Propellant-23 (Episode 2-02, October 1962)
Oh boy. Let’s talk about Propellant-23. On second thought, let’s not. I’m sorry to say that it is one of the weaker entries in the Cathy Gale episodes. It has such promise too.
The whole thing begins with Steed planning to meet a courier getting off a plane in France. Even Steed doesn’t know what the guy is carrying, but it’s so important that several other rival agents are after it too. The courier is murdered (of course) and Steed finds himself trying to infiltrate French customs in order to secure the courier’s briefcase and whatever is in it. Cathy meanwhile hangs out in a car outside the airport, ruminating on how she managed to get involved with a secret agent.
A Steed-heavy episode. Patrick Macnee appears to be on some kind of stimulant for the first half, talking a mile a minute, getting into fistfights, and lying his way into and out of trouble. For those that only know Steed from the Emma Peel series, where he’s far calmer and smoother, Propellant 23 is good fun for an introduction to Steed’s more manic side. There’s also a great set of character actors running around the place, including Geoffrey Palmer (you may know him from the BBC series As Time Goes By) to Catherine Woodville (Macnee’s second wife, don’t get me started on her). The French officials are all amusing, and somewhat make up for the rather thin plot.
There are also some great Steed/Cathy moments, both out in the car as they flirt (or Steed does) and a slightly inexplicable scene in a lingerie shop, where we learn that Steed likes shopping for lingerie and Cathy thinks that black is ‘a bit obvious.’ Propellant-23 builds their relationship nicely. Cathy is a humanist, concerned about her charity work, while Steed obviously does not understand her dedication to helping people. He hasn’t yet begun to learn either, although they quite obviously like and loathe each other in equal measure.
Despite its occasional good points, Propellant-23 does not measure up to some of the far more interesting and well-made Cathy Gale eps. Live television strikes again, with actors going up on their lines and a few scenes that are just confusing, I think because someone lost their script. The final fight in a bakery could have been cool but for weak writing and a rather flailing form of fighting that seems more like amateur theatrics. Steed’s manic style of talking in this one gets grating after awhile, as does his apparent incompetence from beginning to end. He does not usually fuck up this spectacularly. Cathy likewise seems cold, even mean at times, which is the side of her character that annoys me the most. Later episodes in this season will better meld their personalities, and give them something to do together. It’s far more fun when they’re bickering, but not at odds with each other.
Cathy: Do you always take your calls in a lingerie department?
Steed: If humanly possible.