• title card: white all caps text reading ‘TOO MANY CHRISTMAS TREES’ superimposed on a man wearing a Santa mask and outfit
  • Top-down view of a seance, there are four places around a round table at each of which is a photograph of Steed, the seat at the bottom of the screen is empty
  • Madame Guillotine kneels before the guillotine alongside the evil Santa, who holds the rope that will make the blade fall
  • Emma twirls around in her Oliver Twist costume, revealing how much, according to Steed, she has filled out(!)
  • Surreal image of a playing card turning into the scary masked Santa figure
  • Jeremy Wade, dressed as Jacob Marley, sits dead in the cobwebs of Miss Haversham’s wedding banquet; Emma’s hand moves some of the cobwebs aside
  • Mrs. Peel disarms Jenkins as they fight in the hall of mirrors
  • Steed hold some mistletoe aloft as they depart, seeking a kiss from Mrs. Peel

Series 4 — Episode 13
Too Many Christmas Trees

by Tony Williamson
Directed by Roy Baker

Production No E.64.10.6
Production completed: March 1 1965. First transmission: December 21 1965.

TV Times summary

In which Steed hangs up his stocking — and Emma asks for more …

Plot summary

Steed has a nightmare about a fellow agent dying and it comes true. Mrs. Peel decides he needs a break and whisks him away to a Dickensian Christmas Party in the country but they discover they have both been hypnotised by some sort of telepathic control into coming to the party, and someone is after Steed’s secrets.
A mysterious psychic tries to break Steed’s resolve but Emma’s intervention, and some very loud Christmas carols, keep their minds clear. A shoot-out in a hall of mirrors ends in the villains defeated and their host, the collector Brandon Storey, revealed as the head of the spy ring.
Exit the Avengers on a surrey, under a sprig of mistletoe…

show full synopsis

show plot summary

Prologue

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) has a disturbing nightmare to the sound of jingling sleigh bells – he’s trudging through the snow in his pyjamas, in a weird cardboard cut-out landscape.1 He finds a festooned basket of presents and opens his – a large photograph of himself that becomes a mirror. A sinister Santa figure appears in the mirror behind him and beckons him over to his sleigh. The Christmas stockings hanging over the edge become real legs wearing pyjamas and socks. Looking up, Steed sees it’s a dead man and Santa laughs out loud.2

Act 1

Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) drops round the following morning and finds Steed apparently hung over and his flat a shambles after a rowdy party, but he declares he had a quiet dinner with the retired Rear Admiral Peevers.3 She’s concerned about his shaking hands and he admits he hasn’t been sleeping well for the past week. He relates the nightmare and tells her an old friend and fellow agent, Freddy Marshall – who is linked to the leaking of government secrets, ended up dead as a doornail in it. Mrs. Peel blanches when he shows her Freddy’s photo and she shows him the morning paper. “Mystery death in hotel room” it screams, with a short article and a photograph of Marshall.4

The scene cuts to a séance table seen from above, a photo of Marshall at each place and the faces of the men around it not visible.5 The table top, which resembles the larger round ornaments on the fake trees of Steed’s nightmare, is spun by the medium, removing each photo and revealing photos of Steed underneath. Then the medium starts a metronome in motion and the four men concentrate on the photos.

A short time later, Steed suddenly feels faint and falls into a stupor on his sofa, tormented by the sound of an enormous pendulum. His dream changes: he is running in a dark space with visions of the swinging pendulum. He sees a large crenellated white house before he is again taunted by the Santa figure.

Mrs. Peel rouses him – she’s returned with some food and he tells her the doctor said Freddy died of a brainstorm – not a stroke but a nervous breakdown exaggerated to enormous proportion.6

Changing the subject, she hands him his Christmas cards and suggest he open them and he enlists her help, Emma becoming increasingly irritated and somewhat jealous as they are all from women7 – one is from Mrs. Gale.

EMMA: Best wishes for the future, Cathy. (HANDS THE CARD TO STEED)
STEED: Mrs. Gale! Ah, how nice of her to remember me! (LOOKS AT THE ENVELOPE) What can she be doing in Fort Knox?8

Mrs. Peel suggests that he join her for Christmas at a house party given by the publisher, Brandon Storey – she’s been invited by Jeremy Wade. Steed grins and asks if Jeremy is still after her “first editions”. He opens the next card and it has the festooned gift basket and cut-out trees from his nightmare on it but is blank inside.

They drive down in Steed’s Bentley, and he uncannily seems to know the way to the house despite never having been there before. They arrive and he realises it’s the house from his nightmares.

The butler, Jenkins (Robert James), greets them at the front door escorts them to their rooms – and Steed sees the gift basket from his nightmare in the middle of the great hall.

They’re watched by Martin Trasker (Alex Scott), who turns to Jeremy Wade (Barry Warren) and informs him that they’ve arrived. Wade is amazed – she actually invited him! Martin smiles – that was the easy part.

Jeremy is suddenly doubtful about continuing but Martin presses him that now they must continue the experiment to its conclusion and Janice Crane, a woman “whose powers make them look like fumbling beginners”, will be joining them soon. To forestall more doubt about proceeding that night, Trasker tells Wade to forget Mrs. Peel and concentrate on Steed.

Mrs. Peel, changed into ski pants and a jumper, enters Steed’s room and notes the Dickensian furnishings – Storey’s a Dickens enthusiast. Steed grumbles about getting the Old Curiosity Shop as Mrs. Peel sits on the four-poster bed and pats the coverlet.

EMMA: You know, I’ve always rather fancied myself in one of these.
STEED: So have I!
EMMA: (INNOCENTLY) Hmm?9
STEED: I mean, I have too. It’s opulent, just the thing for.. err.. (FROWNS) old-fashioned nightmares.

He tells her about the decorations being straight out of his nightmares and she’s concerned for him. He jokes that maybe his new-found psychic skills might mean he’s the reincarnation of someone; when she suggests he can’t really have known about the festive display he reminds her he knew about Freddy Marshall.

They descend to the hall where Brandon Storey (Mervyn Johns) greets them enthusiastically, barely letting them get a word in edgewise. When Mrs. Peel asks if he designed the display himself, he laughs and deflects the question. At that moment, Wade interrupts, calling Emma’s name. He kisses her then is introduced to Steed. Trasker, sensing he may say too much, whisks him away to the library.

Mrs. Peel stands just a breath away from Steed, her bosom brushing up against his jacket, and asks if he’s feeling better.10 Steed smiles and says Christmas is a splendid time of year, for renewing old friendships, or making new ones – he spots a blonde at the fireplace and goes to chat her up.11

Trasker meanwhile tells Wade they will proceed with phase 2 — Steed is a tough nut and can take it. He then lies to Wade, telling him Freddy died of natural causes, it was nothing to do with them. Jenkins enters the library and nods silently at them.

Storey is telling Steed and Mrs. Peel about his travels when they’re interrupted by Dr. Felix Teasel (Edwin Richfield), who claims he met Storey long ago.12 Teasel give a back-handed compliment to Mrs. Peel about her psychoanalysis articles, confirms he works in the field, then pointedly asks Steed if he’s tired. Storey leads Steed over to get another drink and confides that he’s never met Teasel in his life.

Teasel meanwhile asks Emma about Storey’s Dickens collection and she says Wade would know – they enter the library and she’s surprised to find no-one is there, but a statuette of Venus removing a thorn from her foot has been moved.

Back at the séance table, Trasker, Wade and Jenkins pore over Steed’s photo as Trasker’s voice intones how tired Steed is feeling. Steed starts repeating the words Trasker is saying and excuses himself to go and have a rest. Teasel notices Emma’s concern and reassures her that sleep will refresh Steed’s mind.

Steed, however, has another nightmare, this time finding a Sydney Carlton costume in the gift basket and being taken to the gallows. An attractive Madame Guillotine places the basket under the blade and Santa is the executioner, laughing heartily. Steed wakes when the blade crashes down, he emerges onto the landing and sees Janice Crane (Jeanette Sterke) arriving – she is the Madame Guillotine of his nightmare.

Act 2

He tells Mrs. Peel about Janice being in his dream and declares he must have met her before, even though Mrs. Peel assures him he hasn’t. Steed rationalises the dream, noticing an engraving of Sydney Carlton on the wall. He tells her he felt “compelled” to sleep – she’s interested in his choice of words and asks which secrets Marshall was betraying.

STEED: Look we’ve been over all that before! I told you!
EMMA: When did you tell me?
STEED: I didn’t, did I? I thought I told someone; you’re the only person I’d confide in.
STEED: Oh well, must have dreamt it.

They both stop and look at each other as the enormity of his words sink in.

Downstairs, Trasker tells Janice they will arrange a mind-reading parlour game as a final experiment13 and get Steed to join in willingly. Jenkins worries about doing it in front of the whole party and Wade wants to tell Steed what they’re doing but Trasker insists it would give sceptics an opportunity to dismiss their scientific experiment as a trick. He promises they will finish that night and Wade leaves; Janice asks if he’s indispensable and promises to watch him. Jenkins delivers Steed’s costume for the night’s ball and Emma comes in and shows she’s dressed as Oliver Twist, twisting around to show off and name the costume.

STEED: My word, you have filled out!
EMMA: (LAUGHS) Let’s see what you got, I hope it’s Little Nell!

Steed opens his box and discovers his costume is Sydney Carlton!

They descend to the party, a rowdy Victorian feast with a pig roasting on an open spit, servants running around with food, and a fiddler playing a jig. Emma asks Jenkins who decides who gets which costume and is told it was the luck of the draw – which she doesn’t believe for an instant.

She asks Teasel about a hypothetical situation mirroring Steed’s – saying the patient has a recurring dream and when he wakes the dream starts coming true.

TEASEL: So he tells you. One cannot produce one’s dreams as evidence, perhaps it works the other way round for this man. He sees the facts, the actuality, then tells you that he’s dreamt about them.
EMMA: You mean he deliberately lies?
TEASEL: Oh, not deliberately, such a man might not be responsible for his actions.

He then warns her that any patient like that could be dangerous and on the verge of a complete mental breakdown.

Janice enters the room and tells Steed, when he greets her, they’ve never met before. Trasker takes the opportunity to suggest, as it’s just on midnight, she do her party piece and she agrees, so long as Steed helps her. She is to demonstrate her powers of ESP; Steed collects objects from the guests and she guesses them correctly.14 Storey hands him a pack of cards and she forces him to hold one after another up for her to divine – but the face cards start morphing into the evil Santa. Mrs. Peel senses there’s something wrong when he begins closing his eyes and she orders him to not resist and open his mind to her. Emma deliberately smashes a glass to break the connection and Steed is saved.

Mrs. Peel stops Wade as he tries to leave the room and he confesses being part of a psychic experiment but won’t say who else is involved as Janice is watching; he promises to see her upstairs later in the Hall of Great Expectations. As he goes up the stairs, Janice crosses to Trasker and tells him Wade plans to betray them.

When Mrs. Peel keeps the rendezvous in the small hours of the night she finds Wade dead at Miss Haversham’s cobweb-strewn wedding banquet.

Act 3

Emma goes to tell Steed about Jeremy’s death but he is seemingly oblivious to her and gives her a Christmas presen — a tear-gas dispensing pen. He then wriggles his fingers inside his empty Christmas stocking – Janice meanwhile can see nothing but toes wriggling in soft woollen socks. Trasker assures her it will be easier once he’s asleep, and shakes a vial of sleeping pills.

Mrs. Peel seeks out Dr. Teasel but he doesn’t believe her story, especially when they find Wade’s body is no longer there; Teasel wonders if it’s her having the breakdown. They break off from their discussion at the sound of footsteps outside. Peering through the door, Emma sees Jenkins dropping pills in Steed’s nightcap.

EMMA: Drugs, to make him sleep! I must warn Steed!
TEASEL: (PULLING OUT A GUN) That won’t be necessary, Mrs. Peel. We wouldn’t want Steed to lose a good night’s sleep, would we?

Teasel warns Mrs. Peel, who now thinks he is involved, not to think or talk about it – and we then see Steed lie down, the cup knocked over and empty. Janice declares Steed is falling asleep and they start probing his mind telepathically, the metronome ticking away.15

Steed appears to be succumbing but Mrs. Peel surprises Teasel by tipping her rocking chair over backwards and knocks him cold then rushes to rouse Steed. He “awakes” instantly and tells her he poured the drink down the sink. He then starts singing Green Grow the Rushes, O, to confuse the mediums, and tells her between verses that he knew what was happening when he saw the trees downstairs, Teasel is from Security and there as back-up. Mrs. Peel is crestfallen and admits she knocked Teasel out.

STEED: What made you invite me down here in the first place?
EMMA: Oh, I don’t know, when I got the invitation the thought just… entered my head.

Realising they are both susceptible, they both start singing. Steed admits he knew she was being got at but could give the game away by telling her. He tells her he dreamt of Janice Crane, stark naked with a splinter in her foot; Mrs. Peel remembers something and leads him away.

Meanwhile, Janice is getting desperate that the connection is not working and says there’s something wrong, but Trasker insists she keep trying.

STEED: It’s a bit uncomfortable isn’t it? Someone poking around in one’s innermost thoughts.

Steed and Emma enter the library and Emma indicates the statuette; she turns the statuette, opening a hidden door. Inside is a hall of mirrors and Janice realises where they are, Jenkins rushing off to clobber Steed over the head. Mrs. Peel shoots Jenkins with a gun hidden in Steed’s boot then beats up Trasker when he tries to take her at gunpoint.16 She takes refuge amongst the mirrors when the Santa appears, brandishing a revolver. Steed saves her from ambush and shoots Santa, who’s revealed to be Brandon Storey.

Steed comforts Emma when he sees she’s drying but she explains his tear-gas pen was in her pocket and it broke in the fight.

Epilogue

Exit the Avengers on a surrey, Steed dangling a sprig of mistletoe from his crop. They lean towards each other as they drive away…


  1. In an early example of the “set within the set” aesthetic of The Avengers, the snow is clearly styrofoam balls, and the Christmas tree set is very obviously a studio with carpet tiles and cut-out trees.
  2. This iconic opening sequence was originally scripted to be after the opening titles, and Williamson’s original opening had Freddy Marshall being interrupted by a séance led by Teasel and Crane, ending in him keeling over dead in Parliament. Also, the tree sequence featured Janice as well as Santa.
  3. When Steed says he had a quiet night with an old friend, Mrs. Peel asks, “Blonde, brunette, or redhead?”
  4. The quality of the prop newspaper shows how far they’ve come, and how much bigger the budget for the filmed series. Gone are the clearly pasted on paragraphs or drawn approximations, it’s a typeset masterpiece complete with half-tone photograph of Freddy.
  5. But still identifiable, when you see the characters later on. When they’re trying to induce Steed as he’s falling asleep after the party they do a better job at hiding the mastermind’s hairline.
  6. I’m not sure if it’s because this is one of the early episodes with Diana Rigg and she’s still finding her ground or just that her skirt is so very tight but Diana moves up the stairs rather woodenly to fetch Steed’s mail as they talk.
  7. The Christmas card-opening scene is later and quite different in the draft script, see the scene in full.
  8. Honor Blackman of course had gone to film Goldfinger which is partly set in Fort Knox. This joke reprises the one about “pussy-footing” on the beach at the end of Lobster Quadrille.
  9. Steed at first suggests he fancies Mrs. Peel rather than the bed and he quickly backtracks when she responds.
  10. Similar to their extraordinary closeness in the hotel room scene in The Town of No Return.
  11. Despite getting the brush-off despite her obvious advance, Emma just smirks as she watches Steed make a bee-line for the blonde (who I suspect is some Sixties celeb in a cameo, I’ve seen her in photos with Roger Moore as well).
  12. Teasel is involved in the psychic plot from the beginning of the draft script, in which Storey introduces him to Steed as a “fascinating fellow”, but the final version has him completely as a red herring for Mrs. Peel.
  13. This is for the benefit of Wade, who is being tricked into helping them under the guise of a scientific demonstration of psychic powers.
  14. The first object is the blonde’s diary, which is correctly named. When asked what is inside, Janice says a telephone number then adds, “Your telephone number, Mr. Steed” which causes much laughter amongst the guests and servants.
  15. This time the camera angle conceals the leader’s hairline as we’ve met all the characters, those visible are Trasker, Janice, and Jenkins, only the cuffs of the ringleader are visible but they are disnctive so if you had been paying attention you would know.
  16. It’s Diana’s regular stunt double, Billy Westley, who is Alex Scott’s stand-in for the fight.

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