Skip to main content

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers
Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best

Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.

26. Two's A Crowd

There are no outright dodos in Season Four, but Steed doing dopplegangers, despite an enjoyable Macnee performance, is about pedestrian as it gets.


 25. The Cybernauts

Creaky, clanky robo-fun, if you’re about seven. Otherwise, the high point comes early on, in the form of John Hollis as Sensai, who, of course, ROCKS!


24. The House That Jack Built

Emma banged up in a psychedelically-automated housetrap, which sounds more enticing than it is in this re-envisioning of Season Three’s Don’t Look Behind You.


23. Room Without a View

Steed’s M Gourmet goes down a treat, but the Manchurian Candidate fixtures and fittings don’t quite blend with the broader-toned hotel setting.


22. A Surfeit of H20



The premise of weather-to-order and title are fun, Mr Cheeseman makes an inevitable impression, as does Noah, the prophet of doom, and Steed gets to pose as an affable idiot, but the nondescript villains rather let the side down.


21. Man-Eater of Surrey Green

The one that inspired The Seeds of Doom, allegedly, and a rare science fiction foray for the show, one that’s played pretty straight and includes Emma shotgunning a hapless henchman; the less said about Steed’s “herbicidal maniac”, the better.


20. The Danger Makers

So-so notion of military types enlivening increasingly unadventurous service with thrill-seeking escapades, but matters improve considerably when Mrs Peel is required to take an initiation test.


19. The Town of No Return

The season opener is full of iconic imagery and ideas – an overgrown plastic bag emerging from the sea unzips to a reveal a man in a suit, an all-but-empty village conceals mysterious goings-on after dark, Terence Alexander sports a ridiculous moustache – and establishes the increasingly daffy tone of the show as Steed unpacks an entire tea set, kettle and cake display from a voluminous carpet bag.


18. Dial A Deadly Number

Death by bleeper in an episode that enters the realm of stock market manipulation but really scores during a wine tasting duel: “Chateau Laffite-Rothschild…1909, from the northern end of the vineyard”.


17. Small Game for Big Hunters

Crumbling colonialism retires to the home counties in an inventive plotline that makes yearning for the lost Empire the stuff of diabolical masterminds.


16. Honey for the Prince

A little less light on its feet in treading the line between irreverence and racial stereotypes than Small Game, but nevertheless possessed of a winning self-awareness, Ron Moody and Emma’s Dance of the Six Veils.


15. The Murder Market

Murder by marriage as Steed and Mrs Peel sign up to Patrick Cargill’s Togetherness Inc and Steed is soon required to kill her; it’s occasionally evident how early in the season this came with a certain Mrs Gale-ishness to Emma’s attitude.


14. The Master Minds

Brainwashed boffins stealing secrets, as Emma succumbs to their spell and Steed needs a little help in hitting his pass marks.


 13. How to Succeed... At Murder

Like Honey for the Prince, this creaks a bit at times in its of-its-era sensibility, hoisting “silly old feminism” by its own petard, but also sports an engaging line in absurdity, not least Christopher Benjamin’s perfumier JJ Hooter (“My nose is in great demand… I have smelled all over the world…”)


12. The Thirteenth Hole

Once it gets going, the dirty tricks on the golf course make for a highly engaging episode, as Steed, with Emma’s assistance, outwits first Patrick Allen and then Peter Jones; just don’t ask why a golf club (beyond a “bunker in a bunker” gag).


11. Silent Dust

Emma joins the hunt while Steed gets shot at; an episode more engaging for its colourful cast than plotting, including a wonderfully amused Joanna Wake and convincingly brutish Jack Watson.


10. The Hour that Never Was

A fine “What is going on?” setup, as Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at his old RAF base for its closing party only to find it strikingly Marie Celeste-like; if the second half reset is a little less rewarding, the episode still gets by on that early attention to atmosphere.


 9. Castle De'ath

John McSteed flashes his nobbly knees in a haunted highland castle that inevitably isn’t all it seems, ably presided over by Gordon Jackson, while Mrs Peel shows off her deadly aim with the crossbow.


8. The Gravediggers

A plot involving a missile jamming signal is strictly secondary to the steam age nostalgia of Sir Horace Winslip (Ronald Fraser), taking his meals in a mock-up “travelling” train carriage, only topped by the silent movie finale with Emma tied to the tracks of a miniature railway.


 7. The Quick-Quick Slow Death

A dance school as a front for infiltrating foreign agents into the country is no sillier than… using a golf club to send secrets to the Russians, I suppose, and there’s much silliness to take in here, including a fake Italian foot fetishist – the foot fetishism is real, the nationality isn’t – and a knockout dance-off finale.


6. Too Many Christmas Trees

The Avengers goes all Dali-in-Spellbound, but with a festive spin, as Steed has his mind probed; a rare excursion into supernatural (or, to be overly generous, pseudo-scientific) and if you really must do a Christmas-themed story, this is how to do it (take note Doctor Who, which has churned out consistently lousy ones for more than a decade now).


5. Death at Bargain Prices

Undoubtedly the most bonkers scheme of the season – and by far the most devastating if it had succeeded – is effectively juxtaposed against the incongruity of a department store where shop assistant Mrs Peel dodges predatory superiors while Steed is forcibly ejected from the premises.


4. What the Butler Saw

John Le Mesurier fits the butler bill perfectly, and Steed is welcomed with open arms as a major domo, having adopted an array of facial appliances en route; Emma, meanwhile, is unleashed on Dennis Quilley’s celebrated lothario and possible secrets spiller. He doesn’t stand a chance.


 3. The Girl from Auntie

The season’s only experiment proper in changing the line-up, with Steed teaming with Liz Fraser’s gorgeous Georgie Price-Jones when Emma is put on sale to the highest bidder; the result is a deliriously energetic succession of murders and mishaps as Steed and Georgie track down the kidnapper.


 2. A Sense of History

Emma returns to her studies while Steed poses as an old boy at St Bode’s College, where Patrick Mower is on marvellously malevolent form as a particularly self-assured student.


1. A Touch of Brimstone

Controversial but also brilliant, A Touch of Brimstone reignites the Hellfire Club under the direction of a tremendously charismatic Peter Wyngarde; Steed’s audition takes some beating (it’s so damn cool), but Emma’s Queen of Sin pips him.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

This is no time for puns! Even good ones.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)
Perhaps I've done DreamWorks Animation (SKG, Inc., etc.) a slight injustice. The studio has been content to run an assembly line of pop culture raiding, broad-brush properties and so-so sequels almost since its inception, but the cracks in their method have begun to show more overtly in recent years. They’ve been looking tired, and too many of their movies haven’t done the business they would have liked. Yet both their 2014 deliveries, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, take their standard approach but manage to add something more. Dragon 2 has a lot of heart, which one couldn’t really say about Peabody (it’s more sincere elements feel grafted on, and largely unnecessary). Peabody, however, is witty, inventive and pacey, abounding with sight gags and clever asides while offering a time travel plotline that doesn’t talk down to its family audience.

I haven’t seen the The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, from which Mr. Peabody & Sh…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

He’d been clawed to death, as though by some bird. Some huge, obscene bird.

The Avengers 5.6: The Winged Avenger
Maybe I’m just easily amused, such that a little Patrick Macnee uttering “Ee-urp!” goes a long way, but I’m a huge fan of The Winged Avenger. It’s both a very silly episode and about as meta as the show gets, and one in which writer Richard Harris (1.3: Square Root of Evil, 1.10: Hunt the Man Down) succeeds in casting a wide net of suspects but effectively keeps the responsible party’s identity a secret until late in the game.

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …