The New Avengers

  1. Patrick MacNee, one of the most instantly recognisable characters on British TV over the last 30 years. With his bowler hat, umbrella and disarming smile, he is the archetypal English gentlemen – he still appears, irregularly, as An Upper-Class Eccentric (his recent performance in “Waxwork” is a classic example of how to steal a movie).
  2. Joanna Lumley, as well as being one of the loveliest creatures to grace the television screen and possessing a voice resembling liquid honey, capable of charming the birds out of the trees, also possesses an acute intelligence which has earned her the awful label of “thinking man’s crumpet”.
  3. Gareth Hunt. Yes, well. Er… Now more notorious for appearing in the Nescafe coffee commercials, even if he did turn up in the Pet Shop Boys film.

With there being word of a film version of ‘The Avengers’ (Mel Gibson having been slated for the Steed role), it seems like a good time to review the sequel series, following last issue’s look at an American spy soap. This will be more of a homage than a fact-file – if you want the latter, I suggest ‘The Avengers Anew’ by Dave Rogers, as THE definitive volume. Let’s look at one episode in particular : ‘Gnaws’.

When written down on paper, the plot is ridiculous. Giant creatures roaming the sewers of London, thanks to a scientist pouring a radioactive growth hormone down the sink, may show a total disregard for the laws of physics and biology but while watching it, the ludicrous storyline is easily forgotten. This wasn’t an especially OTT episode either – others included “K is for Kill”, with Russian agents in suspended animation for 30 years, “Last of the Cybernauts”, where robots in sun- glasses are out to kill the trio or “Sleeper”, in which all of London (except for Purdey, in her pyjama suit) has been gassed to sleep by some robbers who want to extend bank opening hours to include Sunday mornings. Little wonder the same production team could easily switch to making a Hammer Horror film – ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’, one of the better late efforts.

I digress. There are rumblings in the drains and Purdey, Gambit & Steed are sent down to investigate (I’d have thought MI5 would have better things to do, like tapping phones, than worry about the imminent collapse of our sewer system). In the course of their investigations they meet up with a Russian agent, on a similar mission. Interestingly, for a pre-glasnost series, although Russians were sometimes the ‘baddies’, thse were often ‘free-lancers’, operating against the orders of their leaders. In this case, the Russian joins forces with our side, though not before Purdey has kicked him about a bit.

Meanwhile, the mysterious something is busily chomping it’s way through a mixture of courting couples, maintenance men and also one of the mad scientists responsible for the creature. Our three friends concoct a vile-smelling substance in a bid to lure it into the open; the Russian is shot by the remaining scientist; Purdey arrives just a little too late and is captured, with the eventual aim of using her as bait. However, as she’s about to be nibbled to death by the thing, which turns out to be a giant rat, Gambit arrives in the nick of time, carrying an armour-piercing rocket launcher, and produces Rodent McNuggets.

As I said, pretty ludicrous. However, as in much of the best trash entertainment, the holes in the plot whizz past at such a rate that you can hardly see them, let alone realise what they are. The highly hackneyed subject matter (so you thought radioactive mutants went out in the 50’s!) is given a fresh lick of paint to bring up to date what is, after all, little more than a remake of ‘Them!’. If you can make the leap of accepting the basic premise, the rest follows surprisingly easily and there are a few moments that are genuinely, well, frightening might be going a bit far, but not by all that much.

It only lasted two series. Twenty-six episodes, and that was it. Still, it does get repeated, usually at about two o’clock in the morning – keep an eye out for it in the schedules and you might well be surprised at just how well it’s withstood the passage of time.

Channel 5 have very recently (October 6th) released a couple of videos of the series; neither of them feature the story discussed above, but at 9.99 each, they’ll do for now! The four episodes are “The Last of the Cybernauts”/”Sleeper” (both of which are mentioned above) & “Target”/”Faces”.