“Complex” Review

This is the first episode of The New Avengers I ever saw, back in 1995 – in the 6.25pm Friday slot on BBC 2 (in which, a couple of years earlier, I’d seen my first Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who). This is the first of four episodes filmed in Canada and the BBC elected to broadcast these first – I only came across the transmissions by accident, half way through this episode. I didn’t miss much; this has a slow start and the mystery of the villain is telegraphed plainly and early. Somehow, it seems to lack the typical dynamic between the leads, perhaps because of the adjustment to production overseas with a new crew.

While the picture quality on The New Avengers DVDs has generally been shockingly awful, in comparison to the pristine Avengers sets, this seems to set a new low. Surprisingly, Wikipedia lists the reason BBC 2 showed the Canadian episodes first was because the prints Canal+ originally supplied them for the other episodes were even worse. Hard to imagine.

We see our heroes in ‘England’ at the start, although bizarrely this is achieved by placing a large “Welcome to Kent” sign behind their heads. In later shots, it appears that this sign is in the middle of a field – serving no purpose whatsoever – except ‘proving’ that they are in England, and definitely not in a field in Canada.

Purdey gets shot. Since in the last episode both Steed and Gambit got shot (twice) I’m starting to worry one of our heroes getting shot is becoming obligatory. Still, being physically injured pales into insignificance besides being given a pink shell suit to wear.

The (Canadian) police feature heavily in this episode, indicating the ‘no police’ edict of the Emma Peel days doesn’t apply to the revival series. That’s unfortunate, since the whole police sequence is a disaster – a laboured joke about wisecracking officers refusing the believe Gambit is a British agent – leaden ‘comedy’ that is a far cry from the typically off-beat jokiness of Avengers humour. The officer repeatedly refers to Gambit as James Bond. I wonder if was a fan of Sheriff J. W. Pepper of the 1973 and 1974 entries in that film series? Because I almost expected him to shout “on whose side?” Canadian security isn’t much more impressive – they actually shut down for the weekend and transfer all their calls to Military Intelligence!

The central plot – about the computer controlled Canadian Security Service building is remarkably similar to The X-Files episode Ghost in the Machine. Weirdly scenes for that were shot in buildings actually used by the Canadian Security Intelligence service. Ghost in the Machine was much later, of course. 1993. It seemed very recent when I saw Complex in ’95 – and The New Avengers seemed utterly ancient. Sobering to realise that the ‘ancient’ Complex had been broadcast 18 years previously, whereas now, in 2014, I am realising it’s 21 years since Ghost in the Machine was broadcast, and I feel very old.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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