|Emma Peel as queen of the Hellfire Club|
The Avengers began life in 1961 as a man named John Steed (Patrick Macnee, who lasted through all seven seasons) helps "avenge" the murder of Dr. David Keel's (Ian Hendry) wife; the two men then went on to have several more adventures. Keel was replaced by Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) for seasons 2 and 3, the episodes for which appeared to be on tape and rather low-tech in nature. With the 4th season, The Avengers was on film, became a very slick show, and best of all starred Diana Rigg [No Turn Unstoned] as the jumpsuit and leather-clad Mrs. Peel, who retained her femininity while apparently excelling in every form of combat known to man -- or, rather, woman. This was the first season in which the British series was shown in the U.S. on the high-rated ABC network. The show tried to maintain a balance between quirky, tongue-in-cheek humor and stories that had genuine suspense and excitement. Often the show would go over the line and descend into camp ["The Girl from Auntie" being a prime example, and as bad as the lowest camp episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). On the other hand, many of the episodes were quite smart and entertaining: "Death at Bargain Prices" features a bomb inside a department store; athletes are hypnotized into committing crimes in "The Master Minds;" a murder-for-hire outfit masquerades as a dating service in "The Murder Market" (with Patrick Cargill of Inspector Clouseau and Suzanne Lloyd);"A Touch of Brimstone" features Emma caparisoned as a black queen in the Hellfire Club; and a bunch of pseudo-feminist slayers take orders from a marionette in "How to Succeed ... at Murder." We mustn't forget the "Man-eater of Surrey Green" with its monster plant. Other memorable episodes include "The Gravediggers" with Paul Massie; "The Cybernauts" with Michael Gough; "The Hour that Never Was;" "Two's a Crowd;" "The House that Jack Built" with its weird, twisting domicile; "The Danger Makers;" and "A Sense of History." The show was generally very well directed and edited with many exciting fight scenes, and Mrs. Peel took on female opponents more than once, especially in "Murder Market" (two gals go after Emma at the same time) and "How to Succeed at ... Murder."
Verdict: Peel and Steed make a lively and sophisticated duo. ***.