Reviews

The Avengers: Series 5

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Were the real ’60s ever this eccentric?

In 1967, the quintessentially British spy-fi series The Avengers was produced in colour for the first time – mainly so it could be sold to the American market.

In making the switch from monochrome the show lost something almost intangible: the supernatural tone of the previous year’s Diana Rigg-starring episodes.

With colour came a brasher approach, bigger fight scenes, more sci-fi storylines (losing the gothic, rural horror that had dominated) and self-evidently brighter, even brassy storytelling.

The Avengers best captured the sense of a new world opening up, a rising confidence not only in culture but in Britain’s place in a changing world.

This series epitomised that forward-looking excitement of being in the UK (or, more specifically, London) as the ’60s rushed towards the decade’s end: colourful and fast-moving, with the white heat of technological change evident all around.

This release contains all of the 1967 episodes – previously thought of as two distinct series of 16 and eight episodes apiece – and, as with previous boxsets, the supporting extras are copious, if pretty disposable.

They include commentaries featuring writers Richard Harris and Brian Clemens, guest stars, and Rigg’s stunt double. Clemens also introduces a handful of episodes, while Patrick Macnee fronts a dated, clips-dominated hour-long 25th anniversary retrospective.

Meanwhile, the two leads appear in interviews taken from German TV and there are even reconstructions of lost early episodes.

Macnee’s suave spy John Steed was old Britain – patrician and slightly stiff, yet with a mischievous glint in his eye nonetheless – where Rigg’s Emma Peel was the new, coming into her own as the decade’s delicious image of attractive, aggressive femininity.

These superlative adventures in Avengers-land include the eccentric characters and settings that people most remember, with the episodes flowing positively from the bold title sequence through to the final joke payoff.

The majority were written by Philip Levene, with most of the remainder by Clemens – and both writers were at the top of their game. With episodes revolving around aliens (kind of), time travel (maybe) and invisibility (sort of), The Avengers was firing on all cylinders.

Perhaps the show was becoming slightly too aware of its own quirkiness, but any decline was slow to set in – making this the series that saw The Avengers at its most populist and memorable.

Verdict:

Stylish, sexy, clever and colourful, The Avengers was popular British television at its very best.

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