Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Avengers: Steed Has a Nightmare with "Too Many Christmas Trees"

Steed awakes from a Christmas nightmare.
Originally telecast in 1965, during Diana Rigg's first season, this Christmas episode of The Avengers opens with John Steed (Patrick Macnee) dreaming about a friend's murder at the hands of an unpleasant Santa Claus. When Steed later tells Mrs. Peel (Rigg) about his nightmare, she shows him a newspaper article about his friend--who died under mysterious circumstances in a hotel room.

On an apparent whim, Mrs. Peel invites Steed to accompany her to a weekend holiday gathering at the country estate of publisher Brandon Storey. As they approach the isolated mansion, Steed gets a strong feeling of deja vu. Once inside, he recognizes the sleigh full of presents in the hall, his outfit for the costume party, and even a guest he has never met--it's as if Steed's nightmare was coming true.

Although its plot doesn't rank with the best Avengers episodes, Too Many Christmas features all the elements that made this unique series a favorite among its many fans. Macnee and Rigg have tremendous chemistry, which is amazing considering that they had only filmed a few epsiodes at that point in their two-year run together. Their witty banter and knowing winks are Avengers trademarks. For example, when Mrs. Peel is opening Steed's Christmas cards, there's one signed: "Best wishes for the future, Cathy."

"Mrs. Gale...how nice of her to remember me," muses Steed, adding "What can she be doing in Fort Knox?"

Fans of the show know that Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, was Steed's previous partner. Blackman had just starred in Goldfinger as Pussy Galore--who was involved in a scheme to devalue the gold stored at Fort Knox.

Steed tells Emma about his deja vu.
Perhaps unintentionally, the casting also features an inside joke. When Steed experiences deja vu as he and Mrs. Peel approach Brandon Storey's mansion, the scene is very reminiscent of the opening of the 1946 ghostly anthology Dead of Night. One of the stars of that British classic was Mervyn Johns, who plays Storey in Too Many Christmas Trees.

The Avengers often recycled its guest stars and Too Many Christmas Trees features several actors who appeared in other episodes: Robert James, Alex Scott, Barry Warren, and Edwin Richfield. Interestingly, many of these performers also appeared in horror pictures made by Hammer Films (for instance, Barry Warren was an aristocratic bloodsucker in the excellent Kiss of the Vampire). Director Roy Ward Baker, who helmed eight Avengers episodes in all, also worked for Hammer. Finally, Brian Clemens, who produced and wrote some of the finest Avengers outings, later wrote and directed Hammer's Kronos (aka Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter).

Another Avengers trademark was its offbeat sense of fashion. Rigg started out in black leather, but graduated to colorful jump suits in her second year. The show's costume designers also loved to put her in fanciful garb--in a Robin Hood outfit in A Sense of History, a spiked choker in A Touch of Brimstone, and playful Oliver Twist attire in Too Many Christmas Trees.

Of course, the two leads and the clever scripts are what make The Avengers a must-see series (especially during the Diana Rigg years). That alone makes this holiday episode a delightful hour for any classic TV fan.


  1. This is a great AVENGERS episode. It's a Christmas episode, but nothing of the series is sacrificed for the Christmas theme, as it is pure AVENGERS: a Dali-esque dream sequence, an arcane mansion, and memorable costumes. And amidst the mystery and action is a creepiness factor that many episodes pulled off: in this case, the eerie dream Santa. Some actors just have a natural chemistry with one another, and this is certainly true of Rigg and Macnee. They are so fun to watch together! And I truly appreciate any episode that allows for Mrs. Peel to wear a new costume. A most excellent write-up, Rick.

  2. Excellent choice for Classic TV Christmas episode. It is truly Dickensian in its atmosphere, yet still has its light hearted Avengers tongue in cheek humor.

  3. I've got to get hold of some Avengers episodes to see again, with this one if possible. I haven't seen any since they were first shown, and I loved them. The men loved Emma (including my Dad), but I was smitten by Patrick Macnee (love the accent!) Fun write-up, Rick!

  4. This is such a fun nod to Dickens. There is a scene in a room with cobwebs and a big cake (a la Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations") and a guillotine, reminiscent of "A Tale of Two Cities". This episode also features some lines from "Oranges and Lemons" including "Here is a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head."

    "The Avengers" is quite fun, epecially the Diana Rigg years with Patrick Macnee. Excellent writeup, Rick! But can one really have too many Christmas trees?

  5. Toto,I love Dickens! Miss Havisham's room with cobwebs and a mouldy cake sounds like my house when I was sick! I wonder if Hulu would have this episode. I'm going to check it out.

  6. Too Many Christmas Trees is a classic.

    My favorite five episodes are:

    (1) Something Nasty In The Nursery
    (2) The Cybernauts
    (3) The House That Jack Built
    (4) The Superlative Seven
    (5) Too Many Christmas Trees