About Christmas TV History

Friday, December 18, 2015

Avengers Christmas (1965)

No--not the Marvel superheroes. I'm talking about the 1960s cult TV series.  The 1965 episode "Too Many Christmas Trees" features the characters Mrs. Emma Peel and John Steed in an espionage story with sci-fi elements and a touch of the surreal. It's not just the holiday episode--it's also a quintessential installment of the British TV series.

Emma Peel and John Steed--classy cult TV for Christmas.
Steed experiences a series of Christmas nightmares.

If you haven't seen it in a while, let me remind you about it.  The episode begins with Steed experiencing a disturbing dream. Later when he describes his dream to Peel, they discover that some of the elements in Steed's dream have since come true. Steed's long time friend--a rear admiral that he feared may have shared top secrets--had appeared in Steed's dream as deceased. Now the morning's newspaper announces that the rear admiral has been found dead!

John dreams about his friend's death before it happens? How very strange.

In an attempt to dismiss feelings of unease, Emma invites John to a Christmas house party. Upon arriving, John feels like he's already familiar with the location and the structure of the home. How could he already know a place where he's never been before?

The party host is Brandon Storey played by actor Mervyn Johns who also plays Bob Crachit in the 1951 movie A Christmas Carol.  Patrick Macnee (who plays Steed) is also in the 1951 movie as the young Jacob Marley.

The Christmas party is hosted by Brandon Storey, a publisher and an aficionado of the works of Charles Dickens. His large home is filled with Dickensiana--and each room is decorated on a theme to match one of the great author's literary tales.

Many, many Dickens busts fill Storey's mansion on pedestals along the walls and hallways. It would be a fun drinking game to count each of the Dickens busts visible in this episode.

Steed and Peel are excited for the upcoming Christmas party.  Costumes of Dickens' classic characters are being prepared for each party guest.  However, John is still feeling bothered by the content of his dreams and a brief afternoon nap only brings more disturbing visions.

What Dickens character costume would you most like to wear?

Emma is given an Oliver Twist costume to wear and John dons a Sydney Carton outfit. It seems like too much of a coincidence that Steed would dream of guillotines in the afternoon and randomly be assigned a Sydney Carton (from A Tale of Two Cities) costume after that.  Emma and John have many questions about these nightmares.

This Christmas party is also host to a conspiracy of those looking to implant suggestions into Steed's mind. But you knew I was going to say that, right?

I just love this episode because it cleverly skirts around several mind-bending topics including psychoanalysis, extra sensory perception, telepathy, and seánces in an attempt to suggest, manipulate and control Steed's mind.  This is a dangerous set of conditions for a master spy with many secrets to keep!  When Steed is no longer sure if he's awake or he's asleep, and Emma begins to question if John is cracking up, viewers know that more trouble lies ahead.

Emma and John's reflections are distorted in the room filled with mirrors.

The creepy Santa Claus from John's dream shows up with a gun in the hall of mirrors.

Even if you think this 1960s series moves a bit slow by today's viewing standards, you'll look forward to the confrontation scene with Emma Peel gracefully kicking ass. To match the confusion between being awake and being asleep, between the future and the past, and between the sane and insanity,
the confrontation takes place in a hall of mirrors where no one (the good guys nor the bad guys) can easily distinguish between the mirrored reflections and what's real.

Of course, on the carriage ride home, Steed surprises Emma with mistletoe!

This is one of those episodes you need to watch for yourself. Avengers fans will get a huge kick out of the Cathy Gale reference early in the episode.  John receives a Christmas card from his previous partner--sent from Fort Knox!  This is a wink to actress Honor Blackman's role as Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger since leaving The Avengers series.

Steed after reading Gale's Christmas card: "Nice of her to remember me. What can she be doing in Fort Knox?"

Readers of Dickens' books will also love this episode because it is filled with literary references. Of course, Emma quotes Oliver Twist after putting on her costume and Steed is tortured by the guillotine in his dream after being given the Sydney Carton costume. But there are other references as well including a party guest dressed as the Ghost of Jacob Marley found seated at Miss Havisham's cobweb-covered table.

It's not everyday that a Christmas episode can pack in Dickens literary references, psychoanalysis, a threat to national security, and a James Bond movie reference!  Do you have a favorite 1960s Christmas TV episode?


  1. This is always on my annual Christmas viewing list, but I fear it will be a bittersweet experience as this is the first time I'll watch it knowing that Patrick Macnee is no longer with us. His Steed is such an iconic blend of actor and role.

  2. Merry Christmas!!!