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Episode 15: Dr David Keel Era
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THE FRIGHTENERS

Keel learns about massage therapy
Steed provides a frightening lesson*

Production completed: 25 May 1961
UK Premiere (London, Season 1): 27 May 1961

As Steed says, "There's more to takeover bids than the polite board meeting." Under the direction of a man called the Deacon, "The Frighteners" is an organization contracted to "massage patients." In other words, they give people a royal beating in order to persuade them to behave. Steed offers Dr. Keel a first-hand look at the organization in action when Sir Thomas Weller, a wealthy businessman, pays to have the disreputable Jeremy de Willoughby kept away from his young daughter.

Although Weller's methods leave much to be desired, his motives are essentially good, for de Willoughby has less than honorable intentions: he is a "professional marrying man" pursuing a rich man's daughter in order to pay off his creditors. While Steed digs up dirt on the prospective groom, the good Doctor gets an urge to play "super spy" and goes after the head of the organization, the Deacon himself. With Weller unable to frighten de Willoughby away from his daughter, Steed and Dr. Keel form an "organization" of their own to frighten her away from de Willoughby.

 IMHO

Even if "The Frighteners" was bad, it would still be "good" since just being able to see it is a true privilege. But it is a genuinely decent episode, particularly since it features one of my favorite guest stars, shifty-eyed Philip Locke, here playing a young, brass-knuckled ruffian. Also, it is an interesting contrast to watch Stratford Johns in a serious role after seeing his comic turn in "Legacy of Death" (likewise for Willoughby Goddard). While not exactly scintillating this time around, Ian Hendry still demonstrates genuine talent. Alas Patrick Macnee takes a back seat, which is not surprising as he is still "second banana" in the series at this point.

Actually, it's not unlike watching a typical Cathy Gale episode—same music, same production style, and same off-beat touches, such as Steed playing a somewhat "swishy" escort agent who flings his scarf superciliously when rebuked by Weller. Technically "Frighteners" is just a teeny bit sloppy around the edges, with a few bumped cameras and fluffed lines (Keel: "I want two answers to two facts!"). Not to mention the audio is rather muffled which, given that Ian Hendry tends to mumble, makes for some spotty dialog. It is somewhat ironic that the much earlier "Hot Snow" and "Girl on the Trapeze" are actually superior in most respects. But don't take my critical assessment as carping; together these three gems provide an intriguing and invaluable glimpse into the series' first season, while leaving us sadder for being deprived of the rest.

 Trivia

Possible inside joke: After the "massage" demonstration in Act 1, Steed tells Keel to take the unconscious Moxon to his surgery, and Keel balks. Steed insists, noting his private surgery is quieter, adding, "Give the police surgeon the night off?" Police Surgeon, starring Ian Hendry, was the predecessor to The Avengers.

I wonder how often Dr Keel uses the "needle full of poison" trick, as it's mentioned in a couple of other synopses. This time he claims witchazel is acid in order to bluff his way into and out of the Deacon's headquarters—which, by the way, are hidden in the back of a butcher shop. (Sound familiar? See "The Outside-In Man.")

WitchazelOh, BTW, I've been taken to task more than once on the spelling of "witchazel." Well, here is the actual bottle used in the episode. What is witchazel? A mild extract, similar to rubbing alcohol, most often used to treat itching and skin irritations.

Berkeley Mather, this episode's writer, is actually a pen name of Lt.-Col. Jasper Davies, a former intelligence officer in Cyprus, who had served in the Royal Artillery. Davies wrote thriller novels under the name Berkeley Mather, and is reputed to have met criminals from the London underworld to ensure his thriller characters were true to life.

Neil Wilson appeared in two Police Surgeon episodes, "Smash But No Grab" and "The Bigger They Are."

*This unofficial subtitle is by Yours Truly.

 Best Scene

About to be slashed with a large knife, the Doctor sprays the Deacon's face with witchazel, and the Deacon, believing it to be acid, screams and writhes in panic—until he realizes he is unharmed. By then the Doctor has made good his escape.

 Best Line

Dr Keel describes his misadventures with the Deacon to Steed, who fumes, "So, Keels rush in where Steeds and angels fear to tread!" The Doctor admits sheepishly, "Well, I suppose it was a bit melodramatic."

 

THE FRIGHTENERS

Teleplay by
Designed by
Producer
Directed by
Producer
Music by
Story Editors

Berkely Mather The 007 Connection
Robert Fuest
Leonard White
Peter Hammond
Leonard White
Johnny Dankworth
Patrick Brawn & John Bryce

CAST

Dr. David Keel
John Steed
Carol Wilson
The Deacon
Jeremy de Willoughby
Moxon
Mrs Briggs
Sir Thomas Weller
Marylin Weller
Nigel
Nature Boy
Beppi
Butler
Secretary
Waiter
Inspector Foster
And:

Ian Hendry
Patrick Macnee The 007 Connection
Ingrid Hafner
Willoughby Goddard*
Philip Gilbert
Philip Locke* The 007 Connection
Doris Hare
Stratford Johns*
Dawn Beret
David Andrews
Godfrey James
Neil Wilson*
Eric Elliot*
Ann Taylor
Ralph Tovey
Benn Simons
Eleanor Darling
Benny Nightingale
Victor Charrington
Frank Peters*
Charles Wood

*DOPPELGANGERS

Eric Elliot

Death of a Great Dane

Willoughby Goddard

Thingumajig

Stratford Johns

Legacy of Death

Philip Locke

Mandrake
From Venus With Love

Frank Peters

Death of a Great Dane

Neil Wilson

The Gilded Cage
The Interrogators
 

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Page last modified 2 April 2008.