On November 16th, 1963, "Second Sight" aired on British Television as an episode in the popular television series The Avengers starring Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman as the British agents John Steed and Cathy Gale. The episode was the product of the combined team of Martin Woodhouse (writer) and Peter Hammond (director). Despite several problems within the script and the filming, the episode was a very fine piece of work. Production for "Second Sight" ended October 11th, 1963, and it was shown in Season 3, as the 60th episode of the show. However, the episode received poor reviews and was not aired in the United States until March 14th, 1991. This was a shame.
Martin Woodhouse and Peter Hammond were longtime veterans of The Avengers. The two had produced some fine episodes. Hammond was well known for his excellent direction in "The Golden Eggs" and other such episodes in the Cathy Gale Era. Woodhouse's new script was very intelligent. Unusual eye graft operations are allegedly conducted using live corneas. Several of these live corneas are to be delivered to London, from Switzerland's Mont Blick Clinic, the event in which Steed is representing the Government. Cathy Gale and a Doctor Spender (played by Ronald Adam), are highly suspicious of this procedure, as does Steed as the story progresses. The investigation leads to violence. The man to whom the "corneas" are to be delivered is the Norweigian millionaire Marten Halvarssen (played by John Carson), has been blind since World War II. We discover with Steed, Cathy, and Spender, that Halvarssen is the originator of a more sinister plot...
Much was put into the making of this episode. Called in for the making of the episode were actors John Carson (Halvarssen), Peter Bowles (Neil Anstice), Ronald Adam (Doctor Spender), Judy Bruce (Eve Hawn), Steven Scott (Dr. Vilner), and Terry Brewer (as Anstice's cronie Steiner). Also, the script was superbly written, very intelligent, despite the real motives of the "treatment," diamond smuggling, an idea that was un-original. Johnny Dankworth wrote new music for the wonderful gunfight in Halvarssen's office in the last few minutes of the episode. The sets, designed by Terry Green, were some of the best of the series, especially Halvarssen's offices and Mont Blick Clinic (despite the fact you never see the mountain it's built on). The filming was superb, with many off angle shots, such as the reflection in a upside-down mirror and the twirling body of Dr. Spender falling down the mountain side seen in the reflection of the glasses of a phony patient who turns out to be a henchman named Steiner. There was very good dialog in the episode, especially that between Halvarssen and Steed. To add to this, there is a great fight scene at the climax of the episode, a gun battle in Halvarssen's offices, and despite the fact it's over very quickly it's very satisfying, as is the entire episode.
So, on November 16th, 1963, the fans of The Avengers, young and old, sat back and watched the opening credits of "Second Sight." The plot was in many ways odd, at the beginning, Halvarssen appears to be a villain, and you boo him, up until nearly the end, when your heart practically breaks for the poor chap. One of the saddest scenes in the episode is near the end when he holds the diamonds and walks into a wall, being a blind man. He is betrayed by those who he loves and his friend and his lover are both killed. His new lover (Eve Hawn) is betraying him for Neil Anstice, played wonderfully by the great Peter Bowles, who in later years has entertained viewers in such productions as To the Manor Born, The Irish R.M., and appearing as the befuddled and hilarious Mr. Justice Guthrie Featherstone.
At the outset of the episode, Dr. Vilmer is demonstrating how to transport the corneas to London by private plane (the event sponsored by Halvarssen), watched by Anstice, Miss Hawn, and Steed. Steed finds it odd that one can actually transplant corneas from patient to patient, and says that he thought it was impossible. "With the right resources," says Anstice, "nothing is impossible", to which he sticks to fake corneas onto the eyes of a statue. Later, presumably the same day, we see Mrs. Gale and Steed walk into their flat, after attending a stock-car race, which Mrs. Gale obviously disliked, as they attended it in the middle of "a 4.3 thunderstorm". She is intrigued by the idea of eye surgery and is interested in finding out more, and perhaps attending the transportation with Steed. They mention Halvarssen, and that he is the owner of the Mont Blick Clinic, 7000 feet up a mountain in Switzerland. Mrs. Gale will be going to Switzerland anyway, so she may be able to visit the Clinic, and perhaps take part in the experiment.
At the London Clinic, we see Anstice and Hawn kissing, very quickly. Miss Hawn is Halvarssen's fiancée. Dr. Vilmer arrives to speak with Halvarssen, but he is turned back and Anstice asks him if it is about money, but it is word that Steed is bringing over a Doctor, Mrs. Gale, which, for some reason as yet unknown, appears to worry Anstice and Vilmer. She arrives shortly afterward and meets Anstice, Vilmer, and Hawn. She tells them that Steed has informed her about the operation and she is quite interested. Anstice rebukes her, saying that he had no right, but they have no choice. She says she was interested especially in the fact that they are using a special container. She is even more interested when she learns that the grafts are from a live donor, which is unheard of. She is allowed to stay with the operation. When she leaves for the night, Vilmer becomes very much afraid and returns to Switzerland. Mrs. Gale tells Steed that she believes that the operation is impossible. He is very interested in this, and decides to do some research into the mysterious head of operations, Marten Halvarssen, while Cathy takes on the guise of an eye surgeon.
We see the office of Halvarssen, a large building. The tall blind man walking in the shadows, puffing at a cigar as Steed sneaks into his office in the dark and starts investigating as Halvarssen stands in the shadows. He finds the bust of an attractive, Scandinavian woman, and a miniature shooting gallery. "Mr. Steed, I believe, Good Evening, my name is Halvarssen." Steed does not realize at first that he is blind until he waves a hand in front of his large black glasses. Halvarssen loads a golden pistol and he and Steed shoot cans off the counter. Halvarssen shoots them all off and explains that he has designed all the targets to have a specific sound that he turns on, to track them. The bust, he says, is of a woman he loved, who is dying now. The reason he can not go to Switzerland is that he cannot bare to be in the same place that she is dying in.
The next morning, Steed and Mrs. Gale are visited by his friend, Dr. Spender, an expert on eye surgery. He decides to go along, as he suspects that the operation is an elaborate medical hoax. Mr. Anstice, meanwhile, is speaking angrily to Halvarssen, with Miss Hawn in the background. Halvarssen has allowed both Mrs. Gale and Dr. Spender to go along. Anstice privately tells Miss Hawn in a low tone, "Dr. Spender and Mrs. Gale won't prove too difficult to deal with."
In Switzerland, Spender tells Mrs. Gale that the idea of the operation is rubbish. Anstice and his assistant Steiner arrive in standard medical clothing, and he and Spender obviously don't get along. Mrs. Gale explores the clinic to discover the room of patient Hilda Brauer, where we see an easel and board with a painting of a Scandinavian woman with no corneas. She photographs it. Anstice arrives and she learns from him that Hilda is the one sacrificing her corneas for Halvarssen. When she is taken back, Spender is reprimanded by Hawn and Anstice for allowing her to walk around the building alone. She tells him she has seen no patient and he tells her that it's definitely a hoax. Then they are taken to the Operating Room were they see a body outstretched on a table completely wrapped except for three small holes for eyes and mouth. Spender attempts to communicate with the patient but "she" does not answer, Anstice tells him that the patient should not move under the dressings. Spender asks if he may examine the legs, the answer from Anstice is an expected "No." He then discovers that both corneas will be grafted. Furthermore, they learn Halvarssen had saved Hilda's life. When they leave, Anstice glances at Hawn and utters a devilish laugh. We then see the operation on Miss Brauer. Vilmer is on the scene to help and gives the patient an anesthetic. Meanwhile, Spender is told the operation is in a different part of the building from a phone call in his room. He comes to the said room and sees the patient, who he thought was being operated on. Unfortunately for him, this was planned by Anstice. After unwrapping the patient, it stands up and forces Spender backward into a large window, and he falls down the mountainside, 800 feet, while the patient, in actuality Steiner, looks on.
They meet in a house in London, during a rainstorm, where Steed learns about Spender from Mrs. Gale and Anstice gets Steed to sign the approval for the British Government. They then go to Halvarssen's office. Anstice and Hawn are planning to run off and wait for Halvarssen to find out about Spender on his own. They lie to Halvarssen about it but before they can leave, Mrs. Gale arrives, and Mrs. Gale informs Halvarssen, who had no idea, and is horrified. When Cathy leaves, Anstice must answer to Halvarssen.
Steed tells Mrs. Gale that Hilda was actually Henrietta Brown, an artist, and a forger for Halvarssen. Miss Brown was found in the Rhine 4 days before, Mrs. Gale realizes that whoever was operated on was not Henrietta. They leave for Halvarssen's office.
Anstice arrives with the delivery, not corneas, but diamonds, in a box. He laughs to Hawn, telling her that he is delivering fakes to Halvarssen and taking the real ones for them, "It just occurred to me," he laughs, "It's like stealing pennies from a blind man." Halvarssen receives them, and is angry and torn, he knows that the diamonds are worth half a million pounds, but are they worth a man's life? He is terribly angry at Anstice and lashes out and him, rubbing the 'diamonds' against a mirror, and discover that they are fakes, just as Mrs. Gale arrives. Halvarssen has removed his glasses and stands humbled as Anstice and Steiner hold guns to them. Steed arrives as well, through a hatch in the roof. Halvarssen is now a broken man, and he learns that Hilda is dead, and Steed makes a move for the lights and a great gunfight breaks out in the office. Halvarssen grabs his pistol from the box and fires at Anstice, who fires back at him, but Antice falls into a chair with a bullet in his chest. Mrs. Gale grapples with Steiner and deals him a fatal karate chop. Steed and Mrs. Gale then leave, after the former turns the lights on. They walk away leaving a mortally wounded Anstice, a floored Steiner, a broken Halvarssen, and a sad Miss Hawn. So ends 'Second Sight'.
Initially this, like most other episodes,
was enjoyed, but was forgotten and after the Eras of Emma Peel and Tara
King, received poor reviews. But in fact, this was a fine episode, a real
treat to the eye and gem of the show. Perhaps no Gillian is as sympathetic
as Halvarssen in the history of the show. The superb writer coupled with
the superb director made a very satisfying episode for the great
I had a good feeling about this episode the moment I bought it. I didn't really care what it was about, only that Peter Hammond had directed it. I wasn't disappointed. Not only is the direction exceptional, it's also a really great story.
Some reviewers have said that the story ultimately disappoints, but I have never found that. Due to such a high quality of dialogue, it never loses interest for me. The conversations between Steed and Halvarssen make a real impact. The characters all come across as well rounded (even if they may not be entirely realistic). I actually understood what was going on first time. It's very intelligently written by Martin Woodhouse; you feel that some research has gone into it. It's the kind of episode that wouldn't have worked in later years and thus remains unique.
The whole production has a flawless quality to it. Everyone seems to have put real effort into getting it just right. I can always tell when Peter Hammond is directing as, aside from the great camera angles (many in this episode), something always happens to Patrick Macnee's performance. It really comes to life. I can see what Macnee meant by crediting Hammond with the creation of Steed as he always breaths real life and energy in to the performance which few other directors ever managed. The devious and playful side of Steed comes out. The scenes between Steed and Cathy are always so interesting to watch. Some directors can just make it two actors talking but Hammond really makes them interact. That first scene in Steed's apartment is so enjoyable due to the interaction; they move around one another, there are mirror shots and Steed lounges around. The aforementioned camera angles are all excellent. There's the mirrored table, Dr. Spender falling off the balcony reflected in the dark glasses, the shot through the glass table at Cathy and Anstice. They all help to make the episode such a visual treat.
Terry Green's design for Halvarssen's apartment is excellent. It has so many different features which help the blind Halvarssen find his way around. The set is actually quite small but due to the camera angles and features we are fooled into believing it is actually bigger. The chosen music cues actually work and I noticed some I haven't heard before when Dr. Spender is killed.
This episode features some of the best performances ever to grace The Avengers. Peter Bowles plays his first villain for the series and in my opinion his best performance. He comes across as suave and cruel, a character who really enjoys killing as long as he gets what he wants. All the performances are really good but special praise must be lavished upon John Carson as Halvarssen. From the three out of four performances he did for The (New) Avengers that I've seen, this is my favourite. He plays Halvarssen with great subtlety and can be quite sinister at times. I love the moment he discovers that Hilda Brauer is dead as he walks forward and reaches out for the bust. A very gifted actor!
This is a fantastic episode and one that needs more reappraisal. Five out of five bowlers.
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