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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>
Not classic Avengers, but a decent enough 70s action series
During the shooting of the last season of The New Avengers, Patrick McNee ran into Peter O'Toole, who asked him what he was doing. "I'm doing The New Avengers" "Patrick, you're always doing The Avengers." Each episode beginning with a pre-title cliffhanger and a strident martial variation of his original theme music by uncredited co-producer Laurie Johnson, the show itself is nowhere near as bad as its reputation - the trouble is, it's nowhere near as good as the original series, even in its Tara King days. What's missing most of all is not just the straight-faced whimsy and the innocent kinkiness but the playful banter between Steed and his female partner, be it Cathy Gale, Tara King or Emma Peel. Indeed, rather than a double act, he cuts a more paternal (or should that be Maternal?) figure with two young pretenders handling the fighting and the banter in the form of Joanna Lumley's Purdey and Gareth Hunt's Gambit, (probably British television's first working class Jewish action hero).
The plots are generally a little more grounded in the first season, which translates as more ordinary, with the unnamed foreign power now openly Russia this time round and the violence somewhat more serious - fewer blasé reactions to exotically murdered corpses this time round - even if the fight choreography was a lot less impressive. Steed even found himself picking up a gun in a couple of episodes in the second season despite McNee's well-known intense aversion to them. Nor is the series especially nostalgic: it may have launched with a plot to revive Hitler from cryogenic suspended animation in a Scottish castle run by monks, but many of the plots revolve around schemes hatched at the height of the Cold War that the classic episodes treated so frivolously finally coming home to roost or around characters from the past obsessing over old grievances presumably incurred around the time of the show's glory days coming back to haunt the main characters. Rather than fending off the threat of reality or consequences with witty banter, Steed occasionally cuts a more serious, sombre figure, not quite taking everything cheerfully in his stride and not necessarily meaning it when he does. Despite the distinctive dress sense and the steel bowler, there's the distinct feeling that the producers have decided it was high time he had finally grown up, even if only a little.
As if to underline the more serious approach, the show's original leading man Ian Hendry turns up in as a guest star in one episode in a quite different role, and a rather unfortunately autobiographical one at that as a down-and-out alcoholic former spy trying to get back into the game and failing miserably. Sadly, with all but one of the first season's episodes lost, this now stands as 50% of Hendry's surviving legacy in the series his one-time sidekick inherited and made his own.
Taken as an Avengers series, the first season isn't flattered by the comparison, though as a 70s action thriller series it's more than passable fare. Things went wrong with the visibly underfunded second season. By then the show seemed to be reverting to its roots in the worst way, becoming a rather tired, run of the mill spy series at times. With producers Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens busily developing what would become The Professionals, the series almost turns into a blueprint for that, with Steed assuming the Gordon Jackson role and Purdey and Gambit the Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins roles (indeed, Collins and Shaw actually co-star in one episode, Obsession). Gambit had given up his attempts to get Purdey into bed and resigned himself to being more comic relief than action man. The writing is often lazy, relying on huge suspension of disbelief to overlook gaping plot holes like security men not bothering to check bell towers when looking for an assassin or McNee and co taking a car with a vital palm print by the most roundabout route to a police station to give the bad guys ample opportunities to destroy it.
It's also the one where the co-producers started demanding their pound of flesh, with three episodes being shot in France (though the French co-producers only came up with the money for two) and the last four being shot on the cheap in Canada under the title The New Avengers in Canada. The most reviled of the series, these at least did show a return to the odd moment of surrealism, with Complex offering a fully-automated building that doubles as an assassin (an idea it sadly makes little of and which Philip Kerr lifted for his novel Gridiron) and Forward Base delighting in a corner of Lake Ontario that dries up and floods in the blink of an eye.
Still, even that season had its moments - Dead Men Are Dangerous sees Steed targeted by Clive Revill's terminally ill old school friend who always came second to you-know-who in every sporting and spying endeavour, and it deserves points for cheek for using a bit of stock footage from The Winged Avenger and A Touch of Venus to add Emma Peel to the beginning of another episode, K is For Kill.
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