Death of a Great Dane (Episode 2-08, November 1962).
Death of a Great Dane bears the distinction of being the first Cathy Gale episode to be later remade with Emma Peel (as The 50,000 Pound Breakfast). The Gale episode is far more hard-boiled, while the candy-coloring of Season 5 takes some of the edge off later on.
It all begins when a man gets into a car crash and the doctors discover 50,000 pounds worth of diamond in his stomach. Steed and Cathy come in to investigate, leading them eventually to a joke shop, a reclusive and ill millionaire named Alexander Litoff and his staff, and the death of one of the millionaire’s Great Danes. There are some highly enjoyable set-pieces: Steed and Cathy at a wine-tasting together, flirting shamelessly (that scene will also be replayed in Dial A Deadly Number, again with Emma Peel); the final sequence between Steed and Litoff’s butler Gregory; a rare domestic sequence of Steed and Cathy listening to music. Steed suspects that there’s something fishy about the millionaire and his staff, and so attempts to sell them back their diamonds, only to get himself deeper into danger.
The villains in this case are, unfortunately, not terribly interesting. In the Emma Peel remake, Litoff’s staff include a simpering sadist and a tough-as-nails female right-hand. In Death of a Great Dane, the villains are overplayed, with the single exception of Litoff’s butler (Leslie French), whose repartee with Steed is among the best parts of the whole episode. There’s also John Laurie as Litoff’s doctor.
But as always, the point comes down to Steed and Cathy and how much fun they’re having together. And they are having a lot of fun. The episode most clearly delineates the inherent differences between them, the source both of their attraction and their tension. Steed distrusts the millionaire because he suddenly begins giving to charity, while Cathy claims that Steed looks at the world far too cynically. This conflict between Steed’s cynicism and Cathy’s humanitarianism will come up again and again in later episodes, as she begins to hone his rough edges and help to reveal the much more caring man beneath; as he cultivates her intelligence and energy to fight against villains. Their mutual attraction is palpable in several well-played scenes, their flirtations beginning to take on more energy and intensity. Macnee and Blackman are in top form, visibly enjoying themselves from one scene to the next.
There’s an energy and vitality to this season of The Avengers that won’t be quite matched in Season 3, but will come back in force when Steed switches partners and meets Emma Peel. Here the edges are still visible, making the season rougher, meaner and sexier. Death of a Great Dane gives us that edge in force.