6.3: The Curious Case of the Countless Clues
Like Invasion of the Earthmen, this is a John Bryce-produced episode. And like Invasion of the Earthmen, it’s rather underrated. The Curious Cast of the Countless Clues includes its own heightened element amid the seriousness in the shape of Sir Arthur Doyle (Peter Jones, the Voice of the Book, of course, and previously Dr Adams in 4.17: The Thirteenth Hole), and a plot that plays out like a rather more feasible version of 5.21: You Have Just Been Murdered, also written by Philip Levene. In this one, a couple of enterprisingly disreputable types, Gardiner (Kenneth Hopkirk Cope, 5.3: The Bird Who Knew Too Much) and Earle (Anthony Bate, the recently recovered 1.20: Tunnel of Fear), are extorting the rich for art treasures via elaborately set up blackmailing schemes.
I haven’t mentioned the Season Six opening titles yet, only the less-than-innovative end ones on The Forget-Me-Knot, dropped in favour of more conservative but somehow appropriate shuffling cards. I think I might prefer these to the iconic Rigg-Macnee ones of the previous season, not that we’d have the latter without the former, but the decision to go for exteriors makes the visuals pop more, while the addition of the armour motif only adds – if that were possible – to the prevailing Anglo-eccentric tone of the show. In a good way.
Dawson: But, who’s been murdered?
Earle: You, sir.
The teaser sequence for Curious Case is absolutely one of the series’ best, showing us Gardiner and Earle, to all intents and purposes detectives investigating a murder scene, complete with chalked body silhouette on the carpet (“A brutal killing”: “Oh, dastardly, sir”). They reel off all the clues that might point to the killer’s identity before Dawson (Ronald Jessup, Servant in The Massacre, Lord Savar in The Invasion of Time), the flat’s occupant, returns and is promptly shot dead, falling neatly into the chalk outline (presumably to be subsequently removed by the perpetrators, or it would look rather odd). As Earle later explains to Flanders, since crime never pays “I have turned a drawback into a virtue. I have made you a murderer”.
Sir Arthur Doyle: Deduction, Steed, deduction.
Steed: (holding up a hair removed from Sir Arthur’s coat) I see you’ve changed your secretary. The last one was brunette. Deduction, Sir Arthur, deduction.
Jones is perfectly cast as Sir Arthur Doyle (Steed: He’s kind of a…. I really must ask him). Doyle takes to the Baker Street detective’s methods that bit too literally, at the expense of accompanying intuition or hunches. Steed, in contrast, is instantly suspicious that the murderer is so incredibly careless where it counts (to have left everything behind, clues-wise, barring his name and address); the only actual suspicious coincidence that’s unintentional in Levene’s plot is that Steed should be acquainted with both the parties Earle and Gardiner choose to blackmail, but I suppose it reflects the gentleman spy’s circulation in a rarefied social stratum. Sir Arthur, meanwhile, blithely assumes his science is unswerving (“Ah, if they didn’t make mistakes, we’d never catch them, would we?”)
Sir Arthur Doyle: We can’t send a policeman to one of our leading cabinet ministers to ask “What were you doing between the hours of ten and twelve last night?” It comes better if it is from a friend. Mmmm. A casual inquiry. From an old friend. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
The blackmail cases play out with due tension as Sir William Burgess (George A Cooper, Cherub in The Smugglers, 2.21: The White Dwarf) first capitulates to demands for a Horsborough but draws the line when Earle asks for another; he states a preference to face the music. It’s a good scene (“Start with a blackmailer. You never stop him”), and even Sir Arthur arriving to make heavy weather of reading Sir William his rights (“Oh come on, Arthur”) fails to blunt its impact.
Flanders (Edward de Souza, 2.25: Six Hands Across The Table) is the next to be preyed upon, thanks to stolen incriminating circumstantial evidence (a button, a handkerchief, a gun). Also in on their scheme is Stanley, played by renowned cockney hard-man Tony Selby (Glitz in The Trial of A Time Lord and Dragonfire, Ace Of Wands). He’s on hand to repair Flanders’ car and offer an alibi or none at all, depending on his willingness to provide Valdescos to order.
Steed: I hope you’re not suggesting…
Sir Arthur Doyle: Oh, of course not. No indeed. Not enough evidence. Just the same, old chap, if you could have a discreet word with Flanders. Find out where he was between three and four o’clock yesterday. Be awfully grateful.
This plot finds Sir Arthur drawing upon Steed’s dalliance with Flanders’ sister Janice (Tracy Reed, Dr Strangelove, Casino Royale, UFO and You Must Be Joking! amongst many others). I was particularly amused by his refraining from suggesting anything sordid, not out of decorum or etiquette, but because there’s “Not enough evidence”. Notably, Tara also shows stirrings of jealousy at the mention of an old flame.
Steed: Just lock your doors, bolt your windows and don’t move until I get there.
As with Earthmen, the Tara plotline ultimately makes good. For reasons unknown, she’s laid up with a sprained ankle, so required to do home detection work. She comes into her own in the third-act’s Rear Window scenario, where, with the villains now having Steed in their sights and Tara as his victim, they turn up at her flat intent on murder (“Do you know, I didn’t fancy the others, but Miss King”).
While this is set up as needing Steed to come to her rescue (by way of slamming gangster Selby’s head under a bonnet to get him to squeal), it turns out she doesn’t need very much at all. Steed is required only to repel a fleeing Gardiner after she shoots Earle. The sequence is effectively staged by Don Sharp, segueing from the big screen (notably Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films and Our Man in Marrakesh) and a double reminder with Earthmen that the show can muster straightforward tension when it so chooses.
Steed: Do you suppose that when Eve approached Adam on that creative day, he said “Not ripe yet”?
Tara: So that’s the way you view the situation? A sort of Garden of Eden.
Steed: Well, you must admit, they look very attractive. Never mind, here is something that’s been ripening since… 1957.
While Steed and Tara work effectively solo, there’s continued unease over their domestic bliss. You can’t help feel Macnee isn’t so keen on the forwardness of the relationship, such that the above exchange finds him only too willing to shrug off the innuendo. His hanging out at Tara’s apartment waiting for phone calls just seems… well, not exactly indecent, but certainly nothing to be proud of. The coda at least eschews such business, concentrating on a delicate operation to mend Steed’s bowler (“The first ever brim graft”), accompanied by the news that Tara’s ankle is fully mended.