Recently I’ve been going through a little bit of a 1960’s ‘Spy’ obsession which began after I started watching The Prisoner. Since then I’ve been trying to get my hands on anything from the Genre, consuming as much as I can. Of course one show that immediately came towards the top of my list was the 1960’s Avengers series. Whenever anyone mentions ‘The Avengers’, people immediately think of John Steed and Emma Peel, even though that characters era only consisted of three years of the shows nine year run. As such my original intention was to watch one episode from each ‘era’ and only one from the Peel seasons, however finding episodes online proved rather difficult and Season 4 (Diana Riggs first season) seemed to be the only one with episodes readily available. When I started watching this failed to bother me anymore as I was immediately swept away with the sheer charm and magic of the thing but just for contrasts sake I did seek out the surviving 20 minutes of the first ever episode ‘Hot Snow’. Its pointless me giving this a mini review of its own, as I said only the first 20 minutes survive, but I do feel like it’s worth mentioning just how different it all is. Steed is partnered with a man and it is this male character ‘Dr David Keel’ (played by the always brilliant Ian Hendry) who is the primary focus. The tone is gritty and dark and we are shown how Keels perfect life is ruined by an underground Drug syndicate. It’s realistic in tone and lacks anything that the public would come to associate with later episodes of the series even Patrick Macnee does not turn up until (I’m guessing anyway) much later in the episode. When comparing this to the whimsical feel of the episodes I viewed from season four it’s difficult to believe it’s the same show...
Perhaps due to my own family heritage, I’ve always had a love for stories concerning spooky Scottish castles, indeed the pairing of a highland castle and a ghost has been popular since Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. It’s no wonder then that this episode caught my attention concerning a ghostly piper and a plot that affects the British fishing trade. Perhaps the greatest thingy about ‘Castle De’ath’ is it’s wonderful atmosphere, one could genuinely believe that the episode was filmed in Scotland and the castle itself has a brilliantly oppressive atmosphere. Sadly in the last few minutes the plot falls apart with very little explanation given to the twist ending and things just kind of left hanging but if that’s the cost of the fantastic finale with a superb sword fight and brilliant stunts, then it’s worth it. All in all I enjoyed this immensely, not serious in anyway shape or form but nice light-hearted fun.
The first episode I chose to watch is one that seems to have become something of a cult favourite amongst Avengers fans. Whilst having its flaws acknowledged, the episode seems to receive a great amount of love adoration perhaps due to it being the first to be shown in the USA, its titular metal monsters and the fact that it received two sequels. Indeed I am inclined to agree with them, whilst hardly the best 50 minutes of television it’s certainly an extremely enjoyable way to spend the time. The titular monsters were extremely impressive and although I’ve heard that they seem much more impressive in their subsequent appearances, the almost their almost ‘film noir’ costume (black glasses, fedora and trench coat) was suited to monochrome and gave off a superbly menacing air. I must confess that I did find the plot a little thin on the ground, for example were simply told that Dr. Armstrong intends to build an army of Robots and were left to guess that his motivation is simply because he can? He is given a nice little scene where he talks about the uselessness of man and of skin and flesh, looking down at the wheelchair he now finds himself forced to use, which could account for some reasoning behind his mad scheme. It’s a shame then that this is never expanded upon, but I suppose heading down this road would have required a much darker tone which this episode in particular lacks. All in all, good campy fun.
A note on Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg
Before I go on I just wanted to make a quick note on simply how brilliant Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg are in their roles of John Steed and Emma Peel. They really make a great team and whats even more is that whilst their characters sometimes appear as 2D versions of the stereotypical English Gentlemen and cool calm independent woman, these stereotypes are sometimes allowed to shatter as in the episode below...
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
Ok, I’m about to sound like the world’s biggest wuss but...I actually found this genuinely creepy. It all revolves around a man whom Emma Peel previously fired and humiliated due to his belief that Machine was superior to man and thus should replace him, in retaliation he decides to build a fully automated house with the intention of driving her insane, because that’s what crazy people do. On the front of it, this appears that it might be rather good campy fun in the same vein as ‘The Cybernauts’ but in anything I found this to be almost the opposite. Creepy, claustrophobic and with a faint air of desperation, ‘The House that Jack Built’ was the opposite to what I would perceive as a traditional Avengers episode. That does not, however, mean that it is any less brilliant. When it hits us that the plan is simply to drive our heroine insane, simply to prove a point, we really feel for Emma and the villain despite sounding and appearing almost benine comes across as an utter sadist. The plot gets either more creepy when (spoilers) it’s revealed that our villain is no longer ‘with us’ and the house has been controlling everything via automated command. Diana Rigg drives this episode and Patrick Macnee is hardly in it, her wonderful performance adds to the dark tone as we see Peels usually cool exterior almost shatter. Of course not everything is perfect, it would of been nice to have seen a few other ways the house intended on driving Peel insane (although the twisted sets are perhaps one of the best things about it) and there’s a few small plot holes (why and how does the house kill Pongo? How come our two leads are cycling home at the end when we saw them both drive to the location earlier?) All in all an extremely creepy and effective episode that truly shows off the talents of Diana Rigg.
I must admit I rather enjoyed this small selection of episodes. Admittedly some were weaker than others and some were dated but all were enjoyable in one sense or another and it’s defiantly given me an interest in the programme.