In previous entries, I’d mentioned that John Bryce had been given the reins of The Avengers, cast Linda Thorson, and worked on three episodes. The first of these was called “Invitation to a Killing,” written by Donald James and filmed in the fall of 1967. Interestingly, all the available information we have says that this was a ninety-minute episode. I’m not sure whether this means it had as much material as a two-part adventure, or if it was seventy-five minutes of story with room for ads.
The full version of “Invitation to a Killing” has never surfaced – in public, anyway – and is presumed to have been destroyed. Some of the material from the episode, most obviously the scenes featuring Tara with blonde hair and a garish pink coat, was repurposed for “Have Guns – Will Haggle,” with reshoots taking place about five months after the original story was made. It’s a little more complicated than just saying all the stuff with Tara as a blonde was shot first and all the scenes where she’s a brunette came later, but it is interesting that the only actors with speaking parts who appear with her as a brunette are Patrick Macnee and just one of the guest stars, Jonathan Burn. (We noted that some of the exteriors, where Linda Thorson is wearing that totally fab and mod plaid sixties minidress, were very clearly filmed in the winter. She must have been freezing!)
Outside of all the production curiosities, this is far from the best Avengers episode. John Bryce and Donald James seem to have been fulfilling that apparent remit to produce a more conventional action-adventure series, and this is a fairly ordinary story of stolen rifles, mercenaries, and an auction among disgraced colonels and warlords hoping to use the guns to start coups d’état in trouble spots around the globe. It’s not bad, just ordinary, and doesn’t have that odd Avengers spark. Among the guests, Nicola Pagett plays the chief villain, and Timothy Bateson, who we’ll see again in a couple of nights, is an oddball ballistics expert.
I thought that the most interesting scene, by far, was the opening, in which the stuntmen playing the mercenaries use a trampoline to go over a barbed wire fence. Our son enjoyed both the climax and the tag scene. He got very excited and worried as the lit fuse to some ready-to-blast gelignite burns down, and loved the silly comedy of Steed and Tara receiving an unexpected and very hungry gift from the grateful president of an African nation.