Exit Cathy Gale and enter Mrs Peel, as The Avengers truly hits its stride and the 1960s really start swinging. Series four of the classiest programme ever made saw Honor Blackman leave to fly aeroplanes for Auric Goldfinger as Patrick Macnee’s John Steed welcomed a new sparring partner in the shape of the sumptuous Diana Rigg.
Shifting from videotape to 35mm film, one eye firmly on the burgeoning US market who wouldn’t accept anything less, 1965 was the year The Avengers really made its mark on TV audiences. Previous seasons may have introduced the populace to killer nuns, mad scientists and the odd loopy plot, but all this was taken to another level as Avengersland was created in the country lanes of middle England and behind the closed doors of every London gentleman’s club.
Beginning with The Town of No Return, in which Steed and the newly introduced Emma Peel (her name coming from the idea that she had Man Appeal or ‘M Appeal’) visit a seaside town where ghosts from the past seem very much alive, the season moves from science fiction (The Cybernauts) to bizarre fantasy (Too Many Christmas Trees) and onto sado-masochistic camp (A Touch of Brimstone) with ease.
Watching Steed fight with a baddie atop a miniature train with Mrs Peel strapped to the rail track may sound ludicrous, as might the end sequences which see the pair vanish into the distance by bicycle, in a coach and horses or on a magic carpet, but give in to the fun and you’ll have a ball.
To put it bluntly, this is a series which has found the formula for success and manages to riff on it for 26 episodes that could only be improved by a dash of colour…but then that was only a year away as those Yanks demanded even more from Steed and Peel. Of course, whether colour actually made the series any better is debatable, as there’s undoubtedly something to be savoured in these crisp black and white episodes that look as good as new.
This set also comes packed with extras, including commentaries from writers Roger Marshall, Robert Banks Stewart and Brian Clemens and directors Gerry O’Hara, Roy Ward Baker and Don Leaver plus a number of alternate sequences from episodes, stills galleries and PDF material from various sources. Perhaps the most welcome extras are the reconstructed season one episodes, Kill the King and Dead of Winter, screen captured photos tied together with narration.
A more perfect piece of home entertainment you’ll struggle to find this year…at least until series five arrives in a few months time.