May 21, 2021

"Never, Never Say Die"—and the indestructable Christopher Lee

"Around the Dial" will not be seen this week so that we can bring you the following special presentation from the Christopher Lee Blogathon, running today through Sunday at many of your favorite blogs. Be sure to check our sponsors, Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget, throughout the weekend for the latest posts.

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From the moment Christopher Lee first appears on screen, with his back to the viewers, he commands our attention. It's the cold open to "Never, Never Say Die," from The Avengers 1967, and even though we only see him from behind, his presence dominates the screen. 

Imagine our surprise, then, when we see him face-to-face for the first time just moments before he’s struck head-on by an automobile. In the hospital, the doctor searches in vain for a pulse. But before he can be taken to the morgue, he rises up from the gurney, past a screaming nurse and the astonished driver who’d struck him, and strides out of the hospital. As the resident tells Steed and Mrs. Peel, there was no pulse, no respiration, no nothing. Obviously, then, the man was not dead. Except he was.

I suppose, not being a doctor myself (nor a television scriptwriter), there could be some medical explanation for this kind of phenomenon. The driver doesn't care, of course—he's just escaped a probable case of vehicular homicide. But then, as he's driving away from the hospital, a funny thing happens: he strikes another man standing in the middle of the road. What's even funnier is that it's not another man, it's the same man. The man who was dead until he wasn't, and now he's dead again.* He doesn’t even make it to the hospital this time, pushing his way out of a rogue ambulance and stomping into the forest, while the driver is left lamenting, "I've killed him again!" At this point, it's obvious we're beyond medical science—this can only be the surreal world of The Avengers. 

*True, the driver may not be laughing about it, but as a disinterested observer, you have to admit the whole thing is pretty funny.

Well, how would you feel if you ran over
someone twice and he
still wasn't dead?
Perhaps I've seen one too many episodes of MST3K, but Lee's character reminds me of nothing so much as "Butcher" Benton, the character played by Lon Chaney Jr. in Indestructible Man. I mean, nothing stops this guy: his double encounter with the car doesn't even leave a bruise; he's impervious to bullets; and it takes, what—a dozen men?—to bring him under control and drag him back to—but we'll get to that in a minute. And then there are the strange things that happen to him when a certain electronic frequency is activated. . . Let's just say that death has no hold over him, and leave it at that for the time being. 

Thanks to a clue found on a stray piece of paper near the sight of the not-homicide, Mrs. Peel is able to trace things to a suspicious government research center called the Neoteric Research Unit. Steed, posing as a security liaison for an upcoming summit to be held at the center, is introduced to the director, Professor Frank N. Stone. (Yes you read that right.) And guess who the professor is? Right—Christopher Lee! 

Stone demonstrates to Steed the top-secret project the institute is working on: creating a "brain print" of someone and transferring it into an android duplicate of that person, enabling that person's memories to be preserved forever in their robot twin. It is, says Stone, a way of "preserving the finest minds." And to top it off, the prototype android that they're working with is Stone's duplicate! So that's who's been creating all this havoc. It's not really right at this point to give away the conclusion—the episode is just too much fun. Suffice it to say that nothing—and no one—is what it seems to be.

Even for a generally delightful series like The Avengers, "Never, Never Say Die" is an unusually delightful—and satisfying—episode, a combination of the show's trademark wit and a premise that's probably a lot less sci-fi than it was when written over 50 years ago. The blend of humor and horror works wonderfully, never moreso than in the first scene following the opening titles, as we see Mrs. Peel engrossed in a television program that is suddenly interrupted by Steed's image, telling her that they are, once again, needed. That show she's watching? None other than the legendary Avengers episode "The Cybernauts," which—not coincidentally—involves creatures who are half men, half machines. (Surely Mrs. Peel must know how that one ends, since she was in the episode.) If this isn't the most meta moment in the series, it has to be a close second. And then there's the man assaulted with a banana, the robot growing a beard, and a wonderful analysis of the current political situation at the end.

It's always a pleasure to see a star like Christopher Lee appear as a guest star on television, particularly with a juicy role like this. It is possible, I suppose, that "Never, Never Say Die" would have been just as good, just as much fun, with someone else in the pivotal role, but I doubt it. Lee plays things just right: brutal and menacing as the android, suave and urbane as the professor. (But still dangerous.) Most important, he toes the line between fear and farce precisely, giving the proper amount of gravitas to the character without being a stick-in-the-mud. Of course, having starred in all those Hammer horror flicks over the years gave him plenty of practice, but this kind of role demands that you play it straight. Lee plays it right down the middle of the fairway.

I thought about spilling the beans and giving away the twists and turns that take us to the ending, but one of the reasons I don't do a lot of single-episode reviews here—unless I'm trying to prove a point of some kind—is because whenever I've seen something I really enjoy, I want others to be able to experience that same enjoyment. 

This isn't the first time I've seen "Never, Never Say Die," and it won't be the last time, so it would be wrong to view it as a one-and-done. It's always a fun episode, just as The Avengers is always a fun series and Christopher Lee is always a delight to watch. For those of you who've seen "Never, Never" before, you might smile as you read this, and decide to watch it again this weekend. But if you've never, never seen it before, and you've gotten enough of a taste to decide you want the whole meal, then I'm not about to deny you discovering the pleasures of "Never, Never Say Die" for yourself. You'll be glad you did. TV  


  1. Since I don't particularly like the horror genre, I've seen very little of Christopher Lee. I have, though, seen a couple of his 1978 performances. First of all, I saw him host SNL in 1978 (probably in that summer's rerun, since I first discovered SNL, from what I remember, late that spring). I remember he played Mr. Death w/ Laraine Newman playing a little girl asking him why he took her beloved pet away. There was a funnier bit where he was trying to teach Baba Wawa to speak properly, a la Henry Higgins, but of course he soon ends up speaking like her.
    Also from that year (but I saw it years later on tv) he appeared w/ Bette Davis in, of all places, a Disney movie, "Return from Witch Mountain". He & Ms. Davis were good in this, but I'm sure it didn't stretch the acting ability of either of them too far.

  2. I didn't know about the blogathon and love this one so I'm among the people you've influenced to watch it again!

  3. Thanks for joining Mitchell, and thanks for bringing this TV Role with you. It certainly sounds fun from your description so will be hunting it down! Will be in my Day 2 post out tonight (8pm my time in Finland)

  4. Repeats of the Avengers were on very late at night when I was growing up, so only stayed up late for a few. Never seemed to be on TV where I live in the decades that passed. Seemed super sophisticated, so the soigné Mr. Lee must have fit in perfectly with the aesthetic! Loved Diana Rigg in many other things, the great Agatha Christie film Evil Under the Sun, a telecast of King Lear with Olivier, and of course Game of Thrones….
    - Chris

  5. Tragically, I have only seen a handful of episodes of The avengers!
    this sounds like a fun one that I will have to keep an eye out for!

  6. Fun review, of what sounds like a terrific episode. I'm ashamed to admit I've nevever seen The Avengers, but this review is another reminder that I should start. Thank you very much for joining the blogathon!

  7. As I was reading your review, an LED light went on over my head, and I was thinking "ah yes, I remember this one, what a great episode!" But somehow, despite being a fan of both The Avengers and Mr. Lee, I'd forgotten that it was Lee himself portraying the scientist and the rampaging android! Thanks for the reminder!

  8. A very fun trip down Memory Lane I grew up on reruns of The Avengers and still love them today. The best episodes perfectly balanced the spy aspects with the sci-fi components while presenting the farcical as if it was completely normal. This is a great example. Funny that Lee's close friend and fellow Hammer alumni, Peter Cushing, was the one who brought back the Cybernauts in Return of the Cybernauts that same year.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!