Whoosh! Issue 22 - July 1998


IAXS project #481
By Kathleen A. Daye
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1985 words

Introduction (01)
Sisters (02)
Many Skills (03-06)
Combat Prowess and Weapon Mastery (07-10)
Courage (11-12)
Companions (13-14)
Conclusion (15)

Tall, Dark, And Deadly:
A Comparative Look At Xena And Emma Peel

Let's see Xena and Gabrielle do *this* in prime time!

John Steed and Emma Peel in suitably subtextual pose. This pic and all Avengers pics accompanying this article courtesy James Dawe and his Unofficial Avengers Home Page.


[1] The Avengers (1961-1969) was an English spy/action television series produced during the 1960's. Patrick Macnee played the dashing secret agent John Steed and, over the many years the show was broadcast, worked with a number of different female leads. The best of the bunch was Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in the fourth and fifth years of the series (1966-68). The two formed an equal partnership in the spy-chasing game. Steed was the epitome of the English gentleman, and Emma was a karate chopping, intelligent, independent woman, years ahead of her time. A new Avengers movie is due to be released soon with Uma Thurman taking over as Emma Peel. With all due respect to Ms. Thurman, this article speaks of the greatness of Dame Diana's interpretation of the character. Emma Peel has been a favorite of fans and has served as an inspirational role model for over thirty years. Battle On, Emma!


[2] Tall, dark, and deadly is more than a snappy cliche describing two fearsome females known in the television world as Emma Peel, of The Avengers, and Xena, the Warrior Princess. These two women share a kinship that transcends the boundaries of time. They also share a penchant for busting heads and throwing grown men clear across a room. They are infinitely knowledgeable and possess "many skills", all of which are used to fight the good fight. Their enemies both fear and respect them. Their partners love and trust them. We honor them as women of courage and cheer with unabashed pride as they destroy not only their adversaries, but also the confining stereotypes of women in television. They are sisters in mind, body and in spirit.

Many Skills

Xena after hearing about Joxer being in 22 episodes.

Xena invents bungee jumping in A NECESSARY EVIL.

[3] Xena is fond of saying she is a woman of "many skills". If she held degrees for these many skills, she could be lettered in the fields of medicine, music, chemistry, criminology, aeronautical engineering, and fashion design. We have witnessed this statement to be fact as we have seen her do everything from a field surgery tracheotomy in PROMETHEUS (08/108), to the barnyard birthing of Gabrielle's baby in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). She sang a heartfelt funeral dirge as Hercules buried his newlywed wife, Serena, in JUDGMENT DAY (H52/315) and whipped up a smoke screen to hide a hasty retreat in BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (12/112).

[4] Her modern day counterpart, Emma, would have approved of Xena's methodology and deduction as she established Phantes' innocence and uncovered the real murderer after her analysis of horse and centaur tracks at the crime scene in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110). Her engineering skills came in handy as she designed, constructed, and flew possibly the world's first kite in order to save a small village from imminent destruction in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). Her last minute ministering to a hideous pageant gown saved the day and prevented a war by turning a rummage sale rag into a designer's delight in HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211). Her skills appear to be endless. She is knowledge and power personified.

[5] So too is her twentieth century counter part, Emma Peel, infinitely knowledgeable. Mrs. Peel has also amply demonstrated that to have knowledge is, indeed, to have power. Her abilities to make a bomb from shot gun shells (The House That Jack Built), pick a lock (Correct Way To Kill), or to sew a stuffed animal (Escape In Time) have proven her to be both a dangerous adversary and a welcomed partner. Her knowledge of ballistics (Escape In Time), which correctly identified a most unusual bullet picked out of a corpse as to being a "sixteenth century gun, medium caliber, probably a sporty piece, used exclusively by noblemen in the Elizabethan period" shows the depth of some of her knowledge. Her expertise in the field of chemistry is exercised quite handily when she discerned, with her home chemistry lab, that the sample of make-up she cleverly collected from a silver-faced foe was a mixture of non-conducting oil and aluminum dust. She ascertained it acted as a protective barrier, a fact that will later save her life and help solve another crime against the nation (Positive Negative Man).

[6] In an episode entitled The Girl From A.U.N.T.I.E., we see a Mrs. Peel imposter rummaging through Emma's apartment. She is looking for something to read. Some of Mrs. Peel's literary offerings included Self-Defense No Holds Barred and Basic Nuclear Physics. No fluffy Cosmopolitan magazines for our hero.

Combat Prowess and Weapon Mastery

But I don't have a breastplate

Emma and Xena both like black leather.

[7] Legendary, too, is the depth of knowledge and skill each woman has in the art of hand-to-hand combat and the use of deadly weapons. Whether it be the crack shot Emma takes with her revolver at knocking the cork out of the champagne bottle her partner, John Steed, holds twenty paces away (opening credits) or her expert skill at wielding a fencing foil (Correct Way To Kill), we know a weapon in her hands signals danger for all who oppose her. She out-draws a cowboy in a saloon showdown (Epic) and out fences the instructor in From Venus With Love.

[8] A sword in Xena's hands proves no less deadly as week after week she slaps, slashes, and stabs one evildoer after another, sending them running or, as is more often the case, on a one-way trip to Tartarus. The chakram, bow and arrow, staff, knife, whip, spear and battleaxe are no idle trinkets in Xena's armory either. Her deadly aim with the axe to the back of a fleeing Horde savage brought cheers from her fellow soldiers in THE PRICE (44/220) and horror to the heart of her sidekick, Gabrielle.

[9] Even without weapon in hand, each woman is a formidable foe. Emma is repeatedly attacked by Z.Z. Von Schnerk's henchmen in Epic, and she illustrates that she is more than capable of inducing great bodily harm with nothing but a powerful Kung Fu style chop and a well-placed kick. She is attacked by an ancient Greek warrior, a Civil War soldier, a Texas cowpoke, a vintage World War I German soldier and an American Indian, complete with war paint and tomahawk, and she manages, very cleverly, to survive each attack with nothing but her hands and her wits. Frequently, armed with nothing more than those wits, Emma steps up to do battle with villains that range from mechanical men (The Cybernauts and The Return Of The Cybernauts) to caped, clawed comic book characters who can defy gravity by walking up walls and across ceilings (The Winged Avenger).

[10] Xena, too, is resplendent in hand-to-hand combat. She has the deadly grace of a black-belted Karate master, the fervor of a barroom brawler and the stamina of a heavy weight boxer. When she is in action, all body parts move in unison, including those long, dark tresses of hers. Swung at just the right speed and angle, her healthy mane was able to take out one of Caesar's finest, and with nothing more than a well-timed, heady swipe [DESTINY (36/211)]. Her ability to transcend the restrictive nature of some of physics' basic laws often turns a simple case of back alley fisticuffs into a balletic aerial massacre. Her powers and abilities are far beyond those of mortals, yet when she is pricked, she too bleeds red.


Think she'll notice that 'kick me hard' sticker we put on her back?

Xena rallies the troops in THE PRICE.

[11] Unrivaled courage in the face of insurmountable odds is something else these two women share. They both possess a steely stare that can shoot holes into any villain's confident belief that s/he has the upper hand. When Emma finds herself strapped into the seat of a race car and finds she must keep the car on a simulated track to avoid certain death by electrocution, she focuses on the task at hand and ignores the taunts from her would-be assailant (Dead Man's Treasure). Xena likewise exercises the same concentrated courage when strapped down to the dissecting table awaiting certain death at the hands of the Green Dragon's executioner in THE DEBT II (53/307). Instead of surrendering to the fear and the apparent hopelessness of each situation, both women call upon a reserve of strength and look for a way out.

[12] This legendary courage has earned them a great deal of respect even from those they oppose. Their reputations are well known throughout their worlds. In The Correct Way To Kill, Russian agents have tagged Steed's picture, "dangerous, handle with care". In the same file, Mrs. Peel's picture reads, "very dangerous, do not handle at all". Xena's deadly reputation is well known to the demoralized soldiers trapped by the Horde [THE PRICE (44/220)]. Her inspirational leadership leads them to victory. Her reputation has also led to problems, specifically when a "still wet behind the ears" punk, looking to make a name for himself, attempts to draw Xena into mortal combat [BLIND FAITH (42/218)]. She dispatches him easily despite losing her eyesight.


I could've played that Salmoneus guy, too!

John Steed was Emma Peel's subtextual partner.

[13] It is important to note that neither woman is fighting alone. John Steed is to Emma Peel what Gabrielle is to Xena. Each woman shares in an emotional relationship with another founded on mutual trust, admiration, respect, and love. It would be hard to view Emma's good-bye to Steed in The-Forget-Me-Knot episode when she says, "Always keep your bowler on in all times of stress -- and a watchful eye open for diabolical masterminds" without feeling the depth of the love these two have had for one other.

[14] So too, can nary a dry eye be found as Xena echoes the same kind of sentiment about Gabrielle as she lays dying in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124). Xena's desperation to save Gabrielle is fueled by her love and devotion to this woman. The constant battle has deadened neither woman's ability to experience the good side of life, despite their somewhat unorthodox and dangerous choice of lifestyles.


[15] It would seem the indomitable spirit of adventure lives on well within our two heroes. They fight for truth and justice. They fight to make the world a better place, whether that world is one of ancient warlords and kings or twentieth century cold war indifference. Their knowledge and many skills have made them survivors and as well as saviors. Emma Peel and Xena, the Warrior Princess, share the mantle of being knowledge personified, and are aptly defined as women ahead of their time. They are sisters in the good fight and, most appropriately, dubbed for the purposes of this piece: "Tall, Dark, and Deadly".


Kathleen A. Daye Kathleen A. Daye
When not masquerading as a paper pushing number cruncher for a small midwestern credit union, Kathy Daye entertains the notion that when she grows up she would like to play with words instead of numbers. Inspiration has finally made its way to her door and with the encouraging words from a soulmate, she has actually begun the process. Strong female characters have always been a favorite and it just somehow seemed perfectly natural that Emma Peel and Xena should make their way into a first endeavor. When not traversing the Xenaverse Kathy is an avid movie fan and reader-Anne Rice and Tennessee Williams head her list of favs.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
Favorite line: Gabrielle to Xena: "It's easy to believe in yourself after someone else has believed in you first". FORGIVEN (60/314)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) and WHEN IN ROME... (62/316)

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