The Avengers ran on British television from January 7, 1961 through May 21, 1969 and during those years John Steed (Patrick Macnee) had countless adventures and solve a multitude of crimes but it was the years during which he was teamed with the lovely and talented Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg of On Her Majesty's Secret Service) that remain to this day the most popular episodes of the series.
Though Steed started off solving crimes with the help of his friend Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry of the original Get Carter) and then later Dr. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman, best known as Pussy Galore from Goldfinger), by 1965 things had changed at Emma Peel was on board for the fourth season of the series. The chemistry that Rigg and Macnee showed together on screen proved to be explosive and the series managed to really hit its stride.
The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Mega Set contains the following episodes spread out across sixteen of the seventeen discs (the seventeenth disc contains the supplements – for more on that see the Extras section!) in the set in the following order:
Disc 1 (Season Four):
The Town Of No Return: A small town named Little-Bazely-By-The-Sea has seen four government agents go missing recently. Steed and Ms. Peel head down to check out the scene and find that a lot of the locals aren't nearly as innocent as they seem, particularly the reverend and the inn keeper.
The Gravediggers: Dr. Marlow has died under strange circumstances and Steed and Emma Peel go under cover to try and figure out why. What they uncover is a strange conspiracy relating to an old railroad tycoon and a hospital that he runs as a charity gig. If you want to see Diana Rigg in a nurses outfit, and you know you do, this episode is for you.
The Cybernauts: A massive, hulking, killing machine has been on the rampage throughout London, knocking off a few men related to a prominent electronics firm. Emma goes undercover to infiltrate a karate school that might have something to do with it, while Steed investigates the corporate side of things by posing as an electronics executive himself in this classic episode which introduces some characters who would, surprisingly, be brought back in later episodes (a rarity in the series).
Death At Bargain Prices: A local department store becomes the scene of some controversy when an agent is murdered in cold blood inside a store elevator. Emma and John start to sleuthing and all signs point towards the wealthy man who runs the joint, who may or may not have something to do with a missing nuclear scientist.
Castle De'ath: Something strange is going on in Scotland as the fisherman are complaining that all of the fish have just disappeared! A scuba diver is found dead on the coast, and Emma and John start investigating the connection it all has to a local nobleman.
The Master Minds: Monty Python's Flying Circus regular Ian McNaughton guest stars in which a double agent is wounded during a job in which he tries to steal some government files. John and Emma find out he's a member of an elite club in which you have to have genius intelligence to join. Emma gains entry easily enough, but things prove to be more difficult for Steed.
The Murder Market: Togetherness Inc. seems alright on the outside, after all, they help bring couples together, but when a string of brutal killings seems to be connected to them, it's up to John and Emma to figure out what it is that is really going on behind closed doors.
A Surfeit Of H2O: A poacher is out doing his thing in the woods when a storm hits and he slips and drowns in a stream. Something else is amiss in the small town, however, when the local carpenter starts building an ark. Could there be something in the local brew that is making people go a little loopy?
The Hour That Never Was: Steed and Emma are off to a party to be held at an air force base that is going to be closing its doors soon. They arrive after a car crash only to find the place completely deserted. Is this really happening or are our two heroes in some sort of dreamland?
Dial A Deadly Number: We all know that the stock market can get nasty sometimes, but this time out it ends in murder! Steed decides to dabble in high finance to go undercover to solve the crime while Emma sets out to investigate a few strange coincidences on her own.
Man-Eater Of Surrey Green: Despite the fact that Alan is hard of hearing, he's quite the whiz when it comes to plants. Soon to be married, things turn odd when his bride to be starts acting odd and decides to throw in the towel. Emma and John come to look into the strange behavior of the local townsfolk and find a giant space seed has landed in a field just outside of town.
Two's A Crowd: Directed by Hammer Horror maestro Roy Ward Baker (he'd helm a few episodes this season, starting with this one), this episode finds John and Emma on the trail of a foreign spy who is in London to sneak into a military conference and report back to the enemy with the results.
Too Many Christmas Trees: This holiday themed episode finds John Steed having strange dreams where agents start turning up dead at the hands of a Christmas themed murderer. He and Emma head off to a party at a wealthy man's house to find out he's obsessed with Charles Dickens and might have something to do with Steed's state.
Silent Dust: Steed thinks that a bum fertilizer might be behind the strange fact that all of the birds have left or died in a small country village but when he and Emma come to look around they find that the locals are none too friendly at all.
Room Without A View: Something strange is going on at the Chessman Hotel when a scientist who was thought to be long dead turns up to see his wife. When Steed and Emma look into things, they find that the hotel has a history of missing persons turning up there and that there might be more to this than sheer coincidence.
Small Game For Big Hunters: Steed becomes thoroughly confused in this episode when he tries to figure out how a local man was put under the influence of modern day voodoo and ends up fending for his life from a gang of bandits who seem to have come from some time in the past.
The Girl From Auntie: When Steed comes back from a well earned vacation he finds that Emma is not quite herself. He teams up with an actress to figure out what's happened to his dear friend Emma and they uncover a mystery that leads to a knitting club.
The 13th Hole:
John and Emma join a posh country club to solve the murder of a man who was killed on the thirteenth hole of the golf course. John ends up having to complete in a golf tournament to keep up the ruse, and thankfully Emma is there to help out.
Quick-Quick-Slow Death: Emma ends up teaching at a strange dance academy with John as a student when they have to investigate the death of an agent who was run over by car.
The Danger Makers: When a string of senior British army officers are seemingly being killed off one by one, John and Emma have to take a look to see what's going on. What they wind up having to deal with is a strange secret organization that might have deep rooted ties to the army itself.
A Touch Of Brimstone: John and Emma go up against the Hellfire Club lead by the diabolical Peter Wyngarde when a diplomat is murdered by electrocution while he's cutting a ribbon at an opening ceremony.
What The Butler Saw: Steed gets his haircut by a barber who happens to be involved in international espionage himself and it is through him that he learns of three army officers, one of whom is a traitor. Steed goes undercover to find out who, while Emma tries to seduce a captain in order to trap him.
The House That Jack Built: Emma's Uncle Jack passes on and leaves her his house, which, when she goes to look it over, proves to be a maze of sorts of full of some strange psychological devices that wreak havoc on those who enter.
A Sense Of History: John and Emma have to go undercover at a local school to investigate what might be an accidental death on the archery green but what in reality is murder. Could it have something to do with the rivalry between the faculty and the student body?
How To Succeed…At Murder: In a strange twist of fate, all of the men in charge at a big corporation wind up dead, leaving the doors wide open for their former secretaries to move in and take over. Steed tries to hire one of the women to act as his own secretary and finds out that these girls might have more on their minds than he first thought.
One Honey For The Prince: Emma and John are out at a party one night and when they return to John's apartment they're shocked to find an agent laying dead on his floor. It all somehow ties in to a company that brings fantasy to life and a European Prince with deep oil ties.
Disc 9 (Season Five):
From Venus With Love: A group of wealth astronomers are being killed off one by one, their bodies turned white by some sort of bright killer light. Steed goes undercover at an Astronomers club to find out why, while Emma sets out to find the source of the light.
The Fear Merchants: In what at first seems to be a strange coincidence, four men who work with ceramics all have a nervous breakdown around the same time but no one is really sure why until Steed and Mrs. Peel figure out what the connection between the four men really is.
Escape In Time: Somehow a group of criminals have, one by one, seemingly disappeared into thin air and eluded the authorities and escaped from the law. It's thought that there must be a tunnel or something that they're using but it might just have something to do with time travel.
The See-Through Man: When an invisible man breaks into the head office, John and Emma follow some clues and finger a chemist at a pharmaceutical company as the culprit but it might have less to do with him and more to do with Soviet spies in the area.
The Bird Who Knew Too Much: Somehow top secret British facilities are being found out through aerial photographs but no one is sure how they're being taken until John and Emma deduce that it's related to a fashion photographer and a parrot.
The Winged Avenger: Professor Poole has invented some boots that allow anyone who wears them to walk up walls and on ceilings. It looks like these boots are being used for evil when some fancy rich guys end up dead, but then there's a comic book called The Winged Avenger that somehow ties into all of this as well.
The Living Dead: The home of Duke Bennedict has a slight problem – the dead are rising from the grave! It all has something to do with a cave-in that happened at a mine five years ago that killed a bunch of men and one of his relatives but he's not sure what he can do about it until Steed and Mrs. Peel show up.
The Hidden Tiger: A society that rescues cats find themselves being killed off by a giant tiger, until John and Emma show up and find out that it is all related to a conspiracy of great proportions, for a secret society is bent on taking over England.
The Correct Way To Kill: Steed finds out that a lot of enemy agents are turning up dead, but it's not by British hands. Steed and Mrs. Peel end up having to make an uncomfortable alliance with Soviet spies to uncover the truth about these deaths.
Never, Never Say Die: Christopher Lee guest stars in this episode, as Professor Frank N. Stone, a man who might just be an indestructible man thrashing around the quaint English countryside wreaking all kinds of havoc. To make matters worse, a man who just wants to finish his drive somehow manages to keep running him over again and again.
Epic: A very insane movie director and his three big wig actor friends decide that they want to cast Mrs. Peel in their next film project. She's not interested so they decide to kidnap her and film her anyways, with some very strange results. Good thing for Emma that Steed is on the case!
The Superlative Seven: In this send off of The Magnificent Seven we're treated to a guest appearance by Donald Sutherland. Steed goes to a high society party only to find himself trapped in a life sized remote control plane that is bound for a deserted island where he'll be forced to fight for his life against six other highly skilled combatants.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station: An agent named Lucas mistakenly gets off at the wrong train station while out investigating some strange circumstances and ends up dead. When Steed and Mrs. Peel are sent in to investigate they uncover a plot to kill the British Prime Minister!
Something Nasty In The Nursery: A group of clandestine men who are all let in on some top secret plans all begin to have strange dreams about children's toys and nannies that could stem back to their childhoods. Emma explores the area and uncovers something strange at the toy store while Steed goes undercover to check out a school for English nannies.
The Joker:Emma goes to visit a friend for a weekend of Bridge playing but finds herself trapped in her host's house. Someone is trying to drive her insane and the culprit has ties to her past. Normally Steed would come to save her but this time out he's got a sprained ankle.
Who's Who???: Emma and John take on the curious case in which an agent is found dead while wearing a pair of stilts. They set out to solve the murder and find that a pair of enemy agents plan to lure them into a trap where they will swap their minds!
Return Of The Cybernauts: Peter Cushing guest stars in this episode which sees the Cybernauts back for another swing. Clemant Armstrong's brother wants Steed and Mrs. Peel dead so he sets a trap for them in hopes of carrying out his revenge but the Cybernauts aren't quite down for the count and he might get more than he bargained for.
Death's Door: A group of English politicians head off to a world peace conference but soon start having strange nightmares. When one of them winds up dead, Steed and Mrs. Peel are tasked with keeping the man who is sent to replace him alive at all costs.
The £50,000 Breakfast: A dead ventriloquist is found dead with a king's ransom in jewels stashed inside his stomach! Emma heads out to investigate the businesses in the area in hopes of uncovering some clues while Steed is forced to blackmail someone to sort it all out.
Dead Man's Treasure: A dying agent stashes some important documents in a box that winds up missing so Steed and Mrs. Peel are sent to look for it but wind up having to tussle with enemy agents and a deadly car that electrocutes people.
You Have Just Been Murdered: There's a run of sorts on the bank when a few different wealthy men all withdraw their fortunes at the same time. Steed figures that someone is blackmailing these poor guys but he can't get any of them to spill the beans. Things get stranger when he receives a phone call from one of the men who tells Steed that he has just been murdered.
The Positive-Negative Man: A scientist is found dead, trapped inside a wall, and our heroes are called in to investigate. One thing leads to another and soon they find themselves out chasing a strange looking man who just might be the culprit.
Murdersville: An old friend of Emma's is back from a long spell of traveling and so she heads off to a small seaside town to visit him. When she gets there she finds that the locals have murder on their minds and that something is very, very wrong in this town.
Mission Highly Improbable: The fifth season closes off when a wealthy man and his Rolls Royce disappear into thin air while being shown to a military base. Steed is of course on the case as soon as he can be, but is he getting smaller? Something is amiss, good thing Emma's not too far behind.
The Forget-Me-Knot (Season Six): The first episode of the sixth season of the show was the end of an era, as Steed bids farewell to Mrs. Peel in an episode where Steed becomes accused of criminal activity after his friend Mortimer and Mrs. Peel get abducted by a biker gang.
While some episodes worked better than others and not every one came up a winner, for the most part the content of these two seasons was excellent. The sexual tension between Steed and Mrs. Peel lead the way for some extremely quick and witty dialogue and the back and forth banter between the two of them, always playful, was perfect no matter how ridiculous the situation was that the two found themselves in. Always able to keep their cool even when battling the undead or karate robots, Steed and Mrs. Peel were a truly dynamic duo that made the series, quite simply, good fun.
The show also had a very interesting look. It was very much 'pop art' come to life and it was obviously influenced a lot by comic books and the spy movies that had come before it. All manner of gadgets and strange villains pop up throughout the series and aside from the relationship between the two leads, the other catch that the show had working in its favor was that it was always interesting just to see who or what they'd have to fight against in each new episode. Sure, it was all preposterous but it didn't matter, none of it mattered, as everything was done with tongue placed firmly in cheek which allowed the show to get away with it. Had it been played completely straight it never would have worked in the first place. That's not to say that the show isn't without its dramatic moments as some of the murders are creepy enough and there are a more than a few spots where either Steed or Mrs. Peel will find themselves in peril and while we know that they're not going to be killed off, we still want to make sure that they make it out in one piece.
The focus of the set is obviously on Rigg's character (if the name Emma Peel Mega Collector's Set doesn't tell you that, you're just not paying attention) and it's for good reason. She's graceful, sexy, funny and smart and you can definitely see how she captured the hearts of many a young man during the show's run. Her sassiness is a large part of the reason why the show remains a cult favorite over forty years after the fact and her enduring popularity is completely understandable given how charismatic and undeniably charming she is in the part. From the moment we meet her for the first time in The Town Of No Return when Steed simply rings her doorbell through to the last episode we never learn how they meet, what their background is or how they've been teamed up together but it really never matters and the mystery of it all is half the fun.
The first batch of episodes in this set were shot in black and white, but with From Venus With Love in 1967 the show did make the transition into color. As such, there are two very different looks for the show that need to be examined in a bit more detail individually.
The Black And White Episodes: These episodes are all about shadow and contrast and as such, you get a lot of very stark looking and at times almost noir-ish compositions in the show. Thankfully, this material has been handled very well here and aside from some mild shimmering and a little bit of edge enhancement, things look to be in very good shape. There is a bit of print damage here and there and a little bit of grain from time to time but it really isn't worth complaining about much and unless you're looking at it to pick it apart (as you have to do to a certain extent when reviewing a DVD) you're probably not going to notice it. The blacks are nice and strong, the whites are clean and clear, and everything in between looks well defined and no detail appears to have been lost here at all.
The Color Episodes: The later episodes, surprisingly (or maybe not) don't look quite as sharp. While it's a complete joy to see the show make the leap to color and it's a lot of fun to see the whacked out schemes and compositions come to life there is a bit of softness to the color photography that isn't present in the black and white episodes. This is likely due to the fact that color TV was a fairly new phenomena for The Avengers team to experiment with and as such the quality control in the visuals department might not have been at the top of their game. As the later episodes play out things improve and you can tell that the crew behind the camera was getting better at what they were doing but some of that softness does remain throughout. That being said, things still do look very nice here, even if they're not quite as sharp as the earlier ones – the benefits of seeing the compositions and wild hues in color more than makes up for whatever small imperfections may exist in the source material.
The packaging for the set claims that each of these fullframe episodes has been re-mastered and it certainly does look that way as even with the noted flaws the overall picture quality throughout this set is very strong.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is pretty clean without any noticeable hiss or distortion creeping into the mix at any given time. The odd scene sounds a little bit flat but overall this track takes care of business nicely if you don't get too irate over the occasionally pop in the mix. The theme song in particular that starts off each episode on the set (and closes each one off as well) while the opening credits play through sounds quite good, as does a lot of the background music used throughout the episodes. Dialogue isn't ever hard to understand either, which is nice and sound effects have just the right amount of punch to them. There are no alternate dubs, subtitles, or closed captioning options for this release.
Each of the sixteen episode discs have episode selection options and a small still gallery (usually consisting of half a dozen or so behind the scenes and promotional photographs), and each episode is divided into a few chapters, but the bulk of the supplements are saved for the seventeenth disc. Here's what you'll find there:
The Lost Episodes: Hot Snow (only the first part of this episode still exists so it isn't complete here), The Frighteners, and Girl On A Trapeze all hit DVD for the first time on this disc. The rest of the first season episodes have been lost and this is, sadly, all that remains of them for now. It's interesting to see how they compare to the later Emma Peel episodes as these ones are much more serious in tone and a lot darker than the later, campy stories. They're also not as good. They're entertaining enough in their own right but the chemistry isn't as strong and the interplay isn't as effective. Regardless, it's nice to see these here and it's a shame that the rest of the first season has vanished.
Avenging The Avengers is an all new behind-the-scenes bonus documentary on the series that is more a series of recent video interviews with Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman. All three participants give their take on the show, and provide us with some interesting anecdotes and plenty of cool stories about the whole vibe that was going on during production. A few of the crew members are also interviewed here including a couple of the producers and the directors as well who give more of a technical background to the series and explain a lot of the oddities that exist with the show. The most interesting part of this documentary is learning just how controversial a character Emma Peel became during the original run of these episodes, as her wardrobe proved to be the subject of some controversy. There's a lot of good trivia in here, some fun gossip, and a lot of interesting facts and this does make for a nice companion piece to the episodes contained in the set.
Up next is a quick three-minute excerpt from a rare promotional short film, The Strange Case of the Missing Corpse, which was made to promote the series and which features Emma looking fantastic in her trademark leather cat-suit.
Up next is a quickie, it's the alternate American opening for the series in which we see the characters play out across a chessboard. While the British opening is more in tune with the feel of the show, it's nice to see this here especially as it will be how a lot of American viewers remember seeing the show when it aired on US television.
A&E has also included the Emma Peel cameo episode from The New Avengers 77. K Is For Kill: The Tiger Awakes finds Steed and Mrs. Peel reuniting for one last time as they set out to solve yet another oddball crime and it's fun to see them back together a decade later. The charm and the chemistry and the sexual tension is still very much alive and well and it makes for a good watch and an entertaining diversion.
Seventeen discs of action, intrigue, humor, suspense and sex appeal? You betcha, and they're all cleaned up and looking good. While it would have been nice to see some more extra features in the set, like a commentary track or two, The Avengers – The Complete Emma Peel Mega Set contains so much flat out fun viewing that it's pretty much impossible not to slap it with the ol' highly recommended stamp.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.