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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

  1. I'm certainly not going to get vehement over another Avengers fan's choices, and I endorse your top pick. "Brimstone" has, one might say, a sense of history, as well as suspense, clever lines, Peter Wyngard and Carol Cleveland. And all that does not diminish Emma's Queen of Sin garb, however uncomfortable it looks and however overmuch it gets used to represent the show.
    But "Castle De'Ath" has great atmospherics _ make a fine tourist spot, eh? _ along with dour Gordon Jackson, cheerful Robert Urquhart, beautiful stock footage and a wee bit of the pipes from Black Jamie. All right, mini-submarines might not be that easy to handle in practice, but it's an inventive plot, well-executed.
    Aside from being set in the country, "The House that Jack Built" is not a remake of "Don't Look behind You." That's "The Joker." Yes, this episode comes fairly late in the season to be providing a back story for Mrs. Peel, but so what? I know some viewers find the scenes in the op-art house maze tedious, but the set is still impressive. More significantly, this episode showcases some fine work by Diana Rigg as a strong, lone female lead, which was unusual for the era (outside of Cathy Gale).
    Similarly, "Small Game for Big Hunters" does away with the pining for our colonial vassals that often poisons '50s-'60s works. If memory serves, it follows Brian Clemens' pronouncement that "we will never show a policeman or a coloured man." So as not to ruin, you know, "fantasy" Britain." But Philip Levene's script spotlights Paul Danquah as an engaging, non-white good guy. Esther (Ester) Anderson may identify with the downpressor man, but she gets to do something. She's also more beautiful than anyone in the English countryside. And the opening is the best in this show's history.
    Fifth place could go any of a half-dozen episodes, but I'm going to tout "The Master Minds," which has a very slightly less far-fetched plot than many episodes, an unusual pine cone, Georgina Ward in a bikini, a bit of athletics and a real master mind of the sort seldom suspected at that time.
    I will concede the pleasure of watching Liz Fraser and Pat Macnee at work in "The Girl from Auntie," which has some funny moments. But Yolande Turner is under used, and even by the standards of that era of UK television, the production is ramshackle.
    At the bottom end is "Room without a View," with its yellow menace. And the joys of Hooter aside, "How to Succeed at Murder" seems misogynist even for its time. (And really, Steed doesn't need to kill Henry.) Somewhere above them, while Pat Macnee made a good gentleman's man, I'm much less charmed than you by "What the Butler Saw."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments, Joseph: Aside from being set in the country, "The House that Jack Built" is not a remake of "Don't Look behind You." That's "The Joker."
      I did say "reenvisioning" rather than remake, something others have concluded too (Michael Richardson in Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots, dissolute.com).

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