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The New Avengers 2.11 – The Gladiators

Naturally, our son really liked Brian Clemens’ “The Gladiators.” It’s full of superpowered, super-trained, super-assassins from Russia punching holes in steel plate and whacking Canadian intelligence agents over the hoods of their cars, while accompanied, bizarrely, by the unmistakable sound effect of a Cybernaut’s lethal karate chop. This one’s clearly inspired by the success of ABC’s pair of Bionic superspy series, but I found myself thinking this episode would have been more entertaining if they had been a bit more honest and had the villains be a bunch of seven million ruble cyborgs.

As for me moaning about the anonymous locations, this was the one of the four New Avengers Canadian productions that I’d never got around to watching before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of this story is filmed in towns and suburbs outside of Toronto’s city center, with the bad guys holing up in a training facility not unlike one of those country houses in Hertfordshire seven or eight miles away from Elstree Studios. Well, not every episode of the original show or its ITC imitators found reason to be in central London, so I shouldn’t complain…

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The New Avengers 2.9 – K is for Kill (part two)

Well, our son really enjoyed both parts of “K is for Kill,” telling us that it was very exciting and that he liked it a lot. I think it’s pretty basic action-adventure by the numbers, and both episodes suffer from the momentum running down very badly toward the end of each part. Maybe they spent all the money on the extras and the explosions in part one, because there was next to nothing left to cover the funeral in part two. And don’t get me started on the inefficiency of the French security forces, letting two killers get within eyesight of that graveyard.

Maybe The New Avengers in France just wasn’t a good idea. It’s kind of a show that needs to stay in the UK. (That’s foreshadowing, that is.)

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The New Avengers 2.8 – K is for Kill (part one)

Brian Clemens’ “K is for Kill” is the only surviving two-part Avengers story. The very first two episodes of the series, from 1961, “Hot Snow” and “Brought to Book,” each deal with the same set of criminals, but those aren’t available for us to see. I think that “K is for Kill” is a more obvious-to-the-viewer feature-length adventure, dealing with another company of Russian sleeper agents, but this bunch have a curious distinction. They’re all in their sixties and seventies, but thanks to a secret that had been closely guarded by an unknown monk in Tibet, they appear to be in their twenties. Something has activated some of these soldiers and, with very out-of-date information and maps, they begin a guerilla assault on abandoned chateaus and war museums in the rural country west of Paris.

Here’s the weirdest thing about “K is for Kill”: Mrs. Peel is sort of in it. Thanks to some repurposed footage from two decade-old color episodes and the uncredited voice of Sue Lloyd, imitating Diana Rigg, on the telephone, talking with Steed, she makes a strange and utterly unnecessary appearance in the story. We open with the Russian army in Tibet in 1945 learning about the eternal youth experiments, and then it picks up twenty years later, with a strange mass murder in a small English village. Steed reports in to Mrs. Peel, suggesting it’s a case that they may never solve.

Now this, you’d think, is the setup to have Diana Rigg come back for the show’s big two-part adventure. Except Diana Rigg didn’t seem to be all that interested in action-adventure TV at that stage in her career. So when there’s another weird killing in France in 1977, Steed phones our heroine, who’d seen the papers and was expecting his call, and he lets her know that he’s off to the continent. And shockingly, she tells him that she’s changed her name and isn’t Mrs. Peel any more! Well, call me judgemental, but if Air Ace Peter Peel isn’t in the picture anymore, then what the heck’s Emma doing not beating up Cybernauts and kicking diabolical masterminds across rooms?

Well, maybe it’s for the best. This is an adventure where armies are shooting at each other. There isn’t really a huge amount for Purdey and Gambit to do anyway. If they’d have dropped Mrs. Peel into the story, they might as well have left these two back in England…

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The New Avengers 2.7 – Hostage

I think there are one or two things about Brian Clemens’ “Hostage” that work, and our son enjoyed it more than the previous two episodes, but by and large I didn’t enjoy this one much at all. By far the best thing about it is the way it reintroduces and reemphasizes the rule that Steed always cheats. But tonight he doesn’t cheat nearly enough. This could have been a much more interesting story if, no matter how well-planned this week’s villains are, they had found themselves getting in way, way over their heads trying their scheme on their hero. It also would have been nice if Purdey, their hostage, would have used that great big length of chain they gave her to strangle one of her captors. Both Marie and I were waiting for that to happen.

So this is yet another instance where bad guys have a scheme to make Steed look like a traitor. That alone would be a bore – what are we, 180 episodes into this show, and we’re doing that again? – but it’s made more dreary by introducing a super-agent that we’ve never met before, played by Simon Oates, and expecting us to not see him as the only possible suspect. There’s also a new boss character called McKay, played by William Franklyn, who gets to introduce the big only-on-TV complication that Gambit needs to bring Steed in.

Could it have been done another way? Well, not easily, because this was actually the first episode that they filmed in the final thirteen. But just suppose that they had introduced Simon Oates’ character several episodes previously as a recurring good guy and a familiar face that we accepted as one of the heroes. And suppose that instead of a yet another brand new boss, they’d brought back somebody, anybody, that we’d seen before. Why not Patrick Newell, or even Linda Thorson, in this part? It might not have made this story great, but it would have made it less obvious.

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The New Avengers 2.6 – Trap

I’m predisposed to like anything with Stuart Damon – he’s here wearing a very Burt Reynolds mustache for one scene – and Ferdy Mayne – he’s one of the villains – but I don’t think I can find anything nice to say about Brian Clemens’ “Trap,” which at least had our son really worried for Gambit for a few minutes.

At its core, “Trap” is awful because of its flippant, disinterested racism. There’s a criminal named Soo Choy who is trying to impress three other international drug dealers, but all the trappings – sorry – of his lifestyle and operation are chunks of random Asian-nation stereotypes thrown into a blender. As written, he appears to be a Chinese man with a crew in Red Army fatigues, but he’s also all about samurai swords and bonsai trees and saving face. (Disagreeably, there was a lot of this going around in our culture in the late seventies. Just try to read the lyrics to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ first single, “Hong Kong Garden” without cringing.)

Making things even weirder, Soo Choy is played by an English actor, Terry Wood, but rather than speaking in the sort of me-so-solly voice you’d expect from something thoughtless from 1977, Wood speaks in a deep-voiced RP rasp. And he doesn’t shut up. The storytelling in The New Avengers is frequently unclear, especially where the passage of time is concerned, but I really think we missed a scene somewhere in this episode. I think “Soo Choy” must be some British criminal who just decided he’s in love with all things Asia and started calling his less obsessed buddies “gaijin,” and his syndicate pals are just forced to deal with him and his otaku ways. That doesn’t make the production any less cringeworthy, but maybe it explains what the idiot’s deal is.

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The New Avengers 2.5 – Obsession

Unfortunately, tonight’s episode was one where our son lost the plot very early on, never recovered, and ended up so confused and dispirited that he thought the bad guys had stolen a missile for the purpose of shooting down a satellite, which was a very minor plot complication that was over and done with inside ten minutes. He grumbled that it was weird and strange that they would want to destroy something that could be so valuable. We told him it was time enough to retire the words weird and strange and when he loses track of the story to tell us.

The most amusing part of “Obsession” comes right at the end, when the bad guys – played by Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins – are going their separate ways, and Collins says to Shaw, “Maybe we should work together again. We’re a good team.” About four months later, the actors would begin working together again for five series of Clemens’ successful The Professionals. Between you and me, I could do without that show and would rather they made five more series of this one.

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The New Avengers 2.2 – Angels of Death

Another sleeper agent, another super-TV-hypnosis, another one of Steed’s best friends, played by Terence Alexander, bites the dust. Nothing in “Angels of Death,” written by Terence Feely and Brian Clemens, is really all that new, but I still thought it was pretty entertaining. Purdey is as odd and weird as ever, and as Marie pointed out, only Purdey would break into the villains’ secret base at night wearing neon.

Our son was very, very restless for the first half, and I can’t say that I blame him. It is a bit by-the-numbers for a spy show, with perhaps the added bonus that these particular villains – led by Dinsdale Landen and Caroline Munro – have been breathtakingly, irrationally, effective for superspy bad guys. Their body count before our heroes start looking into the possibility that many recent deaths-by-natural-causes have an unnatural origin: 47.

I did think there were a couple of missed opportunities. Part of the bad guys’ programming is a huge, white, indoor labyrinth with locking doors and closing walls. Unfortunately, I think the studio simply wasn’t large enough to give a proper overhead shot looking down into the maze, which I kept waiting to see.

I also think they could have linked to the past of the show in a fun way. Dinsdale Landen had played a veteran agent called Watney in a very good Tara King adventure called “All Done With Mirrors.” Obviously the character he plays this time, Coldstream, is just a new-to-the-series villain who’s been killing people in the government and the military for years. But I kind of wish that once Landen was cast, they had changed his name to Watney, so he could be that guy from “Mirrors,” gone bad.

The episode opens in Paris, with the show’s first use of overseas filming. We’ll see a good bit more of France in the weeks to come.

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The New Avengers 2.1 – Dead Men are Dangerous

And now back to 1977, for the second and final series of The New Avengers. Believe it or not, I’m really flying blind with this run. I’ve only seen five of these thirteen episodes, and didn’t enjoy them very much. Brian Clemens’ “Dead Men are Dangerous” isn’t bad at all, though. I liked it much better than the ones I’ve seen before. At least as far as I remember.

I do have a quibble with one intensely silly flaw, though. Like “The Last of the Cybernauts…??”, this begins with a pre-title sequence that the narrative later tells us happened in the past, in this case “ten years ago,” so call it 1967. Then, Steed drove his old school chum and rival, played by Clive Revill, over to a prepared breach in the border so Revill could smuggle himself into East Germany. But Revill is a double agent and guards were waiting to kill Steed. Revill took a bullet in the chest but was dragged away, and spent the next decade being a top spy for the other side while the bullet pressed closer and closer against his heart.

So with days left to live, Revill decides to avenge all of his old jealousies and second-place finishes behind Steed, their school’s “Victor Ludorum.” Gambit’s girlfriend-of-the-week, a teacher played by Gabrielle Drake, identifies Revill as being in his mid-forties. Which, admittedly, Revill himself was at the time, but come on, his character and Steed have to be at least ten years older than that. Were they trying to pretend that the star of the show wasn’t middle-aged?

Our son enjoyed it and thought it was really exciting in places. I liked it just fine, but I might have liked it a little more had we not seen at least three of Steed’s oldest friends die in this show already. Incidentally, Steed has a lovely new home in this series. It’s Fulmer Hall in Buckinghamshire, and it appears in at least four episodes. One of his old aunts must have left it to him, because I just don’t believe the Ministry pays nearly enough for the mortgage on it.

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