Avengers '65: Set 1
The first of Diana Rigg's Avengers appearances have a special freshness about them, which radiates from the moment that she and Patrick Macnee are on the screen together. The actress slips effortlessly into the role, like a second skin, and in her first scene with Macnee's John Steed, the two take to each other like a pair of musicians trying out their partnership. They work off each other like string players, discovering a new piece on the one hand, new harmonies in a previously familiar piece on the other, with sparkling and lively dialogue and a spirited fencing exercise. Coupled with the then-new approach of shooting on film (as opposed to going out live over the air, as had been the case with the Honor Blackman episodes preceding Rigg's work), the effect was bracing. These first Avengers episodes to go out internationally were a wonder, dramatically well paced, intelligently and humorously written, thoroughly polished technically, yet above all fanciful. All of these elements remain. "The Town of No Return" involves a plot by a foreign power to take over England one village at a time, replacing the actual residents with impostors and, once they are established, going on to the next town and the next, all the while laying the groundwork for an armed invasion. It sounds ridiculous, yet it is, on a larger scale, the sort of espionage that was posited during both world wars, to which England's remote corners were especially vulnerable. The series reveals its spot-on eye here for casting actors who are perfect at representing the classes and generations that they were intended to symbolize, from laborers and civil servants to the clergy and the entrepreneurial class, yet they never become mere mannequins, always remaining believable as characters. Little details like this, coupled with excellent direction (and some very violent fight scenes involving Rigg) make this a great hour's diversion even four decades on. It's the rest of the episodes in this set, however, that show where the entire series was headed. "The Gravediggers" involves the show's hero and heroine with a plan to disable England's early-warning radar network, which somehow ends with Mrs. Peel tied to a small-scale railroad track and a very deadly train bearing down on her. Its mix of action, mystery, humor, and an outrageous sense of the absurd makes it one of the most important single shows in the run of the series in opening up new vistas. "The Cybernauts, perhaps the most popular episode in the history of the series, pits the counter-espionage team against a mad engineer's attempt to impose his own vision of automation on the electronics industry with an array of killer robots. "Death at Bargain Prices" concerns a plan to blow up London with a nuclear device hidden somewhere in a department store. "Castle De'Ath" puts Steed and Mrs. Peel in a Scottish castle where a diver at a nearby loch was tortured to death; they are to find out the reason for the murder and the supposed reappearance of a ghost. And "The Master Minds" pits the pair against a Mensa-like organization called, appropriately enough, Ransack, whose highly intelligent members may be involved in the theft of top-secret information. The film-to-video transfers on these episodes are flawless, and the levels of contrast are the richest and most subtle ever seen on these shows. The details of the costuming, production design, and set decoration come out in sterling clarity. The sound is smooth and very clear, although a little lacking in volume, for which one can easily compensate. Each episode is broken into eight chapter divisions, highlighted on their panels by visual highlights from the particular program.