For those who are unaware, Big Finish has begun to produce full-cast audio shows of the lost Season 1 episodes of The Avengers. Here is my considered first reaction, having listened to the first CD. (A more complete review shall be forthcoming, but this is my blog and I do what I want.)
The Big Finish radio series is not The Avengers. The removal of the two lead actors, who historically had a huge hand in crafting their characters, is tantamount to removing the heart of the show. At best, this production qualifies as a reboot, with a new cast that do a poor, barely recognizable facsimile of the originals, with little apparent understanding of what made them tick. The audio production values themselves are excellent, as with most Big Finish productions. The problem lies in the casting. Julian Wadham plays Steed as a public-school accented fop with no charisma and no steely undertone in even his most cynical delivery. He’s a secret agent without charm, an undercover man that no one would believe as a criminal, and a ladies’ man that achieves none of the inherent charm that Macnee put into his characterization. This could improve as the series goes on, however establishing one major hero who is neither charismatic nor an interesting rogue means that listeners will be unlikely to return for more. I fear that Wadham has missed the point of Steed, and perhaps the scripts don’t have that point in them. Anthony Howell’s earnest but largely boring Dr. Keel is a tad less offensive than Wadham’s characterization, but does not make the whole proceeding particularly interesting.
The adaptation of television scripts to radio likewise has serious limitations that are not insurmountable. The difficulty is that in attempting to be loyal to the original series in using the original scripts, the producers have largely ignored the difference between mediums. The scripts are confused, with action taking place via thumping and thudding that poorly stands in for any real tension or scene-building. The closeness of voices between Wadham and Howell, moreover, meant that I was forced to listen to some of their scenes twice and make educated guesses as to who said what.
I find the whole series to be ludicrous and borderline offensive in terms of characterization and casting. This isn’t just about not liking Wadham as Steed (I don’t) but about an inherent respect for the series itself, as a product of its time and, even more importantly, of the people who participated in it. More so than many series, The Avengers was built by the actors as well as the writers, brought to life by them and given a soul by them. Take away Hendry and Macnee and you have a poorly-plotted British noir with plot holes aplenty and no character interest to back them up. While it is a source of great sorrow that we don’t have the original televised episodes of Season 1, this is far from an adequate or even desirable replacement. As far as I’m concerned, Big Finish should have let well enough alone.
8 thoughts on “The Avengers Lost Episodes”
It’s funny – you’ve reacted to the Big Finish recordings very differently from me. I felt they needed to be rewritten with a narrator, rather than recording a TV script. I don’t mind the lack of Hendry/McNee, but then I don’t mind Donald Monat as Steed in the Springbok Radio recordings of The Avengers. Have you listened to any of them & did you feel the lack of Macnee there?
I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the South African show at all, though I suspect that it would have an uphill battle with me (as, admittedly, this one did). I personally think that it’s a tall order to find anyone to replace Macnee as Steed, given the sheer amount of himself that he put into the character. The same would probably be true for Hendry, but that is tempered by the fact that we have very little remaining of Hendry’s performance as Keel and so perhaps feel his loss less. Macnee is so closely identified with that character that it isn’t like replacing James Bond or Sherlock Holmes – it’s taking the heart out of the show. All other versions of Steed are lesser and I think it’s false to assume that Macnee can be replaced in the same way that Connery’s Bond or Rathbone’s Holmes could be. Those were characters with independent lives from their actors, who had been originated long before the original actors played them – Steed was all but created by Macnee. Ralph Fiennes may have played Steed, but we all see how well that worked out.
That being said, I don’t like rejecting a series simply because of the lack of the original actors, and if this series had anything to recommend it in my view, I would be more than happy to say so. It doesn’t.
I was skeptical when I heard of the Big Finish project, for exactly the reasons you give for not liking the product. Guess I don’t have to spend any money to find that out now. Thanks.
This is one of those where I think the idea might have worked, but the casting and execution is such that it just does not come off.
I had a difficult time with this series at the start. It took a few listens but I actually flipped to liking it more than I would have expected. I went into it having watched the avengers on tv years ago so it was difficult to understand why there was such a different feel to these.
I think one thing that helped me understand the logic behind the approach they used was the interviews with the writers and producers in the “extras” section at the end of each CD. It explained a little about the casting decisions and the interview with Samuel Clemens at the end of the 4th CD really provided some good background about his father, Brian Clemens.
I guess what I had to do was just listen to them without trying to imagine the Avengers shows I watched growing up which featured mostly Macnee and Rigg. But I can relate to your views and opinion because I sort or felt the same way my first few listens.
Thanks for your response, Scott!
For myself as a listener/viewer/critic, I tend to avoid spending time on production circumstances or the reasons behind individual choices in casting, etc. I tend to focus more on the product: what it does, how it accomplishes its project, what are the good and bad things in it. I even try to avoid comparison with other forms of the same show or film. With something like these “lost episodes” it is nearly impossible to avoid comparison with the original show, however, because it is not really meant to be a reboot or reimagining: it is meant to stand in, as far as possible, for the lost images. Brian Clemens has been overly prized as the “creator” of The Avengers – which he demonstrably was not.
If it were only here that the production failed, I would be more willing to excuse it. But as I said above, I cannot even find much interest in the production itself. If this were not “The Avengers,” with all that’s associated with that name, no one would care. The scripts are not good enough to justify the production.
I think we can also not forget that the change in medium, as I mention, makes a huge difference. They have taken TV scripts and made them into audio plays, with little change (at least, that’s my understanding). Ignoring the inherent differences in the two mediums offends my sensibilities as a viewer, a critic, and a fan. Again, if they were able to justify this in production, I would happily concede the point. As far as I can tell, they do not.
Finally – and I did not really address this – The Avengers was a product of 1960s Britain, not 2014 Britain. The audios can only produce a facsimile of the period, and the show evinces no real underlying understanding of the culture of that produced it. Beyond the removal of Hendry and Macnee, which I still find reprehensible and almost disrespectful to the past of the show, the removal of what can only be described as a very 60s show from its period has to be justified and treated gently. Again: it does not work. The producers either don’t understand it, or have no respect for it.
This is probably a longer response than was needed, but I wanted to address some of your points. I’m glad you can find a way to enjoy these audios – unfortunately, the glaring issues that permeate every facet of this production make that impossible for me.