Set 2, Volume 3
Review by Ed Nguyen
Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg
Director: Charles Crichton, James Hill, Bill Bain
Audio: English mono
Video: Black & white, full-screen 1.33:1
Studio: A & E
Features: stills gallery
Length: 170 minutes
Release Date: August 31, 1999
looking forward to meeting this major. How
should I play it?"
him your bumps."
a part-time phrenologist."
anyone who grew up in the 1960's will be immediately familiar with the cult TV
series, The Avengers.
American audiences embraced this witty British import not only for its
charming spoof of the spy genre but also for the deliciously coy rapport between
co-stars Patrick Macnee (as the debonair super-sleuth John Steed) and Diana Rigg
(as his delectably jocular accomplice, Mrs. Emma Peel).
of the show will know, of course, that the name "Emma Peel" is really
a wordplay on "M-appeal," or man-appeal. And Diana Rigg certainly was that! For two seasons, Rigg and Macnee thrilled British and
American audiences alike, and Rigg was even nominated for an Emmy Award.
Alas, as all good things must come to an end, Diana Rigg left the show
after two seasons to return to her true calling, the theater.
Without Rigg, The Avengers
slumped in its ratings, and the American sponsor, ABC, eventually pulled its
financial support, especially in face of the overwhelming competition from NBC's
very popular "Laugh-In" comedy show.
With insufficient funding, the British producers had little option but to
end production of The Avengers.
however, thanks to A & E, the classic Diana Rigg episodes of The
Avengers can be seen on DVD. A
& E has also made available many other episodes, too, as the show had a
broadcast history that spanned much further than just the Diana Rigg episodes.
The series actually started out in 1961 as a live-audience spy series
featuring Ian Hendry as a popular doctor-detective, Dr. David Keel. Patrick Macnee's John Steed was merely a supporting character
at the time. After Hendry left the
show to pursue a film career, Macnee assumed the lead spotlight with a revolving
platter of various co-stars. Among
them was Honor Blackman, whose Cathy Gale emerged from the pack to join John
Steed in becoming The Avengers' first
legendary duo. When Blackman also
departed to pursue a film career (as Pussy Galore in the James Bond thriller Goldfinger),
Elizabeth Shepherd was cast as Steed's new partner, Mrs. Emma Peel.
That's right, Elizabeth Shepherd. Producers
quickly realized, though, that she was not right for the role, and so, in a
superb re-casting decision, Diana Rigg was offered the role.
The rest, as they say, is history. Though
Diana Rigg appeared only in 50 out of 161 total original episodes, they were the
most celebrated ones and forever immortalized the show in the minds of its
audiences, however, only saw 49 of those episodes. As for the missing episode?
Well, it was banned from American television for moral reasons and was
never broadcast in America during the series' initial run.
The reason was a shockingly risqué dominatrix costume worn (and designed
by) Diana Rigg for the episode. Even
today, it is quite an eye-opener. Fortunately,
that legendary episode, along with two other classic Diana Riggs episodes, is
presented on this particular DVD.
DVD contains three episodes, of which the first is The Danger Makers. As
with most Avengers episodes, it starts
with a teaser around the opening credits. A
motorcyclist attempts to chicken run with a big truck.
The truck wins. When the rider's helmet is removed after the predestined
crash, he is revealed to be an elderly man, a decorated general!
The mystery deepens, for Steed and Mrs. Peel discover that the general
was a member of a secret society of high-ranking thrill seekers with a devious
plot against the very crown of England. It's
up to our Avengers to save the day! As
with most Avengers episodes, this one also concludes with a slam-bang
actionfest, featuring Steed in a fencing match and, in the episode's tense
highlight, Mrs. Peel navigating through two lethally high-voltage steel bars.
second episode is What the Butler Saw.
It's a fun and purely tongue-in-cheek twist on the old mystery cliché -
the butler did it! This time
around, there is a suspected double agent in the midst, and he is one of either
an admiral, a brigadier, or a group captain.
Steed puts his sleuthing skills to the task of discerning the true
villain and recruits Mrs. Peel's talents for the job at hand.
Our hero and heroine soon learn, however, that perhaps the actual spy is
one of those men's butlers, each of whom has been referred from a mysterious
society dedicated to the training of butlers.
It's up to Steed and Mrs. Peel to uncover the nefarious derring-dos and
to save the country once more!
there is the infamously banned episode, A
Touch of Brimstone. A group of
hoaxsters, members of the mysterious Hellfire Club, have in mind a devious plot
which (surprise surprise) threatens the security of England.
Steed and Mrs. Peel must infiltrate the club and discover the insidious
plans. This episode is particularly
enjoyable, and its highlight is a Hellfire costume party at which Mrs. Peel is
separated from the other party-goers and "requested" by the host to
change into more suitable attire. When
she re-appears, her new costume draws the attention of every man with a pulse at
the party. Hmm, now how to describe this costume? Well, Emma Peel wears a spiked dog collar, high-heeled boots,
a sheer corset, and lace panties. Everything
is very black, and she is introduced as the Queen of Sin.
She's chained, too. Oh yes,
and she's caressing a big long snake! There's
even a whipping sequence later on. It
paints a most provocative picture!
faint-hearted American censors back then certainly did not desire any
provocation, and there was no way they were going to allow this on network
television! Of course, nowadays on
TV, anything goes, but networks back then did try to maintain some modicum of
decency. This was an era when even
belly buttons were taboo on TV, after all!
Of course, in hindsight, this episode plays like any other typical Avengers episode, and does not contain anything truly offensive to a
family audience. At any rate, in
the end, as always, the Avengers save the day, although American audiences would
have to wait several decades after the series' conclusion to see for themselves.
of the appeal of the Avengers lies in
the almost flirtatious camaraderie between Steed and Mrs. Peel.
Lest puritanical objections be raised over the propriety of such a
relationship, let it be known that Emma Peel is merely awaiting her husband's
return from abroad and is passing the time by helping the gentlemanly agent
Steed to solve his weekly mysteries. Of
course, since Mr. Peel is off lost somewhere in some remote jungle or other
nonsense, there is no telling when he will return!
So, while Mrs. Peel has a strictly platonic, working relationship with
the suave Steed, they are practically an inseparable couple.
As the Avengers, Macnee and Rigg show such enchanting chemistry together
that even when a scene requires of them nothing more elaborate than to stand and
chat or trade witticisms, it is still great fun to watch.
lies the secret of the success of the Avengers.
It is a formula that has been used quite often on television (most
recently in The X-Files), but it
originated with the incomparable Avengers and has never been topped. This was a delightful and highly entertaining cult television
show and now, more than thirty years after it concluded its original run, still
has lost none of its charm. A &
E has been assembling the Avengers
episodes for a while, so soon (if not already) most of the still-existing entire
run will be available on disc. Fans
of vintage television shows or particularly of the Avengers
should definitely check out this DVD and then any of the other classic fifteen
Diana Rigg Avengers DVDs.
Rigg's first season on The Avengers
was shot entirely in black & white, while her second season, after the show
was imported to America, was filmed in color.
The episodes on this DVD are from the first season and thus are offered
as black & white, full-screen presentations. These prints have seen better days, but given the strictly
imaginary British preservation efforts for these early broadcasts, significantly
finer prints probably do not exist. While the contrast and clarity of the black & white
photography is generally okay, the images waver in their degree of sharpness and
softness. Fans may probably long
for better than the frequent dosage of dust and scratch marks which permeate
these prints. Furthermore, the
transfer itself also contributes some occasionally inconvenient compression
defects, such as jagged edges and moiré effects.
Overall, the quality of the video image is still acceptable, if not
everyone speaks with British accents, and sometimes in rather colloquial English
at that. In Rigg's second season,
the scripts were toned down specifically so that American audiences could
understand them, but for her first season, The
Avengers was decidedly British through and through.
This DVD contains the British-flavored episodes.
Since the DVD utterly lacks subtitles or close-captioning, some dialogue
may fly over the heads of less attentive listeners (especially in the extremely
British What the Butler Saw), to whom I can only advise to rewatch the
episodes! After all, one can never
experience too much of this classic television show!
should point out that the 2.0 mono audio is perhaps on the shrill side, with no
low end at all. Plus, there are
occasional pops and scratches on the soundtrack. Again, given that these were shoestring-budgeted British
productions from thirty-odd years ago, this is probably about as good as it will
get without a massive restoration.
extras herein are very representative of the typical Avengers DVD. All of
these DVDs have at least three episodes apiece, while a few even contain four
episodes! Since the episodes are
each nearly one hour in length, that does not leave much room for extra
features. Consequently, the sole
feature usually does not amount to much more than a stills gallery.
Such is the case here, in which the gallery holds a measly six production
photographs. It barely registers on
the radar, but it is understandable, if begrudgingly so.