The superb audio productions of four of the lost Avengers episodes from series 1 that were released back in January by Big Finish (and prompted this Avengers frenzy of mine) were just the first of three box sets that had been announced (and so warmly were they received, a further four will be made, completing the whole of series 1). The second box was released this month, and I’ve been wondering how to approach it from the middle of the barking-mad colour nonsense the show evolved into. In the end, I’ve decided just to dip in as I go, so between series 5 episodes I’ll be thrown back into the show’s grittier origins.
As it happens, this isn’t so gritty. It is an insurance scam, consistent with the serious but low-concept criminal plots of these early episodes, but the setting is…a hairdressing salon. It’s not the robust of plots (Steed happens across a phone number, Carol stumbles across an booby-trapped drier) but it is pleasingly camp. More importantly, it’s a major episode for Carol, who I’ve become quite taken with as an almost-Avenger (compare her to Venus Smith, she’s a lot more adventurous, and well aware of Steed’s deviousness). Carol essentially usurps Keel’s screen-time in this one, though it’s a pity that Steed only uses her because the fact he’s targeting a hair-salon means he needs a female.
Steed has a dog: ‘The puppy’. He also has a fairly ruthless seduction technique (his victim considers it “like a fairy story”) which he employs before conduction an interrogation (and then resuming his seduction). His car impresses her too: “That’s your car is it?” but that left me wondering what he was driving in this episode… Also, Steed says to “phone the police” which contrasts to the later ‘no policeman’ episodes…
Also this is an episode where Steed carries a gun….but it is a water pistol!
Even if the script is weak compared to the others, so far, from series 1, the adaptation and the production is so lush it still makes hearing this story an absolute treat. Once again, John Dorney has cleverly balanced the need to steer the listener towards visualising the action that would originally have simply been viewed, and staying close to the source material both in word and mood. The only off-note is the insertion of One-Ten (who I thought first appeared in series 2) in a phone call which Steed apparently makes purely to explain the plot.
Incidentally, the original script is by Peter Ling, who wrote one of my favourite Doctor Who serials, The Mind Robber.
Once again, the music is astonishing. Big Finish may not have an orchestra to perform it, but the range of cues seems to be far more varied than those of the existing stories of the era.
Listening to this whilst watching series 5 almost makes it seem like a completely different series – much more a stand-alone. But so, I believe, would watching an early Cathy or Venus episode. Going back to a different tone and style of Avengers is complete contrast, but a reminder of how wonderfully varied and flexible the show is. And, once again, it’s a reminder of how lucky we are to have these new productions to take us back to those early days…