“The Avengers” Review (The Whole Lot)

So, after a few days to allow the dust to settle on my Avengers DVD collection, here are a few thoughts on the series as a whole, as well as pick of the very best episodes for those considering a more selective viewing, and links to every single one of my 137 episode reviews….

First of all, what a treat. The Avengers is never dull, and only very occasionally embarrassingly inane; it is stylish, absurdly charming and unremittingly entertaining. But by the end it’s also almost unrecognisable as the show it started out as. It starts out as an extremely well-crafted and tightly written show. During the course of its run, the outlandishness steadily increases. There’s a sweet spot – around the end of series 3 and the beginning of series 4 where the intelligence and sophistication are at their height. This coincides, at the beginning of series 4, with the show going onto film – it had always looked good even when shot ‘as live’ on videotape, but with the luxury of film, it looks fabulous. It never looked as good when it went to colour, though it did regain some of its visual flair in the final series.

A lot of early episodes were new to me – and I also had the opportunity of listening to reconstructions of the lost episodes. The first 8 of these audios from Big Finish were released this year – this was, in fact, what prompted this binge. Also, I’d not seen series 2. The first big surprise was how good these were. Series 1, especially, has been dismissed by Brian Clemens, producer of the later seasons whose name is inextricable linked with the show. With two male leads and – theoretically – a much more grounded (if not gritty) style, it hadn’t become what The Avengers is famous for. But the stories I’ve seen and heard are well-crafted pieces of drama, with the larger-than-life characters and settings. Some of the stories from the first two seasons are a little bit forgettable run-of-the-mill crime dramas, but some of them are wonderful imaginative pieces – included some of the Venus Smith episodes, and at least one with Dr Martin King – Steed’s amateur associates who alternated with Mrs Gale before she took over the gig full time.

In short, though the start of series 4 is the show at its height, the previous seasons are much better than their reputation suggests. Many of those early stories are better than later Mrs Peel, and certainly better than the Tara King era.

The colour stories, alas, were less good than I remembered. Series 5, in particular, is incredibly formulaic. It’s almost entirely written by the same two writers, and its very thin in patches. There are one or maybe two classics, but the jokiness seems to have become a crutch for the show, and the many of the plots veer heavily into science fiction, which, as I illustrate over on the Fusion Patrol blog, isn’t a strength of the show.

Series 6 is incredibly variable. Certainly, some of the shows worst episodes are here, but there are at least half a dozen that could have been strung together to make a very decent series. Okay, that’s out of 33, but still, with all the production issues that left almost everyone acknowledging the show had problems, there’s a glimmer of what might have been had things gone more smoothly. And six good episodes is six good episodes.

But that first half of series 4. That’s every bit as good as I remember, if not better. It’s just the best television ever made.

The Best

I guarantee that by tomorrow I will have changed my mind about the order these go in – and whether some of the marginal stories I almost included deserve their place over those that made it (Mr Teddy Bear, The Girl on the TrapezeTwo’s A Crowd etc.)  Perhaps I have been guilty of trying to maintain diversity, when you’d see most of the strongest stories if you just watched the end of series 3 and the start of series 4. But you’d miss a few classics, and as well as picking from across the eras of the show, the dozen top episodes here are indubitably the absolute best.

  1. The Mauritius Penny

    Dentistry, philately, and an attempted coup – thwarted, of course, by Steed and Cathy. Perfect ingredients for The Avengers.

  2. Dead on Course

    Dr Martin King helps Steed when a plane crashes near a nunnery.

  3. Noon Doomsday

    Silly but atmospheric and visually engaging Western with Tara protecting Steed, and more than a nod to High Noon.

  4. All Done With Mirrors

    A solo Tara King episode with some stunning locations and some great action sequences.

  5. Nutshell

    Claustrophobic and tense underground thriller. Will Cathy doubt Steed’s loyalty to his country?

  6. Bullseye

    Mrs Gale joins the board of an arms manufacturer.

  7. The Morning After

    Unusual and atmospheric story that partners Steed with a dangerous double agent.

  8. Warlock

    Cathy is keen to debunk witchcraft, like an early 60s Scully.

  9. The Murder Market

    As the Avengers became more overtly comical, it lost its edge, but in this episode the humour is well balanced with an imaginative plot and superb performances from Macnee and Rigg (her first filmed).

  10. The Master Minds

    All of the first half of series 4 is magnificent. This only comes lower down the ranks because the other episodes are so strong.

  11. Don’t Look Behind You

    Eerie and extraordinarily effective thriller, with Cathy spending an evening in a very strange house.

  12. The Joker

    Excellent remake of Don’t Look Behind You, with Mrs Peel, and in colour.

  13. Concerto

    With easily the best and most surpring opening of any Avengers episode, with Steed setting up Cathy (as he often does) and the characterisation of Steed at its zenith, a perfect balancing of charm and brutality.

  14. Esprit De Corps

    As with all the best Avengers stories, the silly plot (military shenanigans involving a coupe) is treated with absolutely seriousness – including Cathy’s royal lineage!

  15. The Cybernauts

    Computers, karate and automation. The Avengers’ best take on technology as the threat of the future.

  16. Mandrake

    A perfect combination of plausibility and absurdity, with oodles of charming eccentricity and some excellent graveyard fighting from Cathy.

  17. Dial a Deadly Number

    An absolutely corking episode, featuring city boys with pagers. And Steed is lethal with the champagne.

  18. A Surfeit of H2O

    This features an imaginative and audacious diabolical plan, and a scene which perfectly demonstrates the relationship between Steed and Mrs Peel.

  19. Town of No Return

    A quiet village conspiracy. Mrs Peel is a leather-clad primary teacher. Steed sets fire to a moustache.

  20. Castle De’ath

    Mrs Peel and Jock McSteed investigate dead frogmen in a medieval Scottish castle.

  21. Murdersville

    A western with some similarities to Bad Day at Black Rock.

  22. A Touch of Brimstone

    Mrs Peel is the Queen of Sin – too naughty to be broadcast in America.

  23.  The Hour That Never Was

    Steed and Mrs Peel walk around a deserted airfield for half an hour before they meet anyone at all in but why would you want to watch anyone else when you have these two? A superbly atmospheric story.

  24. Death at Bargain Prices

    “Merry quips department 4th floor.” Delightful adventure, with Steed and Mrs Peel at their witty monochrome best, investigating a department store.

  25. The Grave-Diggers

    Mrs Peel gets tied to a 10 1?4″ railway line, and Ronald Fraser as the best of all the Avengers eccentrics is worried she’ll break his train in the best Avengers episode of them all.

The Lot

And just for completeness, here are links to my reviews of all 137 surviving episodes of The Avengers:

Series 1:

Series 2:

Series 3:

Series 4:

Series 5:

Series 6:

 

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

One thought on ““The Avengers” Review (The Whole Lot)

Leave a Reply