Robert Day, “The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 10: Never, Never Say Die)” (1967)
Now this is the episode that should have been the Return of the Cybernauts and not that other wishy-washy episode featuring just the one robot and a lot of mind control. Christopher Lee as both Professor Frank N Stone (chortle) and his robot duplicate are a fine team, even if very under-utilised in two roles that send up his Hammer Horror film career playing Count Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein. One fine day the robot duplicate is wandering the countryside and is hit twice about two hours apart by the same car driver. The horrified driver reports to the nearby hospital and Steed (Patrick Macnee) and trusty sidekick Peel (Diana Rigg) are quickly called onto spy duties. Peel finds a clue left behind at one of the accident scenes and this leads them to the Ministry of Technology – Neoteric Research Unit, a secret government facility engaged in work of the usual dubious sort that wastes taxpayer money. Steed narrowly escapes being chopped down to size in a country house and Peel visits an eccentric radio ham operator playing chess games with several people around the world to get information about the government unit. The two agents’ paths bring them to the unit’s headquarters where they are informed by the pack of mad scientists there that the unit is creating robots that look exactly like real human individuals, sharing their thought processes and memories, but indestructible and possessed of superior intelligence.
The quest for immortality, scientific arrogance and doppelgänger robots with minds of their own conspiring to rule the world by deliberately impersonating real people full-time are the main themes that are played for satire and to express people’s fears that one day science will run riot and regular folks might be replaced by clones or robots. Eventually the robots themselves will decide to replace the thinkers, creators and leaders of society with their kind and humans will have become completely redundant. The satirical aspect is made blindingly obvious in the episode’s coda and in the scientists’ plans to replace some visiting politicians with their duplicates. Amusingly, one of the radio ham operator’s chess opponents is an American lady whose face and hair are never seen but whose arms and legs are long enough that we suspect she might be Peel’s long-lost identical twin! Let’s hope the lady never meets Steed! The one weakness of the robots is that their neural wiring is affected by transistor radios operating at a certain frequency and this is exploited in a long scene, harking back to scenes in old Frankenstein films where the monster meets a little girl beside a lake, where Lee’s robot attempts to kill an enthusiastic old gent playing with his remote-control boat but can’t because the old fella’s radio is interfering with the robot’s functions; thus the boat’s circular movements on the pond are replicated in Lee’s movements around the field behind the man who is completely unaware of the robot.
Much of the first half-hour of the episode is wasted with the robot Frank N Stone, Steed and Peel literally given the run-around such as the one just described above. Fortunately the episode starts to speed up once Peel is captured and imprisoned by the scientists. For a change, the climactic fight ends differently with a minor character Dr James (Patricia English) coming to the spies’ rescue in the nick of time.
To this viewer, Lee is wasted in this episode which obsesses over his previous Hammer horror film roles in the way he stumbles around early on and later when he is lying still on a bed, his eyelids just flickering: he’d have been better off in a role trying to seduce and ravish Peel with the force and elegance of his personality and good looks … and succeeding! Apart from this, the acting of everyone in the episode is adequate for the job at hand. Unfortunately the plot appears under-cooked to address the themes adequately and the idea of robots taking over the world seems to have been incorporated into the story as a second thought.