This is simply my favourite Tara episode, so this review is going to be a little biased.
I suppose it's ironic that one of the best Tara episodes was in fact originally conceived for Emma Peel; whether it would have been better is a matter of taste really.
The episode does exceptionally well as a serious episode with some of the most humour- free sequences since the late Cathy Gales, a style which was tried again in the abysmal "Thingumajig." Whether it is intentional or due to a bad print, the grainy quality of the episode quite suits it, from the (for British audiences) alternative title sequence down to the gritty realism of the opening, it is obvious we are in for something special. It's nice to see Maurice Good back in the Avengers; he is one of a long list of very talented actors to have graced the series. He manages to give Mercer and Kartovsci an edge, making us believe that there are two minds inside him.
It's also quite striking to see Tara portrayed as a competent, well-trained agent. Even down to her kidnapping and attack by plot device, Linda Thorson creates a feeling that she could just walk out any moment. I'll admit that it's probably due to the original Emma script more than anything else.
Roy Baker's direction is top notch, with a prediction of the more gritty realism of The New Avengers. Baker gives the hospital a real cold, uncaring feeling, with Bernard Anchard giving an equally cold performance as Dr Constantine. Another indication of the effect of The New Avengers is the reference to events in Steed's past as a spy.
Lord Barnes is excellently portrayed by Nigel Davenport, who does have a Lord-ish appearance, and manages to do the conflicting minds sequences convincingly. My main grumble is Julian Glover—although perfectly at home as villains, here he seems as if he can't be bothered with the role. It would have been better if Maurice Good and Julian Glover played each others parts, as Good manages to portray villains with conviction.
The fight in the hospital is extremely well choreographed; the only major problem is the little bump which destroys the machine. Oh, I like the way Steed deals with the nurse as well.
Overall, four and half bowlers.
The ideas of mind transfer, defeated enemy agents returned to seek revenge, and "living relics" kept alive through the efforts of diabolic doctors, have appeared quite frequently in Avengers scripts, particularly in the Tara season and The New Avengers. However, it is surprising to find all three of them converge in a single episode.
Although Brian Clemens is credited as the scriptwriter, this episode is known to be a recycled product of Dennis Spooner's, originally written for Diana Rigg. As expected, the project had to be substantially modified after Rigg's departure from the sets. Like all episodes produced in that stormy October 1967-February 1968 period, "Split!" suffers the consequences that, predictably, would be transferred from the quarrels behind the scenes to the final product brought to the screen.
It's a shame that a number of skilled actors from previous episodes—Nigel Davenport and Julian Glover among them—do not get to add any sparkle at all to an episode that at times looks rather lackluster. As if this wasn't enough, the music that accompanies almost every scene wherein the left hand (or the whole body) of the victims undergo the effects of the mind transfer is repetitive and annoying. However, there are some rewards: the significant bit-part Christopher Benjamin plays here may not be as brilliant as his role in "How To Succeed....At Murder," but at least it shows Benjamin's talent to play classy eccentrics, rather than being misused as in "Never, Never Say Die."
However, the main oversight in the cast lies in the identity of Boris Kartovsky, a character who already appeared briefly in "A Touch of Brimstone." Not only are we talking about the same character name, but strangely enough, it was played by two different performers. Steed states in "Split!" that he himself shot Kartovsky in the heart in Berlin, 1963. Therefore, he cannot be referring to the healthful diplomat who appeared in "Brimstone." One may speculate this is a continuity error that very likely slipped in sometime during the scriptwriter shift.
Now, on to Tara-Steed interplay—alas, a real split! Maybe the most notorious weakness in this episode, in spite of the good performances, is the uneven relationship between Steed and Tara. The borderline might well be placed in the middle of the story. During the first half, we see them act as a solid team. However, during a good part of the second half, Steed takes the lead and hardly speaks to Tara. Maybe for this reason Tara spends too much time alone at Steed's flat, reading his books and waiting for him to arrive... only to see him come back and instantly withdraw again with a laconic "see you later." Luckily, during the last minutes and the tag scene, the duo returns to work "normally."
In fact, the character of Tara wasn't well outlined yet at the time this episode was filmed. As a result of either the discord within the production team, the script frailties, or the initial rejection of Patrick Macnee toward Linda Thorson, "Split!" by any means is the best choice to evaluate Steed's new partner's performance. Fortunately, many other episodes would follow to prove the full vindication of Tara.
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