Series 4 — Episode 11
Man-eater of Surrey Green
by Philip Levene
Directed by Sidney Hayers
All over England, leading botanists are going missing. When the latest is a personal friend of Mrs Peel, the Avengers step in to investigate. All clues point towards Surrey Green, and the botanist Sir Lyle Peterson, but everyone is doing their work like mindless zombies.
They discover a crashed spacecraft, its astronaut still inside, and a large space-borne seedpod. Dr Sheldon declares it’s a creeper with brain tissue and a digestive tract that needs chemicals only found in humans.
They rush to Surrey Green with extremely potent herbicide and hearing aids to protect against the plant’s hypnotic influence. Mrs Peel loses her hearing aid in a tussle and attacks Steed, but a clash of heads leaves her unconscious. Steed uses the weed killer and the beast is defeated, so The Avengers depart on the back of a haycart.
Laura Burford (Gillian Lewis) runs out to the greenhouse to show Alan Carter (William Job) she’s managed to germinate a hermesis chlorus seed - “the first in captivity”. She has to shout, he has a hearing aid. He gives a kiss and she skips off, but halfway back to the house she stops with a strange look on her face, drops the precious pot heedlessly to the ground and strides through some prized seedlings towards a car that awaits her.
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) shows Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) his latest endeavour - home-grown button-hole flowers to cut out the middle man. He hands her a rose but she smells a rat - he’s brought her in to investigate the missing horticulturalists. Steed reveals the latest one to go missing is her old friend, Laura Burford. They visit Carter, who confesses he turns his hearing aide down when concentrating, but can’t explain the path of destruction she carved when she left. He excuses himself as he has to chair a Horticultural Society meeting - the president, Sir Lyle Petersen, has failed to show for the first time in ten years. Mrs Peel is startled - Petersen’s house is in the middle of the area from which the botanists have gone missing.
Steed visits Petersen’s ark of exotic plants, the door answered by Lennox (John G. Heller), who collected Laura earlier. He is asked to wait in a strange anteroom decorated with creepers climbing over wax mannequins. Steed peers through the doors and sees the missing scientists leaving Petersen’s office then Sir Lyle Petersen (Derek Farr) comes to greet him and is a genial, if evasive, host. Steed notes some unusually complex computer equipment and a model of an oil rig, then says he though he heard Laura Burford and Professor Taylor. Petersen laughs - the cat’s out of the bag, he has been rather over-enthusiastically recruiting the best people for some research into flowering shrubs. Laura is sent for and confesses Alan must be upset but she couldn’t refuse the offer - although when pressed appears to have no idea what the job actually is.
Steed departs, spotting a full-sized oil rig in the garden and when he opens a crate of rig gear Petersen calls Lennox, who places a cactus under Steed’s travelling rug. Luckily, Steed spots the lump as he climbs into the Bentley.
Mrs Peel holds the offending cactus at arm’s length in Steed’s flat, and calmly informs him the barbs are deadly. Petersen made two orders for drilling equipment, but cancelled the second at the last minute - it was bound for Moat Farm, Denby. They find the farm deserted and dilapidated, but Mrs Peel notices a scorched pile of hay and Steed uncovers a crashed space capsule under it, the skeleton of its occupant still inside. The RAF is called in and Wing Commander Davies (David Hutcheson) tells them the craft was launched a year ago and suffered a technical failure after launch, the pilot dying all alone, 5,000 miles up in the cosmos. His men have just unearthed what the capsule collided with and forced re-entry - an enormous alien plant with long papae. A batty old botanist, Doctor Sheldon (Athene Seyler), is called in. She’s excited by the plant and thinks it’s a member of the Compositae family - a dandelion weighing 200cwt1. Commander Davies tells them the Air Ministry recorded a meteorite on the 4th of last month in the area, undoubtedly the craft. Steed is struck by the coincidence - that’s the day Knight, Connelly and Taylor disappeared - and Petersen has whatever landed behind barbed wire.
Steed revisits Carter, learning that Laura loathes Petersen and is opposed to all his theories. Carter also tells him it’s the wrong time of year for lifting or grafting shrubs. Meanwhile, Mrs Peel goes to the pub to talk to Petersen’s supplier, Joe Mercer (Joby Blanshard). He asks the publican (Joe Ritchie) to get her a pint and tells her Petersen has ordered 20 tons of fertiliser in the last month - his last load has just gone up there. Bob Pearson (Donald Oliver) delivers the fertiliser and is disturbed by the zombie-like demeanour of Petersen’s labourers. So much so that he sneaks through the bushes to spy on them. He investigates the oil rig and discovers it’s a huge frame for a seedling to grow on - the seed under an expanse of polythene. Something alerts Lennox and he turns towards Pearson, who runs for his life as something seems to affect him also. He leaps back into the lorry and starts off, then becomes dazed and stops then gets down from the cab. He calmly walk toward Lennox, who shoots him.
Dr Sheldon calls over Commander Davies - she’s discovered the plant contained an embryonic brain and is excited by the prospect of a plant that could think. Carter meanwhile visits Steed and demonstrates that Petersen’s phone is never answered. He also counters Steed’s suggestion that Petersen has hired the finest experts in the field by conceding that Laura is smart but has a lot to learn - and if he were Petersen he would have hired Sheldon instead of Connelly. Dr Sheldon rings to tell Steed of her findings and Carter storms off to break into Petersen’s estate. He sees Laura working behind the wire fence at the rig and calls to her but she ignores him. When he tries to climb the fence he’s electrified and killed; she approaches then passes him without a glance.
Petersen is asking his experts for progress reports - Professor Taylor (Edwin Finn) says germination is satisfactory, expected at 1800; Professor Knight (Harry Shacklock) declares that the specified under-soil temperature is being maintained; Dr Connelly (Ross Hutchinson) reports that all irrigation channels have been tested and are working normally; Laura reports that all pest-control preparations are on schedule. Sheldon shows Mrs Peel and Steed her slides and says she thinks the plant a climber. If it grows at the same proportion as a bean, it would reach 200 times taller than the Empire State Building and have tendrils reaching for miles. If it seeded it would cover the Earth in a matter of weeks. She’s puzzled by the digestive system though - to germinate it would need tons of fertiliser and water, and intense heat. Davies hands her a lab report detailing traces of hydrochrome oxidase, the enzyme the plant needs to accelerate growth - the only source of the chemical on Earth is man! “How lucky there was only one!” she exclaims, as a worried look crosses the faces of Steed and Mrs Peel.
At Petersen’s house, the plant germinates, and the labourers drop their tools to line up alongside the pit. Steed returns home with a box of deaf-aids - he’s realised the plant must be controlling people, how else could Petersen have known what to order? - and Carter and Sheldon, the two eminent botanists who were not entranced both wear one. The plant orders the temperature turned up to maximum, and tendrils creep out from under the plastic sheeting...
Steed joins Sheldon and Mrs Peel, carrying a container of herbicide and perches on the back of her Lotus as she drives for Petersen’s. When they reach Surrey Green, they find the village deserted, cars strewn around the streets. There is only one survivor, Joe Mercer, whose deaf-aid has saved him. Dr Sheldon is suddenly overcome and Mrs Peel guess her deaf-aid battery is flat, and gives her a spare.
They walk to the estate, where Lennox shoots at them with his shotgun. They evade him in the long grass and reach the house, Mrs Peel picking up a shotgun on the driveway. They enter, followed by Lennox, who is killed by Mrs Peel before he can shoot, his shot going wide and damaging one of the mannequins. Tendrils start covering the glass roof and appear behind the glass doors leading to the control room. Miss Sheldon turns and gasps - a tendril has wrapped around Lennox’s body and is dragging him away but this clears the passage to the controls and they rush through to turn them off. Emma stoops to pick up one of Laura’s shoes just before Petersen bursts in with a shotgun. He orders Steed away from the controls then Mrs Peel leaps on him and the gun is wrestled from his grasp. Steed quickly puts a deaf-aid in his ear and he’s freed from the plant’s control.
Petersen is aghast - “it’s taken then all!” he cries, and says it will seed in a matter of hours. Their only hope is a powerful herbicide - Emma goes to fetch it while Steed attacks the tendrils that have started to drag Miss Sheldon away. Emma has to fight her way back through more tendrils and a whiplash from one dashes the deaf-aid from her ear. Miss Sheldon is rescued and Steed rushes to see what’s keeping Mrs Peel, and finds her pouring the herbicide on the floor. He realises she’s now under the sway of the plant and fights her, trying to save the herbicide. She smashes the deaf-aid but is finally defeated when their heads collide. Steed stands up, rubbing his head, and tells the others to grab the herbicide while he heads for the corridor. Miss Sheldon grabs it then Petersen urges them to hurry; Steed pours the herbicide on Mrs Peel’s leather jacket and they take shelter in the corridor. A tendril creeps in and drags the prostrate form away, and we see the beleaguered humans behind half a mannequin. Miss Sheldon wonders if it will work, but work it does - the tendrils and leaves start shaking violently then fall still. Steed tentatively takes the deaf-aid from his ear then turns, enters the corridor and helps Mrs Peel to her feet. “What happened to..?” she asks and he whispers, “Oh that? I’m a herbicidal maniac, don’t you know”.
The Avengers depart on the back of a hay cart, Steed envisaging a relaxing stroll through the Surrey Downs followed by tea with a friend who grows things - rose, daffodils, giant creepers... “What??” barks Mrs Peel, and is relieved to hear its eating habits are strictly vegetarian.
200 cwt is 10 tons in imperial measures - 2240 lbs for UK weights, which is 10160.5 kg or 10.1605 tonnes for you metric youngsters. One hundredweight in the UK is (or was) 112 lb (8 stone) - roughly 50kg.
|Production dates:||31-May - 11/06/65||Drinks|
|Transmission dates:||Foreign title||
|France||12/07/91||(La mangeuse d’hommes du Surrey)|
|Spain||---||(El canibal de Surrey Green)|
|Holland||30/11/68||(De mensetende plant)|