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My cigars. He’s been smoking my cigars… And he’s… Bitten the end off. Bitten!

The Avengers
5.16: Who's Who???

As much as the series would fall back on remakes of earlier episodes when the producers were in a tight squeeze and pushing deadlines, necessity could also be the mother of invention. While The Prisoner made the worst possible fumble of the old body-swap scenario with Do Not Forsake Me Oh My DarlingWho's Who???, borne from the twin challenges of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg wanting time off (her departure from the series was announced during filming) is largely a success.


Dr KrelmarThe mind. The soul. The entire psyche. From one body to another. And vice versa.

Which isn't to say the performances of each other's alter egos are entirely masterful. As such, I don't entirely subscribe to the commonly held view that's it's one of the peaks of the season. Freddie Jones (scarcely needs an introduction, but try The Elephant Man and Krull for size) and Patricia Haines (3.3: The Nutshell, 4.3: The Master Minds) are note-perfect as vulgar enemy agents Basil and Lola and formidable as Steed and Mrs Peel. Rigg, meanwhile, gets into the gum chewing, frisky, slack-jawed demeanour of Lola with enthusiasm when she's been swapped. Macnee, however, doesn't even seem to be trying; couldn’t he have injected a bit of his spivvyness from Two's A Crowd? It isn't a deal-breaker, but it's a little akin to seeing Tom Baker in Meglos and realising he isn't making the most of the golden opportunity to show he can play something different.


Dr KrelmarPoliticians are replaceable. What we aim to destroy is the very structure of the security system.

Part of Basil and Lola's appeal is how unlikely they seem as top agents; Freddie Jones is just plain incongruous, although thankfully, this isn't a case of Nigel Stock as Number Six, where the conceit was straight-up unbelievable. They're chalk-and-cheese to our protagonists, winding each other up about their target’s other half ("She's enchanting, delectable, ravishing. Look at those legs") and rather sloppy with their execution, so just as well what they’ve done is implausible. Their plan proves remarkably effective too, wiping out half of the floral network (Major B prefers a bouquet of agents) before they're caught up with (Major B, head of the network, is played by Campbell Singer of 2.25: Six Hands Across a Table and The Celestial Toymaker).


SteedHooper's one of our best agents. He's a very upright fellow.
Mrs Peel: (observing Hooper's body high atop some packing crates with extended fake legs) Very.

Also appearing are Peter Reynolds (1.18: Double Danger) as Tulip, Arnold Diamond as scientist Dr Krelmar, Malcolm Taylor (2.1: Mission to Montreal and The Ice Warriors) as Hooper, and writer Philip Levene as the unfortunate Daffodil.


LolaI'm going to miss you, Basil.
BasilYou're not the only one, baby.

The episode is a relative rarity for maintaining a steady line in (larky) tension over how the proceedings will turn out, with the real Steed and Emma locked up or escaping while the real Basil and Lola wreak havoc. The climax, in particular, offers effective suspense as Emma convinces Krelmar she's been swapped back and needs swapping again (KrelmarI'm glad I got hereEmmaNot half as glad as I am, before knocking him out), and then ensuring Steed is swapped back before the good guys arrive and throw a spanner in the works. 


It also has a lot of fun playing with expectations regarding typical Macnee-Rigg interaction, such as Basil slapping Emma on the arse or the two engaging in a kiss (it's a device that has been employed since in everything from Doctor Who to The X-Files). It's also aware of the propensity for slip-ups, such as Boris calling Mrs Peel Emma early on (alas, she isn't suspicious enough as result), and she repaying the favour by accidentally calling him Steed at the other end of the plot. 


SteedMy cigars. He's been smoking my cigars… And he's… Bitten the end off. Bitten!

The contrast between Boris' plebeian and Steed's gentleman ("Steed has poise. A touch of the aristocrat") pays dividends, especially in a rant about Boris finishing off his bottle of '47 and biting the ends off his cigars ("What sort of fiend are we dealing with?"), or any slight that comes to mind ("I admire your tailor old man"; "More than I can say for yours"). 


It's not all a nod of approval to the upper classes; Major B is particularly bluffed out by basing everything on snobbery ("Anyway, I know an Old Etonian when I meet one, and I promise you, that chap in there’s no gentleman"), but then, he's a not uncommon idiot in authority for the show (he dismisses Emma as not knowing the name of his barber and she replies "I might, except that you're wearing a toupee"; he also exclaims "I'm a man of intelligence. Do you take me for a perfect idiot?" eliciting the response "No one's perfect". The old ones are the best). 


Major BIt would be different if they looked like doubles, that sort of thing. That’s been done before. But swapping psyches, I ask you.

As should be evident by this point, the series is having a lot of fun with its self-reflexivity. As such, it's amusing to see trademark ridiculously handy clues (see the next episode for evidence) used to lure our heroes to a "stilt" manufacturer. Although, if Steed finds it suspicious this week, why doesn't he react the same way every time a useful address shows up? There are also a couple of chucklesome "Important announcements" at the ad breaks, clarifying the potential confusion… "For the benefit of those who have just switched on The Avengers, we'd like to explain that these two villains have swapped minds… and these are the two villains. At least, I think they are. On with the show" and "But stay viewing. It'll all sort itself out – I hope".


Mrs PeelCome on, Basil baby!
SteedComing, honey child.

I'm not quite sure about the decision to take up permanent residence by Boris and Lola, since it was established earlier that Boris felt it when Steed was hit (so what if Boris' body is killed?), but mostly, Levene makes the whacky premise work in all the right ways, including a whispered saucy suggestion when Steed is unsure if Emma is the real Emma ("And if you want further proof"; "Oohhh… Mrs Peel") and a playful exit for a weekend away, assuming the parlance of their now locked up counterparts.


















Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I definitely agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my brother so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Quartz Banger

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