The New Avengers – 1976
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
With everything set, here are the first 13 episodes, with
the highlights getting more cyber-ink than the rest, in order of
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
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
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
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.
(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.
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
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
- Nicholas Sheffo