Posts Tagged ‘the avengers tv show’

Tunnel of Fear (Episode 1-20, August 1961).

Any Avengers fan will tell you the sad tale of The Avengers Series 1 episodes. The very first season of the show is almost entirely lost, thanks to the habit of British television studios of not preserving the video stock used to record their shows. There were even a few episodes that were never recorded, just broadcast live. So all that remains of the first series/season of The Avengers are two and a third episodes, one of which (“Girl on a Trapeze”) that doesn’t even feature John Steed. But now we make that three and a third episodes, with the happy discovery of “Tunnel of Fear,” now released on DVD from Studio Canal.

“Tunnel of Fear” was the twentieth broadcast episode, nearing the end of the first season, and as such already has some of the hallmarks that would carry over into the second season and the introduction of Dr. Catherine Gale. But here David Keel (Ian Hendry) is still Steed’s partner in avenging, playing the occasional foil to Steed’s secret agent as they investigate nefarious goings-on at a local carnival. The episode opens with the arrival of Harry Black (Anthony Bate) on Keel’s doorstep. Harry is just recently escaped from prison, where he claims he went on a trumped-up charge. He begs for Keel’s help, and Keel only obliges when John Steed pops up (bringing with him a massive Great Dane named Puppy) and informs Keel that he’s been investigating the leakage of top secret information out of a Southend carnival, where Harry just happens to have worked. So Keel heads down to the carnival, while Steed takes Harry to the police, and promptly loses him.

Down at the carnival, Keel investigates, meeting a host of odd characters that include a hypnotist, the ghost-train runner Jack (John Salew), Harry’s mother Ma Black (Doris Rogers), and a bevy of dancing girls at a “girly-girly” show being run by none other than John Steed, having the goddamn time of his life as a carnival barker. The episode proceeds in twists and odd turns, very much reflecting the increasingly odd plot lines and character types that The Avengers would eventually become known for.

Patrick Macnee’s Steed is in top form here, a funny, energetic presence who loves dressing up and play-acting, but always with a canny, intelligent edge that can shift to steel if needed. Anyone who doubts that Steed’s feminism was inherent from the start would do well to really pay attention to what happens in “Tunnel of Fear,” and how Steed relates to the (numerous) women who pass through. He’s jocular and charming with Keel’s nurse Carol (Ingrid Hafner), and when he meets Ma Black, he embraces her as a friend, smiling over photos of her son with genuine good will. And while he’s having the time of his life corralling the dancing girls, it would be a mistake to understand Steed’s flirtations with them—especially Rosie (Julie Samuel)—as particularly lascivious. He’s playing a part, yes, and he’s enjoying it, but his flirtations are never predatory. We can easily see the man who eventually works his way into Cathy Gale’s affections, and makes Emma Peel fall in love with him. Steed was always a decent bloke.

Of course, there’s Ian Hendry’s David Keel, rightly considered the first Avenger, of whose influence we only get a taste, given the scarcity of the first season episodes. He and Steed spend a good bit of the episode apart, so there’s little time to process the chemistry between them. Keel’s a very above-board character, genuine in his desire to help people, but often a bit of a stickler for rules and adherence to his personal brand of morality. Maybe he’s underutilized in this episode, but it’s hard to care very much about him one way or the other. He’s there more as a foil for Steed than as a partner, and though his machinations eventually help his friend and solve the mystery, his time onscreen brings the mood and energy down a bit.

In the simplest terms, “Tunnel of Fear” is loads of fun. It maintains the slightly grotesque, film noir edge that all but vanishes in later seasons, helped along by the live television aspect of its taping. There’s a sense of the slap-dash the cardboard sets and reaction shots that is quite charming, if sometimes a bit hokey. The live aspects give the show a feel of a theater production, watching the actors play out their parts in real time, sweat and all. The DVD is well worth the purchase for any Avengers fan, or fan of 1960s TV. It’s more than just a curiosity—it’s a damn fine piece of television.

*If you purchase the Studio Canal DVD of “Tunnel of Fear,” be aware that the advertised Season 1 scripts are not included on the disc. You must contact Studio Canal (info@studiocanal.co.uk) to receive the scripts.

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Death on the Rocks (Episode 2-10, December 1962).

cathy-gale-john-steed-marriage

Death on the Rocks is a highly entertaining episode for two reasons: good writing, and the added value of Steed and Cathy posing as a husband and wife.

For once in this second series, the plot is actually a pretty good one. A ring of diamond smugglers attempt to control diamond trade in London by lethally enforcing their wills against family members of resisting merchants. This naturally means that Steed must pose a man just getting into the diamond trade, and that Cathy must pose as his wife. Hilarity ensues, although I halfway expected Steed to make greater use of the fact that they ‘need to be convincing.’ Ah, well. We will have to wait until series 3 for a Steed/Cathy kiss, I’m afraid.

Meanwhile, Steed’s partner Samuel Ross (Meier Tzelniker), whose wife died at the beginning of the episode, has problems of his own. His daughter Jackie (Toni Gilpin) is dating Nicky (David Sumner), a young jeweler gone bad who is a sort of point man for the smuggling ring. Nicky is what I like to call the ‘overconfident young man’ category; a type that Steed, as resident Alpha male, regularly has to put in his place. And he is an obnoxious, overbearing character, talking big but ultimately a coward. While we do not get a good rough fight between Nicky and Steed, there are a few moments when the older man simply smiles and waves Nicky aside like a particularly obnoxious dog. I’m sorry to say that the entire final fight sequence is somewhat ruined by someone crashing into the camera, visibly rattling it. By the time we get things back into focus, Steed and one of the baddies are on the floor and someone else has fired a gun.

Death on the Rocks rises to the top of the early Gale episodes. Cathy and Steed are equal partners in this one, and seem to be enjoying one another for the most part. There’s an entertaining subplot concerning the redecoration of Cathy’s apartment, although few chances for Honor Blackman to show off her live-television judo skills. But their interplay is marvelous, from Steed carrying Cathy around on his shoulders, to her justified anger when she discovers that he hasn’t been totally honest about the danger of the case. Cathy has not yet become Steed’s regular partner and the rough edges of their relationship still show. I admit that in some way I prefer the intensity of their early relationship, which is softened by the time we get to the end of the Cathy Gale series. Steed’s roughness makes his character incredibly dynamic – a well-dressed and honorable gentleman who will smile and cut your throat. His final words to Cathy seem to take her aback; Steed has begun to prove that he really does care.