My ongoing mission: to watch classic television fifty years after first broadcast...
“Astronomy is my second love. After chimneys of course.”
1967 is a great year if, like me you’re a fan of classic tv. Already, Doctor Who is getting a new lease of life, plus Star Trek, The Baron, The Saint, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and tonight one of my personal favourites, The Avengers is back. Last series seemed like a huge leap from what had gone before, with it being shot on film and the debut of Diana Rigg. This year, perhaps an even bigger change: The Avengers is now “IN COLOR”! Not that anyone here in the UK would know of course – we can’t get colour television just yet (it’s coming by the end of the year apparently). Luckily I’ve been able to use an to and retrieve a colour version, and I can tell you The Avengers looks fantastic in colour!
But it’s not just the appearance that’s changed, the first thing we are presented with is a rather stylish new pre-title scene with some percussive music, as Steed and Mrs Peel enjoy a glass of champagne after Emma has shot the cork off with her gun. Then it’s the same title music as last series, but with new colour visuals.
Then a scene with an astronomer watching a somewhat unrealistic looking starscape, a strange noise, his drink froths over and ZAP! He’s dead on the floor with a new bleached look.
And still the new elements keep coming: the title From Venus With Love has a love heart for an ‘o’; there follows a jokey caption: “In which Steed is shot full of holes and Emma sees stars”! And then a funny little scene in which Emma is in her flat practising fencing and Steed arrives with an invitation card that reads “Mrs Peel, we’re needed” impaled on his umbrella. All the signs point to this being even more light hearted than last series, and a long way from the David Keel and Cathy Gale years.
So the chap who was bleached is supposed to look aged to death. it’s not fooling me though, just looks as though he’s had an accident with a packet of flour. Or a very severe case of dandruff. Later there’s another similar death and this one’s very well done as we see a man spin round in his swivel chair as he’s struck by the mystery ‘lightning’, his bleached look only visible as the chair spins round to face the camera again.
Plot-wise there is no massive change from last year though it’s one of the sillier episodes. It’s a sci-fi / fantasy type story, perhaps signifying the direction the series is going in now? But it’s only sic-fi on the surface; the resolution reveals a much more down-to-earth explanation.
They’re certainly making the most of the new colourful look: Steed looks like a cabaret performer or stage magician in his shiny metallic red suit. The colourful sets look great though.
I enjoyed the scene with the upper class chimney sweep (played by Jeremy Lloyd, creator of Are You Being Served? and ‘Allo ‘Allo, and once married to future Avengers girl Joanna Lumley). But shhhh, that’s in the future so I’m not supposed to talk about that…
The chimney sweep calls himself Bert Smith (real name: Bertrand Fortescue Winthrop-Smythe! You won’t find a more typical whacky Avengers character name than that!).
So these astronomers keep dying after observing Venus through telescope, and all end up bleached white. Whilst the bleaching effects don’t convince, the glowing ball of light that approaches the victims is very well done, especially when we see the one Emma is following move behind trees in the distance.
Another memorable scene has Steed visiting a batty optician played by Philip Locke, who we see crawling around on the floor searching for missing contact lenses. He then sits Steed in the eye test chair and instead of decreasing sized rows of letters, Steed is tested on rows of hats!
Later we are introduced to another new character, a classic Avengers barmy old eccentric. This one is a brigadier and he’s played by Jon Pertwee, who I know from such things as the Carry On… films and The Navy Lark on the wireless. The brigadier’s reliving past military glory by frantically running around starting up sound effects on gramophones, and narrating his battles reminds me of the railway enthusiast and his train ‘experience’ in an episode last series.
Steed gets a tape recording of the brigadier being zapped in the midst of his battle sound effects and is playing it in Mrs Peel’s flat just as she returns home. Her reflex dive to the floor as she hears artillery is very funny.
The weird sound, the ball of light, the lighting strikes…it’s all revealed to be a laser mounted on a car. Lasers are still very much sci-fi in 1967. Evidence for this being the fact that we are told that the sound we heard before the astronomers died was the sound of a laser!
Emma ends up getting captured and offered some unwanted laser eye surgery (yes, in 1967, I had no idea!) There’s a line about the laser going “through steel plate like butter”. That must be particularly sharp butter. I wonder if that was a fluffed line.
The episode ends with another new element: the other half of the “Mrs Peel, we’re needed” scene, a whimsical ‘tag,’ similar to the riding off into the sunset scenes from last year. But this is just a little light-hearted ending in Emma’s flat, rounding the episode off.
I really like Emma Peel, she is wonderful (both the leads are), but for all the talk of her being a strong, clever, sassy, judo kicking role model, she still ends up tied up and getting rescued by the man. But really, who cares, it’s all enormous fun and great to see The Avengers back.