Box of Tricks (Episode 02-17, January 1963).
Well, you can’t win them all. While it is a mistake to expect too much from Venus Smith episodes, almost every other episode from her limited run at least has a reasonable plot. This one is so far-fetched, and so apparently dependent on strange coincidence, that I don’t really know what to do with it.
Box of Tricks asks the question: what is the relationship between the death of a magician’s assistant and the apparent leakage of a number of state secrets? Perfectly legitimate question, if there was actually an answer to it. But halfway through the episode the story abandons a somewhat interesting murder mystery to focus on the machinations of a faith healer and his relationship to a high-ranking General’s daughter. The solution to that part of the case is obvious from the beginning, so why it takes Steed and Venus another thirty minutes to figure it all out is anyone’s guess.
But as with even the most risible episodes of The Avengers, this one does have its good points. Steed gives a credible and entertaining performance as a hypochondriac millionaire, while Venus seems to be getting into her role as a secret agent’s girl Friday. The repartee between the pair actually improves, though how Steed figures into Venus’s life is still unclear (he seems to have acted as her agent once or twice, but how he got into that business we shall never know). The noir tone of the nightclub scenes harkens to The Avengers crime drama roots, with Steed putting the moves on some of the girls (or them putting the moves on him). Steed’s hard edges are still there, his character rougher and his ability to traverse the social classes without rumpling his tie make some moments quite enjoyable. The noir quality is actually the most surprising element of these early episodes, especially as we’re used to thinking of The Avengers as a campy spy-fi show. It started as something quite different.
As with most of the Venus Smith episodes, this one is strictly for the die-hard fans. The uninspired plot plods along to a strong if not surprising denouement. While far from a BAD piece of 1960s TV, it isn’t exactly brilliant.