The opening teaser can go a long way to cementing an Avengers as a good ‘un in the memory, but it can also be just about all there is to a story. Such is the case with Split! in which, once you’ve seen Mercer (Maurice Good, 1.10: Hunt the Man Down, 3.7: Don’t Look Behind You, The New Avengers’ Forward Base) hear the name Boris, undergo a personality change (the clawed hand!) and shoot his Ministry of Top-Secret Intelligence (the name’s probably the funniest part of the episode) colleague Compton (Iain Anders), it’s pretty clear what’s up. The only variable is quite how science fiction the explanation is, and in this case it’s very.
Steed: What have you done to your hand?
Mercer: A legacy from Berlin, October ’63.
Brian Clemens’ quickly-penned teleplay is also not so far from Spock’s Brain in terms of silliness. Boris Kartovski (Steven Scott, 1.13: One for the Mortuary, 1.26: Dragonsfield, 3.13: Second Sight – the name Boris Kartovski also featured in 4.22: A Touch of Brimstone) was shot in the heart by Steed, in 1963 Berlin, but he survived thanks to Dr Constantine’s (Bernard Archard, 4.3: The Master Minds) skills, putting him on ice and perfecting (well, never quite perfecting) the ability to place his mind in another’s body. Scott is good value in a performance that’s all eye movement, and sometimes lascivious eye movement at that, even if he looks a little like Mo out of The Three Stooges.
Rooke: Perfect! I am the perfect prototype.
The episode’s structured such that whoever the latest incumbent “Boris” is must kill the one who isn’t “taking” and is becoming a liability. So Mercer is shot by Lord Barnes (Nigel Davenport, 4.21: The Danger Makers) and Barnes by Rooke (Julian Glover). Being Julian Glover, naturally he needs to be a bad guy, although he shoots Barnes while he’s still a good guy. His struggle for control at the climax is a particularly strong little scene, begging Steed to dispose of him (“Kill you old chap? I’d rather cure you”).
Dr Constantine: He wants you to stand where he can see you. He was always one for a pretty woman. His appetite was remarkable, voracious. And he could be cruel. So cruel.
The mind transference also inserts a rather unpleasant rape subtext, with the prospect of Tara becoming host for Boris. Constantine tells her “You will feel no pain, Miss King, no pain at all. Unless you decided to fight it. Then your pain will be considerable” while, as the process is underway, Tarvovski is mock warned “Boris, don’t forget you’re dealing with a lady. Think some nice thoughts”. Steed saves her, of course (“I can’t promise you’ll play the violin again”), but Hinnell (John G Heller 4.12: Man-Eater of Surrey Green, 5.9: The Correct Way to Kill) contriving to shoot Constantine, the dolt, isn’t the most satisfying of solutions.
Tara: Clearly, he is highly intelligent, Strong weak, happy sad, carefree anxious man.
Steed: Is that a fact?
Tara: No I made it up.
Also dissatisfying is that, while we as the audience are way ahead, everyone else is required to be desperately slow. Since the plot is very linear, with little intrigue, it can only be the method by which the villains are doing what they’re doing that’s a surprise, and it wouldn’t be to anyone who’s seen a few science-fiction shows. Tara’s suspicious of Mercer from the start, stealing his report and getting his handwriting analysed, but it still takes a long time (“Brutal extrovert, man who will stop at nothing is a first-class description of Boris Tarkovski”) to put the pieces together (“I was feeling a bit extrovert” says Lord Barnes on smashing a glass in the fireplace).
Swindin: Wemarkable. Quite Wemarkable. Wemarkably Wemarkable.
Steed: Would you care to remark upon the remarkability?
Swindin: Yes, I would.
Still, Christopher Benjamin (JJ Hooter in 4.14: How to Succeed… At Murder, 5.10: Never, Never Say Die) supplies a reliably eccentric turn in the form of handwriting expert Swindin, and there’s a few nice conceits at the ministry (passes must be shown every ten feet of corridor). On the whole, Split! is a more serious-minded story, Clemens and co taking up the baton from the previous short-lived guard, but those tend to work when there’s some mystery or tension to keep the story going, and this one peters out quickly; the idea was much better applied, and more humorously, in 5.16: Who’s Who?
Tara: For a moment I wondered who had gotten into you.
The coda has Steed doing some amusing mugging of a personality change when getting into his suit (with an accompanying music cue) and providing champagne rather than Tara’s preference of ice, grenadine, sake, crème de Violette, calvados, Devonshire cream and an unripened strawberry.
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