Friday, September 30, 2011


Which The Avengers DVDs Should You Buy?

The Avengers is fifty years old this year, and at last it’s all available on DVD. But where to start? Strangely (but for both practical and quality reasons), not at the beginning. Last night, I celebrated one of the most important anniversaries in Twentieth Century British history in saying Why The Avengers Matters, how it changed television and society too. Today, I have a simple guide to those extraordinary agents’ DVDs for you to watch one of the greatest TV series ever. And if you buy The Avengers Complete 50th Anniversary Collection box set today, you can get a bargain!

Choosing Between The Avengers DVD Boxed Sets

You’ve got a choice of half a dozen The Avengers DVD boxed sets, and if you don’t want to get everything at once, well, I don’t blame you, and I’ll pick which are best to dip into first in a minute. But bear with me. If you don’t have any of The Avengers – and you have a bit of spare cash – obviously I’ll recommend you buy the 39-disc limited edition DVD box set The Avengers Complete 50th Anniversary Collection, which is complete. Completely complete. The lot… Well, except for The New Avengers, which has a different rights owner and which you have to buy separately (but quite cheaply), and for most of the first season of The Avengers from 1961, which unfortunately doesn’t exist any more. So it’s as complete as you’re likely to get, and it’s worth buying if you can afford it. And if you can afford it today, it’ll be slightly cheaper.

The Avengers Complete 50th Anniversary Collection has several advantages over buying all five of the one-season sets. It’s expensive – but it’s cheaper than buying the lot. And while there’s not a lot of range between different sellers, according to this price comparison site, if you order it by the end of today from one site there’s a 10% off code, which for this one stacks up to more than a tenner. It’s quite a nice case, though the packaging’s even more difficult to get into without leaving your prints all over the disc than it is to shake out the jammed-in slim cases from the season boxes. It has a whole extra disc of still more bonus features that they couldn’t fit on the earlier releases (though, and kudos to Optimum for this, they’re having the decency to bring that out separately later in the year so people who’ve already bought the individual seasons can buy it too). And – and this is embarrassing – if you buy them like this, all the discs work properly. For all these sets, for all 139 episodes, the picture’s been restored as well as it can be; there are commentaries, rare little clips, scripts and other pdfs, huge stills galleries (but not much in the way of subtitles). And then some prat at the DVD authoring house managed to let production faults slip through on most of the boxes. Now don’t panic: they’ve fixed them all, and each of the ones they buggered up can be replaced. But it’s a palaver, isn’t it? So get them at once, and because this big set came out last, you don’t have to exchange any of it.

But, OK, buying the individual season box sets has its advantages too. You get a few more extras to hold in your hands – exciting little reproduction press handouts, and not just on pdf. And you don’t have to shell out so much at once, just in case (in some Bizarro-world) you turn out not to like it. And picking and choosing encourages you to start in the middle, which if you’ve never seen The Avengers, might be wise. There were six seasons broadcast through the Sixties, 1961 to 1969; two more of The New Avengers in the mid-’70s. In six boxes. That’s because they some of the early ones went out live, and some of those they recorded, they threw away, so the few bits left of the first season are in with the complete second, and The New Avengers only ran half as long, so both seasons are boxed together. That’s six. So which to choose? Start in the middle. The Complete Series 2 is historically fascinating, has flashes of brilliance (not least Mr Teddy Bear), and changed TV – but compared to the rest, it’s much cruder, and it suddenly hits its stride a year later. The New Avengers starts well and has a handful of terrific episodes, but hits a steep decline. So be counterintuitive, and leave the first and last until a little later.

Which Avengers Episodes To Watch?

So if you were to buy just one The Avengers season box set, which should it be? And which episodes from it are especially tempting?

Most people would pick The Complete Series 5. It’s “The Avengers – In Color” for the first time, with Diana Rigg and American money, a massive international hit. And it’s brilliant. Or you might go for The Complete Series 3, the height of Honor Blackman, the original breakthrough, the strongest of all the Avengers women, much cheaper but inventive and with the scripts starting to leave the ground. And that’s nearly as brilliant. But I’m a bit strange, so I’ll draw your attention to the two others. The Complete Series 4 was the first with Diana Rigg, the first shot on film, and stylish as anything in black and white. The Complete Series 6 stars Linda Thorson, and is satisfyingly weird in blazing colour. Both hit just the right note for me between camp and sinister. But whichever you pick, some episodes are better than others, so to help you pick your year, or to give you somewhere to start once you’ve got it, here are a few to set you on your way…

The Avengers – The Complete Series 4

Introducing Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, witty, gorgeously shot in black and white, and the perfect balance of suspense and silliness. If you choose this DVD boxed set, I think you’ll find it’s the most consistently brilliant of all the seasons, though some episodes are more wobbly towards the end. And the very first episode in the set is the perfect introduction to The Avengers. As I’ve often said, The Town of No Return is a strong episode, though certainly not the best, but its first seven minutes are flawless: the first blast of that famous fanfare theme tune; a bizarre mystery played utterly deadpan; meeting our heroes as they trade barbs and make their way to the scene. Together, those seven minutes make up the most perfect encapsulation of what The Avengers is about, not least in letting you know that unlike every other crime-fighting / spy-busting duo, they just do it for fun.
“Are you sure you won’t have a marzipan delight?”
And once that’s – holding my breath – grabbed your attention, here’s my variety assortment (in no particular order, but with a one-line sketch so you can see which might be most to your taste) of the other episodes you might want to dive in with:
The Avengers – The Complete Series 6

Tara King is younger, more earnest – sometimes – and very easy to root for, growing as she goes along. So do the stories; like the black and white Mrs Peels, these superbly blend suspense and silliness, but here the earlier episodes tend to be the rockier ones. It’s more of a mixed bag, but its heights are fabulous. My personal favourite’s Pandora, but even for The Avengers, that’s out of the ordinary, so if you pick up this particular box, here’s my pick of a variety of episodes you might consider starting with:
The Avengers – The Complete Series 5

The most famous, the most repeated, the height of the series’ wackiness and depiction of Britain as a fantasy ‘Avengerland’, this is Emma Peel “In Color”. Simply iconic, though the last third of this season were made after a bit of a break and (comparatively) run out of steam a little. And if you choose this particular boxed, here are my suggestions for a variety of different episodes you might want to start with:
The Avengers – The Complete Series 3

A little more ‘realistic’ than the others, becoming a big hit in the UK but still with a limited budget, this gives the first, most physical of The Avengers women her finest hours. Steed’s often at his best, too, and Honor Blackman terrific; the downside is a much less polished production and the original theme tune, which isn’t bad, but disjointed and nowhere near as classy as that famous fanfare introduced with Mrs Peel. And finally, if this is the boxed set you pick up, here’s my pick (as with all of these, in no particular order, spanning various tastes) of the episodes you might want to try first:

Of my previously-written Avengers articles I’ve linked to above, incidentally, my picks for the best would be The Town of No Return, Game and The House That Jack Built, as I think I did rather well for each of them. But what are you sitting down reading them for? Go out and find the episodes themselves! And whichever you pick, enjoy, and watch out for diabolical masterminds.

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