<The Avengers> The immensely popular ABC series called "The Avengers" has long since achieved legendary status since it appeared back in January 1961. Since then there have been 161 episodes, which break into four major sections. We have the early episodes (1-26) with Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Ian Hendry as Dr. Keel. Then the "Cathy Gail" series (27-78) with Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, the man-tossing, leather-covered intellectual who broke new ground for female characters on television. Even more popular was the black and white series (79-104) with Diana Rigg and Emma Peel (read "M[en] appeal "), which led not unexpectedly to the color series with Rigg (105-129). Then the final section with Linda Thorson as Tara King (129-- in which she co-starred with Rigg-161).
As of this writing, the early episodes in the Gale series and all of the King series are not yet available. However, A&E has just released all of the Rigg entries, both the black and whites and the color, in a wonderful boxed set called "The Avengers: the Complete Emma Peel Mega-Set." And Mega, I suppose, is as good as any adjective to describe the enjoyment value of the contents therein. We have here all the Rigg episodes, including the transition entry in which Tara takes over for Emma, on 16 DVDs, each holding 3 episodes with an occasional 4th as a "bonus."
Those who have never seen them before will want, of course, to watch them in order. Others will want to jump to their favorite episodes, which is pretty easy on DVD. You will notice that the black and whites were less studio-bound and the sets in general more realistic. With the first color episode, the series took a strong science fiction bent; and the sets, as the producers admitted, were more a view of England as the Americans would like to think it is.
You will also have a lot of fun spotting stars-to-be. There is Donald Sutherland, Brian Blessed and Charlotte Rampling in "The Superlative Seven," Peter Bowles in "Dial a Deadly Number" and "Escape in Time," Geoffrey Palmer in "A Surfeit of H2O," and Christopher Lee in "Never, Never Say Die." It was a policy that no actor could appear more than once a season, so Bowles and Lee, for example, would have to wait for the King series to play other characters. In fact, the only characters as such to reappear in the color Rigg series from the black and whites is the bumbling Brodny (Warren Mitchell) who can be found in "Two's a Crowd" and "The See-Through Man" and the evil assistant (Frederick Jaeger) to the Cybernaut-master.
And for more fun, see how many actors from "Are You Being Served?" you can spot? There are three in all.
The most frequent repeat actor seems to be comedian Roy Kinnear, who also has the honor of being in the very last King episode in the role of Bagpipes Happychap. And then we have rotund Patrick Newell who was murdered in the very first Rigg entry, drugged in a color one, and wound up as Mother in the King series.
But all in all, it is the interplay between Macnee and Rigg that really made this program work. Unlike Cathy Gale, who seemed actively to dislike Steed when she was not merely tolerating him, Mrs. Peel had a genuine fondness for him and was not averse to stirring his tea (anticlockwise, as he preferred it). And as for the question of Peel and Steed being lovers, recall that they are fictional characters and have no life off the screen.
The dialogue was light hearted, and you seldom if ever saw blood after a mere trickle in their third episode. You also never saw a policeman, an element that for some reason the producers thought would be a jarring note. (You figure out why; I cannot.)
The best episodes? There is no question that "The House That Jack Built" leads the pack. This is the one in which Emma finds herself in a house designed to drive her mad and Steed appears only at the start and end. The worst? Possibly "Silent Dust." The silliest? That has to be "Epic." The most serious? "Murdersville." So what if the package costs a small fortune? You could purchase them separately, of course; but think of what you would be missing.