the table on Boris and his goon. As his entry into the mill doesn’t seem to stop Steed, he seems to be on the “side of the angels”. Dave Rogers’ synopsis doesn’t mention who told Steed that Saunders had been “taken away by two gunmen” but if it were the landlord you’d think he would have called the police!
- There is a Tele-Snap of this, and it confirms Susan’s outrage at being reprimanded earlier, as discussed in footnote 9 above.
- At least, I think so. The Tele-Snap for this shot is so murky you can barely make out that it’s Lisa and Redington at all.