As an American going up in America with American television, my memories of The Avengers are few and far between. I remember flashes of it growing up when it would end up being run on a local station, of being enamored of the stalwart, extremely British heroes who were unflappable even in the face of certain death. For all that can be said against the film version, it did at least cause my countrymen to rise up in protest and pull out their reruns to show everyone how the series was meant to look.
So while I’m not married to the series as many were, I am extremely fond. And I find that with remakes or adaptations, ‘fond but open-minded’ is the safest way to be. Thus with the new Big Finish adaptations of the Diana comic strip tie-ins for The Avengers: beautifully drawn and weird as hell.
Let it be known that I’ve not had the opportunity to listen to the first volume of these, so I’ve come in completely blind with regards to Big Finish’s treatment of the series. I will say that, right off the bat, Julian Wadham and Olivia Poulet won me over as John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel. I didn’t even need time to adjust – it just was them, from the pleasant poshness to the overt flirting. Poulet is wonderfully warm, intelligent, and upper-class, to the point that I found myself envying both the character and the actress at pretty much every turn. Wadham as Steed is an inspired choice. He clearly has a lock on the character from the series itself, but has been careful to make it his own – an assumption proven correct once I’d listened to the interviews at the end of the disc.
The Antagoniser didn’t go over too well with my pets – the guinea pig shrieks were realistic enough that they set off the local guinea pigs – but other than that, it was a lovely mad scientist story. Richard Earl as Dr. Verbatim was a treat.
My favourite of the set was easily The Mad Hatter, with its posh visiting princess (Maggie Service as the flirtatious Helga) and its literally explosive storyline. Also a treat to hear Terry Molloy turn up in this as Inspector Corduroy, taking a break from ruling over the Daleks in the Doctor Who line.
And finally, The Secret Six. I don’t like to choose a ‘weak’ story, as none of them was particularly bad, but this one in particular felt like it was fraying a bit around the edges story-wise. That’s more the fault of the original concept of the comic than anything Big Finish did. The characters were entertaining, Steed and Mrs. Peel were in their prime, but something about the Most Dangerous Game-ness of the story didn’t play out quite as well as I feel it could have. Regardless, it was still great fun, as were the others.
That’s really my only point that even approaches a negative – because, all told, the series was extremely enjoyable and left me smiling after pretty much every scene. It was wonderful to revisit the characters, and to have them presented in a way that accentuated what about them I most love: the fact that, no matter how close they are to death, nothing is more important than keeping one’s cool, having a witty comeback, and knowing where one’s umbrella is.
My one true disappointment is that they’re now out of comics to adapt. I do hope they’ll bring back Wadham and Poulet for something more in future, whether it be new stories or some other area of the franchise left unexplored. I’m looking forward to going back and listening to the rest of Big Finish’s treatment of the show, and I’d happily accept anything else they have to throw at us. As with pretty much every franchise they touch, they’ve brought The Avengers back beautifully and left me wanting more.