The Avengers – The Complete Series 6 has arrived on UK Blu-ray. This was the final season of the original series of stories featuring John Steed. It begins with the departure of Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel, who hands over to Linda Thorson’s Tara King. Production difficulties meant these episodes were of varying quality, but when it gets it right we can view some of the best episodes of The Avengers EVER! The troubled beginning to this mega-season of 33 episodes, rescued by the return of producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell, followed Cathy-Gale-era producer John Bryce taking the helm for just three episodes.
Everything went wrong when series backers ABC Television in the UK wanted to see the series move away from the realms SF, fantasy and comedy which the Emma Peel seasons had brought forward. They wanted more serious and conventional crime stories, somehow thinking this would second-guess what would be wanted in the USA. Hence, John Bryce from the Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) era was brought back in. By the time that initial episodes were delivered to the company for consideration, ABC realised what a big mistake they had made.
The dynamic between the two leads was changed from mutual respect between Steed and Mrs Peel to Tara very much looking up to Steed, perhaps even alluding to something which could be considered a ‘father figure’ aspect. Many thought that Tara was played as not as independent as Emma early on, although this is very much annexed as a concept when the production regime changed back. Costumes throughout the entire run were positively schizophrenic, going through various approaches from feminine to Tom-Boy with the occasional hint of fancy dress, and back round again.
By the time Clemens and Fennell returned they had to pick through a pair of 90 minute episodes – “Invitation to a Killing” and “The Great Great Britain Crime” - as well as the more regular “Invasion of the Earthmen” to return the series style to what it had previously been. With time against them, they decided to ‘make do and mend’ with what they had inherited. All three featured Tara with a blonde-haired afro. This was one of the first things that got changed for future episodes.
“Invitation to a Killing” was heavily edited and had several new scenes filmed to become “Have Guns - Will Haggle” (complete with four villains escaping with 3,000 high velocity rifles in an ordinary Land Rover, and nothing strapped to the roof!).
“The Great Great Britain Crime” was also considerably altered, supplemented with some footage from Series 5 episodes, and some new scenes filmed to become “Homicide and Old Lace”. Beginning as new boss Mother tells a story to a pair of his crime-fiction-loving Aunties Harriet and Georgina on his birthday, the dour original material is reframed by the addition of silent-movie-style melodramatic music, as Steed and blonde-haired Tara thwart the crime of the Century being planned by a Spectre/Thrush-style organisation called Intercrime. Even the end theme music is The Avengers theme redone in silent-movie style!
“Invasion of the Earthmen” was slightly re-edited as well; we actually see Tara decide to put on a blonde wig in all three episodes so the earlier footage could be re-used and get them around the change of hair colour. Unfortunately, for those who want to know more about what was done and why, copies of the original versions of this trio of episodes do not exist.
This unusually long series of 33 episodes was divided into two separate runs for its original US broadcast - an initial seven episodes were added to the last eight Diana Rigg episodes for broadcast Stateside in early 1968. On original American broadcast, these episodes featured 'Shooting Gallery' opening/closing titles featuring Tara in a light brown jacket and matching short skirt, with gunshot sounds and graphics added as Steed and Tara are chased by an unseen assassin. The standard opening title sequence in a field with the suit of armour, and then playing card tricks at the end credits, were made for the second block of 26 episodes in the USA.
Seeing that just dropping Tara in from nowhere, and not explaining the absence of Emma was just not on, Messrs Clemens and Fennell set about righting that wrong. In “The Forget-Me-Knot” they explained who Tara was, why Mrs Peel was leaving the series, and that Tara was a new graduate from the academy run by Steed’s employers. Peter Peel, long thought missing in South America, returns, and is only seen from a distance by Steed through his window, turning up in a bowler hat and with a classy car to whisk Emma away at the end of the story. “The Forget-Me-Knot” retained the Emma Peel opening credits and the original Tara King end credit sequence, to give that feeling of the ‘changing of the guard’.
Mother (Patrick Newell) is also introduced in “The Forget-Me-Knot”, giving Steed, Emma and Tara a wheelchair-bound boss. An authority figure was something which had not been seen since the Honor Blackman era, but the likes of One-Ten, One-Six, One-Twelve, Charles and Quilpie were very conventional compared to Mother. He had a moving base of operations, and an Amazonian lady assistant, in Rhonda (Rhonda Parker), and was larger-than-life in every conceivable way.
The episode “Killer” is worth a second look at the potential for what might have been. Clemens and Fennell insist they weren’t necessarily keen to move on to another partner for Steed, having inherited Tara, should another season have been ordered in the USA (unlikely considering the mauling the series got when put up against the biggest Stateside show of the time, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In).
However, in the short-term, when Linda Thorson went on a planned holiday, so did Tara, meaning a stand-in was needed. They decided on the aristocracy, and an established agent who would once again be Steed’s equal, as Mrs Peel had been. Step forward Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney, played by Jennifer Croxton. Svelte, dynamic, a big wheel in intelligence (Far East operations) and well thought-of by Mother, she fought like a trooper, with a mixture of agility and martial arts. Her fashion style was classy with a colourful vogue, and a penchant for woollen items.
There is something of a ridiculous bias against the Tara King era amongst fans of a certain age. It’s almost a form of petulance where they cannot accept that Diana Rigg had wanted to move on, so had to be replaced. They forget that Diana only auditioned for her role as a ‘bit of a giggle’, so it was always going to be a time-limited tenure. So, rather than watch these episodes as a new era, and begrudgingly accepting that some of the best stories ever are in this run, they lament how much better they would have been with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in them. This is especially true in one of the extras within this set – a review by German commentator Oliver Kalkofe of his Top Five Tara King episodes. One can hope there are subtleties in what he says that are not picked up by whoever was doing the English subtitles, but what we are presented with only needs a cat’s whiskers and a saucer of milk added to complete the oafish chagrin.
They make the point that Tara is not such an accomplished agent as Emma, failing to take into account that it was established in “The Forget-Me-Knot” that she was fresh out of the academy, so would be learning a lot from Steed as their adventures rolled out in front of us. Rather than replace Mrs Peel like-for-like, this was a new dynamic opening up the storytelling possibilities. As time went on, Tara became every bit as action-packed as Emma, showing character progression – essential in all drama!
Linda Thorson very much nails the Tara King role, once there’s some continuity established and a consistent briefing from ‘upstairs’. It cannot have been easy with the change of production personnel to keep up with what was wanted from her, and it doesn’t help that the original UK screening order was all over the place compared to production order, which of course led to claims of character inconsistency rather than character progression.
All in all, forget what you have heard about this era, and make your own mind up by soaking up this Blu-ray set. On a plotline level alone, it’s a very rewarding viewing experience. The restoration quality is excellent, which enhances your overall enjoyment.
All 33 episodes are feature in this set. In the list below, we have numbered the episodes in original UK broadcast order, so you can see the huge differences compared to the order on this release, as well as some guest stars to look out for in each story:
Disc 1: “The Forget-Me-Knot” (01 - Alan Lake), “Invasion of the Earthmen” (16 – William Lucas, Warren Clarke, Lucy Fleming), “The Curious Case of the Countless Clues” (19 – Kenneth Cope, Tony Selby, Peter Jones, Anthony Bate, George A Cooper, Edward de Souza).
Disc 2: “Split!” (05 – Nigel Davenport, Julian Glover, Christopher Benjamin), “Get-A-Way!” (32 – Peter Bowles, Andrew Keir, Michael Culver), “Have Guns-Will Haggle” (12 – Johnny Sekka, Nicola Pagett, Robert Gillespie), “Look (Stop Me If You”ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…” (11 – John Cleese, Jimmy Jewel, Bernard Cribbins, John Woodvine, Talfryn Thomas).
Disc 3: “My Wildest Dream” (28 – Peter Vaughan, Philip Madoc, Edward Fox, John Savident), “Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?” (06 – Dennis Price, Clifford Evans, Judy Parfitt, Frank Windsor, Anthony Nicholls, Valerie Leon), “You’ll Catch Your Death” (04 – Michael Culver, Valentine Dyall, Fulton Mackay, Dudley Sutton, Charles Lloyd-Pack), “All Done with Mirrors” (08 – Dinsdale Lansden).
Disc 4: “Super-Secret Cypher Snatch” (03 – Simon Oates, Allan Cuthbertson, Ivor Dean, Nicholas Smith, David Quilter, Clifford Earl), “Game” (02 – Garfield Morgan), “False Witness” (07 – John Bennett, Tony Steedman), “Noon-Doomsday” (10 – TP McKenna, Ray Brooks, Anthony Ainley, Peter Halliday).
Disc 5: “Legacy of Death” (09 – Stratford Johns, Ronald Lacey, Richard Hurndall), “They Keep Killing Steed” (13 – Ian Ogilvy, Ray McAnally, Norman Jones, Bernard Horsfall), “Wish You Were Here” (20 – Robert Urquhart, Louise Pajo, Dudley Foster, Liam Redmond), “Killer” (17 – Jennifer Croxton, Richard Wattis, Grant Taylor, William Franklyn, Harry Towb, Anthony Valentine, James Bree).
Disc 6: “The Rotters” (15 – Gerald Sim, John Stone, John Nettleton, Jerome Willis, Eric Barker), “The Interrogators” (14 – Christopher Lee, Glynn Edwards), “The Morning After” (18 – Peter Barkworth, Joss Ackland, Brian Blessed, Penelope Horner).
Disc 7: “Love All” (21 – Terence Alexander, Patsy Rowlands, Veronica Strong), “Take Me to Your Leader” (23 – Penelope Keith, John Ronane, Michael Robbins, Patrick Barr), “Stay Tuned” (22 – Kate O’Mara, Roger Delgado, Gary Bond), “Fog” (24 – Paul Whitsun-Jones, Patsy Smart, Nigel Green, Guy Rolfe).
Disc 8: “Who Was That Man I Saw You With?” (25 – Bryan Marshall, Alan Browning, William Marlowe), “Pandora” (31 – Julian Glover, John Laurie, Peter Madden), “Thingumajig” (27 – Iain Cuthbertson, Willoughby Goddard), “Homicide and Old Lace” (26 – Gerald Harper, Bryan Mosley, Joyce Carey, Donald Pickering).
Disc 9: “Requiem” (29 – Angela Douglas, John Paul, John Cairney), “Take-Over” (30 – Tom Adams, Garfield Morgan, Elizabeth Sellars, Hilary Pritchard, Michael Gwynn) and “Bizarre” (33 – Roy Kinnear, Fulton Mackay).
Special features include the following on this Blu-ray release:
The Avengers – The Complete Series 6 is out now in the UK on a nine-disc Blu-ray set from Studiocanal at a RRP of £79.99.