Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.
26. The White Elephant
Steed's yoga, comprising watching a daisy grow, is more interesting than anything else in this episode, in which Cathy goes undercover at a zoo in order to locate a missing pachyderm. Even Steed’s visit to a seller of bondage wear can’t lift its lustre.
25. Second Sight
Nice set decoration at the Swiss cornea transplant clinic, and Peter Bowles' really relishes the opportunity for manic laughter, but despite ingredients that ought to inspire, Second Sight plods.
24. The Golden Fleece
Some notable performers (Warren Mitchell, Tenniel Evans, Robert Lee) can't rescue this tale of army veterans involving themselves in gold smuggling.
23. November Five
A stolen nuclear warhead, an assassinated MP, a ransom plot turned plan to nuke the country… Yet much of the proceedings take place down the gym. Still, the ad agency is well-designed. Convoluted and simultaneously lacking in excitement.
22. The Trojan Horse
The bizarre premise of a racetrack as a front for hitmen is most notable for TP McKenna wining and dining Cathy, and Steed's pack lunch at the stables (champagne, caviar and crackers).
21. The Grandeur That was Rome
Both the title and content have the air of a later era, but for the most part without the flair or consistency of approach, mixing up commentary on chemicals destroying the environment with bacchanalias and so falling between two stools.
20. Man With Two Shadows
One of the series’ mainstay "let's double Steed" episodes, and not a bad one; if you can persevere through the so-so first half, it even broaches some bona fide ethical dilemmas. Macnee's better here as an impostor than in the later Who's Who??? but playing himself is definitely his strong suit.
19. Lobster Quadrille
The last Cathy Gale episode, in which she spends significant time tied up in a smuggling operation; the last scene though, replete with references to Goldfinger, goes some way to make up for it.
18. Death of a Batman
Andre Morell and Philip Madoc as investment bankers indulge a spot of insider trading, but Kathy Greenwood's flirtatious investor steals the proceedings; the title isn't really representative (it concerns Steed's old batman).
Threats to a Russian concert pianist – in order to persuade him to assassinate the trade minister! – are on the incredible side, but Nigel Stock makes a marvellous foil for Macnee, as Steed's Russian opposite number, and has a very amusing drunk scene.
16. The Outside-In Man
A strong performance from James Maxwell as an agent released from an Aburainian prison and suspected of being out to murder the man who betrayed him. If it doesn't quite come together, it definitely isn't slumming it either.
15. The Medicine Man
An investigation into cheap knock-off pharmaceuticals where the perpetrators aren't immediately obvious, which is always nice. Cathy sports an eyepatch, while Macnee doing a dreadful impression of an Icelander.
14. The Little Wonders
Macnee's much better here masquerading as the Vicar of M'boti in order to infiltrate mob organisation Bibliotek, where he's surrounded by colourful underworld types. Unfortunately, Eric Paice's teleplays always feel as if they’re lacking that little bit extra something.
13. Don't Look Behind You
Remade as The Joker for Emma Peel, this is less polished but more appropriately off-kilter, with Cathy invited to an isolated mansion and menaced by weirdos.
12. The Undertakers
An eccentric ruse to avoid death duties doesn't really bear scrutiny, but there are numerous incidental pleasures, not least the delightfully dippy Mrs Renter (Lally Bowers).
A quite clever murder plot utilising a Cornish village burial plot and boasting John Le Mesurier and Philip Locke; perhaps a little short on the eccentricity one would expect from this kind of set up, though.
10. The Gilded Cage
A great Cathy Gale showcase episode, in which she's banged up for a fake murder and then has to join a team of bank robbers; Steed, meanwhile, spars with a very witty butler (Norman Chappell).
9. The Secrets Broker
Plonk features heavily here, often a good sign for the series, and if the plot's a rather grab-bag of spuriously connected elements (spying, murder and a spiritualism scam), it boasts the estimable Jack May amongst its many virtues.
8. The Charmers
Remade as the far inferior Season Five outing The Correct Way to Kill, this charm school for villains (knocking off Russian agents) has Steed in his much-admired element while paired with a suitably OTT Fenella Fielding. Oh, and Warren Mitchell proving good value, which isn't always the case with his turns on the show.
7. The Nutshell
A superb establishing location (a bunker a mile underground holding database "Big Ben", which comprises details of all double agents on both sides), with Steed "revealed" as a seller of secrets and Cathy placed in opposition to him; a tip-top interrogation ensues.
6. Death a la Carte
Much amusement to be had as Steed is required to fall in with a selection of chefs preparing meals for a picky Emir. Macnee is in his element, and there's a very solid murder plot too.
5. Build a Better Mousetrap
Reads like a bizarre mash-up – biker gang vs a couple of old witches – but that's exactly why it works. Athene Seyler and Nora Nicholson are great as the seemingly Arsenic and Old Lace sisters, while Cathy, naturally, despite being positively geriatric, joins the bikers.
4. Esprit De Corps
Sterling performances from a very young John Thaw (23 going on 50) and the ever-loveable Roy Kinnear distinguish a tale involving a "rightful" heir to the throne. Making it even better, Steed has to face a firing squad. Eric Paice's last, and by some distance best, contribution to the series.
3. Brief for Murder
Marvellous work from John Laurie (and Harold Scott) as brothers legally-versed in getting criminals off the hook through… well, you have to see it. Steed decides to kill Cathy, which is always good for a laugh.
2. The Wringer
Another with Steed under suspicion, but this time not by his own instigation. He's accused of activities leading the deaths of six spies and subjected to psychotropic conditioning by Terence Lodge's titular interrogator. Tense stuff.
1. Dressed to Kill
An "easy" episode, yes – basically a fancy-dress murder mystery set on a train – but it's done so well that it's irresistible, and boasts a cast including Leonard Rossiter's Robin Hood and Anneke Wills' Pussy Cat (getting very chummy with Steed). With Too Many Christmas Trees, the ideal Avengers double over the festive period.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.