When four executives from leading ceramic companies are driven mad Steed discovers that another pottery owner, Jeremy Raven, had requested that they merger but was refused. He had engaged a consultancy firm, Business Efficiency Bureau, to boost his factory, unaware of their deadly means of eliminating the opposition. Steed poses as a travel agent to trap them, naming Emma as his business rival.
The executives of several ceramics companies are being driven crazy or killed by fear. The trail leads to a consulting company with some unusual techniques for helping their clients beat their competition. As this episode opens we see a man waking up; as the camera pulls back we see that he is in the middle of a football pitch. He is clearly scared and is soon having a full blown panic attack. It turns out he was the manager of a ceramics company and he wasn't the first in such a position to end up a nervous wreck after being found somewhere unusual. It isn't long before more turn up in a similar state or actually killed. All this is doing wonders for Jeremy Raven's rival business although is shocked to learn that the organisation he hired to eliminate the competition were doing it literally by playing on their deepest fears! He confronts them which leads to him becoming the next victim. If Steed and Mrs Peel are to solve the case Steed will have to pay a visit to the organisation himself. He claims that the rival he needs eliminating is Mrs Peel!
This episode has always been a personal favourite as it was the first episode of 'The Avengers' I watched. The idea of a company that discovers people's innermost fears in order to terrify them is interesting although one does have to suspend ones disbelief to believe that all these company directors will have a phobia so severe that it will lead to a nervous breakdown. This organisation is suitably sinister; especially when they confront Mrs Peel with the 'universal fear' pain. Some extra fun was to be had when we see Mrs Peel chiselling away at a large piece of stone and the scene where Steed talks to Raven; who smashes any piece that he doesn't consider perfect. Overall an enjoyable episode with the expected mix of drama and comedy.
I'm pretty much in agreement with the weaknesses pointed out by laika-lives in another post but I don't think those weaknesses undermine the story that much. Of course it's unbelievable that every one of the victims can be driven made by exposure to a minor example of the thing they irrationally fear. One spider? One bird? One MOUSE? It requires not simply the suspension of disbelief. It means you have to wrench its head off and contaminate its neck cavity.
And it does exemplify a formula that was to be used repeatedly and had in fact already been used in "From Venus With Love." But that's a concern mainly for completists. Seen in isolation, and given the available budget, it's still a lot of fun and has the same quotient of wit as most of the other episodes. Emma Peel does some sculpting in this one, wearing a jump suit with cut-outs over the iliac crests. And there are the usual low-key gags. She and Steed are draped over one of her half-finished stone sculptures, Mrs. Peel says something like, "I suppose we'll have to put some PRESSURE on them," then bangs mallet on chisel and a bit of dust flies into Steed's face.