Shiny Shelf

The Avengers: The Complete Series 3 DVD

By Scott Harrison on 15 April 2010

Do you remember when British television used to be good?  I mean consistently good?

Good stuff like ‘The Avengers’, not Z-list celeb-reality tat or auditions for Lloyd-Webber’s latest West End ‘hit’. I’m talking G.O.O.D.

No? Then you were probably born in the mid to late 80s. When the masonry of the Berlin Wall was not the only thing that was crumbling.

Back in the 60s and 70s they had little choice but to make high-quality shows, there was so little actual programming being transmitted. Most of the day was a scheduling wasteland, of countdown clocks, scary test-card girls and five-minute interlude films playing out to the strains of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra.

To produce low-quality programming for prime time back then would have meant instant demotion. Or, worse still, never working in British television again.

ATV’s ‘The Avengers’ serial arrived at a time when television had finally stopped being thought of as simply ‘radio with pictures’.  It was fast becoming a medium in its own right. Programme makers seemed a lot more interested in trying to create a distinctive voice and atmosphere for each show.

‘The Avengers’ was originally conceived as a vehicle for star Ian Hendry after his previous show, ‘Police Surgeon’ folded under the weight of much legal wrangling.  But just two years and fifty-two episodes later, it had become a very different show.

‘The Avengers: The Complete Series Three’ DVD box set contains twenty-six more episodes of high-kicking, vintage car driving high jinx. A solid collection of early black and white telly that quite clearly points the way towards the slightly mad, psychedelic bit of SF hokum it would invariably become in later years.

With the installation of Cathy Gale, and encouraged by the success of Fleming’s ‘Dr No’ on the big screen, the show was beginning to move away from it original ‘fighting for the underdog’ theme seen under Hendry. Instead it started to tackle more serious, and more outlandish, stories.

Production for series three got underway only a few months after the terrifying events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unsurprising then that many of the stories found within this box set touch upon such topically sensitive themes as political despots, shady politicians and failed military coups.

By this time associate producer Brian Clemens’ hand was firmly on the show’s rudder, doubling up as both script editor and head writer. It’s down to Clemens’ increasing influence on the show that we have such surreal classics as ‘Don’t look Behind You’, ‘The Undertakers’ and ‘The Wringer’. It was quickly moving away from the sedate and serious political thriller it had started life as back in 1961.

Although it manages to avoid the po-faced seriousness often displayed during the Dr David Keel era it is still a million miles away from the delightfully camp romp it would famously become with Diana Rigg. And if you were expecting a show even remotely similar, then you are in for a big disappointment.

Lacking the American funding of later series the episodes in this box set are shot on videotape and are almost exclusively studio bound. This series, like the previous two, has the feel of a television show that has more in common with the ponderous Quatermass serials of the 50s. It would not become the infamously glossy, action adventure serial until its eventual move into colour.

The whimsical, almost fairy-tale atmosphere that pervades the Emma Peel shows has yet to materialise.  Here Blackman’s stern-faced, no-nonsense acting style stands in complete contrast to Rigg’s softer, almost romantic characterisation. An approach that would prove immensely popular with the viewing public.

Yet this is by no means damning it with faint praise. Presented here these episodes look as shiny, sparkly and exciting as their more popular filmic successors. Thankfully here ‘digital restoration’ means exactly that. It’s clear to see the care and attention that has been put into this DVD release. Their pin-sharp picture quality putting to shame many BBC DVD releases of shows from the 1980s and early 90s.

What’s more, ‘The Avengers: The Complete Series Three’ boasts a rather impressive collection of extras. Audio commentaries from writers and directors, episode intros by stars Macnee and Blackman, interviews and the Channel Four documentary ‘Avenging the Avengers’. Not bad for a television show that originally aired nearly half a century ago.

For many these early ‘Avengers’ episodes are going to be a tad frustrating. Possibly even dull. It’s a show still very much in its infancy. Not yet a cultural icon, but there’s often a faint glimmer of what it will eventually become.

The martial arts are there, so too are the leather costumes. As are the strange hats, the pinstriped suit, bowler hat and umbrella. Yet series three is an odd beast, make no mistake. It’s a show frozen in the act of transformation. Not quite what it will become, yet so different from the thing it once was.

A television show out of its time, perhaps, but still damn good telly. Given the choice between this and Gordon Ramsey swearing at a bunch of celebrities in chef’s whites I know which one I’d choose.

Won’t you join me?

Line Break

By Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison is a writer and editor. You can experience more of his reviewing shenanigans at his blog as well as his regular contributions to Hub Magazine.

One Response

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Christopher and Scott Harrison, Shiny Shelf. Shiny Shelf said: The Avengers: The Complete Series 3 DVD: Do you remember when British television used to be good?  I mean consiste… [...]