Man with Two Shadows (Episode 3-03, October 1963).
Man with Two Shadows represents the first Avengers attempt at a “doppelgänger” episode – they will repeat the performance in Season 4’s Two’s a Crowd, Season 6’s They Keep Killing Steed, and The New Avengers’ Faces. But Man with Two Shadows stands as the best use of the often-overused trope, and also the most disturbing.
The episode opens with the interrogation of Peter Borowski (Terence Lodge), an agent who has apparently been brainwashed and implanted with multiple personalities. In a disturbing sequence, Steed effectively beats and tortures Borowski, finally discovering the existence of a plot to replace certain key members of the British government with doppelgängers. Tracing some of Borowski’s movements, as well as the disappearance of Gordon, an eminent government scientist, Steed and Cathy stumble onto a holiday camp where the villains have been funneling their doppelgängers into regular life. As they delve deeper into the investigation, they also discover that one of the replacements might be Steed himself.
There are any number of excellent elements to this uneven episode. Terence Lodge gives a brief but virtuosic performance as the mad Borowski, his mania both terrifying and pathetic in a scene that deeply complicates the audience’s feelings about Steed (his own superior can’t stand to watch the agent beating Borowski). Paul Whitsun-Jones is equally bizarre as Steed’s superior Charles, a rather disgusting and morally questionable member of the Ministry. But the doppelgänger plot itself is somewhat thin: much time is spent on proving whether or not Gordon is the “real” Gordon, something of which the audience is already aware. Sections of the plot are elided over, giving the episode a disconnected feeling, as though some needed details and character development have been left out. It’s hard to feel sympathy for Judy, the girl whom the doppelgänger Gordon finds himself involved with, when her character is so single-note.
Man with Two Shadows does manage to twist the Steed and Cathy relationship to a degree that we might wonder if they ever manage to trust each other again. Steed reveals that he has in fact been captured and interrogated by the very people who drove Borowski mad; later, his very personality will come into question when his doppelgänger arrives to kill and replace him. Cathy remains in the dark, uncertain about whether to trust Steed, uncertain if he even IS Steed. The results are disconcerting, made more so if one notes that this episode aired right before The Nutshell, where Steed might (or might not) be a traitor. The partners have never been divided so deeply as they are here, and there is a distressing sense that not only do they fail to trust each other, they don’t even know each other.
The levels of moral ambiguity fail to resolve in Man with Two Shadows, leaving us with a sense of violation at a rather unsatisfying conclusion. While everyone in the cast give remarkable performances, there is something deeply unpleasant at the core of this episode. Sympathies are divided and remain divided, loyalties are drawn into question without resolution. While far better in tone and script than the later doppelgänger attempts, Man with Two Shadows still mostly succeeds in making you dislike everyone involved. In a show that typically trades on the charm and interplay between its leads, there is very little to enjoy here.