Written by: Ian Potter, Tom Mallaburn, John Dorney
From Scripts by: Terence Feely, John Lucarotti, Lester Powell
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Ramon Tikaram (Saunders), Karina Fernandez (Dr Ampara Alvarez Sandoval),Bettrys Jones (Barbara Anthony), Dan Starkey (One-Ten)
Music by: Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Cover by: Anthony Lamb
Duration: 180' approx
Originally Released January 2017
The trio of stories in the final instalment of Steed and Keel’s adventures are slightly odd choices for such a finale. Many episodes along the way have sidelined one or the other into mere cameos in the other’s story, but here we get an adventure for Steed in which Keel does not appear at all, a completely Steedless outing for Dr. Keel, and only one final team up for our heroes in the very last episode.
Operating completely solo, without any sidekick whatsoever (not even a one off substitute such as Carlos in Crescent Moon) casts Steed in a surprisingly different light. As does the complete absence of any kind of cover story or clever ruse. The Dragonfield facility- an underground warren of corridors and laboratories – is experiencing unusual problems that smack of sabotage while mysterious coded radio messages from “Zeus” to “Europa” are being intercepted in the area. And Steed is dispatched by his shadowy Department, quite simply and matter of factly, to end the problem by any means necessary.
And them, of course, the murders begin.
It’s fascinating to see an edgier Steed, less full of bonhomie. Presumably it’s the result of not having a partner to show off for, but the net result is that we can believe in Steed as the kind of man who’s done the messy, knuckle bruising work required in his line of work.
There’s a sequence near the end where Steed is threatening the revealed villain of the piece with having his hand pulped beneath a giant cog of machinery unless he gets the information he needs to complete his mission. With Keel at his side, you’d never doubt it was a bluff. Without him, it feels much less certain. The script certainly refuses to give us any such playful moment of relief from the question.
Originally Dragonsfield aired on television as the final episode of series one, so might be seen as a testbed for how well a Keelless second series might work. Instead it shows the importance of that plural “Avengers” mandating a succession of equal partners for him. Dragonsfield gives us a window into an alternate show simply called “Steed,”and for all its finely tuned mystery and well thought out action, it’s a world better glimpsed than lived in.
The Far Distant Dead
The Far Distant Dead, meanwhile, gives us Dr. Keel without his Steed and the result is no less curiously atypical. For one thing, it must have the expansive timeframe of any Avengers episode ever. Over the course of the story Keel founds, builds and fully staffs and equips an entire hospital! He gets into this during what was supposed to be a short holiday to Mexico but when the country is devastated by the second hurricane in as many years he feels obligated and help (well, pretty much take over, in fact) relief efforts in the worst part of the country.
The use of Mexico like this is a distinctly unAvengerish touch. No matter how paper thin the disguise, every vast Eastern European superpower, Western African former British colony, and Caribbean island sidestepped any accusation of direct political commentary or insulting any real nation’s pride by populating it with corrupt Presidents or maniacal death cults. So the choice to depict Mexico, specifically and by name, as a country with only a handful of doctors and in desperate need of Dr.Keel to tell them how to go about their business is a curious one by original writer John Lucarotti. Though it does form a strange sister episode to his Doctor Who story The Aztecs. But one in which the people of Mexico are rather more happy to accept the interference of the English do-gooder.
Of course, this is still The Avengers so it’s not long before Keel is distracted by a strange spate of apparent food poisonings adding to the country’s woes. Tracing it back to a batch of hydraulic fluid deliberately labelled as olive oil he’s soon punching his way through the chain of command of people responsible all the way to Paris.
As with Dragonsfield, it’s a curious insight into an alternate universe - here one in which Steed hadn’t taken root in the show’s DNA. The main impression is that it would been devilishly difficult to keep finding ways for Keel to get into trouble every week. It does, however, get bonus points to be a rare Avengers story where there’s some actual Avenging going on.
The Deadly Air
Our very, very last story feels like a curiously random finale to end the run of twenty-six episodes on. It feels largely like another day at the office for our heroic duo. Steed is investigating sabotage and murder at yet another government facility. Keel is dragged in for his medical credentials – even though he quite sensibly spends the whole thing pointing out that being a GP in Chelsea has given him barely any more grounding in the science of virology and vaccine development than Steed has. The mystery aspect is a little weak this time – even Steed wistfully admits when unmasking the killer that, after all, all the other suspects had been successfully bumped off by that point, leaving only one solution left.
On television of course, Keel’s last on screen appearance was even more random – the banana insurance scam comedy episode A Change of Bait (presented by Big Finish in Volume 4 of their reconstructions). Thereafter, he simply disappears from the show without fanfare. But as Big Finish have already shown the willingness to rejig the running order, there are more appropriate episodes they could have ended on. Toy Trap, for instance, with its fierce climax of Steed and Keel coming to blows as the latter threatens to quit their friendship in protest at Steed’s sometimes callous approach to collateral damage. Or Kill the King, with its coda of an unusually reflective Steed pondering whether this lifestyle is actually good for Keel and whether the good doctor mightn’t be living a happier life, more able to move on from his fiancee’s death, if Steed stopped calling on him.
Instead, The Deadly Air does its best to cap the series with a plot in which Steed comes rather closer to dying than it usual even for him, leading him to as impassioned a confession of his high regard for Keel and the value he’s placed on their friendship, as he can manage through his stiff upper lip. And a final scene, surely more inspired by Doctor Who’s Survival than anything in The Avengers canon, where Steed and Keel walk off into the sunset, the secret agent twirling his brolly and declaring that there’s still a whole world of mad scientists, enemy agents, and criminal conspirators out there for them to outwit.
“Dr. Keel… We’re needed!”