What with Network's slew of soundtrack releases from other cult fare like 'The Protectors' & 'Jason King' and now this: Season 2 & what's left of Season 1 of 'The Avengers' remastered and crammed full of extras, it's been an expensive year.
For those late arrivals to The Avengers phenomena and who may only know The Avengers via the (much repeated) Diana Rigg seasons (4&5), season 2 is an altogether different beast. Firstly, the Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman)character appears in only 17 of the 26 episodes, the remaining 6 were shared between Dr.Martin King (Jon Rollason) and nightclub singer Venus Smith (Julie Stevens). The majority of the episodes are highly conventional and hold few surprises. Even the most devoted Avengerphile must concede that due to the way in which Season 2 was recorded, mostly live, the production values are basic to say the least. Cameras and sets are prone to shake, props are dropped, lines often fluffed and musical cues arrive late - a technician, behind the scenes, had to manually drop the needle onto the record. Sometimes the camera is out of position and the actors are obscured by props. In episodes where a scene has been pre-recorded, it is often out of focus and some episodes contain stock footage that seems to date from as far back as the 40's. If an episode was judged to be running over-time, scenes had to be scrapped there and then. Each episode is more akin to watching theatre than TV and in some cases the acting is bigger than it should be. Due to the fast turnover between scenes, it was not unusual for main actors to be wearing the next costume underneath their clothes - for Honor Blackman undressing behind the sets in front of studio techs became second nature. Knowing all this, it is a testament to both crew and actors that The Avengers ran as smoothly as it did.
The highlights of any episode are when Steed & Gale are featured in a scene. The interplay between both is a delight to watch and made more sexier by the restrictions placed upon them by the strict moral code of the day. Macnee was one of those rare actors with an innate ability to improvise 'business' without getting in the way of his fellow actors. Intuitively, he knew just how far he could take his performance without resorting to farce. In direct contrast, Honor Blackman's Gale is a study of intellectual cool, beautiful, witty and ultimately deadly.
The discs are crammed with extras, the quotient of rare stills for each episode are staggering and feature many candid shots taken in rehearsal. The picture quality is as good as you will get and for those used to VHS copies will find it a revelation. The accompanying book has a run down of all Season 1 episodes and reproduces one of Leonard White's scrap books made at the time.
Personally, I had no problem accessing the extras but with the promise from Optimum to replace all offending discs, and with the considerale drop in price (I've seen it on the High Street for £80.00) I have no choice but to award 5 stars.