This is the first in a box-set of four stories produced by audio publisher Big Finish (well known for their original Doctor Who dramas) based on scripts for lost Avengers episodes. Of course, Hot Snow is the odd-one out, since the first act does still exist, and so starting to listen to this box set is a rather odd experience. Inevitably, in my mind, I was comparing it with what I’d (recently seen on screen) and besides the fact that the actors, obviously, sound slightly different, the opening of the show is very visual. My recollections from the screen version begin to fill in what I’m listening to.
This brings up the first point about these audios: an aural version of this story would have been far better served by being restructured. For example, using the telephone conversation where Spicer recounts to “Mr Big” what he’s been up to could have served as a framing device for the action here. (In fact, the original TV story might have been more gripping if it had been restructured, but that’s another matter). John Dorney, who adapted the scripts, has described his goal as more akin to restoration that adaptation – and so for this brief segment where we have both the original and the ‘restored’ version, comparison is inevitable.
However, once past this, the play becomes more involving. It’s no longer notable that Anthony Howell doesn’t sound quite like Ian Hendry, or that Julian Wadham isn’t Patrick Macnee. Both give enjoyable performances and Wadham, in particular, makes the part sound like it was written for him. It helps that the second and third acts are far more action-packed, too.
Steed’s first appearance is brief but exceedingly mysterious. Keel goes looking for the doctor he believes holds a clue to his fiancé’s murder. Steed lets him in to the flat, in which Keel finds the doctor’s body – by then Steed has disappeared. Was Steed the murderer? Steed enlists Keel, telling him he’s under-cover; but it transpires his double-cross is at the very least a triple-cross when he claims to the gangsters to be luring Keel into a trap. My head quickly began spinning, not because I was confused about where Steed’s loyalties lie (after all, I have the benefit of hindsight to inform me he’s the good guy) but because I started to lose track of what the audience were supposed to believe!
The final twist in this episode was that the story – and the question of Steed’s loyalties – were not resolved. Hot Snow turns out to be part one of a two-parter and I didn’t even know there were any two part Avengers stories!
It was hugely exciting hearing this story. It’s an interesting idea to try to recreate and ‘restore’ these relics of the Avengers’ origins but it would be pointless if it weren’t done well. This isn’t, after all, the first time Avengers have been adapted for the radio – in the ‘70s many scripts were adapted for a South African radio series. But the Big Finish Avengers stories, as might be expected with their pedigree, are in a different league to those. The scripts have been lightly but expertly crafted for the radio, and Wadham, Howell and director Ken Bentley have breathed life into them making it possible to close your eyes and wallow in the 1960s atmosphere. The jazzy score is authentic and fabulous, and the restoration even extends to preserving the ad break bumpers, something that made me feel almost overwhelmed with gratitude to Big Finish for the love and care they’ve brought to this project.