Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.
A tiresome and irritating plot reliant on hoodwinking Tara into revealing the location of Steed and his protected witness. This is a series nadir, not just season one. The ‘B’ plotline, in which Steed plays various games with Angela Douglas, is only marginally superior. At least Mother (who is officially dead) has some decent moments.
Sad to say, The Avengers does not end well. If the title matched the content, that would be something, but this is a substandard retooling (in premise) of 3.9: The Undertakers, and even the usually reliable Roy Kinnear can’t save it. Still, the coda is fun (and okay, a little bizarre).
Calling Terry Nation reliable in Doctor Who suggests something very different to the same in The Avengers, where generally it’s a positive. This early effort received some harsh words from Brian Clemens (who, in fairness to Terry, wrote both the lowest ranked entries of the season). Where he’d later borrow (or homage) with aplomb, Noon-Doomsday is a bare-bones High Noon rip-off, and rather dull with it. Ray Brooks’ assassin makes for one of the few exceptions.
30. My Wildest Dream
Another where the premise has been better utilised previously (in 5.26: Honey for the Prince). Still, we get to enjoy Peter Vaughn hamming it up as a German agresso-therapist, one who encourages “killing in fantasy”. Notable too for a very upset Philip Madoc and early appearance from Edward Fox.
A Spock’s Brain type affair, in which one of Steed’s nemeses manages to make a comeback from beyond the grave. Dotted with decent performances – reliables Christopher Benjamin for laughs and Julian Glover for serious thesping – but mostly, it plays out in all-too obvious a fashion.
28. Have Guns – Will Haggle
Our duo pose as arms traders in a salvaged John Bryce production. It has a bit of a stinker of a reputation, but its problem is mostly that it gets stuck in one place for the duration, rather than leading to the usually round of investigations and confrontations. Nevertheless, there’s solid work from Nicola Pagett, Jonathan Burn and Johnny Sekka.
27. Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XB40?
The operating-on-a-computer-like-it’s-a-person has been done before, of course (only with a bomb – 4.8: The Gravediggers), but it’s still fairly amusing, with a cyber-surgeon setting to work on the title character. The rest is rather less inspired.
26. Homicide and Old Lace
Commonly cited as the absolute dog end of the show, it’s certainly true that the salvaged footage from The Great Great Great Britain Crime isn’t exactly scintillating. Although, it does boast Gerald Harper on top military idiot form. What makes this pretty painless is the spirited banter between Mother and his aunts as he attempts to tell his tall tale in spite of their constant interruptions.
25. They Keep Killing Steed
Some decent elements here, not least Ian Ogivily’s irresistible (to the ladies) Baron von Curt, but the multiple “Steeds” isn’t as cleverly used as it might have been. That said, the real Steed enjoys putting down Ray McAnally’s villain, who has the nerve to consider himself the Avenger’s equal.
Peter Bowles provides reliable villainous chops as another of those bounders who thinks he’s up to Steed’s standards. But woefully isn’t. A very science-fiction bottle of invisibility vodka is key to his escape. Some rather stodgy plot points in the mix, but some nice stylistic touches and Tara is granted a good fight.
Terry Nation’s script featuring a robotic box delivering death beneath a church boasts a cute title and Iain Cuthbertson on fine form – and Willoughby Goddard taking more than a modicum of snuff – but while it’s serviceable, it isn’t as the various elements suggest it should be.
22. Super Secret Cypher Snatch
Strong direction from John Hough, and some effectively executed ideas – hypnosis gas rendering the victims oblivious to the cypher being snatched – and design elements – white overalls and bowlers worn by the villains. Plus strong support from Angela Scoular and Simon Oates. But Tony Williamson’s teleplay feels a draft or two away from being really good.
21. Who Was That Man I Saw You With?
A fun, fashion-conscious villain, but a highly unlikely plot centring on delivering a devastating rocket attack against Britain through making Tara appear to be a traitor… It doesn’t really fly, but Aimee Delamain is rather wonderful as a lip-reader who proves vital to Steed solving the case.
20. Invasion of the Earthmen
Thoroughly lambasted, this one, but it has a suitable bonkers plan, a suitably shabby snake, a suitably silly spaceman suit, and a reasonably dramatic, murderous hunt-the-Tara plot going for it. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s very watchable.
19. The Forget-Me Knot
Like Bizarre, in a sense, as it’s a disappointing send off. But also like Bizarre, the actual send-off scene is rather good (actually, flat-out great in this case), and the memory-loss plot with Emma and Patrick Kavanagh is very silly but mildly amusing. As a Tara introduction, it’s no great shakes either – it’s better as a Mother introduction – but it gets by on nostalgia value.
18. All Done with Mirrors
An inspired setting, both in terms of location filming and the lighthouse focus, as Tara investigates sudden death via the use of a “retrometer” (requiring the mirrors of the title). Perhaps a little light on the eccentricity front.
Completely off the map as far as a semblance to even the “real” Avengers world is concerned, with its faux-Victorian London – aside from the occasional Mother-commandeered Mini Moke. Fog finds Steed and Tara investigating the murderous Gaslight Ghoul’s reignited reign of terror. Generally not very highly regarded – and it is very thin – but it ticks along breezily and Nigel Green is tremendous.
16. False Witness
A really daft plot, one that gets into all sorts of deep water with its logistics, use of opposites, double negatives and communications, via a drug that compels one to indicate the opposite of one’s intentions. Despite all this, it’s often quite amusing (especially the butter gags).
15. You’ll Catch Your Death
The villainous scheme involving a deadly cold virus is on the pedestrian side (and that’s despite the giant nose prop), but the proceedings are considerably enlivened by an array of eccentric supporting players – Charles Lloyd Pack, Ronald Culver, Valentine Dyall.
Jennifer Croxton’s Lady Diana isn’t actually all that special in the might’ve-been Steed partners department, but this deadly titular killer episode is generally very well done, with a particularly effective, trap-laden finale requiring Steed to show his mettle. And the occasional amusing detour (courtesy of Michael Ward’s camp Freddie, “packager extraordinary”).
13. Stay Tuned
The Master and the Rani team up to baffle Steed. Tony Williamson perhaps doesn’t make the most of the Groundhog Day/hypnosis element, but there’s a highly effective villainous turn from Gary Bond, haunting Steed’s peripheral vision.
12. The Curious Case of the Countless Clues
Peter Jones’ Sir Arthur Doyle takes the literal at the expense of the intuitive, in an effective blackmailing scenario that even manages to imbue genuine suspense at times (Tara laid up with a sprained ankle, set upon by villains). The best of the brief and generally rather disdained John Bryce-produced run.
11. The Rotters
Very much in the Rigg era tradition, with the titular characters – Gerald Sim and Jerome Willis – using dry rot guns and veneer of gentility to achieve their ends. The highlight finds Steed playing nice with the duo whenever Amy Dalby’s elderly lady is in the room, leading to the sorry remains of a piano.
Like Killer, this really comes into its own during the climax, as Steed must face the formidable Peter Jeffrey’s traps. The early sections are also diverting, though, in which Jeffrey does for those he perceived did him wrong via a series of deadly games. Some effective visuals from Robert Fuest help to make this a memorable episode – despite the forgettable title – including Tara trapped in a giant hourglass.
9. The Interrogators
Christopher Lee is provided with a decent role as recompense for the dual duff ones in Never Never Say Die. There are some amusing plays on stiff-upper-lip-under-duress attitudes, and Steed comes to the rescue in a very cool manner. Only the less than convincing method of persuading the test subjects to give away their secrets lets the side down.
The Avengers equivalent of a Michael Haneke film, in which Steed intrudes on a particularly unpleasant home invasion. The only thing preventing this from being top notch is the decision to have Steed laid low, rather than constantly matching a villain who’s clearly not in his league.
7. Love All
A great dowdy/beauty dual performance from Veronica Strong, while writer Jeremy Burnham has huge fun with his love potion device, be it a the expense of traffic wardens, Terence Alexander, or mostly, Tara.
6. Wish You Were Here
Steed-lite as Tara re-enacts The Prisoner in a guest house. Only played very much for laughs, particularly in the case of Mother’s prattish nephew, sent along to help out but mostly doing anything but.
Tara has her mind messed with by a nefarious – is there any other kind? – Julian Glover, attempting to convince her she’s the titular character, in one of the series’ occasional Avengers-girl-menaced-in-an-isolated-house stories. Something of a marmite episode, but it’s expertly told and offers a masterful two-hander between Glover and James Cossins.
4. Take Me To Your Leader
There are three Terry Nation tales in the Top Ten, something you’d be hard-pressed to find comparably in his Doctor Who output. If this trail-of-clues yarn undoubtedly treads in the footsteps of Legacy of Death, it’s still immensely funny and satisfying. Steed and Tara must play pass-the-talking-suitcase-to-its-source, intercepting each party on the way. It’s more about the gag rate than the plot, but even that is highly inventive.
3. The Morning After
Pretty much a solo outing for Steed, with Tara suffering the effects of knockout gas (several times). He’s teamed with Peter Barkworth’s quadruple agent Jimmy Merlin in a mysteriously deserted town. A superbly written odd couple yarn, with effective location work from John Hough and a suitably menacing turn from BRIAN BLESSED!
2. Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Head This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…
Dennis Spooner lets rip in the series at its most unapologetically lunatic. Killer clowns on the loose, cameos from Cleese and Cribbins, and Steed going undercover as “Gentleman Jack. A smile a song and an umbrella”. If it feels like an escapee from the previous season, apparently it was.
1. Legacy of Death
And Terry Nation takes the crown. This Maltese Falcon riff fully illustrates why Nation used to write for Tony Hancock, as Legacy of Death deals such a rapid-fire succession of gags, it scarcely matters that some go astray. Stratford John and Ronald Lacey make for a memorable duo as the chief pursuers of a deadly dagger, a trail of corpses accumulating wherever they go (most especially in Steed’s flat). And no true classic would be complete with John Hollis (who, of course, ROCKS!)
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.