Re-Watching The Avengers Part I

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

In the U.S., the Amazon Prime streaming service is showing the fourth season (the first Diana Rigg season) of The Avengers.

That was the season that Rigg (as Emma Peel) succeeded Honor Blackman (as Cathy Gale) on the series starring Patrick Macnee. The Avengers debuted in 1961, a year before Dr. No was released in the U.K.

Season Four had other changes. The Avengers had been a studio-bound, videotape series for its first three seasons. With the fourth season, the production was on film and there was some location shooting.

A few highlights from the early part of Season Four:

The Town of No Return: John Steed (Macnee) and his new partner, Emma Peel (Rigg) already are up to speed with no explanation about the departure of Cathy Gale.

The duo head to a small British town where agents keep disappearing. One of the villains is played by Robert Brown, who’d go on to play M in four James Bond films in the 1980s, including A View to a Kill, which included Macnee in the cast.

Macnee and Brown have a fight scene at one point. The hurried pace of the now-filmed production shows up at places. At one point, a boom microphone can be seen at the top of the screen.

Still, the episode demonstrates why The Avengers attracted a wide audience. There’s a mix of adventure, quirky characters, weird shots, and humor all within 50 (or so) minutes of screen time. The episode was written by Brian Clemens (1931-2015), who had the title of associate producer at the time. He’d be promoted to producer in the next season and would have that title in the 1970s revival The New Avengers.

The Gravediggers: Again, striking visuals, including an odd-looking funeral at the start of the episode. After an apparent burial, an antenna rises up from the grave. The cast includes future Bond film actor Steven Berkoff.

The episode includes a sequence where Rigg’s Emma Peel is tied to the tracks of a miniature railroad. Composer Laurie Johnson provides “Peril of Pauline” type music.

The Cybernauts: One of the show’s best-remembered stories where a robot is killing off industrialists. The episode would inspire a sequel in the next season as well as another sequel in The New Avengers revival.

The cast of the episode includes future Bond film actors Burt Kwouk and Bernard Horsefall. The villain is played by Michael Gough, who’d portray Alfred the Butler in four Batman movies from 1989 through 1997.

UPDATE: When I watched this episode on Jan. 12, it said Brian Clemens wrote it. But the IMDB.COM ENTRY says it was scripted by Philip Levene. When I tried to check it again on Amazon Prime, it says the video is unavailable. Levene was one of the best writers on The Avengers.

UPDATE II: The episode is back up on Amazon Prime. The writing credit says, “Teleplay by Brian Clemens.” That’s not what it says on IMDB. Readers reassure me it was written by Levene. (See comments below.) I don’t know what’s going on. I am a fan of the Levene-written episodes. He would get a story consultant credit in the final season of the show.


7 Responses

  1. The script for The Cybernauts was written by Philip Levene, who went on to script 18 further episodes. He is one of the unsung heroes of the show.

  2. I am going by the on-screen credits. I know Philip Levene was a major writer for the show.

  3. I just updated the post. On the afternoon of Jan. 13, The Cybernauts isn’t available on Amazon Prime. I intended to mention Levene in a future post.

  4. I tweaked the post to remove the reference to Brian Clemens. You are correct that Philip Levene was a major contributor to the show.

  5. I re-watched The Cybernauts yet again on Amazon Prime. The writing credit says, “Teleplay by Brian Clemens.” I’m a big Philp Levene fan. But I did not imagine it.

  6. I just watched the dvd from the original Emma Peel mega-set.. The credit line reads “Teleplay by Philip Levene.” I question if Amazon or whoever would go back and change the writer credit on a 58 year episode. Maybe there is revisionism floating about.

  7. The Avengers Season 4 (the last of the b&w seasons with series 5&6 both shot in colour) is epic! I recently burned thru this season and S5 on purchased dvd and bluray (s4 dvd, s5 bluray).
    I did find reasonable pricing on seasons 2&3 and S6 but not region free, so I am waiting till I get around to buying a region free bluray player before watching – S2&3 for first time – S6, like S4&5 I did see much of on regular TV but probably not everything.
    Season 2 set does include the few surviving episodes of S1. I did watch one of them on my desktop. S1 is very different than what would follow. It’s more about Ian Hendry’s lead doctor character it seems, with Steed more as secondary lead. S2, with Steed and Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale up front, seems to be a major rejig to address the coming spy craze launched by Bond.
    As an aside, many of the same Bond actors mentioned in Spy Command’s post, are also heavily featured in Roger Moore’s Saint series (1962-1969) –Blackman, Brown, Horsefall and Berkoff. Blackman appears in an S1 episode which also features future fellow Goldfinger Bond Girl Shirley Eaton. Eaton makes at least 3 appearances in Saint episodes, with her own non-dubbed voice, which is pleasant enough, but not as lush as the superb Niki Van Der Zyl (sp?) dub-job done in Goldfinger. Eunice Gayson makes 2 memorable Saint episodes as well. The Saint btw, all 6 seasons, is currently available free, in excellent quality on Tubi.I just burned thru it all, plus Ian Ogilvie’s Return of the Saint, which is free on YouTube, in watchable but not excellent quality.
    Looking forward to next Spy Command Avengers post!
    Me, I’m a big fan of Uncle, Avengers, Saint and all Bond inspired ’60s spy fare.

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