The Best of the Original Avengers
Review by Chris Hughes | posted February 5, 2001
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Graphical Version

Features: Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1. Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono). Rigg/ MacNee Chess Board USA Alternative Opening Sequence. Town Girl-Tara King Promo. Character Bios written by Avengers expert/ author Dave Rogers. Number of discs: 2.

The Movie:
Almost to the day that the Bondian spy film became a genre of its own The Avengers was there to spoof it. From 1961 to 1969 the British ITV network produced the hip, funny and trend setting series that would experience huge successes at home, in America and around the world. Agent John Steed and his succession of beautiful female associates virtually defined London cool and brought laughter, intrigue and endless entertainment to millions. The series was such a hit that it spawned a follow up in the 70s (The New Avengers), a recent big budget motion picture and the release of remastered versions of the show on DVD.

Over the last couple of years A&E has been publishing a collection of classic British television programs including The Prisoner, Space 1999 and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The Avengers set covers the years 1963 through 1967 and includes dozens of episodes with more being added all the time. If you're familiar with the series you'll have no trouble locating your favorite episodes but if you're a newcomer you may find the sheer volume of material daunting. That's why A&E is offering this introductory collection 'The Best of the Original Avengers.' The two disc set contains six episodes personally selected and introduced by Patrick MacNee; two each from the Cathy Gale, Emma Peal and Tara King eras.

The Picture:
I've watched a number of these discs and I'm consistently impressed by the video presentation. Because the programs span such a broad time period the video elements come from a variety of sources. In every case great care has been taken to clean up and enhance the images. Even the older 'scoped' programs look great. In most cases the contrast is good, shadow detail reasonably deep, whites clean and edges free from sharpening artifacts. The color episodes are crisp and bright with nice saturation and only occasional bleeding.

The Sound:
The mono sound track for these shows received the same careful treatment as the video. They're mixed to consistent levels, exhibit a moderately broad dynamic range and suffer from clipping in only the rarest of instances. You'll be able to detect a little hiss on some of the older footage but nothing that rises to the level of distraction.

The Episodes:

Cathy Gail (Mr. Teddy Bear / Don't Look Behind You):
The Cathy Gale character as portrayed by Honor Blackman was revolutionary for its time. Cathy was one of the first truly liberated women on British television and audiences were delighted by her aggressive, independent style. Cathy set the tone for all that were to follow. These two episodes show Blackman at her best in challenging and thought provoking situations. The Cathy Gale period Avengers was a reasonably serious show with an emphasis on suspense and mystery. These two episodes are very representative of that fact.

Emma Peel (Death at Bargain Prices / Too Many Christmas Trees):
For most people Emma Peel is the ultimate Steed companion. Diana Rigg, in her black leather cat suit, caught the attention of many a teenage boy; myself included. Death at Bargain Prices and Too Many Christmas Trees are excellent examples of the Emma Peel era showing The Avengers at it's creative best. All the elements are here from fantastic fashions and razor sharp dialogue to surreal situations and a heaping helping of double entendre. My only regret is that none of the color Emma Peel episodes were included.

Tara King (Look [Stop Me if You've Heard this One] / All Done With Mirrors):
Linda Thorson must have felt intimidated when she learned that she would be replacing Diana Rigg. By the late 60s The Avengers had become an institution and Emma Peel was leaving some very large shoes to fill. Steed's new companion Tara King would find herself in the midst of a very different program. Humor was the focus of The Avengers in the final seasons and though many of the episodes were well written they had a hard time finding the balance of the earlier installments. These two episodes are among the best of the Tara King years. Keep an eye out for a cameo by one of the Monty Python gang.

The Extras:
The primary extras on these discs are amiable introductions by Patrick MacNee. He doles out interesting historical information, anecdotes and critical impressions of each episode as well as offering an overall introduction to the set. Each disc also contains a bonus video segment. Disc one has the alternate 'Chess Board' opening to the Emma Peel episodes with an earnest expository voiceover. Disc two features a very dated looking interview with Linda Thorson called 'Town Girl'.

Compiling a 'best of' set from any series can be problematic. Hard core fans have very strong opinions on which episodes are the best and no matter what line up you arrive at; you're bound to disappoint some of the audience. A&E took a conservative approach to this release and in the process came up with a list of programs that, if not perfect, is a good cross section of the kind of entertainment offered by The Original Avengers. This set is a great introduction for novices. Died in the wool Avengers fans will probably want to dive right into the comprehensive series releases. Rating: Recommended.

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