Things kick off with Playtime is Over which sees a cabal of villainous dwarfs stealing priceless technology. If that sounds a little politically incorrect to you, thankfully writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky are savvy enough to keep some twists up their sleeve. The Antagoniser by Paul Morris and Simon Barnard, meanwhile, sees usually placid animals turn rabid thanks to the machinations of a vengeful mad scientist. Richard Earl - Dr Watson from Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range - makes for one of the boxset’s welcome guest stars as the brilliantly named Dr Verbatim (likewise, listen out for Davros himself Terry Molloy in the following story).
Speaking of which, The Mad Hatter follows Steed and Peel protecting a flighty European princess from some bizarre assassination attempts. The highlight of this one is Princess Helga – the latest in the long line of strong Avengers women – having a crush on Steed. Is that some jealousy from Emma we detect? Finally, The Secret Six is perhaps the most fun of the bunch. One of those subsets of Avengers stories that see the duo trapped in a deadly stately home, it features the most dangerous criminals in Europe attempt to eradicate Steed and Peel once and for all. Spoilers: our heroes are no match for them.
What makes this box set so enjoyable is how it follows on from Volume One in perfectly recreating the style and tone of the Steed and Peel era of the show. The frivolous plots, the diabolical masterminds, the puntastic names (a hat murderer called Tom Bowler, anyone?) … It’s all present and correct. Even the distinctive incidental music is lovingly reproduced by Alistair Lock and Steve Foxon. Julian Wadham and Olivia Poulet should also be commended for capturing the characters’ sparky rapport without descending into impersonation or parody. It’s a minor criticism, but the only thing that didn’t sit right was the number of scenes that ended with the villains maniacally laughing. The Avengers was always OTT but, if memory serves, it didn’t make a habit of falling back on this old cliché.
Unfortunately, this boxset marks the end of the comic strip source material, so it is possible that this might be it for the rebooted dynamic duo. Hopefully, Big Finish will do the smart thing and create some new stories for the pair from scratch. Hurry back, Steed and Peel – you’re needed.
THE AVENGERS: STEED AND PEEL – COMIC STRIP ADAPTATIONS VOLUME 2 / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / WRITERS: PAUL MORRIS, SIMON BARNARD, MATT FITTON, ROBERT KHAN, TOM SALINSKY, JOHN DORNEY / PRODUCER: DAVID RICHARDSON / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: JULIAN WADHAM, OLIVIA POULET, LIZZIE ROPER, MICHAEL KEANE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (BIG FINISH SITE), DECEMBER 31ST (ELSEWHERE)