Written by: Dan Starkey, Dennis Spooner, Phil Mulryne, and John Dorney
Adapted by: Rae Leaver
Based on storylines by: Terrence Feely, Geoffrey Bellman, John Whitney and Max Marquis
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Anthony Howell (Dr Keel), Julian Wadham (John Steed), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Carol Wilson), Stephen Critchlow (Doctor Jones),Chris Porter (Stefan),Faye Castelow (Carmelita), Alice Haig (Stella Creighton
)Music by: Toby Hrycek-Robinson
Cover Art by: Anthony Lamb
Duration: 240' approx
Originally Released January 2016
Steed and Keel are back for a fifth set of adventures. This time it feels like the show has finally settled into a groove midway between the more fantastical episodes and the dark and brooding crime investigations. In part that may be down to a solid three quarters of this set being based on some of the most lost Avengers stories of all. Only storylines survive from the original production of three of these episodes, resulting in more freedom for the adaptors to build a more consistent tone and characterization into their scripts.
The first of these, Nightmare, has been worked up from Terence Feely’s scant outline by the multi-talented Dan Starkey. Known to Doctor Who fans as the Sontaran butler Strax, he also appears in these episodes as Steed’s boss One-Ten and various other parts. But for Nightmare he sits behind the scenes and crafts an almost original tale of a missing scientist and Keel adopting the missing man’s identity to smoke our his abductors. It’s a story which nicely merges two sides – the nightmarish effects of the pscychoactive drugs Keel unwittingly gets exposed to, and the finely ratcheted tension when a doctor involved in the conspiracy finds Keel at his hospital’s A&E.
Starkey does a fine job with a potentially difficult task – working with fixed plot points without, perhaps, the supporting plot gubbins that made them make sense and having to put his own supports in place. Certainly, a bit where the villains essentially post themselves to Keel in a package feels like something Feely had now lost reasons for. Overall, though, Starkey’s created a perfect blend of modern storytelling standards and the old school Avengers spirit. If he did his own, completely original, Avengers scripts in the future it would be no bad thing.
Girl on the Trapeze
You’d be mistaken for thinking Girl on the Trapeze was a similar case, but here is the only instalment in this set where adaptor Rae Leaver had Dennis Spooner’s complete script to work from. It’s an atypical story from Spooner, who was always one of sixties Doctor Who’s most ironical and witty writers. But there’s little levity or humour here, in a story that begins with Keel witnessing a young woman throwing herself from a bridge into the Thames, and follows on into a Soviet plot where teenage girls are being drugged up to the eyeballs and smuggled across Europe. Well, I say ‘Soviet’, but of course in typical Avengers fashion the exact identity of the superpower to the east of Europe with its vast, and ruthless, intelligence apparatus goes unnamed. Presumably ABC were worried about getting letters of complaint from the Soviet Ambassador if they said the obvious out loud, which seems positively charming to modern eyes.
Nevertheless, the general tone is very much of the Spy Who Came in from the Cold mode and sits nicely in the Avengers canon as one of the rare stories to deal with spycraft and counter-espionage with the same grittiness as the crime stories about heroin and prostitution.
Phil Mulryne’s Crescent Moon deserves a lot of credit for its authenticity when it must have been tempting to expand it. Another case where only an outline remains of the original, Mulryne keeps the Caribbean island setting restricted to what the show could actually have accomplished. So there are lots of scenes indoors, where you could imagine the location being nodded to by a ceiling fan and wooden shuttered windows, and the exterior scenes full of back projection and a couple of bushes on a set.
Where Mulryne possibly does take advantage is in easing back on the slight edge of Imperialist nationalism that’s shaded previous jaunts by Steed abroad. Yes, we’re again in a former British colony, and, yes, we’re again in a situation where the ‘good’ local leader (ie the one friendly to British interests) needs help fighting off the machinations of the ‘bad’ local (ie the one who wants the British kept out). But there feels like a better balance at play here and all the characters have their own agendas and motives beyond national stereotypes. It also helps that Steed is treating it all like a jolly holiday rather than, as on previous adventures, actively trying to leverage some nation into signing away its resources.
Diamond Cut Diamond
I’m trying to imagine what Steed actor Julian Wadham’s face looked like when he opened this script and saw that Steed adopts a broad Australian accent for much of it, but I’d say it was a picture. In fact, is was probably an echo of whatever passed over Patrick Macnee’s features opening the original, now lost, script.
Fortunately, subtlety doesn’t seem to be the intention here and setting vocals on “Putta notha shrimp onda barbie,” seems perfectly in character for what Steed would actually do while going undercover as a womanizing (of course) Australian air steward with a history of unproven accusations of smuggling. Balanced against this, though, is some of starkest and best acting Wadham has been called upon to do. Finding himself blackmailed for killing a woman in a drink driving hit and run, Steed’s blacked out memory means he can’t be sure if it’s also a frame job or if he actually has killed someone. His raw horror and angst at the possibility makes for an usually, and satisfyingly vulnerable Steed beyond the flippancy and wit he usually shows the world.
Volume Five is possibly one of the strongest Avengers sets so far due to the comparative free hand the adaptors have been given by fate. Ironically that’s likely due to the tonal inconsistencies of the original show from week to week being ironed out to create a vision that feels more like The Avengers that lives in our memories than the actual show often did. With relatively loose continuity between all these sets, you could do worse than make this one your first purchase in the Lost Episodes range.