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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 2.10 – Complex

The New Avengers was constantly short on money, in part because there wasn’t a TV network financing its production. The people in charge did that themselves, hoping for international sales later. So when the money started running out in 1977 and a Canadian company said that they were willing to pay for four episodes, but only if they were made in Canada, Brian Clemens wasn’t really in a position to say no.

So in July and August of 1977, production decamped to Ontario. These four episodes are nobody’s favorites. “Complex” was written by Dennis Spooner, and about the best thing you can say about it is that it’s better than “Medium Rare.” It’s an evil supercomputer story – The Avengers had done that a couple of times before – and it guest stars Cec Linder. He had played Felix Leiter in Goldfinger and scientist Matthew Roney in the original TV serial version of Quatermass and the Pit, and he was mainly working in Canada in the late 1970s.

But really the most interesting thing about “Complex” is that it’s filmed in Toronto. And yet the director, maddeningly, picked utterly anonymous locations, giving the impression that Toronto is any mid-sized, bland, beige, largely clean city, free of landmarks or anything of interest. They call this Toronto, but it might as well be Cleveland.

I have only been to Toronto three times, decades after these were made, and don’t pretend to know the city well, but I guarantee you that given a TARDIS trip back to July 1977, I could have found a whole lot more interesting things to stick our heroes in front of than this director did. I’m going to hope the other three episodes show off the city a little better, because the only remotely identifiable places in “Complex” are the westbound lanes of Lawrence Avenue, and the Pickin’ Chicken Bar-B-Q, which had been closed for at least seven years and was on Lake Shore Boulevard, at a point which was then on the outer fringes of one of the streetcar lines. Fingers crossed for the next three. I know we’ll see the swan boats of Centre Island, but I wonder what else…

And yes, call me predictable, but there are as yet undiscovered tribes in the heart of the Peruvian jungle who knew I was going to screencap that barbecue restaurant.

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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 2.4 – The Lion and the Unicorn

A couple of episodes ago, we got a snatch of filming in Paris. “The Lion and the Unicorn” is set in the city, the first of three episodes to be largely set in France, and sees our heroes capturing an international assassin. The Unicorn has been avoiding Steed for a decade, only to have the assassin’s incompetent associates – I mean “Lex Luthor keeping Otis around” incompetent – unwittingly shoot their boss dead from across the street while aiming for Steed. As long as the baddies don’t know that their boss is dead, everything’s fine. But then they kidnap some small-fry European royalty and demand an exchange.

Our son was incredibly pleased with this one, but the execution fumbled for me. It starts in England, with both a very good car chase and a small appearance by Gerald Sim before we move to Paris and a supporting cast of French actors.

In France, there’s another car chase which had our kid in stitches and me appreciating his good humor more than anything that made it onscreen. There’s nothing wrong with playing a car chase strictly for laughs, but without the budget and ability to close the Parisian streets like a Bond or a Bourne film, and risk any parked cars, we keep getting the silly after-effects of cars that have just sped by without us seeing them. Throw in a climactic explosion which only lacks a comedy womp-womp soundtrack, and you’ll probably wonder whether the director thought he was making a cheap Inspector Clouseau film instead of The New Avengers.

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