The Gravediggers is the second episode of The Avengers that aired in the U.S. Although it features a number of quirky characters, a typical plot, and a classic scene that plays off the “damsel in distress” silent film classics, it’s not one of my favorite episodes.
Whenever I’m perusing titles and trying to decide what to watch, I seem to always pass over The Gravediggers. I tend to forget, precisely, what it’s about, other than that it has something to do with burial of something/someone who isn’t actually dead.
Frankly, I think Mrs. Peel’s dialogue and role in the story isn’t up to the usual standards. She plays a key role in helping the plot unfold, but the repartee between Steed and Mrs. Peel is below par.
My guess is that the writers weren’t yet sure where they planned to take the character of Mrs. Emma Peel, so they hedged their bets.
Sir Horace Winslip is a classic nutter in the best of English Victorian Industrialist tradition. His father founded a railroad company and Sir Horace went on to make millions from the family business. The entrance to Sir Horace’s estate is a mock railway station and one can only gain entrance if one has a ticket. Platform tickets give access to the main area, including Sir Horace’s “dining car,” where he entertains luncheon guests on a “train ride” through the English countryside. Complete with billowing smoke and passage through a tunnel. Really, you must see it to believe it.
Sir Horace has also built a human-sized-mini railroad throughout the grounds of his estate. One can take a train ride on Sir Horace’s personal engine, The John Galt. I’m pretty certain that the writers intended this to be some type of homage to Ayn Rand & Atlas Shrugged but, despite scanning through several books about The Avengers and doing a brief web search, I’ve not found a source to explain why the engine was named The John Galt. I haven’t found my copy of Patrick Macnee’s memoir, Blind in One Ear, though, so perhaps the explanation is there.
Sir Horace is a railway man, through and through, and he’s also a devoted philanthropist to any railroad-related cause. Case in point: Sir Horace established the “Sir Horace Winslip Hospital for Ailing Railroad Men” on the grounds of his estate.
Sir Horace and his mad-hatter nature are a plot device, not really central to the crimes being avenged by agents extraordinary. Those crimes involve a plot to install a radar jamming system around the whole of England, to enable a missile attack to go undetected.
Steed has Mrs. Peel assigned as nurse-in-training at the Winslip Hospital, to help determine what, exactly, is going on there. At the end of an operating procedure, Mrs. Peel is “found out” and is, alas, tied to the railway tracks to be killed in an “accident” when she’s run over by The John Galt. The Damsel in Distress. Steed, of course, figures out everything and manages to rescue Mrs. Peel in the nick of time. Mrs. Peel gets her revenge by scissor-kicking the main villain into the pond.
If you’re not familiar with cinematic history, here’s a clip of one of the early “damsel in distress” silent film classics: