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 Jonah, 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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Did you not just hand over a chicken to someone?

The Father (2020) (SPOILERS) I was in no great rush to see The Father , expecting it to be it to be something of an ordeal in the manner of that lavishly overpraised euthanasia-fest Amour. As with the previous Oscars, though, the Best Picture nominee I saw last turned out to be the best of the bunch. In that case, Parasite , its very title beckoning the psychic global warfare sprouting shoots around it, would win the top prize. The Father , in a year of disappointing nominees, had to settle for Best Actor. Ant’s good, naturally, but I was most impressed with the unpandering manner in which Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton approached material that might easily render one highly unstuck.