THE NEW AVENGERS
OTHER NEW AVENGERS SERIES
OTHER SUPER SPY SHOWS
Was a fantasy show that lived in the grey area between science fiction, fantasy and spy stories. Surreal stories, arch camp in tone and living on the chemistry that existed between the urbane spy John Steed and his female partners, it is a ral piece of sixties arcana.
Now it's the seventies and Steed is back in the still urbane shape of Patrick MacNee, but he's a bit long in the tooth to be doing all that running around and being energetic, so he he has a couple of new young assistants to do all of that, as well as the majority of the flirting. There's Gareth Hunt as all-action heart throb Mike Gambit and the lovely Joanna Lumley as the lovely Purdey.
Change of cast aside, not much appears to have changed. The plots are still blatantly ridiculous and it is impossible to review the series without resorting to use of the word camp, but there is a harder edge to some of the stories, the body count can be high and the whimsy comes mainly from the larger than life villains.
The main trio certainly have the charisma and the chemistry to spare and make the most of the zippy dialogue, but the plotting is pedestrian, rarely surprising or unpredictable and there is just the whiff of an idea that is being resurrected long after its time has past.
Even so, there are incidental pleasures to be had and we have a lot of time for the show that brought Joanna Lumley to everyone's attention.
On a remote island in the Atlantic an order of monks kill a British agent and kidnap a top scientist in the field of reanimating frozen corpses. Top British agents Steed, Purdey and Gambit start to investigate and discover a plot that will bring back the most evil power in history.
Throughout the sixties THE AVENGERS were the face of 'Cool Britannia' in a series of tongue in cheek and, well, downright silly stories that oozed sex appeal, camp archness and occasional lunacy. Towards the end they got a bit too arch and a bit too camp, but for a while there they epitomised everything that was great about being British. Times may have moved on, but THE AVENGERS are back. Well one of them at least.
The opening episode of this new chapter gets everything thrown at it to show that it hasn't lost its irreverence and sense of British whimsy. We have monks, nazis, assassin anglers and a plot to bring back Hitler. It's all very knowing and just a bit too full of itself for its own good. The characters spend far too long looking smug at their own cleverness, something that doesn't bode well for future episodes. There is a sense of trying too hard that will hopefully recede as the show settles down and shrugs off its heritage.
That said, the plot is fun (if a little rambling) and does boast the great Peter Cushing in a guest role. Patrick Macnee is as urban as ever, Joanna Lumley makes an impact as the very pretty Purdey (see what they did there?) and Gareth Hunt makes for an OK muscle man. Some of the dialogue is smart and witty, whilst the action is ineptly poor. Neither Gambit nor Purdey seem to be able to hold a convincing fight.
There's enough to enjoy here to bring us back, but the show will have to get better to hold our attention.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Desmond Davis
The trio of Steed, Purdey and Gambit thwart a plan to take a defecting scientist back to his own country and leave the chief spy's reputation in tatters. He fakes his own death and activates a group of deep cover sleeper agents all with orders to kill those that ruined him.
Even at the tail end of the cold war the idea of a set of sleeper agents was enough to make for a compelling spy drama. This, of course, wasn't it. Instead it's a light and frothy caper that makes slightly more sense than the series opener and moves along with much more zip. Because it's not hamstrung by its gimmick (no frozen Fuhrer here), it can play around and come up with twists that aren't quite as obvious as might be expected. There are also twists that can be seen coming a mile off.
The script has a nice line in quipping and there is some chemistry emerging between Gambit and Purdey (Joanna Lumley getting down to her underwear for no readily apparent reason) that makes their exchanges fizz a bit.
The action remains the show's weak point. Purdey's fighting with her feet whilst on her back being particularly embarrassing.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Ray Austin
A sting operation to catch a double agent goes wrong, leaving the contact dead and the double agent horribly burned. One year later, the double agent kidnaps a top roboticist straight out of jail for the purposes of reactivating one of Steed's old enemies - the Cybernauts. Whilst the robots attack the three super spies, the double agent uses parts of the machines to become a half-man half cybernaut super threat.
There's a rule of thumb (or there should be) that if you can't afford good special effects then you shouldn't do any special effects at all. The cybernauts here are the special effectst that they shouldn't have done. They are clearly men in masks and overcoats and lumber around embarrassingly, completely failing to create any sort of threat whatsoever.
Better is Felix Kane, the double agent who lives behind a set of grotesque masks based on his old face, one for each expression. That's kind of creepy.
The banter remains light and frothy and (by modern standards anyway) quaintly chaste. The characters are fun, but the plots need to do better.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Sidney Hayers
A washed up ex-agent comes into contact with a group in search of a guinea pig. He warns Steed that they are something to do with an operation known as Midas, but then kills himself before anyone can come near him. Investigations reveal that Midas is indeed an operation regarding touch and gold, but the touch is more deadly and the gold is merely the reward.
A man who can kill with merely a touch is a formidable weapon indeed and it is this that the episode revolves around. It is also cleverest thing that the episode comes up with. That doesn't mean that it is not entertaining, but there are some deep seated flaws to contend with.
First there are the villains. One is insanely attached to gold, another has the most ridiculous pantomime moustache whilst the pumped up chinese smuggler (so obviously wearing inflated underclothes that customs would have picked him up immediately) is resolutely non-asian. On top of that there is a party that dates the whole thing very badly indeed and the plot is so thin that the central section consists entirely of a jokey car chase followed by a wander around industrial wasteland in search of a killer. This is the same wasteland where the villains are holed up, but nobody thinks to investigate it further once the assassin is taken care of.
Thank goodness then for the souffle light chemistry between Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt, both of whom make even the tediously artificial dialogue about THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE fun.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Robert Fuest
An agent manages to get a warning to Steed about a murder attempt before he is killed. The target is put under tight security until his plane leaves, but the plane doesn't make it. The only clue to either event is a high pitched sound and the flapping of wings.
THE NEW AVENGERS does Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS and does it particularly poorly. For one thing, the production doesn't have the budget to convincingly render a full on bird attack and so attempts to mask the fact with interesting directorial choices - except they're not that interesting and they don't mask the lack of budget.
What also isn't masked is the fact that the plot here isn't strong enough to last the running time. At least Steed's eventual solution to the problem of bird attacks is a novel one and just in time to save Purdey.Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by John Hough
A number of agents start to fall down dead of natural causes all over the place, but there are no links between them, other than they were going on holiday. The cause is a poison administered to them on the firing range by the paint pellets that signify they have been hit, the same range that Purdey has just visited.
Following the frankly very poor Cat Amongst the Pigeons, Target! is a great improvement. The shooting range set up is intriguing and Joanna Lumley gets to show off her stocking tops as well as her interesting tactical styles. Gareth Hunt manages a more straightforward, physical approach. The mannequins used in the range are clearly people with plastic masks on, but manage to be both creepy and funny at the same time.Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by John Hough
Nearly 20 years after he reportedly died, an agent starts transmitting to his station again. Since this agent has information leading to the White Rat, a traitor in the heart of the organisation, Steed wants to bring him in, but he's an experienced agent who doesn't know who he can trust and the White Rat's men are after him as well.
To Catch a Rat is a straightforward spy tale and one of an old-fashioned type. It wouldn't be far from imagining this to be series' John Le Carre episode. There's a traitor at the heart of the organisation and an amnesiac agent holds the key. Not knowing who to trust, Steed and his team try to put together pieces from an obscured past in order to learn the truth.
It doesn't help that the identity of the traitor is obvious from very early on and that one of the higher up's attempted seductions of Purdey are somewhat ill-calculated in the taste (and age) stakes, but there is still plenty of spark in the dialogue between Purdey and Gambit (this time mainly about Gambit's sex life) and the streamlined story makes for a more interesting episode.Written by Terence Feely
Directed by James Hill
A prison inmate convicted on spying charges gets out and goes after a package of information that will make him rich. Nobody seems to know what or where it is, so Gambit and Purdey go after him, only to find two other agents want the same package and are less picky about how they get it.
Another straight espionage-style story that follows the search for the mysterious package through any number of twists and turns before the inevitable, and somewhat predictable, resolution. As usual, it's all very charming, lightweight and utterly disposable. It won't stay in the memory longer than the closing credits, but then that is what this series is aiming for - amiable entertainment.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Robert Fuest
Top agents of the security service are being replaced by literal double agents, doppelgangers taken from a flop house, surgically altered and tutored to be just like the originals. Steed sends Gambit undercover as a dropout without letting Purdey in on the operation. She launches an investigation of her own, leading to a deadly game of cat and mouse in which no-one knows who is whom.
Another straight spy story apart from the face-altering aspect and played for fun, the twists are fairly obvious and the outcome never in any doubt, but it's the fringe benefits that count in this show. This episode gives us Gambit with an irish accent and Purdey as a gum-chewing gangster.Written by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner
Directed by James Hill
Following a test of a top anti-terrorist sleep aerosol Steed, Gambit and Purdey wake up to find that they are the only three people left awake in the whole of Central London. The only people except for a gang of theives who are busy looting every unprotected bank in the place.
Taking the basic premise of the plot from James Bond film GOLDFINGER and transferring it to the heart of London, this is another light, but ultimately silly story. In a situation when Steed has indicated extreme urgency, not only does Purdey lock herself out of her flat, but she is unwilling to break a door or window to get back in. The three of them wander around deserted streets (quite effective the empty quiet) doing not very much of anything until finally the situation is resolved when they call the police, something they could have done when they first figured out what was going on.
A scene in a shop window is the highlight and not just because Purdey's pyjamas fall down to reveal Joanna Lumley's legs. It's the silliest part of a silly plot, but one that is played absolutely straight.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Graeme Clifford
A villain gets hold of a mind-draining device that allows the knowledge of one person to be transferred to the mind of another. He sells the technology to the highest bidder who asks for it to be used to discover the secret of the ‘three-handed game’, three agents each with a third of a vital message embedded in their photographic memory. It’s up to Steed, Purdey and Gambit to protect those agents.
Though it’s quite an ingenious set up, using three agents each carrying every third word of a message, the plot of this episode is extremely thin and relies on the witty script to get by. There is Gambit being asked to get his clothes off by the woman he’s protecting (for life sculpting of course), Purdey making up as a clown and the usual banter between them both as the chemistry crackles.
The gimmick of having the bad guy transfer his mind to another body, that of a tap dancer, is a sideshow that builds up to the inevitable ‘dance off’ finale with Joanna Lumley’s Purdey, but it’s a bit of damp squib finale.Written by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner
Directed by Brian Austin
A general goes missing after making plans for a snap inspection of the army's most disreputable unit. Gambit gets drafted in undercover whilst Purdey makes her own investigations. By the time Steed realises that this particular unit is being run as a private mercenary army, Gambit is on the run from them and Purdey is in the middle of a minefield.
Considering that it's obvious what is going on from very early on it takes a long time for the central trio to make the connections and their investigations are somewhat dull. To make up for it there is some running around the countryside with explosions all around, but the limited budget is painfully obvious through the fact that the unit can only run to one armoured personnel carrier and a jeep.
The banter and chemistry between Gambit and Purdey is the only thing that keeps it going at all.Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Sidney Hayers
A stolen secret growth hormone is accidentally spilled into the sewers. Not long afterwards Steed, Gambit and Purdey are tasked to investigate seismic tremors in the sewers and discover something that might be a killer shark or a giant snake, but is in fact something quite different.
Stealing its central idea from as far back as 1955's TARANTULA (there is even an overlarge spider here), this is the most overtly science fiction episode since Last of the Cybernauts...??. Not that you'd notice, though, as it consists mainly of various people wandering around in the dark tunnels under the city looking for something and finding nothing. These sewers are really quite large and seem to be full of not very much. One thing that they are certainly not full of is sewage.
But any giant rat story is going to live or die by its giant rat and GNAWS keeps its monster under wraps for the majority of its length by using point of view attacks and hinting at shadows and glimpses of tail. When they are finally forced into a reveal of the whole monster, it is proof that rodents aren't very scary even when filmed against miniature sets to make them look big. The show may be camp, but this is just silly.Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Ray Austin
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