Blu-ray review: “The Avengers: The Emma Peel Collection” (1965 – 1967) 

“The Avengers: The Emma Peel Collection” (1965 – 1967) 

Television Thriller 

Fifty Episodes

Created by: Sydney Newman

Featuring: Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg

John Steed: “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.”

Released recently on Blu-ray on the Imprint label is “The Avengers: The Emma Peel Collection” (1965 – 1967) two seasons concentrating on the Emma Peel’s character within the series. One of the reasons that these have been released as just series four and five is that most of series one and two have been lost and series four have only been released on DVD, the quality is quite low.

“The Avengers” focuses on extraordinary crimes against the people and the state have to be avenged by agents extraordinary. Two such people are John Steed, top professional, and his partner, Emma Peel, talented amateur. Otherwise known as The Avengers. With lethal bowler hat and umbrella, killer fashion and kung fu, the secret agents investigate bizarre and colourful adventures with nonchalant efficiency, sophistication and charm.

Whilst every era of the long-running, enduringly popular and trend-setting British series has its own unique style, charm and wit, it is the Emma Peel years that have become the programme’s most iconic and recognisable, with Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Mrs. Emma Peel ushering in a new era of excitement, fashion and iconology, coupled with Patrick Macnee’s continuing depiction of the urbane and sublime John Steed.

Of course when “The Avengers” was released in the 1960s it must have been seen as televisions answer to “James Bond” however it actually was broadcast before “Dr. No” (1962) so now seems even cooler if that is possible. Up to the fourth season the series was in black and white which again now on reflection for me makes it look utterly cool. This fifth season was the series’ first foray into color, announced in a pre-credits title card for what was then in the United States the new standard for television series. This season also marked the show’s foray into a somewhat cheekier style that included more frankly whimsical elements than had been featured in earlier seasons, and perhaps not so coincidentally, this season was an unqualified success, raising the pop cultural profiles of natty agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his “talented amateur” sidekick, the extremely elegant Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), to new heights. 

There have been endless reissues of the series on VHS, then DVD and now Blu-ray which effectively illustrates how timeless “The Avengers” is. Of course with so much distance between the original series and now, as well as having all the principle actors now dead, there is a tendency for the series to be viewed with rose coloured glasses. This being essentially a spy show it is of little surprise that on the “The Avengers” they were portrayed as more campy and away from what realism there was.

Like many television shows of the time, and the successful ones, the series had a mostly strict format that it followed, Mrs. Peel would receive an “invitation” of sorts from Steed, informing her that the pair is needed. Usually the cases are patently outlandish, featuring a lot of gimmicky quasi-science fiction or fantasy elements. Typically Steed and Mrs. Peel go their separate ways on separate tracks in their investigation, something that just as typically temporarily puts Emma in danger, so that Steed can burst in at the last minute to save her.

Of course the fun in the show are the two main characters Steed and Mrs. Peel who have great chemistry, it is no wonder they are still known all these decades later. Macnee’s elegantly patrician but still accessible demeanor makes Steed the very model of a modern undercover agent, and Rigg’s ineffable glamour and poise, not to mention her occasional martial arts moves, make Emma a force to be reckoned with. The fashions of the show of course became one of its true calling cards, and Steed’s natty suits and bowler hats, and Emma’s succession of form fitting pantsuits create a very mod ambience for the show that places it securely in the Flower Power era.

Technical Commentary

Video

“The Avengers” is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.34:1. It’s important to remember there are black pillar boxes on all episodes and that this single camera series never really exploited a lot of fancy camera moves or even over the top action that might require more bandwidth. From a color perspective, this release is fantastically vivid most of the time, with deeply saturated hues that are for the most part very accurate and lifelike looking. There are a couple of exceptions, with one or two episodes looking slightly yellow when compared to the rest, but for the most part, it’s probably the color that will most impress longtime fans of the series. Clarity and sharpness are very good, but detail is somewhat mitigated perhaps due in part to bitrates, but probably at least as much due to apparent high frequency filtering that has smoothed the image out. There is grain in this presentation, but it’s rather light and not especially organic looking. Coupled with this issue are occasional signs of digital sharpening which can add slight but observable halos to objects.

Audio

“The Avengers” a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on all episodes, certainly a letdown for those who would have preferred not only lossless audio, but a rendering of the series’ original mono soundtrack.  

Special Features

  • 1080p high-definition presentation from the original 35mm elements
  • Collectable double-sided Hardbox packaging LIMITED to 1500 copies
  • 120-page booklet featuring essay by Dick Fiddy of the British Film Institute and Story Information for every episode taken from the original studio files
  • Original ‘as broadcast’ mono audio tracks (LPCM)
  • Original ‘as broadcast’ “The Avengers in Color” opening slate on Series 5 episodes
  • Audio Commentaries
  • Filmed introductions to eight Series 5 episodes by producer / writer Brian Clemens
  • Filmed introduction to “The ₤50,000 Breakfast” by guest actress Anneke Wills
  • Brief audio recollection from guest actor Francis Matthews on filming “The Thirteenth Hole”
  • “THE AVENGERS AT 50” – Footage captured from the 50th anniversary celebration of the series, held at Chichester University in 2011. Includes: video message from Patrick Macnee, interviews with producer / writer Brian Clemens, director Don Leaver (never before released), director Gerry O’Hara (never before released), stunt co-ordinator Raymond Austin, guest actress Carol Cleveland, guest actress Anneke Wills, writer Roger Marshall, and Patrick Macnee’s biographer Marie Cameron
  • “Dame Diana Rigg at the BFI” – 2015 on-stage interview and Q&A held at the British Film Institute in London to celebrate 50 years of Emma Peel
  • “The Series Of No Return” – audio interview with actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who was originally cast as Emma Peel
  • Granada Plus Points featuring actor Patrick Macnee, composer Laurie Johnson, writer Roger Marshall and stunt-double Cyd Child
  • Bonus Series 6 episode “The Forget-Me-Knot” – Emma Peel’s final story and the introduction of Tara King
  • “K Is For Kill” – excerpt from The New Avengers episode featuring appearances by Emma Peel

ARCHIVAL MATERIAL

  • Armchair Theatre episode “The Hothouse” starring Diana Rigg (the performance that led to Rigg’s casting as Emma Peel in The Avengers
  • Chessboard Opening Title sequence used on US broadcasts for Series 4
  • German and French title sequences
  • Series 4 UK Commercial Break Bumper slates
  • Alternative titles / credits / end tag of select Series 4 episodes
  • Series 4 Commercial Break Bumpers
  • Production trims from select Series 5 episodes
  • “The Strange Case Of The Missing Corpse” – Series 5 teaser film
  • German television interview with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg by Joachim Fuchsberger
  • Colourisation test footage for “Death At Bargain Prices” and “A Touch Of Brimstone”
  • Reconstructed John Stamp Series 4 trailer
  • “They’re Back” Trailers, Series 5 Trailer and Series 5 German Cinema Trailer
  • Extensive Photo Galleries from the studio archives
  • 1973 Interview with Diana Rigg discussing her US sitcom Diana, and leaving The Avengers

BONUS DISC 1: ADDITIONAL SPECIAL FEATURES

  • More interviews from “THE AVENGERS AT 50” including composer Laurie Johnson, writer and guest actor Jeremy Burnham, stunt-double Cyd Child, and a screenwriters’ panel discussion featuring Brian Clemens, Richard Harris, Richard Bates and Terrance Dicks
  • “Brian Clemens In Conversation” – on-stage interview at the British Film Institute in London discussing his early writing career
  • Diana Rigg German Super8 films: “Das Diadem”, “Minikillers”, “Der Goldene Schlüssell”
  • Extensive Photo Gallery from The Avengers Fashion Show
  • Diana Rigg Photo Gallery

BONUS DISC 2: THE ORIGINAL EPISODES FILE

  • Featuring the 4 original episodes from the Cathy Gale era of the series which were remade in Series 5: “Death Of A Great Dane”, “Don’t Look Behind You”, “Dressed To Kill” and “The Charmers” (Standard Definition)
  • Audio Commentary by writer Roger Marshall on “Death Of A Great Dane”
  • Audio Commentary by actress Honor Blackman and UK presenter Paul O’Grady on “Don’t Look Behind You”
  • Filmed introduction by Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman to “Don’t Look Behind You”
  • “Tunnel Of Fear” – a full-length, previously lost episode from Series 1, recovered in 2016
  • “THE AVENGERS AT 50” – interview with Honor Blackman by Paul O’Grady

Episodes

Season Four

The Town of No Return: Steed and Emma visit a mysterious coastal town where several agents have vanished, and where the locals are not all they seem.

The Gravediggers: Steed and Mrs Peel must find out why an early warning radar is failing. Emma joins the staff of The Sir Horace Winslip Hospital for Ailing Railwaymen – while Steed has lunch with Sir Horace himself aboard his private, indoor train.

The Cybernauts: The Avengers investigate a series of murders of Corporate men, who have all been bidding on a new circuit element. Each one of them seems to have been killed by a powerful Karate blow, so Mrs. Peel visits a Karate Dojo, Steed’s inquiries lead him to United Automation, where ex-Ministry scientist Dr. Armstrong is working on an electronic brain, not to mention cybernetic men.

Death at Bargain Prices: When a colleague is found dead in a large London department store Steed and Mrs. Peel go undercover as staff members, exposing a dastardly plot by the wheelchair-bound Horatio Kane to devastate the capital with a huge bomb housed within the store.

Castle De’ath: When an agent in diving gear is found dead in a Scottish loch yet substantially taller than he was whilst he was alive Steed and Mrs. Peel visit a remote castle owned by the feuding De’ath cousins, Ian and Angus, to investigate the sinister goings-on.

The Master Minds: Government minister Sir Clive Todd is wounded as he and other ministers try to steal top secret documents. He has no idea why he did it and hypnosis is suggested. All concerned belonged to a club for people with high I.Q.s called RANSACK, who are about to meet at a school. The Avengers join the club in order to expose the mastermind behind the next heist – the theft of a plane from an R.A.F. base.

The Murder Market: Steed and Mrs. Peel investigate a murder-for-hire organization fronting as a matchmaking bureau.

A Surfeit of H2O: After a village poacher drowns in the middle of an open field, The Avengers are soon on the trail of a mad scientist able to control the weather.

The Hour That Never Was: On their way to a closing down party at an air base the Avengers’ car crashes when they swerve to avoid hitting a dog. The air base proves to be deserted and Steed is knocked out. When he recovers he is back at the car but minus Mrs. Peel and the party, when he gets there, is in full swing. It would seem that he has gone back an hour in time.

Dial a Deadly Number: Company chairmen across the city are dropping dead, apparently through natural causes. Can Steed and Mrs Peel discover who is making a killing?

Man-Eater of Surrey Green: A man-eating plant from outer space lands in Middle England and takes several top horticulturists as its prisoners in an effort to germinate the Earth. Fortunately for the Earth, Steed just happens to be a herbicidal maniac.

Two’s a Crowd: A mysterious Russian called Psev is arriving for a conference at which Steed and Mrs. Peel have been hired to act as the security guards. However, a man called Gordon Webster who is an exact double for Steed turns up and offers his services to Psev’s entourage of four people, fooling Mrs. Peel in the process and agreeing to kill Steed. Though he is thwarted it turns out that Psev is also not exactly the man that everybody had expected him to be.

Too Many Christmas Trees: Steed has been having bad dreams involving Christmas trees and a man dressed as Santa Claus. At a party given by publisher and Dickens fan Brandon Storey, two telepathic spies attempt to read Steed’s mind and make sense of the dream. However, the dream is echoed exactly by the events of the party, enabling Steed to spot the villains in advance and identify the dangerous Santa.

Silent Dust: When birds begin to fall from branches in flocks, it seems someone is using the banned chemical Silent Dust in the countryside of Cornwall. Steed and Mrs Peel soon find out a that a small group of local landowners is planning to use the deadly dust to blackmail the country by destroying Dorset.

Room Without a View: A missing scientist returns after having disappeared. He’s half-mad and attacks his Asian wife. Steed and Peel find out that seven other scientists have also disappeared – none having returned – but all have one thing in common; they were all booked at the Chessman hotel when they vanished.

Small Game for Big Hunters: A man dressed in Safari clothes is found in Hertfortshire with an arrow in his back, and falls into a coma-like state. All clues lead to a delusional Colonel living nearby. Whilst Emma watches over an increasing number of comatose men, Steed’s invited into the Colonel’s officers club.

The Girl from Auntie: When Steed returns home early from a holiday, he finds Mrs. Peel replaced by an actress, Georgie Price-Jones. Subsequently everyone involved in the hiring of Georgie is stabbed to death with double-O knitting needles. It seems the real Mrs. Peel has become Lot 17 of ‘Art Incorporated’, an organization which prides itself on being able to obtain any object for any one as long as the price is right.

The Thirteenth Hole: Steed and Mrs. Peel join an exclusive golf club to catch a government scientist passing secrets to the Iron Curtain.

Quick-Quick Slow Death: When a foreign agent is caught trying to dispose of a body, the investigation leads Steed and Mrs. Peel to a dancing school that’s infiltrating the country with enemy spies.

The Danger Makers: Someone’s organising a group of danger-craving psychopaths. Steed and Mrs. Peel must stop them before their next caper; stealing the crown jewels.

A Touch of Brimstone: A modern day Hellfire Club, led by libertine John Cleverly Cartney, plans to incite chaos by killing three foreign Prime Ministers.

What the Butler Saw: Steed enrolls in a butlering school to investigate a leak in government secrets, whilst Emma attempts to seduce one of the 3 main suspects; an RAF playboy known to the ladies as Georgie-porgie.

The House That Jack Built: Mrs. Peel is bequeathed an old house by an uncle Jack, whom she never knew existed. In the event, he did not exist. The house is a former lunatic asylum and it is all a ruse by a vengeful ex-employee of Mrs. Peel’s to submit her to mind games which will drive her insane.

A Sense of History: Economist James Broom is shot with an arrow by one of a group dressed as Robin Hood whilst on his way to meet a man opposed to his Utopian vision of a new Europe. The trail leads the Avengers to St. Bode’s College, where anarchic students oppose traditional schools of thought. Could one of these have killed Broom? All is revealed at a fancy dress party where everyone is a character from the Robin Hood legend.

How to Succeed …. At Murder: Eleven businessmen and counting have been mysteriously murdered, their affairs taken over by their able secretaries. The smell of perfume lingering over one of the dead bodies leads Mrs Peel to J.J. Hooter, who quickly becomes the next man to die. With secretaries as their only clue, Steed decides to hire one, and Emma to take up the profession.

Honey for the Prince: Two undercover agents are shot at Q.Q.F. Incorporated but one survives long enough to clue in Steed and Peel. So, Steed visits the Quite Quite Fantastic office (where fantasies are made to come true) while Emma looks into B. Bumble’s honey shop. They soon surmise that someone is aiming for Prince Ali of Barabia, who is visiting London with his harem of 320 wives.

Season Five

From Venus with Love: The members of a society that watches Venus are dying one by one from something that turns them completely white, so Steed joins them to flush out the culprit while Peel chases a light that seems related to the killings.

The Fear Merchants: The executives of several ceramics companies are being driven crazy or killed by fear. The trail leads to a consulting company with some unusual techniques for helping their clients beat their competition.

Escape in Time: When a mad miscreant whips up a time machine, it takes The Avengers no time at all to show him the “era” of his ways.

The See-Through Man: When an enemy agent purchases an invisiblity formula, the Avengers must find out if the formula’s genuine,, and if not, how’s the apparent invisibility being staged.

The Bird Who Knew Too Much: Two spies have obtained information about a secret missile base which they are passing to the other side, via a person known as Captain Caruso, whom the Avengers are charged to locate. In the event the good Captain turns out to be a trained parrot who possesses a photographic memory . . .

The Winged Avenger: Several businessmen have been killed, the murderer having apparently clawed them to death so that the initial suspect is an author who owns a bird of prey and had a grudge against a victim who ran a publishing house. However, the discovery of a comic called ‘The Winged Avenger’ featuring a super-hero is found by the latest victim. And could the invention of Professor Poole, boots that allow the wearer to climb walls and scale ceilings, be involved?

The Living Dead: Five years after a mine disaster, Mrs. Peel and Steed are called upon to investigate the spooky goings-on at the local inn. The ghost of the 15th Duke of Benedict, who was reputedly lost in the mine disaster, has been seen wandering the area and Emma joins SMOG and FOG in a ghost hunt. The Duke’s ghost supposedly takes Emma with him to his final resting place in the collapsed mine, but Steed descends into the shaft to rescue her. He finds a secret underground city that is being used to stage an invasion of England; the mine disaster was just a cover-up for the plan. …

The Hidden Tiger: What seems to be a man eating tiger on the loose is actually the first step in a plan to take over the whole of England.

The Correct Way to Kill: Somebody is systematically killing off foreign agents and Steed, who is initially implicated, declares a truce and calls on his Russian opposite number, Nutski. Along with Soviet agents Anna and Ivan the Avengers discover SNOB, an exceedingly English gentlemen’s club with murderously patriotic members.

Never, Never Say Die: The Avengers “are needed” after reports that a motorist has repeatedly run over and supposedly killed the same person. Their investigations lead them to the country and the top secret Neoteric Research Unit, which is run by the appropriately-named Dr. Frank N. Stone, who has made a startlingly life-like robot of himself, so much so that Steed finds it hard to tell the two Stones apart.

Epic: Z.Z. von Schnerk, a mad Teutonic film director of the Erich von Stroheim variety, along with his has-been leading actor and actress, Stewart Kirby and Damita Syn, capture Mrs. Peel in an effort to make a movie about her life and exciting adventures. Unfortunately it is to end with her violent death so Steed has to follow the clues to find her.

The Superlative Seven: Steed is invited to a party on an aeroplane with six other people who include a matador, a cowboy and a circus strong man. As the pilotless , remote-controlled craft takes off, a voice announces that they are bound for a desert island where one of them will be revealed as a super-killer. Mrs. Peel has to work out how to get to her partner as the bodies start to pile up.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station: Whilst travelling on an express train on a quest to find a missing agent, Steed and Mrs. Peel get caught up in an assassination attempt on the life of the British Prime Minister on the part of a disgruntled and murderous ticket collector. They are helped in their efforts to foil him by Mr. Crewe, an eccentric owner of an abandoned station.

Something Nasty in the Nursery: Reliable men are reverting to childhood, and blabbing all of their secrets to kindly old “Nanny Roberts.”

The Joker: Mrs. Peel is invited to a bridge party at a house on Exmoor but when she arrives she discovers that she has been lured there by a man known as ‘The joker’. She had once helped to put him in prison, but he has now escaped and with his two crazy accomplices, subjects Mrs. Peel to a series of lethal tricks and traps as Steed arrives to help her.

Who’s Who???: Mad scientist Dr. Krelmar is working on a machine that allows two people to swap minds and enemy agents Basil and Lola intend to use it with the Avengers to get them to destroy their network. Basil exchanges personalities with Steed but Mrs. Peel is suspicious that the man who looks like her partner is acting out of character and has to persuade the real Steed what is going on.

Return of the Cybernauts: Paul Beresford, the brother of Clement Armstrong, the creator of the Cybernauts, blames Steed and Mrs. Peel for his brother’s death at the cold hands of his own creations. Aided by Armstrong’s assistant Benson, he abducts several scientists who are blackmailed into producing a new batch of Cybernauts. Whilst he is the perfect gentleman towards Mrs. Peel, his aim is to turn her and Steed into human robots.

Death’s Door: Sir Andrew Boyd, the British delegate at a European peace conference has a dream in which he is run over and killed by a car. The dream comes true. The Avengers are charged with the safety of his successor, Lord Melford. He too is beginning to have bad dreams, involving a sinister man who turns out to be a member of the Eastern bloc. There is a plot afoot to derail the conference and Steed and Mrs. Peel intend to foil it.

The £50,000 Breakfast: The Avengers go to the dogs as their only lead when $50,000 of stolen diamonds is found in a dead man’s stomach. Mismatched Borzoi hairs lead Steed and Emma to a pet cemetery where they take the bite out of the villain’s bark.

Dead Man’s Treasure: The hunt for a murdered courier’s despatch leads Steed and Emma to a deadly car race with a “shocking” surprise at the finish line. It takes The Avengers to flag down the murderers and apply the brakes to their plans.

You Have Just Been Murdered: Steed and Mrs. Peel stop a clever blackmailing scheme targeting millionaires.

The Positive Negative Man: A scientist is killed by having been hurled through and embedded in a wall. This is the latest death of a person engaged in the government’s Project 90, whose documents can also not be found. When the Avengers investigate they discover a bizarre means of murder whereby the killer can carry an electrical charge to the victim without being electrocuted themselves.

Murdersville: When Mrs. Peel’s friend Major Croft goes missing she traces him to the picture postcard village of Little Storping. Unfortunately the entire population are assassins for hire who lure their victims to the village, kill them and then claim that they have never been there. Croft has been killed, along with his valet to prevent them from exposing the sinister secret and Mrs. Peel is next on the hit list unless Steed can save her. Fortunately, she manages to put in a phone call to her ‘husband.’

Mission… Highly Improbable: A car carrying two Ministry officials, enroute to investigate the budget overruns on Professor Rushton’s latest project, vanishes under escort. Steed goes to investigate, and discovers the hard way where the money has gone; to build a device capable of shrinking anything to a fraction of its normal size. While Rushton has great science- and industry-oriented plans for the device, his assistant Chivers has plans of his own… to make a profit, and dispose of anyone in his way. Steed, inches tall, manages to telephone Emma with a warning, but she is captured by a …

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