The New Avengers 1.3 – The Last of the Cybernauts…??

The New Avengers had finished production more than a year before it finally showed up in the United States. In September 1978, “The Eagle’s Nest” debuted on The CBS Late Movie, which had started as a showcase for old and interesting films but had become the dumping ground for all sorts of heavily-edited repeats. In many markets, the local affiliate delayed it until after midnight, or left it to another channel entirely. In Atlanta, Late Movie often turned up not on what was then the CBS station, WAGA, but on one of the independent channels, WANX… which later became WGCL and is today Atlanta’s CBS station, oddly enough.

In late 1987, I traded with a guy who was probably Earth’s biggest Maverick fan for three episodes of The New Avengers. These came from The CBS Late Movie broadcasts and holy anna, they weren’t kidding when they called these heavily edited. In Mark Dawidziak’s excellent book The Columbo Phile, Richard Levinson is quoted as being really unhappy that each seventy-five minute Columbo episode was pruned by twenty minutes for that show. The New Avengers is, of course, a fifty minute program, but CBS hacked them down to forty. No wonder I had such disinterest in this show for so long. They were barely coherent, sloppily edited, and the CBS version of “The Last of the Cybernauts…??” gave the villains a lot less screen time. The entire scene in the photo above was never shown in America.

So when I got a complete copy years later, I liked this story a whole lot more. I still wouldn’t call it great, but it’s a really entertaining ride, and while the diabolical mastermind of the piece, Robert Lang, may not be in Michael Gough or Peter Cushing’s league, he’s memorable and creepy with his gaudy jacket and plastic masks. Also, the fight on the staircase, when Gambit and Purdey have a desperate brawl with a Cybernaut, is just phenomenally well shot and edited. Our kid enjoyed the almighty heck out of this one, and claims to be happiest with a huge explosion early on, but when Gambit rounds a corner on the stairs and misses having the Cybernaut karate-chop his head off by about two inches, our son was so startled that he just about jumped off the sofa.

This is an appropriate place to pause and talk about the DVDs I’m using. I picked up A&E’s Region 1 releases of this series around 2005, but decided against upgrading because while certain European releases are said to be somewhat better, they are all said to have some notable flaws. But help should be on the way. Network always keeps things a little secret, so everybody was very pleasantly surprised when just about three weeks ago, they announced a brand new restoration of all three Cybernaut episodes – the two from 1965 and 1967 and this one – for Blu-ray. They haven’t formally announced that a full remaster of The New Avengers is coming, but if you click that image above to go to Network’s site and watch that trailer – especially just after you’ve watched this episode in the acceptable/tolerable quality that A&E released – your jaw will probably hit the floor when you see just how vivid, bright and amazing the staircase fight looks.

Money was a little tight when I sprung for my multi-region DVD player and I couldn’t justify the cost of going multi-region for Blu-ray too. I’m sure Network will find it in their hearts to put out their beautiful remasters on DVD as well… right, viewers?

The Avengers 6.1 – Return of the Cybernauts

A quickish word before beginning: the DVDs, along with the books written about The Avengers in the 1980s, and the websites of today, all call the color Diana Rigg stories “season five” and the Linda Thorson stories “season six.” For a while in the 1990s, the pendulum of accurate research pointed the right way: the 24 Rigg stories were produced and transmitted in two separate batches, thus making seven seasons. The Thorson stories were produced in two separate batches and transmitted that way in the US, but shown as one long season in the UK.

Season five is the batch of 16 color episodes that we’ve already seen. These were made between September 1966 and April 1967, and shown between January and May 1967 in both the UK and the US.

Season six is made of the final eight Rigg episodes and the first seven Thorson episodes. These were made between June 1967 and March 1968, with a considerable… let’s call it a hiccup in production during about the last seven weeks of ’67, which we’ll discuss later. In the UK, the first eight of these were shown as the sixth season, from September to November 1967. All fifteen went out as one season in America from January to May 1968. I number them using their first broadcast date, whether in the US or the UK.

Season seven is made of the other 26 Thorson adventures. These were made over the course of a year, from the spring of 1968 to March 1969. The US and UK broadcasts of these both went from September 1968 to May 1969, with the US finishing first and the UK broadcasts including the seven previous Thorson stories dropped in at what seems like random intervals.

Yes, I know you don’t agree, so you don’t have to waste time trying to tell me.

Anyway, so September 1967 came around and The Avengers were back on British television with a big season premiere guest starring Peter Cushing and featuring, like the title says, the return of the Cybernauts, one of the very, very few antagonists to come back for a second engagement in this show. Really, it’s just them, Ambassador Brodny, and a group called Intercrime that nobody remembers.

Cushing plays Paul Beresford, the brother of Michael Gough’s Professor Armstrong from the first Cybernaut story, and he is just brilliant, smooth and debonair in every scene. Watch how Macnee and Rigg afford him the space to be the star villain. They share several scenes together because their characters don’t initially know he’s one of their diabolical masterminds, and they play off him. They’re the guests on The Paul Beresford Show. It’s amazingly good and generous acting to let Cushing lead his scenes.

The story, written by Philip Levene, is huge fun. It’s got lots of great location filming, and the Cybernaut – it’s just the one this time – gets to rampage through several scenes and break lots of people’s necks. Everybody gets great dialogue, and the villain’s deeply sadistic plan had our son extraordinarily worried for Mrs. Peel. He denied it, of course, but he hid his face and curled up in his mom’s lap when things look bleak and Peter Cushing is being incredibly evil at the end. But as much as he enjoyed the Cybernaut’s killer karate chops and the big climactic fight, his absolute favorite moment came in the tag scene, when Steed wires a toaster the wrong way and blasts two slices through Mrs. Peel’s ceiling. Kid laughed like a hyena.

Some other very good actors are in this story as well. Above, that’s the great Fulton Mackay along with Charles Tingwell, who we remember from the first series of Catweazle, as kidnapped scientists. Noel Coleman and Aimi MacDonald also have small roles. In yet another weird blog acting coincidence, we saw Michael Gough just last night in Young Indiana Jones, and he’s briefly in this story as well with some archive footage as Dr. Armstrong. That villain’s henchman, Benson, returned in this episode. He’s played by Frederick Jaeger, and we’ll see him tomorrow night in Doctor Who.

Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel # 1

A quick little break from the routine to note that, for fans of the sort of shows we watch here – and are certainly going to watch here, later on down the line – DC Comics and Boom Studios have a new funnybook out this week that you may enjoy. Three years ago, DC Comics revived the Adam West Batman continuity in a series written by Jeff Parker called Batman ’66. I’ve only seen some of these, but they’re pretty cute, and I like the way that Parker threads together various neat little bits between the episodes, like establishing that the Mad Hatter and the Clock King are brothers. I also understand that they’ve introduced “1966” versions of classic villains who never appeared on the program, or were actually created decades later.

As an aside to this series, they’ve been doing some team-up books, in which the characters from other 1960s media properties get a long story working with our heroes, as they might have done on TV if the stars had lined up right. Each of these storylines is long enough to (presumably) get a collected book edition. In 2014, Kevin Smith wrote Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet, which simply can’t be any worse than the one they really did on TV, and last year, Parker wrote Batman ’66 Meets The Man From UNCLE, which has not yet been collected.

This year’s team-up is Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel – you know, the proper Avengers – which is written by Ian Edginton. I’m very familiar with Edginton’s many series for 2000 AD, the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, like Scarlet Traces, Brass Sun, and Ampney Crucis Investigates. He’s a heck of a good writer, and, teamed with Matthew Dow Smith on art duties and a cover by Michael Allred, he’s put together a good little opening story.

I wasn’t planning to buy this in single issue form (there will be six of them), but, since we’ve moved to Chattanooga, we’ve been looking for a good comic shop. Daniel and I popped into one today, I saw it on the shelf, and decided that I would read it to him. It worked really well on the reading aloud front – it turns out I do a pretty good Stafford Repp, but my Patrick Macnee is appalling – but it also works really well as a story that somebody unfamiliar with The Avengers might enjoy. Catwoman doesn’t need an introduction, but the book’s co-stars, and some characters from their show, do. He really enjoyed it, although he wasn’t pleased that there will be such a long wait to see what will happen next!

Incidentally, it’s called “Steed and Mrs. Peel” because, of course, Marvel has the trademark for any funnybooks called Avengers. Boom Studios has the current comic book rights because back in 1990, writers Grant Morrison, Emma Caulfield, and artist Ian Gibson teamed up for a comic mini-series that was published by Acme/Eclipse and which was out of print for many years before Boom correctly decided that Morrison’s many fans might like to have a copy for their shelves and bought the rights. I’m glad to see that Boom is doing something else with that license, even if the potential audience for a Steed and Mrs. Peel ongoing is probably quite small.

If you’d like to see what we thought of the TV Batman, click here and settle in for a spell, because they made a lot of those episodes. If you’d like to see what we’ll think of the TV Avengers, subscribe and be patient. Daniel’s a little young for it yet.