Skip to main content

How are you, Mrs Gale? I’ve been unravelling the intricacies of your drinks cabinet.

The Avengers
Seasons 1 & 2 Ranked - Worst to Best

I didn't get around to providing a worst-to-best ranking of the first three seasons when I revisited through them, so this is to remedy that. Obviously, there's a slim surviving selection from Season One, but I opted not to include it with Two. Both represent a show gradually finding its direction, first with the pairing of Keel and Steed, the gradual evolution of the latter from mysterious hard guy to the laidback toff we know, and then the patchy partnering with King and Venus before the groundwork for The Avengers' best-known format is established with Cathy. In this capacity, a handful of classic episodes point the way for the show’s high-water mark to come.

Season 1

4. Girl on a Trapeze

No Steed in the first Avengers episode in complete existence, which is a mark against it right off the bat, but there are compensations to be found in Dr Keel's circus trip – it’s full of communists! – mostly in the form of Howard Gorney's cold-ridden superintendent.


3. Hot Snow

The first episode. Well, twenty minutes of it. So it's difficult to give it a fair appraisal. It certainly doesn't have the feel of a legend in the making, as other openers of some other legendary series do, but it does effectively set up Keel’s mission statement.


2. Tunnel of Fear

Recently recovered, and while there's not a Steed to be seen in what survives of the above two episodes, he's in abundance here, going undercover at a circus fairground with variable success (Macnee's not quite in his element). More notable for its domestic strife subplot than the brainwashing and spying.


1. The Frighteners

Steed, in a bowler, up against a criminal gang. That's more like it. Strong performances from Willoughby Goddard as their boss, the Deacon, and Philip Locke as a cocker-nee henchman, and wittier, tighter and pacier than the other surviving first season entries.


Season 2

26. Man in the Mirror 

A risible hoodwinking set-up – Steed gets Venus to take some photos at an amusement arcade and she just happens to photograph the guy he’s hoping she'll snap – only adds to the view that his some-time partner is a dozy as they come. The episode doesn't get any better from there.


25. Conspiracy of Silence 

Notable for Steed's infamy amongst the criminal fraternity being the antagonists' focus – the Italian Mafia send some clown to kill him – but little else. A conspiracy of snores.


24. Traitor in Zebra

Someone is passing on information from the titular naval base, but if all the ingredients are there, including a more than solid cast, it ends up very uninspired.


23. The Sell-Out

Dr King's last appearance is another that ought to be better than it actually, is, with Steed under suspicion for passing on secrets while simultaneously assigned to protect the French UN negotiator.


22. Death on the Rocks

Steed and Cathy infiltrate a diamond smuggling ring; the best bit is the death-by-plaster-of-Paris-face-pack teaser.


21. Killer Whale

The season finale deserves points for basing a plotline on ambergris smuggling; Steed gets some witty lines but the teleplay itself is a dissatisfying mismatch of fashion and boxing.


20. Mission to Montreal

The season opener, this finds Steed and the newly employed Dr King trying to recover some stolen microfilm on a ship bound for Canada; the focus is mostly on the lacklustre interplay between King and an Italian movie star, although Steed scores in his steward's guise.


19. A Chorus of Frogs

Another ship-bound (well, yacht-bound) plot for Venus' final appearance, as they investigate dying divers; the whys and wherefores fail to engage, but Eric Pohlman is memorable as the vessel's host.


18. The Removal Men

Steed pretends to be an assassin, so has to only pretend to kill a French film star. Venus sings. Serviceable, but lacking a spark. Notable for One Ten wasting no time getting his hands all over the French totty. 


17. The Decapod

Steed and Venus enter the world of Balkan presidents and wrestling, a heady combination; some good moments, and Philip Madoc is on fine form as the president's brother-in-law, but too much in-ring combat.


16. Box of Tricks

One that throws in intriguing elements – con men, secrets-snatching and stage magicians – but ultimately collapses beneath the weight of unbelievable plotting. Steed poses as a masseur anda hypochondriac, and Venus does some singing. I know, the latter's a surprise.


15. Immortal Clay

A low-key murder at the pottery – Cathy’s writing a book on ceramics – is more soap than thriller, with strong performances from Paul Eddington and James Bree, the latter as a sad older man obsessed with the business' frivolous young lovely.


14. Dead on Course

Nothing to do with the fairway – that would be Season Four's The Thirteenth Hole – but replete with elements one might expect from later series entries: an isolated village, nuns with machine guns and a scheme to cause plane crashes.


13. Death Dispatch

Blackman comes on board and displays instant chemistry with Macnee. Steed must pose as a diplomatic courier while director Jonathan Alwyn has his work cut out for him hopping across South America in a TV studio.


12. Bullseye

Cathy invests in a dodgy gun manufacturer, but it's Ronald Radd as a proto-Gordon Gekko (only more sympathetic) who lifts an otherwise so-so episode.


11. Six Hands Across the Table

More dubious business dealings, this time in the shipping trade, with flirtations for Cathy and another good part for Philip Madoc. The title's the most evocative aspect of the episode, though.


10. The Golden Eggs

Much more classically spy-like, this, with the objective a deadly virus. Cathy shows off her dazzling scientific knowledge (of course) and Peter Arne again (see No. 2 on this list) delivers the goods as the clockwork-loving bad guy.


9. School for Traitors

That rare (as in sole) quality Venus Smith episode, a university-set outing (see also the later, superior A Sense of History) as Steed investigates a blackmail ring. Notable for several of the victims acting surprisingly rationally in the face of ruin.


8. Propellant 23

Steed and Cathy chasing a flask of Chinese rocket fuel at Marseilles airport and arousing security's suspicions very quickly, with the proceedings enlivened by competing factions.


7. The Big Thinker

A scene stealing Anthony Booth in a plot concerning the sabotage of the titular super computer. The card sharp subplot feels superfluous but is nevertheless engaging.


6. Intercrime

Infiltration of a syndicate of international criminals – a solid fall-back plotline during the early years – finds Cathy incarcerated in order to stage a breakout and join a crew about to pull a heist; the crew are memorably cast, and writers Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke ensure the proceedings are serviced with a tight structure. 


5. The White Dwarf

More Mac Hulke, providing an unlikely – at this stage in the show's history, at any rate – doomsday scenario of a white dwarf re-entering the solar system. But then, given that it is this early in the show, you wouldn't be wrong for thinking that’s not really what's going on. Amusing incidentals include Steed studying the Boys' Book of Astronomy and an eccentrically run Cornish guesthouse.


4. Death of a Great Dane

Don't let the inferior Season Five remake put you off, which diminishes a first-rate Roger Marshall teleplay involving the fate of a bed-ridden businessman's fortune; fine performances from Frederick Jaeger and the peerless John Laurie.


3. The Mauritius Penny

Another enjoyable Dicks and Hulke teleplay, on the surface (and title) relating to the less than scintillating subject of stamp collecting, if concerns, in nascent form – here, with overtly fascistic trappings – a plot by Richard Vernon and Alfred Burke to create a "new Britain".


2. Warlock

A bit of a one-off this, with genuinely supernatural happenings, meaning it's a no-no for some Avengers fans (at least, you'd be hard-pressed to explain the events entirely rationally). But the affected diabolical streak is as winning as the later A Touch of Brimstone's and Peter Arne is superb as the head of the black magic circle that Cathy – naturally, knowing all about the dark arts – must join.


1. Mr Teddy Bear

There have been a few Avengers episodes where the leads are assigned to kill each other, and in this one Cathy arranges a hit on Steed, courtesy of the titular assassin who takes jobs via his talking bear. It's very witty – courtesy of Martin Woodhouse – and Bernard Goldman takes full advantage of one of the series' very best villain parts.


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

Comments

Post a Comment

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…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

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 …

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.