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on 1 March 2015
A welcome addition to any Avenger Fans collection. Big Finish has taken the scripts to the missing stories and adapted them for audion and this is potentially the only way we will know what the original broadcasts were like unless others ae unearthed in a vault somewhere. Fortunately 'The Avengers' were widely exported so at least there may be something out there somewhere. I am pleased that the audio series features the original theme and ensures the incidental music is of a '1960's homage' although this does sound a little like 60's jazz achieved in 2014 - which is exactly what it is . I feel , without sounding like a pedant, that the original music from Gale season 2 and existing episodes form season 1 could have been utilised or at least re-worked with contemporary techniques. The quality is commendable and the whole experience is a joy for the ear drums. Another comment said they would prefer a narrator and I tend to agree in some bits - the BBC has achieved this with Doctor Who missing episodes without being in detriment howevr if you listen to the episodes a few time then this becomes a nice to have rather than integral. Another bit of a downer is that I feel the actor chosen to play Dr Kell does sound slightly 'wooden' at times and doesn't seem to have the warmth and charm of his peers , this may chnage as the series progresses. I am looking forward very much to other box sets in this fascinating and tip top release strategy. I understand that all episodes will be released with the exception of one episode , 'Diamond Cut Diamond' as , I believe, the script for this no longer exists. I am hoping it may be discovered in a loft somewhere or an archive - that would be truly smashing. Enjoy.
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on 13 April 2015
Excellent version of the original Avengers programmes
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on 9 June 2014
For the small handful of those who don’t know The Avengers, here’s a brief overview:
A legendary British TV Series from the 1960s (and one of the only to get a main US Network prime time slot), The Avengers centred around the increasingly bizarre and outlandish adventures of mysterious Government Agent John Steed (played by Patrick MacNee), most famously accompanied by Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman, who quit the series to do Goldfinger). They would solve the baffling, the impossible and the downright weird in consummate style, drifting from crime drama to fantasy to dark comedy. The wit was always sublime, the innuendo never naughty and the mix of drama and humour blended to perfection. The series continues to be a hit with viewers worldwide, but few know the actual origins of the series or the reason the for title, mainly because the first series was never really sold overseas and the tapes have long been wiped.

Enter Big Finish Productions…

Already known as skilled professionals at producing authentic original dramas based on popular TV shows, they were the obvious ones to bring these stories back. Unusually for them, these are not new stories, but adaptations of the original scripts from those lost episodes. Each has been carefully tweaked by John Dorney, who has refrained from updating and altering the scripts beyond the minimal amount of changes required to make a comprehensible audio version of the story. Outstanding casting and an excellent soundscape that uses original music cues and period styling complete the package.

But are they any good?

In short, outstandingly so. They sound exactly as you would expect a series from this time to, with the characters and action leaping into your mind with such clarity that you feel you must have actually seen the story before. The cast is simply stunning, Anthony Howell (Foyle’s War) and Julian Wadham (Downton Abbey) bring Keel and Steed to such life that you cannot imagine anyone else playing the parts, with both wisely avoiding the trap of trying to copy the original performers. The supporting cast is also consistently excellent, a variety of both well and less known actors all throwing themselves into each story with great aplomb.
The soundscape is also outstanding, period music cues helping to create the perfect atmosphere. There are a couple of occasions where tweaks have obviously been made to make the action clearer on audio (and one where this wasn’t done!), but these don’t detract from the whole and each story shines.

And now, onto the episodes themselves:

1: Hot Snow
Written by Ray Rigby
This is where it all began, before Emma Peel, before the kinky boots and even before the bowler hat.
Dr David Keel is without a care in the world, planning his upcoming wedding to his beautiful secretary… when out of the blue, she is brutally gunned down in broad daylight on a London street. Devastated and confused at this apparently motiveless crime, Keel is compelled to solve the mystery and ‘avenge’ her death. As he digs deeper, he encounters a mysterious stranger, who might be able to help…

Setting up the premise for the whole series, this episode needed to cover a lot of ground, which it manages to do effectively and economically. Instead of the modern trend to have acres of anguish, self-recrimination and descent into nightmares, Keel simply locks his emotions down and focuses the energy into quiet determination and stoicism. Anthony Howell manages to present Keel as a very British Everyman: no unnecessary moping or self-doubt here, the upper lip is indeed stiff, as are the fists when necessary.
Julian Wadham on the other hand, is given a much less obvious role in this episode, his character isn’t even named and his motives are as clear as mud. Just who is this man and whose side is he on?
Storywise, the plot manages to avoid being too convoluted, but the opening itself is rather confusing: it is a very visual scene that sounds somewhat strange on audio and it is only from comments made later on that we can actually understand fully what was going on. Barring this, a strong opening episode, with enough loose threads to bring you back for more.

2: Brought To Book
Written by Brian Clemens
Still on the trail of those responsible for hie fiancé’s murder, Dr Keel agrees to help his new associate bring down two warring gangs running wild in the gambling community. But with lies and deception the order of the day, can Keel really trust John Steed?

While still a little convoluted, this second outing makes a great deal more sense than the first episode, clearing up a number of outstanding plot points while settling down the basic premise of the show. While there is some sense of closure here, it is clear that Keel and Steed are going to continue working together.
Both stars are given plenty to do, with Wadham again keeping some of the mystery surrounding Steed. Importantly, while this does at times feel like the second part of a two-parter, it was written and presented as an entirely separate episode, just with some carry overs from previously. This was something the writers would go on to avoid, working hard to keep each story self-contained with little ongoing plot or character arc. This allowed for stories to be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the series, ensuring casual viewers wouldn’t feel ‘lost’.

3: Square Root of Evil
Written by Richard Harris
Undercover in a forgery gang, can Steed find his target and avoid getting killed by ‘The Cardinal’? Maybe he needs a visit from his friendly Doctor…

Much more of a straightforward crime/mystery plot, Square Root of Evil carries itself lightly on the ears, with great characters and a rattling yarn that while mostly predictable, is great fun to listen to. I say ‘mostly’ as it was beginning to look as though Dr Keel wasn’t even going to make an appearance, but if he was, how was it going to be achieved, the plot didn’t make it obvious. When he does finally appear, it is plausible though and works to the strengths of both characters.
This has clearly been chosen as a vehicle to showcase Wadham’s Steed and the range he can bring to the role, as he needs to be several different people and handle some tricky situations. Mention shouldalso be made of the main guest character, The Cardinal: He is a fantastically nasty piece of work that while apparently Australian seemed to be channeling Christopher Ellison! I’m fairly sure he’s not the kind of person you would want to meet in broad daylight, let alone after dark!

4: One for the Mortuary
Written by Brian Clemens
Taking a well-earned busman’s holiday to a WHO conference in Geneva, Dr Keel is surprised to be approached by Steed for help. And when that help results in a deadly game of cat and mouse across Switzerland, Keel begins to wonder if he’ll even survive this holiday.

If the previous episode was Wadham’s, this one is very much Anthony Howell’s. Dr Keel is given the lion’s share of the plot, with a beautiful femme fatale to rescue and one or two fantastically odd characters. This feels much more like The Avengers we would go on to recognise and love, with overtones of the bizarre and downright surreal. This is a definite caper, with a surety of plot and writing that ably demonstrates Brian Clemens skill at producing great entertainment without dumbing down. Despite Steed’s assertion that there would be ‘no witty sallies’ this time, they definitely are there and are most welcome; the script positively sparkles.

So, a good run of episodes, beautifully presented and chosen to showcase the ongoing series. I’ve already pre-ordered the second volume, available from bigfinish themselves at a sensible price. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys good stories and real entertainment, with just a touch of nostalgia for a simpler time and style that seems to have all but vanished.
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on 11 March 2014
I was so much looking forward to the audio adaptations of series 1 of The Avengers. I didn't have a problem with someone other than Patrick Macnee playing Steed, since I also love the Springbok Radio adaptations of the 1970s. Unfortunately a decision was made to record the scripts as they stood, which means they don't work that as well as audio dramas. It is not even clear at times which character is speaking. Big Finish, if you read this, please put a narrator in future releases.
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on 2 February 2014
Although The Avengers is fondly regarded today as one of the classic television series of the 1960's, its reputation rests mostly on the later, filmed, years which starred Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. The first three series, shot on VT, tend to be less regarded by many, and the first series is the most neglected of all.

This is hardly surprising though, as it's the only series of The Avengers not to exist in its entirety in the archives - virtually all of it was wiped decades ago. Out of twenty six episodes, only two remain - along with the first act of a third (the debut episode Hot Snow).

With nothing much surviving in the way of original audio and with even the scripts never made available in book form, this has meant that it's long languished in almost complete obscurity. So the news that Big Finish have been issued with a licence from copyright holders Studio Canal to adapt the original missing stories in audio form came as very good news. An initial twelve stories will be released across three box sets.

Hopefully sales will be strong enough to ensure that all the available remaining stories (sadly, there's not a complete set of scripts for the missing stories, so the precise details of some will remain a mystery) will also be recorded.

Box set 1 contains four stories, each running for approximately 50 minutes, details are as follows -

Hot Snow - original teleplay by Ray Rigby
Brought To Book - original teleplay by Brian Clemens
Square Root Of Evil - original teleplay by Robert Harris
One For The Mortuary - original teleplay by Brian Clemens

All four stories have been skillfully adapted for audio by John Dorney. Authenticity was the key for him - although small changes had to be made to take account of visual scenes that wouldn't transfer into the audio medium, the dialogue and plots remain intact. These aren't revisionist adaptions - the intention was to record the stories in as faithful a way as possible.

They've certainly succeeded in this, and the sound design, music and performances are all authentically early 1960's. Julian Wadham is excellent as Steed, managing to make the part his own, despite the long shadow of Patrick MacNee. Anthony Howell also gives a fine performance as Dr Keel. Colin Baker and Sophie Aldred guest (Baker in the first two stories, Aldred in the third) and they, plus the rest of the guest casts, are good value - as all players give uniformly good performances across the four stories.

Much more of a crime drama rooted in reality than the fantasy series it was to become, if you've seen and enjoyed the little of series one that remains, then this should be a worthwhile purchase. Or if you simply enjoy well-written crime stories of the early 1960's, then The Avengers - The Lost Episodes - Volume 1 is well worth your time.
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on 13 March 2014
These are first-class audio adaptations of the early - and sadly lost - Avengers TV episodes. So far I've listened to 'Hot Snow' which was thoroughly enjoyable. Excellent acting, background music and atmosphere. If you are an Avengers fan, especially of the Cathy Gale era, then treat yourself to these very well produced stories.
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on 1 April 2014
OK I have to be totally honest here- I was absolutely thrilled on hearing the news that the almost completely "lost" 1st series of the iconic Avengers TV series was to be adapted for audio. The anticipation was so huge that I feared that nothing could ever live up to my hopes. Having seen the surviving 2 episodes and the 1st act of the very first episode I really enjoyed the relationship between the characters Dr. David Keel and John Steed. And therefore it is a real shame that nothing else exists, although apparently another episode (in audio form) is in the hands of a private collector, who, presumably won't share it!. That is our loss, as the actors Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee managed to bring real charm and witty repartee to their performances. We deserve to see more of that. But, barring any unearthing of more lost episodes ala Doctor who, the next best thing is an adaptation of the original surviving scripts. As a TV series was never going to happen (how I wish!) audio was the only way to go.

Having now listened to this first set of 4 stories I feel my fear of it not living up to expectations has mostly vanished. I feel this gets as close to the original as can be hoped. It has the "feel" of the early series as those involved have captured the era and spirit of it and thus the early 1960s lives again here. As it is audio this is achieved through the voices of the actors who give enough inflections and nuances that was so typical of that era on TV. The "posh" characters sound very BBC posh and the "nasty criminals" have an almost "cor blimey guv" cockney tone. This would, of course, sound ridiculous if set today but as it is recreating the original time it is perfect. The Jazzy musical score, which includes the original Johnny Dankworth theme, completes the effect.

Now the biggest challenge, which everyone involved knew, would be the re-creation of the characters Keel and Steed. Patrick Macnee is so ingrained in the mind as the suave and witty Steed that it would be an enormous task for whichever actor played the part to be anywhere near as good. Even the hugely talented Ralph Fiennes in the ill-fated 1998 movie version found it difficult. That light comedic touch that Macnee conveyed so effortlessly seemed to defeat him. Angst Fiennes can do but light-comedy maybe not! (He tried it again in "maid in Manhattan" with, arguably, slightly better results-but not by much). Julian Wadham here gets closer to the Macnee portrayal. He is, wisely, not trying to impersonate Macnee, which would be fatal but is giving his own interpretation. And I think he is doing well. The light throw-away wit that Macnee had isn't quite the same but then Steed as a character was darker in the early TV series. The more light-hearted character emerged later, firstly with Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale and then later, of course, with Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. There were, though, many touches of the Macnee humour even in the early days, as can be seen in the surviving TV episodes of this period.

So far so good. Now the only little stumbling block for me and the reason I stated that my fears had mostly vanished, is in the Keel character. Ian Hendry had great warmth and immediate likeability. Therefore you felt for him when the tragedy occurred. Anthony Howell as Keel doesn't quite have the warmth that Hendry conveyed and there is a slight monotone to his voice, especially in the introductory stories (Hot Snow & Brought to Book). So I didn't feel as much sympathy for the character as I felt I should have. On the other hand Colin Baker, as Keel's practice partner, Dr. Tredding, managed to hook me from the off. Maybe it is due to the fact that Colin Baker is just so immensely likeable. He seems to have that easy going charm that Macnee has and his performance, for me, is perfect. Even though I had seen the original actor in that part I completely forgot about him as Baker made the character so much his own. His voice is so expressive that the contrast with Howell is even more pronounced.

However, by the last story in the set (One for the mortuary) the actors seem more settled in their roles and the performances are all excellent. This story is actually a later episode from the first series and not the 4th broadcast, as you would expect (the others are in broadcast order). By this time in the TV series the characters were well established, and it shows. The story has more of a feel of the later seasons/series, as it deals with microfilms, a killer with an eye-patch and an eccentric taxidermist! Perhaps the reason for this is because it was written by Brian Clemens! (He also wrote the 2nd story brought to book). He, of course, became the producer/main writer of the later filmed series. His style is very evident here.(A nice touch is that his son plays one of the characters in this version and also gives a very insightful interview after the story ends).

I hope the series continues in this vein. This set is a very promising start.
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on 1 February 2014
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