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

A mini Steed tries to make a phone call

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

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 23 – Murdersville

Publicity shot on a beach

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 this … Read more

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

The creature attacks Emma Peel

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

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

Diana Rig on a bridge

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

Valerie Van Ost

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

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

Pauline Delaney as Mrs Rhodes, with ventriloquist's dummy

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 a … Read more

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

Spooky mystery figure

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 gets … Read more

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

A cybernaut at the door

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

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

Lola and Emma in a mind-swap machine

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

The Avengers: Series 5, Episode 15 – The Joker

Ronald Lacey and Diana Rigg

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 of … Read more