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A UK region 2 DVD review of THE AVENGERS – SERIES 5 by Slarek
 

And here, for me, is where it started to slip. Now before I go further and incur the wrath of Avengers fans everywhere, I should point out that series 5 of one of the greatest of all 60s TV series is still richly imaginative and a great deal of fun, and the move to colour gives it a vivid, larger-than-life feel that is perfectly in-keeping with the more fantasy-based direction it had taken under the guidance of writer-producer Brian Clemens. But having made my way through the first four series, episode by episode, the shift from tongue-in-cheek serious to fluffy eccentricity leaves much of series 5 feeling a little lightweight in comparison to its predecessors. The imagination and visual style is still there in abundance, but the increased comic book influence often sees credibility discarded in the name of lightweight fun, a key reason quoted for regular writer Roger Marshall's departure from the show.

For the first time there are aspects I genuinely dislike, a key one being the post-teaser caption – "Steed goes bird watching – Emma does a comic strip," that sort of thing – and a sequence that follows, set to the same chirpy music each time, in which Emma discovers her name in a manner that only makes sense in a world run by magic, followed by the announcement "We're needed." For many these intros are no doubt charming and amusing, for me they are little more than frivolous decoration. Our intrepid pair are, after all, needed every week – if they weren't it would be news.

The move to colour certainly gave the series a new visual pizzazz, which the cinematographers, production designers and costumers responded to with real aplomb. The titles go fully live action for the first time, and for my money these are the best of the lot, with Laurie Johnson's marvellous theme tune (which for me has only been topped by the thrilling tribal drive of Barry Gray's opener for Stingray) matched by visuals that were both stylish and suggestive – the look Steed gives Emma as she fixes his buttonhole says more about their relationship than anything in the series itself.

As with series 4, there's one or more well-known face in the supporting cast of just about every episode, some of whom are returning for a second, third or even fourth visit and are sometimes encouraged to play to the rear of the gallery. There are even a few genuinely famous faces here, some though not all of whom are early in their screen careers. The lean towards fantasy at times casts Steed and Emma as a 60s Mulder and Scully, though usually to expose the science behind the spooks, science that sometimes takes some serious swallowing, despite the usual sprinkling of uncanny predictions. This is The Avengers at its most reality-distanced to date, an alternative, comic-book England in which villains treat their activities as an amusing game and where the heroes can kill without breaking a smile, which reaches a peak in The Living Dead, where Emma machine-guns a firing squad and then trots smilingly past their bodies to quip with Steed without a second glance at her handiwork.

And then, about three-quarters of the way through the series, something changed, a shift of approach that even Clemens himself is unable to explain when asked. The "we're needed" openers and jocular captions were dropped, screen deaths began to register, and the episodes themselves took on a darker, more serious tone, though without losing the light-hearted elements that by now defined the show. The IMDb goes as far as listing the last quarter of series 5 as series 6 (and thus renumbers series 6 as 7), something that is not supported in any other listings. What is certain is that there was a near six-month transmission gap between episodes 16 and 17 – whether this was dictated by a production pause or TV scheduling is unclear, but for this Avengers fan the return to the balance struck by season 4 proved most welcome.

But even in its more outlandish and fantasy-based, this was still a unique series with a great deal to enjoy, and the very real chemistry between McNee and Rigg is a constant delight. The dialogue never quite has the spark and sharp wit of the best episodes of series 4, but if you like groan-inducing gags you'll find plenty to snigger at, with Clemens' fondness for bad pun names more evident than ever. This was also the first time that he began recycling plots and ideas from earlier episodes, remaking them in colour and on film for the American market. Enjoyable though they may be, I still prefer the originals in each case.

As with the previous box sets, alterations have been made here to the original transmission order, which I've placed in brackets after the episode title. If no bracketed number appears then the episode has the same number as the original transmission. If you want to read up on the previous series, you'll find links to them beneath the credits in the right-hand side bar.

series 5

1. The Fear Merchants (2)

Top executives at a number of successful ceramics companies have been terrified into madness by being forced to live through their worst fear. Under the guise of a representative from the Central Productivity Council, Steed pays a visit to the next likely candidates, Crawley (Andrew Keir, fresh from his turn as Professor Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit) and White (Garfield Morgan), and takes a while to work out what we realise immediately, that the market research chappie who's been asking so many questions is actually gathering information to use against the two men.

A lively supporting cast has a typically icy Patrick Cargill as chief villain Pemberton, and Brian Wilde of Last of the Summer Wine and Porridge fame as a perfectionist potter whose clay-making machine is so patently absurd – it's a cheap wooden kitchen cabinet perched on a box with a dial-peppered panel – that we can presume it's being played for laughs. An attempt to bury Steed alive in earthworks is a rare Series 5 example of a lead character in tangible danger.


2. Escape Through Time (3)

An agent turns up dead while investigating the whereabouts of a number of wealthy international criminals who have mysteriously disappeared, and Emma and Steed attempt to retrace his steps. The path leads to an operation run by a man named Waldo Thyssen (Peter Bowles) that for half of their fortune offers escape from pursuing authorities by transporting the escapee backwards in time, where they are promptly killed by one of Thyson's distant relatives.

One of several Season 5 stories whose fantasy elements turn out to have a real-world if still rather implausible explanation, but the episode still shines in the boldness and surrealism of its production design – the steps required embark on the journey of the title take place in a corner of England that that could almost have sprung from the mind warping experiments dished out by doctors in The Prisoner. Another fine supporting cast includes Geoffrey Bayldon of Catweazle fame and Avengers four-timer Judy Parfitt.


3. The Bird Who Knew Too Much (5)

A murdered agent is found with a bag of bird seed in his clothing. A short while later his associate, a counter-counter-counter espionage spy named Elrick, is chased into a vat of wet cement. When his body is recovered, Steed finds it in possession of aerial photographs of a secret British missile base, but given that the area above the base is a no fly zone, he cannot work out how the pictures were taken. He and Emma pay Elrick's partner Pearson (John Lee) a visit, but the enemy get to him first (ain't that always the way?), and all he can tell them before he dies the name of a parrot, the pursuit of which leads Emma to eccentric bird trainer Professor Jordan (a typically lively Ron Moody).

A straight espionage story given an Avengers makeover, resulting in a bird-like avian exhibition organiser named Edgar Twitter (John Wood), a killer who giggles like he's on a diet of magic mushrooms, and Steed and Emma landing impromptu model work for very 60s studio photographer Tom Savage (Kenneth Cope). It's still a fun mix with a splendid supporting cast and a notable moment of black humour in which the cement-encased Elrick's autopsy is carried out with a chisel and a pneumatic drill.


4. From Venus With Love (1)

A number of astronomers come to un unpleasant end whilst observing the planet Venus. Emma and Steed discover they were all members of the British Venusian Society, whose chief founder Venus Brown (Barbara Shelley) is trying to raise the required funds to send a ship there. Steed wangles membership on the promise of donating money, while Emma investigates the lethal ball of light that is picking off the society's members.

Another engaging fantasy flight that's revealed to have a scientific explanation, further enlivened by cast that includes Jon Pertwee as the borderline barmy Brigadier Whitehead and Jeremy Lloyd as upper-class chimney sweep Bertram Fortescue Winthrop Smith. Writer Philip Levene is once again ahead of the scientific game with an offhand comment linking lasers to eye surgery, a technology that was in its infancy at the time of production.


5. The See-Through Man

A file containing details of one of a string of oddball inventions submitted by boffin Professor Quilby (the lovely Roy Kinnear) is stolen from the Ministry of Defence by a spookily unseen thief. Steed drops in on Quilby, who recalls that the paper was a formula for invisibility, rejected by the Ministry but recently sold to the Eastern Drug Corporation (want to guess who they are?) for £100,000.

Warren Mitchell returns as Russian Ambassador Brodny, who's even more of a buffoon here than he was in the last series, while the filmmakers have fun creating the illusion of an invisible man through object movement and sound effects. Once again the weird science has a plausible (-ish) explanation.


6. The Winged Avenger

Ruthless publisher Simon Roberts is torn to pieces in his high-rose office, the only point of entry being a window that's inaccessible from any direction. Emma and Steed suspect a large bird of prey, but we're clued in early that it's a man in a bird costume who appears to be following the exploits of a comic book hero named The Winged Avenger. Mr. Roberts is neither the first nor the last nasty businessman to be offed by the bird man, and Steed and Emma soon predict who is next when they read about a company chairman who is planning to automate his factory at the cost of his entire manual workforce. By this point I was firmly on the Winged Avenger's side – after all, who hasn't wanted to take a set of razor-sharp claws to some self-satisfied toad who plans to put thousands of people out of work? Investigations lead our pair to Professor Poole (a splendidly eccentric Jack McGowran), whose latest invention is a pair of wall-climbing boots. Could there be a connection, do you think?

Another fluffy tale that takes place in its own version of reality, epitomised in the dotty Professor Poole's wall-climbing boots, which are demonstrated with that rotating room trick used for Fred Astaire's ceiling dance in Royal Wedding, and whose magnetic field ensures that the Winged Avenger's cape remains unaffected by gravity. Familiar faces Nigel Green and Colin Jeavons pepper the support cast, and in an early example of post-modernist TV referencing, the climactic punch-up sends up the the captioned fights in the Batman TV series, while the switch between comic-book frames and live action pre-dates its use in Creepshow by fifteen years.


7. The Living Dead

Five years after a mining disaster claimed thirty lives, including that of the 16th Duke of Benedict (hard to imagine what a member of the local aristocracy was doing down a mine), a heavy drinking local named Kermit the Hermit (oh I know) is startled when the ghost of the 6th Duke appears from the family vault. Steed and Emma are called in to investigate – by whom is never specified – and are soon joined by the wildly enthusiastic Mandy McKay from FOG (Friends of Ghosts) and the stuffily unconvinced Spencer from SMOG (Scientific Measurement of Ghosts), who is promptly dispatched by the spirits he was in the process of disproving.

Another X-Files episode in which the bubble of fantasy is pricked by reality, one you're genuinely unlikely to see coming. Clues are scattered along the way, but only add to the intrigue, and the explanation itself is audacious, visually quite grand, and plausible only if you choose not to think outside the Avengers box. A decent supporting cast includes Julian Glover as the current Duke's shifty estate manager Masgard and the sturdy Jack Watson as pub landlord Hopper. In a typically amusing Avengers touch, even Steed's rapidly approaching execution fails to stop Emma pausing to admire her handiwork after dispatching two guards.


8. The Hidden Tiger

A number of people are mauled to death by what appears to be an escaped lion or tiger, but Emma and Steed can find no trace of the animal. Enquiries lead them to a rescue centre for domestic cats, the Philanthropic Union of Rescue, Relief and Recuperation, or P.U.R.R.R., which is run by a Edwin Cheshire (a twittery Ronnie Barker) and whose staff Dr. Manx (Lyndon Brook) and Angora (Gabrielle Drake) handily identify themselves as the villains from the moment they appear.

Plenty of subjective camera killings and even a bit of slow motion in one of those episodes in which we know who's behind it but not how they're doing it, and the final revelation makes no real sense, at least if an even half-awake pathologist were to actually look at the size of the victim's wounds. Still, the production design is eye-catching and Ronnie Barker gets the chance to ask Steed the name of his beloved pussy, and in a rare direct Bond reference Emma walks through a corridor of cats and observes that there are "pussies galore."


9. The Correct Way to Kill

When two Russian agents are killed by a pair of prim city gents, the Russians blame British, the British think it's the Russians, and both eventually agree to team up and find out who's at the bottom of it all. In pursuit of this goal, each side borrows an agent from the other – Emma volunteers to work with Soviet operation chief Nutski (Michel Gough) and field agent Ivan Pepitoparoff (the excellent as ever Philip Madoc), while Steed is teamed with tough party loyalist Olga (Anna Quayle).

Essentially a remake of season 3's The Charmers with a few notable changes and somewhat less wit. Olga in particular is a cartoon Soviet, a stockily-built woman who calls everyone comrade and sternly complains about Steed's western decadence. The news that the Soviets have labelled Steed as "Dangerous – handle with care" but Emma as "Very dangerous – do not handle at all" raised a smile in this quarter.


10. Never, Never Say Die

A man is driving along a country road when he collides with a pedestrian who steps suddenly in front of his car. The victim is taken to the local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival, but a short while later gets up and walks away. The driver then departs and hasn't gone far when exactly the same thing happens with the very same man. Before hospital staff can reach the scene, the victim is collected in a second ambulance but once again escapes and sets about trashing every transistor radio in the immediate area. Emma and Steed investigate the nearby Neoteric Research Unit and are startled to discover that its top research scientist, Frank N. Stone (groan), is the exact double of the seemingly indestructible man.

Having winked at the audience in the "we're needed" intro by having Emma watch part of last season's The Cybernauts on TV, Never, Never Say Die proves to be one of series 5's most robust and well developed episodes, and one whose science never feels ludicrous, at least within the episode's spy-fi parameters. The biggest plus is the spot-on casting of the magnificent Christopher Lee as both Professor Stone and the indestructible automaton, who in a confrontation with Steed poses one of the few convincing threats of the series so far.


11. Epic

Emma is kidnapped by megalomaniac movie director Z.Z. von Schnerk (Kenneth J. Warren) and forced to participate in the shooting of a movie with ageing stars Damyta Syn (Isa Miranda) and Stewart Kirby (Peter Wyngarde, absolutely relishing the chance to play a range of characters as a drunken ham), in which she finds herself placed in real peril.

The epitome of season 5's disregard for reality, Epic its still a lively and frequently colourful piece, a sort of comic book version of Sunset Boulevard that makes economical use of the very studio in which the whole series is filmed. There are some real standout moments, my favourite being a downright surreal sequence in which bride-to-be Emma walks up a hill towards in dreamy slow motion surrounded by a swirl of wind-driven confetti. After an early appearance, Steed pretty much drops out of the story until the Perils of Pauline climax. Old favourite David Lodge turns up late as a star-struck character actor who is cheerfully reliving his former career, and there's a snuff movie overtone to the plot development that almost gets lost in the jaunty handling.


12. The Superlative Seven

Steed gets invited to a fancy dress party being held on an airplane along with six other passengers who have never met before and have all received invites from different friends. The plane has no pilot but is landed by remote control on an isolated island, where an unspecified party member starts killing the others to demonstrate a new fighting technique that a man named Jessel is looking to sell to a foreign power.

Any of this sound familiar? To series regulars it should, as The Superlative Seven is basically a reworking of series 3's Dressed to Kill, complete with the Ten Little Indians dwindling party, the fall of suspicion on Steed, and the late arrival of Mrs. Peel, though by revealing the journey's purpose so early in the story, this new take is nowhere near as intriguing. It's still a lot of fun, but its real claim to fame is its stellar supporting cast, which includes Brian Blessed, Charlotte Rampling and Donald Sutherland.


13. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station

An agent disappears while travelling on an express train after being tricked into alighting at the wrong station. Steed and Emma's investigation leads them to Admiral Cartney (Richard Caldicot) and his personal secretary Salt (Tim Barrett), and a plot to assassinate the British prime minister.

Despite the elaborate methods employed by the villains, this is probably the most old-school of the episodes so far, set largely on trains and around a solid espionage plot. A supporting cast highlight has the wonderful John Laurie as a railway-obsessed station owner.


14. Something Nasty in the Nursery

Aristocrats who are part of a secret missile project are visited by the nanny who cared for them as children, encounters that are triggered by a 'baby bouncer' ball that prompts them to temporarily regress to infancy. Simple enquiries lead Steed to a toy shop for the offspring of the gentry and to the Guild of Noble Nannies, whose recruits behave as if their planning to move to Stepford.

Standard series 5 Avengers material, but whose use of twisted nursery rhyme tunes in regression sequences has a very strong whiff of The Prisoner about it. The supporting cast includes several familiar faces, including Dudley Foster, Paul Eddington, Yootha Joyce, Paul Hardwick and Clive Dunn. There's also a wink at the audience when our heroes remark, "Haven't you noticed that just as soon as we discover someone who can supply the answer, someone always gets to them first." Yes we had.


15. The Joker

Emma is invited to a bridge party at an isolated house, but when she arrives the only other resident is the ditzy Ola. She starts to hear noises and is visited by a sinister young man, and it becomes increasingly clear that she has been lured into a strange and deadly trap.

Another episode remake for the American market, this time of series 3's Don't Look Behind You, and despite being shot on film and in colour, the new version doesn't match the original on atmosphere and handling – fuzzy black-and-white somehow served the story better that crisp colour, and while regular director Sidney Hayers does a damned good job, he can't equal the invention of series maestro Peter Hammond. Still, Emma Peel fans do get a brief glimpse of their girl with her blouse off, and the strange young visitor here is played with understated menace by Ronald Lacey, an actor I once worked with and whose work I have a huge affection for.


16. Who's Who???

A mind-swapping machine developed by German (and ex-Nazi, by the sound of it) scientist Dr. Krelmar (Arnold Diamond) is used by enemy agents Basil (Freddie Jones – hoorah!) and Lola (Patricia Haynes) to swap bodies with Steed and Emma and set about bumping off British agents.

Scientifically daft it may well be, but it's also a great deal of fun watching Jones and Haynes impersonate McNee and Rigg, and Steed and Emma acting out of character – for the only time I can remember they get to kiss like lovers. A climax in which no-one is quite sure who is who sees Emma convince Steed-as-Basil of her true identity by whispering something probably quite rude in his ear, while Steed-as-Basil complains of his counterpart, "A man who would bite off the end of a cigar is capable of anything!" In an unusual and slightly condescending move targeted at dozier latecomers, each ad break is followed with a reminder of the body-swap plot and just who is actually who.


17. Death's Door (18)

British government minister Sir Andrew Boyd (Clifford Evans) is about to attend a historic meeting to forge a united Europe when he becomes convinced he will die if he walks through conference room door, and promptly flees the building. Old friends Steed and Emma are called on for support and to escort him to a second stab at the conference, but before he can reach it, a series of sinister premonitions start to come true, climaxing in a panic attack and his sudden death. His colleague Lord Melford (Allan Cuthbertson) steps up to the plate, but that night he experiences a vivid nightmare that culminates in his death in the room in which the conference is to be held. When the dream starts to come true, he too runs from the meeting, putting the future of a united Europe in serious jeopardy.

Now this is more like it. Fans of the fantasy episodes will doubtless balk a little, but for me this old school episode marked a welcome return to the fine balance struck by series 4. It's darker and more serious in tone, less flamboyantly performed, and a memorable scene on a home shooting range puts Steed in most convincing peril, from which he escapes through desperate ingenuity rather than comical chance. The explanation for what's happening may still stretch credibility, but is played convincingly enough to sell it as strangely plausible, and the dream sequences themselves are strikingly executed and have a real sense of nightmare about them. And given that the European Union wasn't formally established until 1993, writer Philip Levene was (again) seriously ahead of the game.


18. Return of the Cybernauts (17)

Well, the return on one cybernaut, which is under the control of Paul Beresford, a good friend of our heroes who unbeknown to them is actually the brother of Dr. Clement Armstrong, the scientist in series 4 who first created the cybernauts, and whose death Paul has been planning for years to avenge. Presumably lacking his brother's creativity, Paul sends his cybernaut to kidnap key field experts, whom he bribes (and then threatens) to devise "a rhapsody of suffering" for Steed and Mrs. Peel, to destroy them "totally, utterly, agonisingly."

A solidly done sequel to a popular original that benefits hugely from a wonderful performance by Peter Cushing as Beresford, all charm and relaxed smiles when in the company of his supposed friends but oozing quiet malevolence with his abductees. There are some nice undercurrents too in Steed's guarded jealousy of Emma's fondness for Beresford, and having the chief villain successfully masquerade as the pair's friend for so long reveals a vulnerable element to their cheerful socialising. The only dose of daffiness comes in the shape of Aimi MacDonald's secretary Rosie, her cartoon-like ditziness being a little out of whack with the subtlety elsewhere.


19. Dead Man's Treasure (20)

A mortally wounded government courier stumbles through Steed's door and gasps out the news that he's hidden what he was carrying in a red treasure chest. Steed traces it to a man named Benstead (the always lovely Arthur Lowe), whose house he's been invited to for a cross-country treasure hunt, the prize being located in – you've guessed it – a red treasure chest. Benstead is killed before Steed can barter for access to its location, and so he, Emma and two enemy agents are forced to compete in the treasure hunt in an effort to get to the red chest first.

A lively and hugely enjoyable episode and one whose genuinely tense climax – where Emma is trapped in a car simulator that electrocutes her every time she slips off the road – really haunted me as a child. Electrocution aside, the simulator itself is a visionary creation, a spot-on prediction of the shape that modern arcade racing car simulators would take, made at a time when the technology simply did not exist to make it work as it does here. The cross-country car race is a great deal of fun, with Steed sharing his Bentley with the cheerful young Penelope Plain (Valerie Van Ost playing a woman who appears to go through husbands like Steed goes through champagne bottles) and Emma teamed with the enthusiastic Mike Colbert (Norman Bowler), while the two enemy agents (familiar faces Neil McCarthy and Edwin Richfield) act as dark comedy foils. Really silly coda, though, even by Series 5 standards.


20. The £50,000 Breakfast (19)

A ventriloquist is seriously injured in a road accident and £50,000 worth of diamonds are found in his stomach. An investigation leads Steed to a firm of financial dealers whom he attempts to blackmail by selling the gems back to them.

Another remake of an earlier episode, this time season 2's Death of a Great Dane, right down to the value of the diamonds and name of the boss of the firm Steed tries to sell them back to (slightly different spelling), though the original's stonewalling dealer Getz has undergone a gender change to Miss Peagram (Yolande Turner), and the wine tasting party has exchanged booze for cigars. A decent enough job, but those with a fondness for the earlier episode will be dogged by déjà-vu, and where it does lose out to the original is in its support cast – Cecil Parker and David Langton are fine here as butler Glover and Litoff's doctor Sir James Arnell, but they're nowhere near as entertaining as Leslie French and John Laurie were in the original.


21. You Have Just Been Murdered

A number of the super-rich are blackmailed for a million pounds apiece by repeatedly staging their murder with the threat that next time it could be for real, an excellent idea that I'd encourage all right-thinking people to immediately have a go at. The victims are too frightened to ask for help, but as they're friends of Steed, he and Emma elect to look into it anyway.

A solid enough episode that lacks that special something, and it's hard to believe that a woman of Emma's intelligence would follow a bag of money to a drop off point and then walk into plain view of the villains instead of watching from a hiding place to see who picks it up. Mind you, the chief crook himself – a man named Needle (George Murcell), who hides in a haystack – is hardly the sharpest dude on the block, wondering how anyone could possibly have found him when all they had to do was follow the money. A highlight sees Emma trapped up a tree by a dog whose energy and aggression sees it nearly climb up and join her.


22. Murdersville (23)

Major Paul Croft (Eric Flynn), a childhood friend of Emma's, returns to the UK after years abroad with the intention of retiring to a country house in the small English village of Little Storping-in-the-Swuff, a place we've already been shown to have a rather casual attitude to public murder. Croft's batman Private Forbes (Norman Chappell) has gone on ahead, and after a seemingly warm welcome at the local pub, is tormented and killed. Emma insists of driving Croft to the village, and he soon suffers the same fate, leaving Emma at the mercy of the murderous locals.

Back in the 60s in the other-worldliness of The Avengers, it was always possible to believe that dastardly deeds in a quiet English village could carry on unnoticed by the rest of the world, though given the number of people who get bumped off in the relatively short timescale of the episode, the sense that this is a Britain without a working police force is stronger than ever (that just about the only policeman we see all series – in this very episode – turns out to be a phony only serves to emphasise this). A solid little thriller within those confines, with more than a whiff of The Wicker Man or Village of the Damned to the sequences in which Emma is surrounded by locals and ducked in the village pond. Emma's close past relationship with Croft sees her actually have an emotional reaction to his death, a far cry from the cheerful disregard for human extinction you'll find in the earlier episodes. She soon shrugs it off though. One of the villagers is played by the fine Colin Blakely.


23. The Positive Negative Man (22)

A scientist is blown through a wall by a man directing high voltage electricity through a metal tip on his finger, and the contents of a safe are fried beyond recognition. Steed and Emma discover that the destroyed documents related to an abandoned scheme to develop broadcastable electricity, but when they contact the other scientists involved in the project, they soon begin suffering similar fates.

Throughout The Avengers you'll find science fiction proposals that seemed far-fetched at the time but which later came to some sort of fruition, and scriptwriter Tony Williamson's proposal for broadcastable electricity must have seemed particularly unlikely back in 1967, despite being proposed as long ago as 1905 by Serbian inventor Nikola Telsa (a name that should be familiar to all Fallout 3 fans). Yet just last year Eric Giler demonstrated his company's first successful experiments with – you've guessed it – wireless electricity, so I'd keep your eyes peeled for a man in heavy make-up with a metal tip on his index finger. An involving mixture of intrigue, espionage thriller and science-fiction, in which man-shaped holes in walls and windows remind us of series 5's comic book influence, and rubber soles and galoshes prove to be the world's safest footwear. Some enjoyable dialogue too. "All the confidential war records are kept here," Steed is told, only to quip back, "Have there been many confidential wars?" The supporting cast includes Sandor Elès and an early screen appearance from Ray McAnally.


24. Misson... Highly Improbable

A Treasury Minister and his car vanish while being escorted through an army research base to investigate a budget overspend by Professor Rushton (Noel Howell). They've actually both been shrunk to a fraction of their normal size by Rushton's assistant Dr. Chivers (Francis Matthews) using Rushton's latest invention, a device he plans to sell to Russian official Shaffer (Ronald Radd as another of the series' buffoon Soviet officers). To demonstrate the machine's capabilities to his buyers, Chivers miniaturises an armoured car made of a secret new metal and smuggles it out of the base, unaware that Steed was hiding inside.

The concept of reversible miniaturisation seemed unlikely enough in science fiction films like Fantastic Voyage – to reduce humans to that size and retain their cellular structure would increase their specific gravity to such a degree that they'd sink through the floor – but here is pure sf hokum, particularly given the point-and-shoot abandon with which Rushton's machine is used, able to shrink our Emma without touching a blade of grass in the garden in which she is standing. It's still a lot of fun, giving production designer Robert Jones and art director Len Townsend the chance to play Land of the Giants, and a miniaturised Steed the opportunity to stab a Russian guard in the ankle with a fountain pen and quip that "the pen is mightier than the sword!"

sound and vision

Having made the move to 35mm film in season 4, season 5 made the move to colour, despite the fact that back in 1967 most UK viewers still owned only black and white televisions. It's probably that punch that you get with the high-contrast lighting of well filmed monochrome, but the sharpness here feels just a tad less eye-popping than the black-and-white loveliness that was series 4, but in all other respects the transfers are genuinely gorgeous. The colour in particularly is beautifully reproduced, really highlighting the work of the production and costume designers and lighting and camera crew, while the contrast is close to perfect throughout, with solid black levels but no obvious loss of shadow detail (the fact that even shadows were lit back then does help, of course). Although consistent in the first two thirds of the series, there are some sequences in the later episodes – those made after tonal shift – where the the brightness and contrast slip a little and the colours are dampened by a greenish hue (see the grab below), which I'm presuming was down to issues with the original film elements. For the most part, though, a genuinely excellent job. If ever there was good reason for a releasing The Avengers on Blu-ray then this would definitely be it, as terrific though the DVD transfers are, on the evidence of Network's BD release of The Prisoner, they'd look genuinely stunning on high definition.

A solid and noise-free Dolby mono 2.0 soundtrack and in terms of clarity and range probably the best to date. Music and dialogue are fine throughout and there are no audible signs of damage or background hiss.

extra features

Once again a splendid collection of extras spread over the 7 discs of the set.

Disc 1

Episode Trims from Escape in Time (2:55)
3 deleted shots from the episode in question, complete with clapperboard headers but missing the soundtrack. In very good shape.

Episode Trims from The Fear Merchants (0:58)
One trimmed shot and a colour test from The Fear Merchants, again with no sound.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to The Bird Who Knew Too Much (2:19)
There are several of these in the set and Clemens introduces himself in each as if for the first time. They are usually a mixture of anecdotes and a brief summary of what you what you're about to see, and all automatically lead straight into the episode. Here we find out that Clemens rewrote this episode due to original writer Alan Pattilo's apparent inexperience. He also claims that Ron Moody's Fagin in the musical version of Oliver! was the basis for all others that followed, which does tend to ignore how much Moody borrowed from a certain Alec Guinness in David Lean's earlier non-musical version.

German Interview with McNee and Rigg (9:09)
A shot of Big Ben (hey Germany, it's England!) leads to a jokey beginning in which an in-character McNee and Rigg discover the body of their interviewer on the floor. Following a to-camera introduction in un-subtitled German, he interviews the pair about their publicity trip to Germany and their work on the series. Interesting stuff, but a bit stop-and-start as our host (nicknamed 'Blackie' but not otherwise named) has to translate every response for the German TV audience, though there are also some brief (posed) shots here of the crew at work. McNee in particular comes across as a genuine charmer. At the end the actors do a quick intro in German and Rigg corpses. A nice little extra.

1960's German Titles (4:19)
Two versions of the same opening and closing title sequences as the UK version but with German credit titles that fabulous German series title Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone ("With screen, charm and melon," apparently).

Granada + Points (1:31 / 1:28 / 1:11)
Three brief compilations of interviews snippets, facts and trivia about the series, which are divided by episode names. I'm presuming they appeared in the ad breaks when the series was re-run on the now defunct Granada + channel.

Image Galleries
Production stills for all three episodes on this disc, filed under the episode titles.

DVD-ROM
Dialogue sheets for all three episodes, a press release on Emma's use of kung-fu (a first for British television) and scans of covers, listings and articles from TV Times and TV World magazines of the period. To access these you need to have a computer with a DVD drive (Mac or PC) and be able to read PDF documents, which should be a doddle.

Disc 2

The Winged Avenger commentary with Richard Harris
Episode writer Richard Harris talks about his career as a TV writer, how he came to write two episodes of the very first series, how his love of comic-books and the Batman TV series gave birth to this episode, and whole lot more. He felt Clemens was very good at his job, though admits that at times he could be a tad "over-influential", and describes himself as very much a "write my script and go home" man who had little involvement with the episode production. A most genial and informative chat.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to The Living Dead (2:07)
Clemens provides a little background info for the episode and envies anyone who hasn't seen the episode yet and assures us we'll be "spellbound."

Episode Trims from From Venus With Love (1:55)
4 trimmed shots from the indicated episode. The lack of sound does tend to focus attention on the lighting and camerawork, which is interesting in itself.

Episode Trims from The See Through Man (2:17)
2 similarly angled shots featuring Warren Mitchell as Brodny in the same location.

Granada + Points (1:49 / 0:58 / 1:03 / 1:23)
The Granada + trivia bumpers for all four episodes, as detailed above. McNee reveals how he shaped Steed from the one-line description in the first script and talks about his new Pierre Cardin suits.

Image Galleries
The usual photo galleries for all four episodes. Unsurprisingly there are more colour pictures than in previous disc sets.

DVD-ROM
Dialogue sheets for all four episodes, and press-release biographies of actresses Barbara Shelley and Pamela Ann Davy. 

Disc 3
Epic commentary with Peter Wyngarde
Henry Holland plays host to actor Peter Wyngarde, who talks a little about his career and working on the The Avengers but spends most of the time performing or telling stories about his work with Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and others in that "oh dear boy" way that you tend to think is the product of mythology and movies. There's almost a sense that despite being a tee-totalling non-smoker (his story of how he gave up smoking is worth hearing), Wyngarde has almost become Stewart Kirby, or is at least doing his best to portray himself as such. Not that much on the series or the episode, but undeniably entertaining nonetheless.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to The Correct Way to Kill (2:09)
Brandishing a model of Steed, Clemens admits this is a re-write of The Charmers and refers to the episode by that title from then on. He also suggests that in suspense terms it's almost as good at Hitchcock.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to Epic (2:41)
Clemens provides some interesting back-story to the episode and confirms the Sunset Boulevard influence. Probably the most useful intro so far.

Granada + Points (0:55 / 1:01 / 1:24 / 1:01)
More brief but interesting triva on the series

Image Galleries
Four more sets of production stills.

DVD-ROM
Two shooting scripts for The Correct Way to Kill, dialogue sheets for the other three episodes, and press releases on guest stars for Epic and The Hidden Tiger.

Disc 4

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to The Superlative Seven (2:04)
Clemens plays with a large revolver and comments on the episode's direction and primo cast. The Ten Little Indians influence is acknowledged, but no mention is made of Dressed to Kill.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station (3:48)
Here he explains why the screenplay was credited to the pseudonym 'Brian Sheriff' and pays tribute to the support cast.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to The Joker (3:12)
Clemens provides some background to the episode and suggests the remake is better because it's on film and in colour. He also comments on the supporting cast, Ronnie Lacey included, and suggests his performance here may be what persuaded Steven Spielberg to cast him in Raiders of the Lost Ark (it's not, but you can see the connection).

Granada + Points (0:55 / 1:10 / 1:02 / 1:06)
Another collection of series trivia, including the translation of the offbeat French title.

Image Galleries
Another set of production stills for each of the four episodes on the disc, including a couple of behind-the-scenes snaps, one of which illustrates the size of the 35mm cameras used.

DVD-ROM
Dialogue sheets for The Joker, Something Nasty in the Nursery and The Superlative Seven, shooting scripts for The Joker and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station, an early treatment for A Funny Thing... under the original title of Overkill, and press releases on A Funny Thing... and The Joker.

Disc 5

Return of the Cybernauts commentary with Cyd Childs
Jaz Wiseman is joined by Diana Rigg's stunt double, Cyd Childs, for an easy-going chat about her work on the series, including how she got involved and the planning and execution of some of the stunts. A couple of stories from her appearance in Granada + Points are repeated here, and there's brief but interesting coverage of the rules laid down for things to be excluded on programmes being sold to the American market.

ATV Newsreel Footage (Diana Rigg received TV award) (2:37)
As the title says, with mute dancing footage and a brief interview with Rigg.

Episode Reconstructions – One for the Mortuary (7:51) and Death on the Slipway (6:59)
Reconstructions of two lost episode from series 1 in the style of those found on previous Optimum box sets, created using screen snaps taken when the episode was still in existence and narration by Nick Goodman. I still really like these – although nothing like as detailed and involving as seeing the episodes in question, this does at least give a real flavour of how they played out, particularly if you've seen the surviving programmes.

They're Back – Avengers Trailer (0:45)
3 very basic trailers for the series' return that you should all now be able to recreate on your laptops.

Granada + Points (1:01 / 0:46 / 1:31)
More of the above, but few surprises.

Image Galleries
The usual image gallery for all three episodes on the disc.

DVD-ROM
Dialogue sheets for all three episodes.

Disc 6

Episode Reconstructions – Tunnel of Fear (7:51) and Dragonsfield (6:59)
Another two episode reconstructions from series 1, which include a couple of higher quality production stills amongst the screen snaps. You can see Steed dressed up as a turban-wearing fairground barker in the first episode, while the second foreshadows the scientific bent taken by later series.

Granada + Points (1:20 / 1:17 / 1:24)
McNee reveals that he didn't like driving the Bentley and that it was prone to breakdowns, and writer Roger Marshall reveals the true reason for remaking Death of a Great Dane.

Image Galleries
Three more image galleries, including a few action stills.

DVD-ROM
Dialogue sheets for all three episodes.

Disc 7

Murdersville commentary with Brian Clemens
An unsurprisingly and enjoyably information-packed commentary from Clemens that covers a huge amount of ground, some of it episode specific, a lot of it more general and series related. Topics covered include the title sequence, the roles of the two producers, shooting at Elstree, exchanging gags with Roger Moore (who was filming The Saint next door), the departure of Roger Marshall, the Emmy nominations, the Avengers stage play, possible replacements for the departing Diana Rigg, and a whole lot more. There's a small gap when Clemens starts talking about Americans and the Bond films that can't help but suggest a cut. The commentary is hosted by Henry Holland. A must for series fans.

Episode Intro by Brian Clemens to Murdersville (2:00)
A doubling up of info provided in the commentary.

The Avengers – A Retrospective (60:15)
One for completists only, a collection of clips from the Emma Peel and Tara King years, presented by Patrick McNee as a sales pitch for Lumiere's remastered VHS release back in 1993. In a rather unfortunate reminder of changing times, McNee assures us we'll be able to buy them from Woolworths.

Granada + Points (1:27 / 1:27 / 1:08)
Some more series trivia, and Roger Marshall talks briefly about where episode writers get their ideas.

Image Galleries
Image galleries for all three episodes on the disc, plus a more general one labelled Publicity, which includes a shoot on a beach and pictures of McNee posing with Twiggy.

DVD-ROM
Full studio synopses for all of the episodes, a fashion article entitled Avengerwear 67, a Meet the Avengers flyer, a Man's Journal on John Steed and "The Strange Case of the Green Girl", and dialogue sheets for all 3 episodes on the disc.

summary

A consistently gorgeous-looking and always entertaining fifth series of one of the most iconic shows in television history. For me it tips the balance a little too far in the direction of fantasy, making it harder to feel for characters who are never really in danger or in any way emotionally affected by anything they do or see, something the later episodes redress, which is why they're my favourites of the series. But this is still hugely imaginative and most enjoyable television of a quality I can't even imagine being considered now let alone made (take a look at the style-free and witless Prisoner remake as evidence) and thus deserves to be treasured. And treasure it Optimum once again have, delivering excellent transfers and a wealth of quality extras. As ever it's not cheap, and fans might do well to start dropping unsubtle hints to relatives about what they want for Christmas.

The Avengers
Series 5

UK 1965/6
50 mins each
directors
Robert Day
Gordon Flemyng
John Krish
Robert Asher
Roy Rossotti
Peter Duffell
Sidney Hayers
James Hill
John Llewellyn Moxey
screenplay
Brian Clemens
Philip Levene
Alan Pattillo
Richard Harris
Anthony Marriott
Charles Crichton
Roger Marshall
Jeremy Scott
Michael Winder
Tony Williamson
starring
Patrick Macnee
Diana Rigg
Barbara Shelley
Jon Pertwee
Philip Locke
Patrick Cargill
Brian Wilde
Andrew Keir
Peter Bowles
Geoffrey Bayldon
Judy Parfitt
Moira Lister
Warren Mitchell
Roy Kinnear
Ron Moody
Kenneth Cope
Anthony Valentine
Nigel Green
Jack MacGowran
Colin Jeavons
Julian Glover
Pamela Ann Davy
Jack Watson
Ronnie Barker
Gabrielle Drake
Terence Alexander
Edwin Apps
Peter Barkworth
Michael Gough
Philip Madoc
Anna Quayle
Christopher Lee
John Junkin
Arnold Ridley
Peter Wyngarde
Isa Miranda
Kenneth J. Warren
David Lodge
Charlotte Rampling
Brian Blessed
Donald Sutherland
John Laurie
Dudley Foster
Yootha Joyce
Paul Eddington
Clive Dunn
Peter Jeffrey
Sally Nesbitt
Ronald Lacey
Patricia Haines
Freddie Jones
Peter Cushing
Frederick Jaeger
Fulton Mackay
Anthony Dutton
Clifford Evans
Allan Cuthbertson
Cecil Parker
Yolande Turner
David Langton
Norman Bowler
Valerie Van Ost
Neil McCarthy
Arthur Lowe
Barrie Ingham
Robert Flemyng
George Murcell
Ray McAnally
Michael Latimer
Sandor Elès
Colin Blakely
Ronald Hines
Eric Flynn
Ronald Radd
Noel Howlett
Jane Merrow
Francis Matthews

DVD details
region 2
video
1.33:1 OAR
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
The Winged Avenger commentary
Epic commentary
The Master Mindscommentary
Dial a Deadly Number commentary
Return of the Cybernauts commentary
Murdersville commentary
Episode trims
Brian Clemens episode intros
German interview with Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee
German titles
Granada + points
Image galleries
DVD-ROM scripts, press releases and articles
Newsreel footage
Trailers
Retrospective
distributor
Optimum
release date
24 October 2010
review posted
23 October 2010

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