The Avengers Series 5

Jeremy Lloyd

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 1 – From Venus with Love

    For a lot of people, series five of The Avengers IS The Avengers. It’s in colour, for starters, and takes full advantage of the extended tonal pallet by really laying on the visuals – in From Venus with Love, the first episode to air (the fourth of the series to be made) – colour is laid on with abandon, almost at random, it sometimes seems, by an exuberant production team who splash it on walls, floors and wherever they can. Reds and blues, in the main, because they register best.   It also fine-tunes the Steed/Peel relationship, moves Diana Rigg permanently out of leather (a hangover from the Honor Blackman era) … Read more

Annette Carell, Patrick Cargill and Garfield Morgan

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 2 – The Fear Merchants

“Steed puts out a light; Emma takes fright” runs the subhead to The Fear Merchants, second episode of the fifth series of The Avengers, and its belly-flop rhythm makes it apparent that this novelty is already not a good idea. But on with the episode, which starts well with a man who stands alone inside an empty football stadium, frightened to the point of insanity though there is nothing there to terrify him. He’s not the first, either, apparently. In fact he’s the latest in a line of top British ceramics experts driven to the edge of reason by nothing in particular – a mouse in the case of Fox (Bernard Horsfall), who gives Steed … Read more

Emma Peel and John Steed cower in a doorway

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 3 – Escape in Time

  Escape in Time is a good chance to see what the great documentary maker John Krish can do when handed an episode of The Avengers to direct.   The results are a mixed bag: visually interesting but dramatically a little flat, though the premise – a time-travelling bolthole into another era to aid escaping master criminals – is a fascinating one if you’re on board with the whole time-travel idea.   And it gives the production team at The Avengers a chance to get the fancy-dress box out – a sure sign of a series that’s jumping the shark. On the upside, Peter Bowles is in it, and we meet him very … Read more

Steed and Pell with chemistry apparatus

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 4 – The See-Through Man

  After time travel in the previous week’s episode, Escape in Time, The Avengers’ augmented interest in sci-fi gets another workout in The See-Through Man, a plot all about invisibility and its dastardly uses.   Comedy is the overarching tone and self-parody the effect as first one person then another is killed by an invisible man (he is referred to throughout as “he”, even before it’s been established that he is a he). Indeed, before the opening credits have even rolled a factotum at the Ministry of Defence has been dispatched by an unseeable assailant, all very nicely done by director Robert Asher.   Two bits of minor but annoying Avengers furniture are … Read more

Diana Rigg and Ron Moody

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 5 – The Bird Who Knew Too Much

  Even being kind The Bird Who Knew Too Much is a fairly crap episode of The Avengers, a half-hearted rewrite of an Alan Pattillo story by Brian Clemens.   But it gets off to a quirky enough start – a man on the run is shot and, instead of shedding blood, gives out a little trickle of bird seed. Steed Fancies Pigeons: Peel Gets the Bird is what the irritating subhead card reads before action recommences after the credits with another one of “our” gang – a pigeon keeper (a “fancier” in the terminology) – winding up  backwards in a tank of wet cement. “He was a pretty solid sort of man,” … Read more

Emma Peel in cartoon form being menaged by a giant bird

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 6 – The Winged Avenger

  The Winged Avenger, self-referentiality to one side, is a comic-book title and a comic-book episode – look at the framing throughout – and intriguingly suggests that The Avengers now has another genre reference point, having conclusively ditched noirish crime fiction as a motherlode even before Honor Blackman left the show at the end of series three.   Hold on to that hard because this episode is in dramatic terms dead in the water, flat, lacking interest. Though all starts well as a gigantic, semi-feathered (and entirely ridiculous) bird kills an ageing magnate (William Fox), who turns out to be the fourth publishing nabob in a row, the creature having scaled the company building … Read more

John Steed pecks Mrs Peel on the cheek

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 7 – The Living Dead

The zombie movie was sleeping fitfully in its crypt – George Romero would wake it in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead – when The Avengers episode The Living Dead first aired in February 1967. Steed and Peel, it seems, are now ghosthunters as well as murder investigators, industrial-decline consultants and everyday spies, and are called in after stage drunk Kermit (Jack Woolgar), stumbling home one night espies the lid of a tomb opening and a man in white ascending from it. “The Duke!” Kermit exclaims. Was it the first duke, of 17th century vintage? Or one only recently deceased – “a real man”, according to one local – who died in … Read more

John Steed with pet cat

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 8 – The Hidden Tiger

  Well written and brilliantly cast, The Hidden Tiger is also very neatly directed by Sidney Hayers, who starts the episode with a point-of-view shot of a butler being dispatched by forces unseen while he is putting out a bowl of milk for the cat.   In death the man lies draped in a tiger skin that was only moments earlier adorning the wall of the stately home – where else? – where he’s employed.   And, in a now familiar pattern, very shortly after Steed and Peel (back to being investigators of the oddball) get onto the case, posh, handsome Sir David Harper (Jack Gwillim) is also dead, another pov sequence having … Read more

Olga reveals an arsenal under her coat

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 9 – The Correct Way to Kill

  So we arrive at The Correct Way to Kill, a rewrite of the series 3 episode The Charmers, and a frank admission that The Avengers has pretty much run out of ideas.   Or, since we’re being generous, that it’s taking a prize episode out for a well deserved second airing – The Charmers was excellent, though in no small part because it featured Fenella Fielding.   She’s not visible here but the bare bones of the plot remain the same – someone is killing enemy agents on British soil, putting Steed in the frame. Enemy agent Ivan (Philip Madoc) has been sent to dispatch Steed but, after listening to Steed’s protestations of … Read more

Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee and Christopher Lee

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 10 – Never, Never Say Die

  Christopher Lee! Christopher Lee of Dracula fame, intelligence operations during the Second World War, later a Bond villain, Saruman of Lord of the Rings and a heavy metal artist in his 90s, yes, that’s the man, lumbering about like Frankenstein’s monster (another role) the first time we see him, and shot from below, again Frankenstein-style, by director Robert Day as this episode of The Avengers kicks off with a car accident which renders the guest star dead.   Surely not? Surely so. But this episode isn’t called Never, Never Say Die for no reason, and no sooner has he been pronounced dead by a doctor at the hospital than he rises again, … Read more

Mrs Peel surrounded by a halo reading a ZZ Schnerk Production

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 11 – Epic

When writers run out of ideas, they either start cannibalising their own old ones (see the episode from two weeks’ prior – The Correct Way to Kill), they duck into comedy (no refuge for a series that already has its tongue boring a hole through its cheek) or they reach for genre parody. Epic dips its toe in the water of the third option in an episode that parodies old-school Hollywood excess. Kenneth J Warren, Isa Miranda and Peter Wyngarde are the guest actors drafted into play a trio of archetypes, arch types, even – Warren is an Erich Von Stroheim stripe of director, all monocle, bullet head and high-flown notions of the importance … Read more

Charlotte Rampling and Diana Rigg

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 12 – The Superlative Seven

  Charlotte Rampling, Donald Sutherland and Brian Blessed are the standout names in The Superlative Seven, a title suggesting this episode is going to borrow heavily from The Magnificent Seven of seven years before. In fact it’s more a reworking of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with a bit of Hunger Games thrown in (appropriately, since a five-decades-older Sutherland would be prominent in that).   Blessed was probably the best known of the three at the time, having been a key cast member of the hit UK show Z Cars, though Rampling was close behind, Georgy Girl having made her a name the year before. Sutherland? More a familiar face than a big … Read more

Diana Rigg and John Laurie

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 13 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station

  The Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – a hit on Broadway in 1962, in 1966 a film directed by Dick Lester and featuring Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Buster Keaton in his final role – is the obvious inspiration for the title of this episode, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station. But beyond the title, there’s not really any sign of the musical in this story, no shred of Forum’s plot about a slave helping his young master to navigate the waters of true love.   So, that diversion tackled, let’s get on to the episode itself, a very good … Read more

John Steed in a toy shop

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 14 – Something Nasty in the Nursery

  Clive Dunn, Paul Eddington, Yootha Joyce and Penelope Keith – four of the biggest names in 1970s British TV comedy – were relative unknowns when Something Nasty in the Nursery aired in April 1967. But their presence is further proof, if any were needed, that The Avengers had slewed well towards the lighter end of the entertainment spectrum. Writer Philip Levene’s Avengers scripts are often concerned with class at some level. That proves to be the case in a story about men – not just any men but powerful men “from the best family; they’re British to the core” as a defence chief tells Steed and Peel – reduced to infantilism by some … Read more

Ronald Lacey and Diana Rigg

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 15 – The Joker

  The creeping feeling that The Avengers is running out of puff is further reinforced by The Joker, a rewrite of the Cathy Gale-era episode Don’t Look Behind You. Except in this case it’s Emma Peel who is stalked by an admirer with a deadly agenda. It was a very good episode first time round and works its magic this time too. But before Mrs Peel can be sent off for a weekend at the house of bridge-playing Sir Cavalier Rusticana – Steed jokes that it sounds like an opera (hardly surprising since the joke name is modelled on the opera Cavalleria Rusticana) – first we see a mystery hand cutting a picture … Read more

Lola and Emma in a mind-swap machine

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 16 – Who’s Who???

The Nicolas Cage/John Travolta film Face/Off might perhaps have borrowed its central idea from Who’s Who???, a crackingly conceived episode of The Avengers built around the idea of a mind-swap between Steed and the dastardly Basil (Freddie Jones). There’s a bit plot business before we get to the big central idea – we are introduced to Basil and sidekick Lola (Patricia Haines) deliberately killing “one of our very best agents”, in the words of the original and as-yet-unaltered John Steed, expressly with the intention of flushing Steed and Peel out into the open to steal their identities. But nothing really held my interest until what looked like an old radar console from a … Read more

A cybernaut at the door

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 17 – Return of the Cybernauts

When the British Film Institute celebrated 50 Years of Emma Peel in 2015, as well as interviewing the venerable Dame Diana Rigg – halfway through her run on Game of Thrones at the time – the BFI screened two episodes of Peel-era Avengers show. Return of the Cybernauts was one (The House That Jack Built the other), chosen, presumably, because it had a big-name star in the shape of Peter Cushing in its cast, because it was something of a fan favourite and, I’m also guessing, because the production values were more polished than they had been hitherto. Because the show had been Emmy nominated, the ABC network ordered more, of which this … Read more

Spooky mystery figure

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 18 – Death’s Door

  Closer co-operation between European countries is a good thing, right? That’s the idea driving Death’s Door, an episode with a mind-control theme and a jaunty spy-fi approach to what is essentially an espionage thriller plot. But before the Europhobes get all steamed up, the co-operation, though never quite spelled out, appears to be more military than economic, more NATO than the EU (Common Market, EEC, EC – choose acronym according to vintage). I’m going on the various badges and insignia on display at a conference where Sir Andrew Boyd (Clifford Evans) is about to crown his career by leading different European nations into some sort of unified treaty arrangement. He never quite … Read more

Pauline Delaney as Mrs Rhodes, with ventriloquist's dummy

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 19 – The £50,000 Breakfast

  The £50,000 Breakfast is a Cathy Gale-era episode (Death of a Great Dane) originally written by Roger Marshall and then reworked here by Brian Clemens into an Emma Peel-era one. And though it’s tempting to do a compare and contrast – as if to definitively nail the differences between the two eras – that can’t quite be done because Death of a Great Dane really marked the beginning of classic-era Avengers with its mad plots, people with odd names, extras thin (ish) on the ground and a general air of unreality all-pervading. The same opener launches both – a man dies (here it’s a ventriloquist) and his stomach is found to contain … Read more

Valerie Van Ost

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 20 – Dead Man’s Treasure

Dead Man’s Treasure takes that old staple of the country house weekend – the treasure hunt – and turns it into a reasonably thrilling car-chase adventure unsure quite how jokey it wants to be. My hunch is that the thrills come courtesy of writer Michel Winder, the jokes from showrunner Brian Clemens, since camping it up is pretty much Clemens’s shtick. But on to the plot, and things get going in a very familiar style as one of Steed’s agent colleagues dies in time-honoured “The treasure’s in the … aaaagh” style, having been pursued in his nippy Sunbeam Alpine MG (see below) by stylish dastards in an E Type Jaguar. For car nuts, this … Read more

Diana Rig on a bridge

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 21 – You Have Just Been Murdered

You Have Just Been Murdered is what this episode of The Avengers is called and it’s what’s written on a card left behind at the house of a man who has just been menaced with a gun by an intruder. The gunman returns later with a fake knife, “kills” his victim again, and leaves behind another note – “You have just been murdered… again!” It turns out that Jarvis (Geoffrey Chater) is the third wealthy chap to have withdrawn a million pounds from the bank recently, and Steed and Peel are soon on a case which seems, at first, second and last glance, about keeping the very rich and their money happily together. … Read more

The creature attacks Emma Peel

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 22 – The Positive Negative Man

  A mad spy-fi story, the sort that made The Avengers the legendary show it is, The Positive Negative Man gets off to a Cybernauts-style start with a big lumbering creature – a man in silver greasepainted face and a metal sleeve on one finger – zapping a scientist (Bill Wallis) as he labours over some boffin-y task. The man has been thrown clean across the room. This being “the Ministry”, Steed and Peel are soon called in, only to become mired in protocol – do they or do they not have enough security clearance to conduct any sort of investigation, sort of thing. Tony Williamson’s script tugs in two directions. One is techy … Read more

Publicity shot on a beach

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 23 – Murdersville

  Murdersville feels like a very loose rewrite of a Cathy Gale-era Avengers episode, though having wracked my brains, I don’t believe it can be. The hallmarks are there though – old school English village, locals, a pub – real life, in other words, which the Emma Peel-era Avengers (Cybernauts, invisible men, an extra-terrestrial) so far has kept as far away from as possible. There’s human warmth, too, which is also odd. In The Avengers, when someone dies it’s the opportunity for a quick gag, James Bond style. Not so here, but that’s because Mrs Peel has no one to quip with, against or at, since Steed is back at the ranch, and … Read more

A mini Steed tries to make a phone call

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 24 – Mission… Highly Improbable

The US TV series Mission: Impossible was not quite a year old and hadn’t yet aired in the UK when the Avengers episode Mission… Highly Improbable debuted in the UK in November 1967, so Brits wouldn’t have got the joke/reference. It matters not – apart from the allusive title, there’s nothing else carrying over from the US show to the UK one. Apart, that is, from the high-budget looks. Everything looks like it’s been given two extra runs through the polisher – that’s the effect of American money. However, even though The Avengers was riding high on both sides of the Atlantic, the spy craze was on the wane. The Robert Culp/Bill Cosby … Read more