Tag: #NotMarvelheroes

DVD Review: The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset

Three seasons of the Avengers passed prior to Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) becoming John Steed’s (Patrick Macnee) partner in fighting crime and espionage. After she left the series, it carried on with a new assistant for Steed for another thirty-two episodes. Yet to many fans, if they think of the Avengers as anything other than Marvel Comics’ superhero team, they think of Steed and Peel. The Avengers was that rare British TV show that came to America and became a success in prime time television.

Steed worked for British Intelligence. Emma Peel was the latest civilian drawn into Steed’s orbit. She had inherited wealth, but also had a keen scientific mind, along with amazing martial arts skills.  

This DVD release collects all 52 episodes comprising the Black and White Season 4, the color Seasons 5 and Season 6, and her departure story in the first episode of Season 7. 

The series had them dealing with a wide variety of different threats, including some that were science fiction. The series was always stylish. Steed’s Bowler hat and umbrella and luxury cars mixed with Diana Riggs iconic style made for a compelling combination. The opening to the color episodes could easily be repurposed as a high-end champagne ad.  

The Avengers had a tongue in cheek feel that  grew as the Emma Peel went on. The fourth Season may be the best from a dramatic standpoint. The episodes were often tongue in cheek, but more grounded than some of the color episodes. When the series went to color, there seems to have been a thought that there wasn’t much to it, if the plots weren’t going to be as outlandish as possible. The plots ranged from elaborate revenge plots to towns populated by assassins, dance schools that were training killers, cyborg killing machines, body swapping, mind control, shrinking technology, underground cities, and even killer Christmas Trees. One episode paid homage to the iconic 1960s Batman show by having Mrs. Peel holding up Comic Book action words like, “Pow!” To be fair, this makes slightly more sense in context of the episode but not a whole lot more.

McNee was great as a leading man, providing great humor, but Riggs is ultimately what made the Avengers work so well. Mrs. Peel was a fun character with a lot of facets as a scientist, heiress, and fighter. Riggs’ acting ability is absolutely superb. She’s able to play both the serious and the playful aspects of the show. The strength of how good she can be is seen in an episode like, “The House that Jack Built” where Steed is mostly absent and Peel is trapped in a house meant to destroy her. She walks about the house in silence and sells the eeriness of the situation.

The set lacks a lot of bonus features, but it’s priced reasonably on Amazon at around $20 for more than fifty episodes. The episodes are a mixed lot. Some black and white episodes are bit dull, and more than a few color episodes that are a bit too silly or over the top. But those are matters of taste. At the end of the day, The Avengers is an iconic classic.

Recently Diana Rigg passed away after a long career that included appearing in a James Bond film as well as working on more modern hit TV shows like Victoria and Game of Thrones. If you want to see how she rose in stardom and why after such a long career, this is the role many remember her best for, this is a must-purchase. It’s also essential if you’re a fan of 1960s spy and adventure shows.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 03: Steed & Tara King

Big Finish has released two prior sets of Comic Strip adaptations based on the 1960s Avengers TV show featuring John Steed and Emma Peel. This set features adaptions of comics strips featuring Steed (Julian Wadham) and Peel’s successor Tara King (Emily Woodward) There are four episodes on the set and here’s a run-down on each:

In It’s a Wild, Wild, Wild West: There have been several Old West style stick-ups and Steed and Tara King suspect an American-style Dude ranch opened in England and all is not what you expect. This is a well-acted story and the writing and acting is good enough to make a fairly absurd plot entertaining.

Under the Weather is not as humorous as other episodes. Steed and Tara race to save England from sinister forces that have seized control of the weather. This one has more mystery to it than many other episodes, while still having a far out concept that fits the Avengers of the later seasons.

Spycraft feels more like the Lost Episodes from Season 1 of the Avengers rather than comic strip adaptations as Steed and King are charged with guarding an important leader of an emerging African democracy. While working undercover, they stumble into agents of his own country’s government that are also working undercover.

The story has slow moments but does get going once they team up . Overall, this is a solid story with some of the most fun moments in the set.

…Now You Don’t is a standard “evil hypnotist” story where Tara is hypnotized to kill Mother. Decently executed, and well acted, but the villain is undone because he doesn’t understand the basic rules of hypnotism. Also Dorney’s decision to adapt this story and to then adapt the one that came before it featuring Emma Peel in the next box set is a little baffling and feels like just making things complicated for the sake of it.

Overall, this was a decent box set, without any bad stories, but it’s not as enjoyable as the Emma Peel box sets or the “Lost Episodes” productions Big Finish did. This felt like it took a middle ground approach between the strait-laced drama of the Lost Episodes and the wacky situations of the comic strip adaptations and wasn’t as satisfying as either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: Too Many Targets

“Too Many Targets” in an adaptation of the Avengers novel of the same title. It brings together all the lead characters from the six seasons of the British classic TV series The Avengers in one giant case. It begins with Steed (Julia Wadham) being advised Mother (Christopher Benjamin) has gone over and become a double agent. At the same time, Mother is telling Tara King (Emily Woodward) the same thing about Steed.

The story is a lot of fun and does a good job giving each and every member of the Avengers something to do and their own individual entrance into the story. Eventually, they’re drawn into groups before coming together. The casting in this great particularly for roles not heard in Big Finish’s audio adaptations with the roles of Mother, Tara King, and Cathy Gale (Beth Chalmers). These characters were well-realized and fully brought to life, so  they each contributed to the story.

The biggest challenge with this release is the final quarter. There, so much of the story is spent explaining a convoluted and confusing plan. The villains are defeated in an odd way that’s a bit of a letdown.

Still, story problems aside, the release is a nice romp for fans of the Avengers with quite a few Easter eggs. It makes me want to hear more of these characters.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

My Big Finish 20, Part One

My Big Finish Twenty

September is the 20th Anniversary of Big Finish productions turning out audio dramas and this month we’re celebrating with a series of articles looking at twenty great releases from Big Finish.

I should say that this is NOT a “Top 20 Big Finish” releases article, since I’ve not listened to every single Big Finish release. Some are only available on CD and shipping rates from the UK can be prohibitive. Some are for series that I’ve never gotten into like Blake’s 7 or Dark Shadows. Others I’d like to listen to someday but haven’t gotten around to. In addition, Big Finish has lost the license for some other properties such as Sapphire and Steel.

It’s also not my top twenty favorite releases. That would be heavily skewed towards Sci-Fi and certain Doctor Who actors. Rather this is a list of twenty great Big Finish releases. There’s still a lot of Science Fiction and Doctor Who on the list, but my aim is to cover a bit of the breadth of Big Finish’s catalog and offerings. I do have these in an order of quality. Comparing vintage mystery show revivals to madcap Science Fiction is a bit of a challenge, but we try.

20) Hound of the Baskervilles:

There have been many adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but this may be my favorite. Director/Star Nicholas Briggs and writer Richard Dinnick decided to do an absolutely faithful adaptation, which is impressive as most writers can’t seem to resist to tinkering with one of the greatest mystery novels of all time. What we get is the richness of the story, along with super but not intrusive sound effects. The cast is superb and professional, Briggs is a solid Holmes, and Richard Earl does a great job bringing Watson to life. One of the most remarkable facts about this is that the entire recording was done in a single day. It’s a must-listen-to for Holmes fans.

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19) Light at the End:

For the Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who, on television, the Tenth and Eleventh known regenerations of the Doctor joined forces with the previously unknown War Doctor (played by John Hurt.) Yet, that left a lot of Doctors out. One of the key premises of Doctor Who is that when his life is in mortal jeopardy, the Doctor can regenerate into another human form.

Light at the End is the Anniversary special for all the other Doctors (save Christopher Eccleston, who took part in neither.) The five living Doctors from before the revived series (Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann) star along with one of their companions, with three now-deceased Doctors played by appropriate substitutes but only making brief appearances as they battle their long-time foe, The Master.

The most surprising thing about this story is that despite all these characters, the story is coherent. Writer Nicholas Briggs (who didn’t want to do a multi-Doctor story) wrote a script that managed to keep everything in balance and give each Doctor something to do, and give the script a coherent plot. Light at the End is a superb celebration of fifty years for the Doctor Who Series that still manages to hold up as a well-written, beautifully scored and directed production.

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18) Doctor Who:The Lost Stories The First Doctor Box Set

This was from Big Finish’s range of “Lost Stories,” which were adaptations of Doctor Who scripts that were written or proposed but never made for a variety of reasons. While the initial series focused on Colin Banker’s canceled second season as the Doctor, this expanded to the rest of the classic Doctors.

The First Doctor Box Set focused on two scripts written for William Hartnell’s First Doctor by Turkish writer Moris Farhi in 1964. During Hartnell’s time on Doctor Who, the series was split half between Science Fiction stories and historicals. The bulk of the box set is taken up by the story, Farewell Great Macedon, an epic script that puts the Doctor and his companions into the thick of events as they meet Alexander the Great just before his death.

Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell return as the companions Susan and Ian and voice the roles of their departed co-stars and provide narration in a brilliantly written story that manages to capture the feel of Early Doctor Who as well as pulling readers into the midst of this key time in history.

The second story, “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is good but a bit high-concept and it’s hard to see how it ever would have worked on television. At less than an hour long, it doesn’t have time to be fully developed. Still, if the second story is largely forgettable, the first story makes this box set well worth listening to.

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17)The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3

When Americans think of the British TV series, The Avengers, they think of Emma Peel and John Steed bringing their larger-than-life adventures to America. They aired over the ABC TV network in Prime Time. Yet, before the Avengers came to America, there were three seasons of the series shot in the U.K. The first season of the series from 1961 was almost completely lost with only three episodes and part of another surviving.

Big Finish brought all 26 episodes of the first season to life in their Avengers: The Lost Episodes series which starred Julian Wadham as John Steed and Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel, a general practitioner who joined Steed on missions after his fiancee is murdered by a gangster in the first episode.

The Lost Episodes are a much more straightforward 1960s crime drama, although later episodes do get into espionage. Big Finish does a great job creating the feel of the 1960s through sound effect, music, and the type of performances given, and several of these lost episodes show the first season of Avengers was good even in its early days.

For me, Series 3 is the best set of the series. Click here my full review of Series 3.

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16) How to Win Planets and Influence People

Not only can the Doctor regenerate, but so can his foes from his own race. Big Finish has added some new regenerations for some of the Doctor’s Time Lord enemies. Big Finish cast comedian Rufus Hound as a new version of the Meddling Monk and he’s had some great stories. However, my favorite thing Rufus Hound has done for Big Finish is the short trip, “How to Win Planets and Influence People.” This is part of the Doctor Who Short Trip range. Those usually feature a short Doctor Who story of between 25-40 minutes that’s available as a download only. However, this is a bit different.

In this story, the meddling monk is giving a speech to a corporate convention as a motivational speaker, giving attendees a crash course in supervillainy and detailing how to defeat the Doctor with his many examples of how he failed to defeat the Doctor.

The production does a great job playing off of Hound’s stand up skills, while also poking fun at Ted Talks, as well Sci-Fi genre conventions for both Doctor Who villains and supervillains in general. Yet, it becomes clear more is going on than just a speech as the story goes on. Overall, this release is just a hoot and a great showcase for Mister Hound’s talent.

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TV Episode Review: The Avengers: The House that Jack Built

Series: The Avengers
Season 4, Episode 23
Original Air Date: March 5, 1966

“The House that Jack Built” begins atypically for an Avengers episode. Mrs. Peel (Diana Rigg) shows up to find John Steed (Patrick Macnee) developing photos. There’s no big case. She just stops by for a friendly chat before heading off to look at a house her solicitor sent her a letter saying she’d inherited.

When Mrs. Peel arrives, she’s trapped inside the house and forced to wander through a series of confusing rooms, traps, and weird contraptions seemingly meant to reduce her to a state of terror.

This is a brilliant episode. The directing is superb, giving this situation a very haunting claustrophobic atmosphere throughout. The design of this house and the all related traps lends to the suspenseful feel.

This episode is also a showcase for Diana Rigg. While Steed finds clues that put him on Mrs. Peel’s trail and allow him to be in on the finale, the focus is on Mrs. Peel as she creeps through this house with few words. Rigg is superb. Mrs. Peel is one of the few female characters on television in this era who wouldn’t break out in hysterics. Rigg plays Mrs. Peel with appropriate coolness, without portraying a flippant bravado that would take the viewer out of the episode.

While the Avengers had a fun light touch, this episode shows the series could work with a serious and suspenseful tone, too. This episode is a classic that’s well worth watching.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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