The Big Thinker (Episode 02-12, December 1962)
Like Emma Peel after her, Cathy Gale gets a few opportunities to strike out on her own, largely sans a male counterpart. The first such episode is actually Bullseye, which I will get to reviewing one of these days. The Big Thinker is another. I’ll go right ahead and admit that I’m reviewing it instead of Bullseye because it’s a far more enjoyable episode.
The Big Thinker sees Cathy investigating the goings-on at a missile defense computer facility where the main computer “Plato” is being sabotaged. There are a number of suspects, but the main one is resident mathematical genius/total douchebag Dr. James Kearns (Antony Booth), who knows Plato inside and out. Cathy cultivates Kearns’s friendship, even down to going out with him once or twice, in order to discover if he’s the one sabotaging Plato, and why.
The episode belongs to Honor Blackman and, unlike the rather turgid Bullseye, she makes it work. Scenes of bamfery abound, from Cathy handling a few card sharps like a pro to icily tearing down Kearns’s advances with a mere roll of her eyes. She’s helped along by Kearns himself, who’s played with a strong personality (even if he is in the ‘annoying young man’ category). Steed, meanwhile, hangs out in the background, popping up every so often to trade a few sarcastic jibes with Cathy, and dashing in when the going gets really tough.
Although this episode is light on the Steed/Cathy repartee, there are a few moments that exhibit the development of the characters’ relationship. There are shades of jealousy in Steed’s reaction to Kearns – he even shows up in Cathy’s apartment late at night to ‘protect’ her. Another scene highlights the increasing domesticity of Steed and Cathy’s relationship when he attempts cooking an omelette at her apartment. These scenes lend a sense of fun to the episode, and begin to draw out the interesting friendship and tension the characterizes the two main characters. While it’s a matter of conjecture if Steed and Cathy ever crossed the line from friends to lovers, they certainly share some strong sexual tension.
While The Big Thinker wins no awards for clarity – I got halfway through the episode before realizing that I wasn’t entirely clear why anyone would want to sabotage Plato in the first place – it’s a quirky little entry with some fun performances. It’s also a chance to be reminded that while Emma Peel solidified the notion of the intelligent, capable female agent, it was Dr. Catherine Gale that started the ball rolling.