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John Steed and his new accomplices Purdey and Gambit find themselves facing new and deadly dangers in the bizarre world of espionage. Mixing fantasy with a darker edge, the trio face mutated giant rats, flocks of killer birds and fanatical mysterious monks. Later episodes find Steed's loyalty under question and an increasing number of assignments overseas. Written by
Gareth Humphreys <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Undervalued follow-up to the all-time classic show
Neo-nazis maquerading as Trappist Monks, killer robots, a man carrying every deadly disease yet remaining immune, a shooting range that fires back, a machine that steals minds, government ministers programmed to self-destruct, a deadly Russian computer disguised as the Canadian National Security building!! Yes the Avengers were back in a big way. Well, they would have been were it not for terrible scheduling in the UK and the anti-violence lobby in the USA...
The New Avengers was a laudable attempt to recapture past glories with plots as offbeat as its classic 1960s ancestor. With many of the original crew, higher production values and a determination to make the stories even pacier, The New Avengers couldn't fail... could it?
Patrick Macnee was back as suave top agent John Steed and old fans eagerly anticipated the return of their favourite female partner, Diana Rigg's Emma Peel. However it was not to be - the actress having made it clear she had had quite enough of the show a decade previously. The Avengers without Mrs Peel?! Surely it could never work...?
In her place came Joanna Lumley as the tough, resourceful, witty, beautiful and ultra-feminine Purdey. Easily a worthy successor to Emma.... though most old fans would never admit it!
In an unexpected move, a third member of the team was introduced. As Patrick Macnee was now that much older, the producers understandably felt a younger man was required to carry out much of Steed's "heavy duty" work. Gareth Hunt, relatively new to acting at the time, was introduced as tough but quiet ex-Para Mike Gambit. The presence of the third character has probably caused more debate than any other element of The New Avengers!
In some ways the use of a three players put paid to any believable sexual tension between the characters. Clearly Steed was too old for Purdey and, unfortunately, the humorous sexual subtlety he had shared with previous co-stars was replaced by rather obvious, belaboured innuendo between Gambit and Purdey.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the series in terms of the characterisations was that previously Steed had known he didn't have to worry about his partners when they went into battle. With the new series, although Purdey was portrayed as being independent and deadly as her predecessors, Steed always seemed to feel he needed to protect her.
Nevertheless all three actors clearly shared a marvellous bond of friendship working together and handled their roles with conviction, invention and style... though, of course, never taking themselves too seriously!
As this was the 1970s, it was felt the action scenes needed to be toughened up and the knockabout fun of the original show was replaced with deadly jousts - particularly when Gambit was involved. Nevertheless Purdey's lethal fighting style (essentially based on the French 'Panache' technique) imbued many of her own fight scenes with a good dose of humour. Unfortunately this tougher nature would later prove to be a handicap to American sales.
Either way it has to be said that the action scenes were superbly staged - particularly with its use of crafty camera angles and clipped editing - and, twenty-five years on, we have still to see a British show surpass it in this area. And all credit to Lumley and Hunt who insisted on handling much of their own tremendous stuntwork. (Indeed the original show's use of stunt doubles was often embarrassingly obvious!)
With excellent storylines and good exposure in the UK media, the first season did very well, despite ITV's inability to find the programme a proper networked slot.
However The New Avengers was ultimately doomed. Part-financed by French company IDTV ("A load of crooks" as producer Brian Clemens described them), promised money never appeared and a Canadian company was brought in to prop up the production. Somewhat inevitably this led to demands for several episodes to be filmed in Canada. At this point Brian Clemens found himself virtually forced to hand over the series to a Canadian team who promptly demonstrated they didn't have a clue about what The Avengers was about. After just twenty-six episodes the show was brought to a halt. And when American broadcasters deemed the programme too violent to be screened in a primetime slot, clearly the series would be gone for good.
Looking back now, although The New Avengers will never be seen as an outright improvement over its forebear, it largely succeeded in its own right. In many ways, though, it was a victim of its times, particularly that of the British economy and the appalling fashions of the day. Although it undeniably had some poor episodes, when The New Avengers was good (as it often was), it was GREAT! Play that funky music, white boy!
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