17: Death’s Door
By this point, it goes without saying that, with Sidney Hayers calling the shots, Death’s Door is very stylish. Which is an enormous boon to the dream sequences, taking a conscious leaf out of Spellbound‘s book for how to do these things; if Too Many Christmas Trees previously plundered the manipulated mental state in not wholly dissimilar fashion, Philip Levene ensures this one keeps ticking along, with a proper howdunnit for Steed and Emma to solve.
Sir Andrew: I can’t go in. If I do, I’ll be killed.
The British delegates at a vital European peace conference (more than that, a United Europe was Sir Andrew’s idea!) are getting cold feet, refusing to enter the all-important Conference Room. First is Sir Andrew (Clifford Boyd), beset by premonitory dreams, minor details of the day that come true – such as Steed needing to be careful on Spout Hill, a man with a missing button, and a lion – and which suggest, if they are correct, the death foretold will be also. The lion (made of marble) is revealed after Sir Andrew has been hit by a car, having taken off in terror at the prospect of his demise.
Next, it’s the turn of his replacement, Lord Melford (Allan Cuthbertson, 1.24: The Deadly Air, 4.5: Death at Bargain Prices) to get cold feet, seeing visions of a crashing chandelier spelling curtains when he enters the room.
Hayers conjures some particularly memorable imagery, using varying frame rates and the blank expanse of the studio/warehouse set to create a stark impression: mobs of faceless reporters congregate around Melford; there’s an intrusive moustachioed man greeting him at the door; press attaché Stapley (William Lucas, Range in Frontios) reveals a cut to his cheek; announcements of “He’s dead. Melford’s dead” further add to the barrage. And the ticking off of events – lift out of order, truck crate, cyclist swerving, machine guns, pneumatic drills – in real life add to the unsettling effect.
Steed: The incidents were rigged to fit your dream.
Melford: And what about the dream itself? How could you rig a dream?Unless you know a way of getting into a man’s mind?
With any elaborate ruse such as this, the more precision-engineered it has to be, so the less ultimately believable it usually is. Which means, if the reveal isn’t especially likely – there’s a warehouse full of props (“Welcome, to Nightmare Alley“) inflicted upon Melford in a susceptible, drug-induced state – it just about gets a pass (although, both Steed and Emma finding their way there, thanks to goons going around with key chains stating the address is pretty unforgivable). One might suggest Stapley really should have been more careful than to place himself in a dream, since the realisation they are faked can lead to only one possible conclusion, but I guess one can put that down to villainous hubris.
Steed: They manifest a dream out of reality, then still using reality, they started to make the dream come true. To scare you, to stop you ever going through that conference room door.
As with the previous episode, a series now more generally identified for its frivolously breezy/whacky qualities marks itself out with an excellent suspense sequence halfway through, as Steed tracks down Albert Becker (Marne Maitlan), an official observer from the Eastern bloc – the moustachioed man from Melford’s dream – and promptly becomes the subject of his target practice. It’s an extended piece, played out almost in real time, as Becker closes in on the Avenger hiding behind fencing; Steed uses practical, MacGyver ingenuity to devise a means for Becker’s demise.
Mrs Peel: You know my wavelength?
Steed: I do indeed.
Also appearing are Dr Evans (Paul Dawkins, 1.17: Death on the Slipway, 3.5: Death a La Carte) and Peter Thomas (4.18: Small Game for Big Hunters, The Savages). Alas, ABC decreed there should be no more “We’re neededs” or two-line intros from this point, the spoilsports (something about ad breaks), and also that the more overt, on-the-rise wackiness be toned down. But we still have the codas, this time with Emma predicting a night out at the theatre (“You must have second sight. I did get a couple of tickets“), but only because she swiped Steed’s tickets (“Shall we go? I’d hate to miss the curtain“).