The New Avengers 2.13 – Forward Base

In late 1987, as I recounted previously, I did a swap for three, and only three, episodes of The New Avengers with a guy who had most of the series, or maybe all of them. I sent him my list and there were only three hours that he wanted, so I needed to send him two tapes. I don’t remember what he wanted, but I know I filled the rest of tape two with other things, samples of other programs he may not have known about. And I got back “The Last of the Cybernauts…??” and “Gnaws” on one tape, because I wanted to see the famous villain’s third appearance and the infamous one everybody talked about, and I got “Forward Base” by itself on the second.

I think I picked “Forward Base” because it was listed as the final episode in one of Dave Rogers’ many books about The Avengers, and it was shown last in maybe his ITV region and in Australia. I like watching them in the order presented by Dave Rogers and by A&E’s old DVDs. There’s no real continuity to speak of in this series, except that in both “Complex” and this one, our heroes arrive in Canada, and in the other two, they’re having a “working holiday.” Maybe they went back to Avengerland after “Emily” for a while and came back for this last adventure.

In 1987-89, I rewatched television much, much more than I do these days. “Forward Base” is about a hidden Soviet base somewhere in North America that turns out to be closer than anyone predicted, but any wit is hidden underneath bland cinematography, disinterested direction, and very, very poor performances from the guest stars. But even though it was really dry and dull, I watched it nine or ten times. Its visuals were burned enough in my brain that on one trip to visit my good friends in Canada, we went to the Centreville Amusement Park on Centre Island and I recognized the famous swan boats and the view of the city from the island’s north shore from this episode.

And that was that for The New Avengers. The money had run out, it wouldn’t get sold to an American network for more than a year – and then at CBS’s much lower offer for repeats – and the executive producers, Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, were already working on their next series, The Professionals, at the same time that the last four New Avengers were being produced in Canada by Hugh Harlow and Jim Hanley.

Rewatching these really reinforced my opinion that these four were such a massive missed opportunity. There’s nothing about any of them that stands out in any visual way, and nothing in the scripts that provide any feeling of cultural identity or sense of place. Put another way, if Universal or somebody had offered up some money to make and set the last four episodes of the show in Los Angeles instead, then a New Avengers in Hollywood could easily have felt as much like southern California as say, The Rockford Files or Columbo did at the time. The New Avengers in Toronto might as well have been in Buffalo or Cleveland or Indianapolis.

Or possibly not. CBS didn’t like The New Avengers enough to air it in their prime-time lineup, but they liked it enough to commission Brian Clemens to write a pilot for an American version of the show for Quinn Martin’s company to produce. The show would have been called Escapade, starring Granville van Dusen as the American Steed-equivalent and Morgan Fairchild as his partner, and they burned off the unsold pilot in May 1978, four months before The New Avengers debuted in late night. If you’ve never had the misfortune of watching this garish and badly dated turkey, just struggle through the title sequence on YouTube sometime. We might have dodged a bullet, and wished the show had been made in someplace like Toronto instead!

The New Avengers 2.12 – Emily

Well… trust Dennis Spooner to write an Avengers script absolutely unlike every other Avengers script.

The first half of “Emily” is actually very good, and not just for the trainspotters in the audience who enjoy looking at old Ontario. There’s a little bit of Toronto in the story, but more of the action takes place in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Vaughn, and the script suggests that these two cities are separated by the Ozarks, basically.

And it’s a good little chase story for a while, as our heroes hunt down a double agent called the Fox, who picks up his snatched information via water ski in Humber Bay Park. I’d seen this before, years ago, and remembered disliking it, but the first half is perfectly entertaining. The second half is also perfectly entertaining, if you’re eight.

Making a getaway, the Fox leaves a palm print on the roof of a 1950s Plymouth sedan. Not being able to trust anybody, our heroes, accompanied by some hoedown music, drive into a rural car comedy of the seventies, avoiding the police and the enemy agents on the dirt roads and hollers between yonder and Toronto. There are chicken farmers with shotguns, moonshiners with a hankerin’ for some fightin’, and fellers in cowboy hats neckin’ with their girlfriends in junkyards. It’s not often you see the stars of one television series drive right into another one, but they did it here. Unfortunately, I didn’t think it was all that funny, apart from one bit where the police dispatcher gets a new bit of information that has him fighting to even finish his sentence because it’s so delightfully absurd. The kid just howled all the way through it. This was written for kids and succeeds mightily with that age.

Oh, did I say police? That’s actually the weirdest thing about the Canadian episodes. There are trigger-happy cops and tire-squealing police cars in all the episodes. There aren’t any policemen at all in the Avengerland of the United Kingdom. The show exists without them. The rules are different in Canada.

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…

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.