Guest Essays
Page 10 of 14

IN DEFENSE OF TARA
by James Jaeger

Tara King was no Emma Peel. Well, that has been said before. But has a "thank goodness" ever come after that statement? It does now. Thank goodness! Sure, the producers and writers could have come up with a carbon copy of the amazing Emma Peel (and let's face it, Emma was pretty much a copy of Cathy). They instead decided to come up with a completely different kind of character: a young, single, beautiful, brilliant woman who had nearly completed her training as an agent. She was not a "talented amateur", but a professional agent—true, still rough around the edges—but an actual agent in Steed's "organization". She was given her own assignments and not always paired with Steed, which, in a way, made her more Steed's equal than Peel or Gale ever were. Sure, she was youthful and a little nave at first, but that left room for character development. And the character did grow and change in the thirty or so episodes in which she appeared—something the Gale and Peel Characters never did.

Perhaps I am the only one brave enough to say this, but Tara King is my favorite of Steed's partners. There it is—out in the open. People seem to be complaining most about Tara's fighting skills and her apparent "helplessness". Have these people ever watched any of these episodes? Let's not forget that the first time we meet Tara, she tackles Steed to the ground—Steed, mind you! (Don't you dare edit out that exclamation point.) She is a trained fighter and an inventive one, using not only judo and karate, but also buckets, piano tops, telescopes, and yes, even a rock in her purse—whatever gets the job done the most efficiently. There are very few episodes where she doesn't clobber a diabolical mastermind or enemy agent. Also, count up the number of times Steed rescues Emma and the number of times he rescues Tara. I think you'll be surprised. The numbers aren't all that different. Tara saves Steed's neck on several occasions too.

There is, I will admit, a big difference between King and Peel's fighting styles, and I think I've finally figured it out. It isn't a matter of ability (just watch "All Done with Mirrors" or "The Rotters"), but rather it is a matter of why they fight. Here is my theory: Peel couldn't have cared less about the mystery or the cases themselves. That part was boring and humdrum to her. Peel simply wanted a legitimate reason to engage in physical combat. Watch Emma's eyes when she fights. They take on a maniacal and disturbingly sexual gleam (a brilliant character choice on Rigg's part). At any moment, Emma might be killed, and—let's face it—she's getting off on it.

Tara, on the other hand, fights to stay alive and to get the job done. She doesn't want to fight, but she knows she has to in her line of work. But why does she do the job? Again, the exact opposite of Emma—Tara loves the actual cases. She loves the mystery and adventure. Look at "All Done with Mirrors" again. Tara is vibrantly alive and enthused when first tracking down clues at the laboratory. Later, at the lighthouse, she goes "charging in" and strikes dynamic poses while questioning the imposter Major. One can tell that she loves playing Nancy Drew and that the assignment truly is a game to her. Unlike Nancy Drew however, the bad guys end up with bullets in their chests or rakes in their backs. But for even greater telling character development, note how, after her opponent dies with the rake in his back, Tara walks away and turns briefly back to the body. She is troubled that she has killed another human being, but it's part of the job, and the mystery must be solved.

As great as Diana Rigg and the character of Mrs. Peel were, Tara (in my opinion) was a much more interesting character. We root for her. I think even the Tara bashers root for her on some level. She grows as a character—from a brilliant though inexperienced agent to a sophisticated and more than worthy partner to John Steed. There is all this talk of how infatuated Tara was with Steed, but, let's face it, Steed loved Tara. He loved her in a way he never loved Mrs. Peel and certainly never Mrs. Gayle. He'd rush in to rescue Tara even when she didn't need to be rescued. Perhaps their open affection for each other and Tara's frank respect for Steed have created this false sense of Tara being helpless or a bad fighter. If you watch her fight scenes, you'll see this isn't true. Heck, she jumps into the fight when she's tied up! She even knocked a guy out using only her thighs. I don't recall Emma Peel ever doing that.

Linda Thorson is a great actress, and has appeared to rave reviews on stage and screen (both big and small) despite the stigma of being Diana Rigg's replacement on the Avengers. Ms. Thorson and Miss King both deserve more respect than they have been accorded by fickle fans who have treated her as a child would a young and vivacious stepmother. Maybe, with all the time that's past since her "marriage" to our favorite show after Diana Rigg left, we can look back and realize that Tara was pretty cool after all. By the way, the "King" adventures were the highest-rated Avengers episodes in England. The Brits loved her. I love her, too. As for the quality of the King shows, I think most of them were pretty great. The loss of sophistication and atmosphere, in my opinion, came with going from black and white film to color. And although I believe Tara's character (and her "mod" apartment) was much too alive and vibrant not to be filmed in color, if "Invasion of the Earthmen" had been shot in black and white, none of you Tara bashers would have hated it nearly as much. There—I've said it, but that's an even bigger argument for another time.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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