The Golden Eggs (Episode 02-19, February 1963).
With Dr. Martin King out of the way and Venus Smith still struggling to decide how old she is, Dr. Catherine Gale returned once more for The Golden Eggs. A scientist’s laboratory is broken into, the results published in the headlines. Although Dr. Ashe (Donald Eccles), an expert in diseases, claims that nothing has been stolen, Steed suspects something and dispatches Cathy to discover what’s going on. It turns out that the burglar did indeed get away with the loot: two ‘golden’ eggs containing a deadly virus. The audience learns what’s happening before Steed and Cathy do, meeting one villain (Peter Arne) obsessed with clockwork and his diabolical partners. The pair have to find the eggs before the baddies do, or risk unleashing the virus on England.
The Golden Eggs has all the makings of a stellar early-season episode. The episode opens (properly) on Steed and Cathy having breakfast together as they discuss the case; though we are of course assured that Cathy is only staying in Steed’s apartment temporarily and Steed is living in a hotel. The few scenes of repartee between them are the best parts of the episode, from Steed returning to his flat to shave, brush his teeth, and shatter a piece of pottery, to Cathy’s proper messiness and Steed’s horror at her inability to keep the refrigerator stocked. Cathy’s deep sympathy with the wife of the burglar, her fanagling of Dr. Ashe, and entertaining fight with one of the baddies shows off her character to great effect. It’s no wonder that Cathy won out and became Steed’s sole partner in season three.
But The Golden Eggs falls short in the villain realm, a pretty amazing feat given that the villain Julius Redferne bears all the marks of a James Bond baddie and is played by the deliciously snarky Peter Arne. Yet somehow the whole does not hang together, with Arne going up on his lines more than once (problems of live TV) and one of his two assistants changing sides in the middle of it all. The final fight comes off somewhat truncated, with Steed conspicuously absent from the action (he just sort of wanders off at the end of one scene and we don’t see him again until the end).
Watching these early seasons, I’ve come to realize that The Avengers is not terribly well written as a rule. The best episodes depend on the charm and dedication of the actors, both lead and secondary, and fall to pieces if anyone is not quite on point. While the plots sometimes have pop, it’s all on the shoulders of our heroes to make us believe them.