This episode is one of three episodes to feature the underrated character of Dr. Martin King played by (the late?) Jon Rollason, an overlooked actor and writer and as such goes against the grain of how the set up of the series is perceived, Steed and strong female lead take on the crime world. The presence of Dr. King is due to the departure of Ian Hendry leaving a doctor shaped hole in series and possibly due to a scripting crisis in efforts to replace him, so with three scripts ready written I imagine it was considered a wise move to not abandon the scripts and put them before the camera to allow for work on the scripts introducing Cathy Gale and Venus Smith.
The episode in question, which is written by Eric Paice who wrote many solid straghit ahead sleuthing episodes, is a real little corker of an episode with a great little set up: A transatlantic flight from Montreal en route to Ireland crashes after seemingly talked down by Shamrock air control and causing a great deal of confusion for local village. A similar incident occurred six weeks prior only on that occasion the plane crashed into the sea so Steed is assigned to investigate. At this stage of the series Steed isn’t quite the out and out gent of later years and is quite curt at times, there is an amusing running gag that Steed is slowly taking over Shamrock airport for his investigation to the chagrin of the staff. Cue the arrival of Dr. King to examine the victims of the crash. As with later episodes, Dead on Course uses an unusual location for a lot of the action to take place in; a convent run by a silent order of nuns (one of whom has a noticeable five o’clock shadow), the convent serves as a make shift morgue/hospital and plays an important role in the proceedings. We are blessed by a entourage of colourful supporting characters such as the rather simple Vincent O’Brien, the pompous pub landlord Michael Joyce and a machine gun welding Mother Superior, who sadly doesn’t utter the line “God bless you my child, now eat Lead.”
Dr. King is a likable character, a harassed young intern who hasn’t got a huge amount of time for Steed’s nefarious activities and is rather frustrated by having his schedule interupted, it is only when Steed brings up the victims of the crash that he agrees to help, despite Steed assuring him “They asked for the best, so I thought of you.” Dr. King replies with a weary “flattery will get you everywhere” illustrating his disdain. But despite this Dr. King sets himself up as a bit of a detective discovering the MO of the operation and taking it upon himself to find out the secret of the convent. There are few plot holes, namely how do the soda syphons filled with petrol get onto a plane leaving from Montreal? Is the idea to land them, take the cash consignment and then burn out the plane? Contrary to what other critics say, the obvious male nun is remarked upon in a line which is usually mistaken for a jokey description of Dr King. He starts to describe King to the nun who I guess is supposed to be hidden in shadow (the nature of the production let’s that down a bit) and as the Nun emerges Steed tails off from his description and mutters “…a man.” There are a few technical bloopers on the way with some incredibly sloppy edits between videotape and telecine making the episode have a high number of picture dropouts and bounces. The 2000 VHS release has this edited out which may seem like a good idea but it resulted in lost of dialogue and a few scenes crashing into one another, the 2009 DVD release has the print intact and as a result thesee drop outs do detract a bit. The as live production style may excuse some of the on set bloopers such as the lights going out on part of the pub set and the Pilot’s corpse blinking during a BCU, but the editing issues can only be a victim of the director’s inexperience, this being Richmond Harding’s first time behind the cameras on the Avengers. Oh, then there are some of the Irish accents. Ouch, especially the guy searching the wreckage.
Another victim of the editing, though if it is on the studio or at script level is the climax. On paper it sounds great but thanks to some sloppy editing and it all seeming a bit rushed it falls so flat it is embarrassing. The mastermind is exposed, Dr. King over comes his gaoler by means of a molotov cocktail and boom we suddenly have Dr. King and Steed laughing about flying home and it is left unsaid what happened to Gerry and the rest of the gang, I’ll assume the local or airport police pick them up off screen despite not being mentioned.
The Bottom Line:
A strong and mostly solid episode which is a good example of a very different era of the Avengers. Interestingly enough on original broadcast this episode achieved the highest viewing figures of the season.