The latest box set recreation of the original Dr Keel and John Steed TV stories of The Avengers, gives us the original episodes 4 – 7, first shown in 1961. These were all broadcast live and one (Girl on the Trapeze) survives in 16mm. Given where they are in the series, they display a show still finding its feet, yet already producing some very good drama.
The set starts with Nightmare adapted by Dan Starkey from a Terence Feely story. This focuses very much on Dr Keel (Howell), who gets to impersonate one of his patients, while Steed (Wadham) seems more focussed on providing company for the patient’s wife. It has the usual crew of London villains, though the story does round some of them out, as Dr Keel’s life (and that of his secretary Carol (Briggs-Owen) is threatened, in the name of money making.
The second story is unusual in not featuring Steed. It is Girl on the Trapeze, adapted by Rae Leaver from a Dennis Spooner story. The plot features eastern Europeans, a circus, and a policeman, who does a good job of doing everything Steed might do. The character of Carol has a lot to do in this episode, and it gives a good sense of how the programme might have evolved differently.
Phil Mulryne adapted the third episode, Crescent Moon, from a Geoffrey Bellman and John Whitney storyline. This starts off largely focussed on Steed, who is on a Caribbean island investigating a kidnapping. The story unfolds with plenty of local investigation, while back in London Dr Keel gets involved. We learn the whole story is much bigger than first suspected.
The set ends with another Steed-centred tale, as he takes on the biggest challenge so far – an Australian accent. This story, adapted by John Dorney (who adapted most of the previous episodes) from a Max Marquis storyline, gets Steed mixed up with smuggling as he takes on the part of an air steward. His investigations uncover a trail of bodies and deception, before he calls in Dr Keel for help.
As ever Ken Bentley’s direction is top-notch and the whole cast are on top of their game. The soundscaping helps with the period feel and the main players (Howell, Wadham and Briggs-Owen) are delightful. As to why these episodes were done in this order is a mystery but the result is an assured production and a great advertisement for the series as a whole.
Accessible and enjoyable, this is arguably the best collection so far. Sadly, the so-called Lost Stories are not an infinite resource. Let’s hope Big Finish gets the rights to create original stories of their own.
THE AVENGERS LOST EPISODES VOLUME 5 / AUTHOR: VARIOUS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: ANTHONY HOWELL, JULIAN WADHAM, LUCY BRIGGS-OWEN, STEPHEN CRITCHLOW, JOHN BANKS, TRACEY WILES, DAN STARKEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW