With the introduction of Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, AvengerLand moved from the clunky and shaky world of videotape to the bright and gleaming format of celluloid for its triumphant fourth series shown during 1965 and 1966. Together, John Steed and Emma Peel conquered the globe when THE AVENGERS became one of the first British TV series to be given a coast-to-coast network broadcast slot in the United States. The splendid working relationship enjoyed by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg ensured a greater shift towards humour in the scripts and a far more spoofish take on espionage was explored to upstage the likes of James Bond and Harry Palmer at their own game. Throughout it all, John Steed remained the debonair British agent, bowler hat and brolly complementing the finest English tailoring, while the seductive and super-intelligent Emma Peel - no subject seemed beyond her comprehension, from nuclear physics to ballroom dancing - could dash the ambitions of any megalomaniac with a single leather-clad karate chop.
Each one of the 26 episodes contained in this set is a winner. For those fresh to the show, the likes of 'Death At Bargain Prices', 'Dial A Deadly Number', 'The Cybernauts', 'A Surfeit Of H2O', 'The House That Jack Built' and the notoriously kinky 'A Touch Of Brimstone' are each indicative of THE AVENGERS' imagination and wit, tackling such topics as espionage, the brave new world of technology and shady goings-on in the world of high finance, while also playing host to an array of "diabolical masterminds" intent on holding dear old Blighty to ransom for their own ends. On a personal note, it is thanks to my original viewing of the episode 'The 13th Hole' some years ago that I have since been unable to take the sport of golf seriously!
Many previous reviewers have complained that the mooted BluRay version of this release doesn't seem to be showing itself. However, the prints of what is after all a series made 45 years ago look really sharp and clean all the same, with not a speck of dust to be seen - they are a considerable improvement upon the old DVD editions from Contender; indeed black-and-white film always seems to clean up beautifully for the DVD format.
As for the extras, well, you could quibble that the set is somewhat overpriced in this respect and the lack of a brand new interview with Diana Rigg is a little disappointing, particularly as both Honor Blackman and, I believe, Linda Thorson have consented to fresh interviews for their respective sets. However, on the plus side, the ARMCHAIR THEATRE production 'The Hothouse', starring Diana Rigg as a housewife who suspects her husband (Harry H. Corbett) of having an affair turns out to be a nicely handled light comedy which makes a nice comparison to the work she would shortly contribute to THE AVENGERS. Delving deeper into the history of THE AVENGERS, we get to hear "the original Emma Peel", Elizabeth Shepherd, giving a frank telephone interview about her aborted stint on the show accompanied by some striking images of what Emma Peel could have looked like had Shepherd stayed on. Meanwhile, it is also nice to see the original "chessboard" sequence used to open each story in the States included for us British fans to see, along with the mini episode 'The Strange Case Of The Missing Corpse', filmed as a promo to advertise the fact that the next series of THE AVENGERS would be in glorious colour - the brave new world of technology indeed!
Overall, series four of THE AVENGERS deserves its five stars for the impressive way all the episodes have been restored (Would they really look much better than this on BluRay?) and for the overall consistency of the 26 instalments which make it up. Writers like Roger Marshall, Philip Levene and Brian Clemens should be congratulated for the inventiveness of their ideas, while Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg deserve endless praise for making up such a great double act who, despite the arduous hours in the studio needed to put the series together, look like they were enjoying every minute of it! And then there's that wonderful Laurie Johnson theme tune...
As I say, if you are new to THE AVENGERS, this fourth series is arguably the best place to start. For its long-term fans, well, every one of us would probably agree that the show reached something of a peak here. I know I do.