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 and a 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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.

A ship is the finest nursery in the world.

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) (SPOILERS) An odd one, this, as if Disney were remaking The Swiss Family Robinson for adults. One might perhaps have imagined the Mouse House producing it during their “Dark Disney” phase. But even then, toned down. After all, kids kidnapped by pirates sounds like an evergreen premise for boy’s own adventuring (more girl’s own here). The reality of Alexander Mackendrick’s film is decidedly antithetical to that; there’s a lingering feeling, despite A High Wind in Jamaica ’s pirates largely observing their distance, that things could turn rather nasty (and indeed, if Richard Hughes’ 1929 novel  had been followed to the letter, they would have more explicitly). 

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

Duffy. That old tangerine hipster.

Duffy (1968) (SPOILERS) It’s appropriate that James Coburn’s title character is repeatedly referred to as an old hipster in Robert Parrish’s movie, as that seemed to be precisely the niche Coburn was carving out for himself in the mid to late 60s, no sooner had Our Man Flint made him a star. He could be found partaking in jaundiced commentary on sexual liberation in Candy, falling headlong into counter culture in The President’s Analyst , and leading it in Duffy . He might have been two decades older than its primary adherents, but he was, to repeat an oft-used phrase here, very groovy. If only Duffy were too.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

Just wait. They’ll start listing side effects like the credits at the end of a movie.

Contagion  (2011) (SPOILERS) The plandemic saw Contagion ’s stock soar, which isn’t something that happens too often to a Steven Soderbergh movie. His ostensibly liberal outlook has hitherto found him on the side of the little people (class action suits) and interrogating the drugs trade while scrupulously avoiding institutional connivance (unless it’s Mexican institutional connivance). More recently, The Laundromat ’s Panama Papers puff piece fell fall flat on its face in attempting broad, knowing satire (in some respects, this is curious, as The Informant! is one of Soderbergh’s better-judged films, perhaps because it makes no bones about its maker’s indifference towards its characters). There’s no dilution involved with Contagion , however. It amounts to a bare-faced propaganda piece, serving to emphasise that the indie-minded director is Hollywood establishment through and through. This is a picture that can comfortably sit alongside any given Tinseltown handwringing over the Wa