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John Steed works for British Intelligence and always has a female partner. The problems he finds are always a bit odd, just on the edge of science fiction (Cyborg killers, a city built under a disused coal mine, a gang put together for adrenalin junkies, and a killer who uses a concentrated cold virus to kill his victims by having them sneeze to death). Steed is always the ultimate in culture and grace as he saves the world each week. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THE AVENGERS was already a popular show in England during the early 60s. However, it all backfired when Honor Blackman decided to leave the series in order to star in GOLDFINGER. When season three ended, ABC decided to pull the plug on THE AVENGERS and sold the series to Telemen Limited. Albert Fennel and Brian Clemmens were both recruited to keep up the standard. Plus, a big revolution happened: The series moved from videotape to film and the budget was also sightly improved.
But even knowing Patrick McNee came back, the studio faced a major problem: Cathy was gone. Since Blackman had already made the character so popular, it was decided a new partner would be created to be paired up with Steed. So Elisabeth Shappard was cast as Emma Peel (Man appeal! Get it?) and production started. But it was soon noticed Sheppard's cold beauty and persona was not right for the role. So Sheakespeare stage actress Diana Rigg was cast as a replacement. The show premiered in 1965 as a completely different deal.
And of course, the rest is history... Diana Rigg brought the charm and kindness that Blackman lacked, altrough she lacked Honor's strenght and toughness. Patrick McNee also played a very different Steed: He went from a James Bond-like sexist macho man to a more kind gentleman spy. The new AVENGERS became so popular that it was exported to the US. Yes, the fourth season was indeed revolutionary. But what made it so much better than the previous seasons? The most obvious answer would be Emma Peel, or the bigger budget, but I would give credit to the writers. This time, the scripts were much sharper and the show never took itself very seriously. And then there is the wonderful chemistry between McNee and Rigg. The Steed/Emma relationship was subliminally romantic and funny. They always enjoyed great lines togheter.
Some season four episodes are good even for today's standards: THE GRAVEDIGGERS has a hilarious silent film spoof climax. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT was a clautrophobic "girl alone in a house" sort of thriller. THE CYBERNAUTS brought a strong sci-fi element. TOO MANY CHRISTMAS TREES brought the Steed/Emma chemistry to he highest calibur. And let's not forget a TOUCH OF BRIMSTONE that gets the award for sexiest episode ever.
The UK didn't order a season five, but the US did. The series moved from B&W to color, the budget was even higher, and the action increased as well. Gone were the sloppy season four fights and the large male stunts used to double Rigg. Now, the fights were better coreographed, and Cyd Childs (Who looked a lot like Diana Rigg) would be in charge of the kung fu moves that would take out the female baddie of the week. Included were the "we're needed" introductions that were made in order to format the show a-la MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. The US backers also demanded Emma Peel to be more femenine and Rigg decided to replace her leather catsuits with jumpsuits that woulkd go down in fashion history as Emmapeelers.
No doubt season five was fun, but the show went from spy adventures to spoof comedies. Just look at the plot lines: THE HIDDEN TIGER dealt with cats progammed to attack their owners. ESCAPE IN TIME was about time-traveling! And FROM VENUS WITH LOVE was about an alien beam that would kill scientists! You just couldn't watch the show as a thriller anymore.
Even Rigg got tired and decided to leave the series. Linda Thorson was cast as Tara King for season six. Of course, the only reason was that Linda was the girlfriend of then-producer John Bryce. The character of Tara King was the femenine partner that the US backers wanted. The girl was so dependent of Steed that she carried a brick on her purse. It looks like Venus Smith all over again. The fact that Linda was a totally unexperienced actress didn't help. Season six began, with quite good rantings that kept up the standard.
Most fans usually hate season six because of the absence of Emma Peel, but I dare say this season was a great deal of underrated fun. Not as silly as season five or as serius as the first three seasons, this era of the show saw Steed and Tara on trully good adventures. LOOK... teamed them against killer clowns (?). SPLIT! dealt with agents shifting personalities through brainwashing. And STAY TUNED is one of those rare episodes where Steed almost cracks!
Even the character of Tara King became more tolerable as the season progessed. She even had a Steedless episode (ALL DONE WITH MIRRORS) where she put both Emma and Cathy to shame. She soon didn't need the brick (*sight*) and her intelligence was also improved. In France, she is ten times more popular than Emma.
However, the show's rantings in the US were poor due to the bad time-slot of putting the show against LAUGH-IN. The US didn't order more episodes and without the US support, THE AVENGERS ended.
THE AVENGERS was indeed a revolutionary and magic TV show. Many later sows (HART TO HART, REMINGTON STEELE) owe a lot to it.
Sure there is the 1976 revival and te dreadful 1998 movie, but that is another story...
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