The Avengers ‘67 – Volume 1 (1967)
A&E Home Video
Cast: Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee
Extras: Production Stills
"The Avengers" is a British TV cult series that ran for many years, with a variety of casts. The definitive team of Avengers was clearly Patrick Macnee as Mr. Steed and Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Teaming the two up as secret agents, each episode presented them with a new challenge, in a cat & mouse game that tested their wits as well as the viewers’. To satisfy the overwhelming fan demand for this cult series, A&E Home Video used "The Avengers" to make their foray into the digital domain. Titled "The Avengers ‘67" they have now started releasing episodes from the series’ strongest line-up on DVD in digitally remastered versions, and judging from the quality of these first DVD releases by A&E Home Video I can’t wait to see more of their property to be unveiled.
"The Avengers ‘67" comes in a number of box sets, each one consisting of two discs containing 3 episodes each. Each of the box sets thus gives you approximately 340 minutes of pure Avengers fun. Each one of the discs contains a small leaflet with an overview of the content of all 4 boxes that make up the smashing ’67 season of the series, giving you a good overview over all releases in case you are looking for a particular episode.
Starting out with "From Venus With Love", the first set opens with a smash hit that immediately sets the right tone for the entire collection. It was the first episode of the series that aired in color and presents the Avengers with a mystery that seems to come from outer space. Every time renown stargazers watch Venus in the night sky they die one after another – seemingly killed by aliens. Of course the Avengers smell the coffee and know they’re needed.
After the furious opening with this episode, the disc continues with "The Fear Merchants", a story about an obscure company that appears to sell success. Their practices seem to run out of steam however when Steed tests the practicality of their system.
The disc the closes with "Escape In Time", the third episode of season. When another agent is killed by a bullet from the 16th century – instantaneously and cognitively deducted by Miss Peel without further scientific analysis – Steed and Peel know this matter needs their immediate attention. On the second disc of the set we find "The See-Through Man", a variation on the "Invisible Man" story. This take has its own spin however and it is immediately obvious how the series managed to create big things on a small budget. The invisibility sequences are as good as those in any feature films of the time, creating a truly mysterious atmosphere for this episode.
The second episode on this disc is "The Bird Who Knew Too Much", in which a missing parrot plays a pivotal role in international espionage. It is a truly witty episode with some great – if dumb – characters. Finally there is "The Winged Avenger", one of the series’ most acclaimed episodes that has become a real fan-favorite. It is the story of a killing stalker who comes at night in the disguise of a comic superhero. When the first people are found clawed to death by a seemingly giant bird, Steed and Peel know instantaneously that once again, they are needed. This episode is a highlight in many aspects. It follows the series recurring employment of a truly hair-raising scientist as a central character of the plot. It is the episode’s finale however that makes "The Winged Avenger" truly memorable and a one-of-a-kind production, so don’t miss this particular one.
It certainly takes a special mindset to enjoy "The Avengers" because the series has a very different flair than American counter- parts of the time, like "Mission Impossible" et al. It clearly reflects the restrained British culture, the nonchalant etiquette of the time, and the stylish tastelessness of British fashion. Combined with Emma Peel’s virtually soundless no-contact pseudo-karate chops in slow motion and Steed’s impeccably sunny humor, this classic series oozes more ‘crime detective’ atmosphere than an Agatha Christie novel. And that is exactly what makes the series so charming. Unlike its action oriented, fast-paced American pendants, "The Avengers" always take their time to adjust their hair and to pick up their umbrellas, while having a good cup of tea on the car ride to bring down their targets. It is this exoticism that allows the series to transcend other series of the time that have since vanished in obscurity.
The episodes’ weird incoherency is another aspect that makes this series a lot of fun, albeit unintentionally. Don’t expect to see any policemen around the crime scenes or anywhere in these films and don’t expect Peel and Steed to follow any real procedures. Even their evidence is often far-fetched and produces leads more intuitively, than rationally. Even the resolutions of their crimes usually don’t ask for an official clean up, despite the fact that they usually leave dead bodies behind. But just like in the aforementioned Agatha Christie story, the series pulls most of its charm from the environments, the events and the characters than real detective elaboration.
Digitally remastered, the picture quality is stunning at once, making the episodes look better and sharper than they have probably looked at their original broadcast dates, given the technical limitations of the time and the high quality of these releases. The image is sharp throughout and the color reproduction is quite good too. The series carries a strong, stylized pastel color scheme, which is formative for the series’ time period. Fleshtones are usually naturally rendered and the image contains a good level of detail. Blacks and highlights are well reproduced, creating a very pleasing overall impression. The compression of these releases is also well done, without noteworthy artifacts. The discs contain a 2.0 channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that has also been well restored and is without noticeable noise. Due to its age, it is very limited in its sonic spectrum however and sounds a bit thin most of the time.
A&E Home Video has done a great job preserving these episodes, presenting them on these DVDs in their fully restored glory. The discs are all rounded up with a small gallery of still photographs from the according episodes. There can be no doubt that any fan of the series would want to own these DVD box sets, as they present the series better looking than ever. But it is also a great opportunity for everyone who’s not converted yet, to take a look at these stylish TV productions. They are smart, witty and well produced, and they are always good to please.