Big Finish continues to put out new episodes in the world of that classic TV Spy/Mystery series The Avengers. As is the case with every volume of Avengers from Big Finish, Julian Wadham stars as John Steed and in this volume, Emily Woodward returns as Tara King, with Christopher Benjamin starring as the spymaster, Mother.
This box set features three stories adapted from serialized scripts in the British magazine TV Comics. Each strip was only a few pages long, and is expanded upon by a Big Finish writer into a full hour-plus audio drama.
The period when The Avengers included the character Tara King was one that had gone very solidly in a more silly, over-the-top direction, and this set reflects that sensibility.
It kicks off with “The Fabulous Sky Beam Dilemma.” Steed and Tara King are charged with serving as bodyguard and tour guide for a visiting President, as well as investigating a series of strange, unexplained stomach illnesses.
Bad propaganda movies, silly accents, and mind-control-flavored ice cream: this story has a lot going on in it, with so many outrageous over the top moments. There’s a lot of fun to be had if you can just go with the silliness.
For the most part, I could. What I took issue with is how the story was resolved. The character that figures things out and saves the day isn’t who you would think, and it’s not done in a way that seems clever or satisfying.
Still, the ending weakens but does not ruin a solid hour of entertainment.
In “A Tale in Tartan,” with Steed unavailable, Tara King is off on her way to a Scottish castle to retrieve a stolen formula that “the other side” means to use on their athletes to boost their chances at the next Olympiad. However, there are strange goings-on at the castle. And what about McSteed (also played by Julian Wadham), the guy who looks like Steed but only with a beard, and speaking with a Scottish accent and wearing a kilt?
This is a tricky story to evaluate. It’s weird that there would be a comic strip set at a Scottish castle, given that there was an actual Avengers episode set at a Scottish castle, and a comic strip sequel to that (which Big Finish has adapted in “Return to Castle De’ath”).
That said, this is a decent story. It’s always entertaining, but like many an Avengers story from this era, it has an over-the-top setting and general feel, with so many odd and weird things happening, and off-the-wall characters. It never becomes too much, nor does the story reach some ascendant level of brilliance. Rather, we’re treated to a solid, weird, and ever-so-slightly grounded Avengers Highland tale. It’s different enough from the Castle De’ath stories as to not feel derivative, while still being a good time.
The set concludes with “This Train Terminates Here.” A special train is nearly derailed because of a collapsed viaduct, but is saved by the chance action of a passerby. However, the derailment was no accident. The train was carrying a shipment of gold bouillion bound for the IMF. Something sinister is behind it, and it’s up to Steed and Tara King to sort it out.
This story is a delight, as it draws its inspiration from the world of British trains and the odd characters that inhabit them. The late Paul O’Grady is the perfect Avengers villain as the sinister station master gone bad, Septimus Crump. He clearly played the part with gusto.
The story also features one of the best Audio Action scenes you’ll find in a tense and thrilling climax on a runaway train. The story also is full of witty lines and clever train puns. This is one of the best Avengers stories Big Finish and a perfect conclusion to this set.
All in all, if you’re into off-beat 1960s mystery/adventures, this is a solid set. The production values are top notch and the writers nail the feel of the era. There are two very good, though not perfect, stories, combined with another story that represents the pinnacle of this range with Big Finish. Well worth listening to.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
.The Avengers: Steed and Tara King is available at the Big Finish website.