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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Adventure > TV > New Avengers 1976 Set One (A&E DVD-Video)

The New Avengers – 1976 (Season One)

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B-

 

 

After The Avengers went off the air in 1969, the reruns kicked in and the show continued to find new fans worldwide.  Color TV finally came to England in the early 1970s, meaning the last three color seasons were seen in color for the first time there.  The Tara King episodes with Linda Thorson got their due in France, where she became a big star.  The Diana Rigg shows became international classics with an influence beyond TV and even film.  Rigg herself even got a TV sitcom called Diana, but it was a big miss.  However, rumors of Rigg as Emma Peel and Patrick Macnee as John Steed reuniting circulated with the excitement of a Beatles reunion, but both failed to materialize.

 

The people behind the original series had had successful theatrical films since, and before they knew it, a revival of the series that put them on the map was an offer on the table.  Syd Cain of the Bond films was called in as Production Designer, Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell were back as producers, and they brought many of the people back from the old series for this revival.  That included Laurie Johnson to do more music.  French producer Rudolph Roffi had first got Clemens and Fennell to do a Steed/King commercial that did get produced for Perrier champagne, and it is he who instigated The New Avengers.

 

Many were unhappy that none of the original ladies would be back, then did not know what to expect when two new partners would join Steed.  The first was Gareth Hunt as the extremely centered ace agent Mike Gambit.  This was the first time Steed had a male partner spy in the whole franchise.  Hunt’s previous success included Frederick The Footman in the early part of the British mini-series Upstairs, Downstairs.  Then came the new female partner.  The bob-headed blonde with a self-defense technique based in ballet was named Purdey, just Purdey.  Cast in this role was Joanna Lumley.  Lumley is now British entertainment royalty, but was up and coming at the time.  Her best previous exposure was in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with George Lazenby as the one-shot 007 and former Mrs. Peel Rigg as female lead Tracy.  Lumley was actually a “Blofeld girl”, the English one with the line “Of course, I know what he’s allergic to”, but Purdey made her a more permanent part of espionage fiction history.

 

With everything set, here are the first 13 episodes, with the highlights getting more cyber-ink than the rest, in order of title/writer/director:

 

The Eagle’s Nest (Brian Clemens/Desmond Davis) – This debut episode guest stars Peter Cushing as Dr. Von Klaus, an expert on deep freezing, suspended animation, and cryogenics.  People are turning up dead with scratches on their body, which turns out to be from poison.  Fishing rod hooks turn out to be the culprit, which leads the team to an island where a Nazi flight mysteriously crashed.  Something from the flight has survived!  At the time, this was a much-criticized show, but the reason it fell to that is it (still is) just was comparatively (to disposable TV and films) too intense, smart, and dark for the audience, who wanted something lighter.  The series would sadly allow itself to be pressured in that direction, but it is uncanny how it picked up from the direction the series had taken with the Tara King shows.

 

The Midas Touch (Brian Clemens/Robert Fuest) – The mysterious transport of gold leads to the trail of the deadly transmission of a deadly disease, a disease that will be used after many experiments on other victims to commit a political assassination.  Fuest was the most stylish and successful of the directors of the original Avengers with his feature film career, and his sensibilities are here in tact, but the teleplay is very problematic, causing the entire piece to not work.  It just does not gel.

 

House Of Cards (Brian Clemens/Ray Austin) – This show deals with the idea of sleeper agents, which is now a much more known concept currently, thanks to the knowledge of terrorist cells after the 9-11 events, but this show holds up well-enough.  In addition, it brings back Peter Jeffrey, an actor who has been a favorite to play villains in general, and on the original Avengers in particular.  This is more like what this series was capable of being.

 

The Last Of The Cybernauts…? (Brian Clemens/Sidney Hayers) – Trying to be a sequel to two great Diana Rigg/Mrs. Peel episodes is not easy, but this one does not even try.  Instead of advancing the idea and madness of the killer robots, this one mocks the old ones!  The result is the worst episode of The New Avengers, and the mere mention of Mrs. Peel makes it worse.

 

To Catch A Rat (Terence Feely/James Hill) – Ian Hendry, who was the lead in Police Surgeon, the series that became The Avengers, is cast as a former agent with memory loss for 20 years.  Now that he is starting to remember, can he help Steed and the gang track down the mole high up in British Intel known as “The White Rat”?  This one is not bad either.

 

Cat Amongst The Pigeons (Dennis Spooner/John Hough) – Loaded with more references and in-jokes than any other episode of this series, it may be the best one they made.  An expert on birds named Zarcardi (Vladek Sheybal, who was a chess playing SPECTRE agent in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia With Love and then recent co-star of TV’s U.F.O.) seems to have a score to settle with some people in the bird world.  At first, mysterious attacks (not unlike the color Mrs. Peel show The Winged Avenger) go unexplained, but it turns out they are from a school of birds (ala Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, released the same year as Sheybal’s Bond film).  Steed, Purdey and Gambit are son on his trail…. I mean tail, but there is one other twist that might be a stretch, but let me be the first to note it.  The American series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75) was being accused of becoming Avengers-like during its later episodes.  One show, which is hardly see stand-alone in the U.S. anymore called Legacy Of Terror, also involves men dressed as giant birds and an older flute-like device that is played before each sacrificial murder.  This show has almost the same flute, often shot and framed in the same way.  Coincidence?  Hmmmmm.

 

Target! (Dennis Spooner/Ray Austin) - Despite all the advances in interactivity and digitally animated computer games, this episode about a test shooting gallery with mannequins that fire marker bullets is still decent.  When agents are dying for no apparent reason, all due to go on leave, the gang realizes they all did target practice before their break.  Curare poisoning is the final clue needed to figure out the plot, in an episode that owes something to the 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun.

 

Faces (Brian Clemens & Dennis Spooner/James Hill) – One too many retreads start to catch up with the series in a plot to replace key people with plastic surgery fakes, but the color Mrs. Peel show Never Never Say Die did this much better, and had Christopher Lee to boot.  Not good.

 

The Tale Of The Big Why (Brian Clemens/Robert Fuest) – Even more problematic than the Clemens/Fuest pairing on Midas Touch, but missing Fuest’s touch, top secret information is for sale when an imprisoned agent is set free from jail.  The New Avengers and enemy agents race to get the information first.  By the end of watching the show, the title refers to asking the point of this show.

 

Three Handed Game (Dennis Spooner & Brian Clemens/Ray Austin) – Like Faces, this show is haunted by a much better color Mrs. Peel show, the ever-wacky and controversial Who’s Who, but the mind switching here is not helped by “advances in micro electronics”, so this is another miss.

 

Sleeper (Brian Clemens/Graeme Clifford, who edited some of the shows on this series) – A sleeping gas is going to be exploited so a London town can be robbed, a gas of military origins.  This should have worked much better than it did, but it does not click.

 

Gnaws (Denis Spooner/Ray Austin) – Yes, its Jaws with a rat in the sewers, which goes to show you how far off the path the show went just to try to please a “new” audience.  The guest cast is better than usual, with Julian Holloway and Jeremy Young here, but the show is a dud.

 

Dirtier By The Dozen (Brian Clemens/Sidney Hayers) – How does a soldier, who was supposedly discharged years ago, seem to be showing up at the scene of every major battle of the last few years?  Some 16mm film and detective work lead them to a military unit, where the soldiers are not exactly ready to be the best.  This one has a few moments, and the title makes fun of a film the show has little to do with.

 

 

The 1.33 X 1, full screen, color picture was processed in Rank Color and comes from late PAL analog transfers of the show done a few years ago.  This is passable, but no match for the higher quality restorations on all the color original Avengers DVDs, though those films and more complex color systems used on those shows, so some comparisons are limited.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo remixes the TV mono, which is not bad, but has some of the slight harshnesses here and there that similar sound work on A&E’s boxed set of U.F.O. Set One offered.  Otherwise, the presentation is above average overall.

 

The show wanted to be more realistic, yet still be quirky like the original series.  It eventually could not have it both ways, but the show continued for another season, which you can read about at the following link:

 

New Avengers 1977

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/1313/New+Avengers+1977+Set+Two

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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