Friday, December 31, 2021
The Avengers vs Doctor Who – A Selection Box
My two favourite TV series, both starring a surprisingly un-macho hero and fabulous women, both kicked off in the early Sixties by Sydney Newman, both among the most iconic and most successful British TV ever made – both exciting, witty, weird and fun.
If there’s one Avengers episode that’s influenced Doctor Who more than any other, it’s The Cybernauts
Of all the Doctor Who crossover actors, watch out for From Venus With Love and Stay Tuned
Of all the Doctor Who crossover plots, marvel at The Morning After and Man-Eater of Surrey Green
And as I publish this right now, try Look – (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… and Dressed to Kill.
But keep reading for why, and for many more!
To Begin With… Introducing Doctor Who and The Avengers
The Avengers – A man with a bowler hat and a woman who throws men over her shoulder
Now you can skip to the selections below and start watching, really, but if you want more about one or the other, you could say that both series revolve around a mysterious, flamboyant figure who tempts you from our world into a strange one off to one side, and that neither carry guns or take themselves as seriously as their mission…
Who is the Doctor?
When the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, fell to Earth to play the role for the first time, I wrote So Who is The Doctor Anyway? All You Need To Know About Doctor Who, but, again, the TL;DR—
The Doctor is a traveller in time and space who goes anywhere, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. The Doctor obeys no authority but their own moral sense, uses intelligence rather than violence, and takes joy in taking friends to explore the wonders of the Universe.
Doctor Who began in 1963 and has run ever since in one medium or another, but most prominently on TV through the following three decades and then again ever since 2005 – and back this very Saturday for New Year.
Who are The Avengers?
“The Avengers is about a man in a bowler hat and a woman who flings men over her shoulders.”
…said Patrick Macnee, Steed, and I can’t say better than that, can I? Or as a famous American trailer told us, that extraordinary crimes have to be avenged by agents extraordinary – John Steed, top professional, and his talented amateur partners – The Avengers. Together, they fight diabolical masterminds. Steed is a shady arm’s-length government agent whose gorgeous old-fashioned suits and bowler are almost as wilfully anachronistic as the Doctor, while The Avengers’ own version of time travel is to pair this seemingly conservative continuing lead with a series of intelligent, capable, confident, experienced and physically combative women that broke the TV mould and created the future (and several excellent men, but none so memorable as Steed or The Avengers’ women). Steed is more casually ruthless than the Doctor but just as playful – winning as often as not through outrageous cheating, while the only rule his partners break is gender. A brilliant balance of suspense and silliness, bizarre mysteries, and more than any other crime-fighting / spy-busting duo, they do it for fun. The Avengers is a secret agent series, a comedy-thriller, occasionally sci-fi, riding old-fashioned Britishness and Swinging modernity with equal excitement, its greatest genius to make all the women ahead of their time and the man from a bygone age, a fantasy of Britain with Steed playing on the swings at the heart of Avengerland.
The Avengers began in 1961 and ran through to 1969, along the way becoming the biggest ever hit British show on primetime US TV just as Doctor Who became a hit in dozens of countries, then returned as The New Avengers in the mid-’70s and, like Doctor Who, still lives on in Big Finish productions.
Both much more strange and interesting than almost any other TV series, both sometimes very funny, sometimes sinister, it’s no surprise that The Avengers is the closest show to my heart than any but Doctor Who. Several writers worked on both – and several plots found their way from one series to the other, with cross-fertilisation apparent as early as Sara Kingdom, the Doctor’s high-action, leather-suited companion in The Daleks’ Master Plan – but it’s the actors who really stand out. Avengers Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Gareth Hunt, Patrick Newell and Joanna Lumley all had Doctor Who roles too. The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, wasn’t just the most Earthbound but had his own The Avengers part, as did the Master, the Rani, and no fewer than three First Doctors (yet not the original). The guest artists appearing across both series are too many to list, but you can find actors from The Avengers and The New Avengers even well into this century’s New Who – most notably Bernard Cribbins and Diana Rigg, but also the likes of Christopher Benjamin, Lindsay Duncan, Roy Marsden and Stephen Moore (and more).
If you’re a Doctor Who fan looking for an excuse to be enticed into The Avengers, here are a few recommendations that stand out. Not necessarily the best, nor all my favourites, nor the most quintessentially The Avengers, but a selection box of flavours you might just recognise…
Doctor Who Stars in The Avengers
From Venus With L💘ve (Mrs Peel – IN COLOR)
The Brigadier, but not the one you’re expecting: he’s Jon Pertwee!
Plus other Doctor Who guest stars from as early as the very first story in 1963 (Derek Newark) to The Eleventh Hour in 2010 (Arthur Cox), and of course The Crimson Horror’s Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel.
This was the first colour episode of The Avengers to be transmitted, and like Doctor Who’s first colour story, Spearhead From Space (itself packed with Avengers crossover actors), this is shot gorgeously all on film, goes down to Earth but not quite the world as we know it as our heroes – the eccentric dandy in the vintage car and the fantastically overqualified, caustically sharp-witted scientifically accomplished woman working for a mysterious secret agency – investigate an alien invasion…
The Eagle’s Nest (The New Avengers)
In which movie Dr. Who Peter Cushing is delightful, in almost the same moustache!
He’s so much nicer than his Frankenstein, despite this role having crossover appeal to that too (and still more to Doctor Who – The Brain of Morbius, starring multiple-Avengers’ Philip Madoc).
This episode introduces Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt as The New Avengers, and for Doctor Who side-leads also gives us a minor role for the lovely Trevor Baxter, famously Professor George Litefoot. Slightly disappointingly, Litefoot gets an unrewarding role in a good episode, while Jago has a rewarding role in weak ones: Trevor Baxter’s partner in Jago & Litefoot, Christopher Benjamin, is probably the best thing in three different indifferent Avengers episodes, of which the best is probably Split! (which also stars the superb Julian Glover).
Return of the Cybernauts (Mrs Peel, Colour)
In which movie Dr. Who Peter Cushing is not delightful at all, but full of sinister charm.
With Frederick Jaeger, Fulton Mackay and of course the Cybernauts, of which more later.
Legacy of Death (Tara King)
Among many villains (and several Doctor Who guest actors) one-time third First Doctor Richard Hurndall.
This one’s a parody of The Maltese Falcon written by Dalek devisor Terry Nation (with a hint of Davros). He also sends up his own Daleks, not entirely successfully, in Thingumajig, while his Invasion of the Earthmen has an absurdly ambitious satirical concept not done all that well but does manage to anticipate The Sontaran Stratagem and even (briefly) the Sontaran design. But if you’re looking for a really excellent Terry Nation The Avengers, go for Take Me To Your Leader – despite the title, that isn’t very Doctor Who at all, but it is fast, stylish and hugely entertaining.
Stay Tuned (Tara King)
The story looks like a time loop… Could it be something to do with two evil Time Lords brought together (if only briefly sharing the camera) long before The Mark of the Rani – the Master and the Rani, Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara!
Look – (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… (Tara King)
The wonderful Bernard Cribbins! He’s just turned 93 this week, and you can see this one on ITV4 on Monday 3rd January at 8.30am (he’s also in The Girl From Auntie).
But that’s not all – this outstandingly fun episode is written by Doctor Who writer Dennis Spooner and has several other crossovers from John Woodvine to John Cleese.
Dressed to Kill – Anneke Wills & Steed in fancy dress; Look – (Stop Me…) – Bernard Cribbins & Steed in a paper-strewn mess
Dressed to Kill (Cathy Gale)
Another topical episode as I write: this is a tale of the New Year, so one for tonight!
And among several fabulous guest stars is Doctor Who companion-to-be Anneke Wills.
Mission… Highly Improbable (Mrs Peel, Colour)
Not quite the Brigadier but a similar sort of role for Nicholas Courtney, with bonus Kevin Stoney – in between the two of them being on opposite sides in Doctor Who’s The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Invasion (though in the end they’re given quite small parts).
The Avengers Plots in Doctor Who
The Morning After (Tara King, though in this Steed’s mostly paired with Peter Barkworth)
This terrific, eerie, stylish adventure is immediately recognisable as a much crisper prototype of the more political Invasion of the Dinosaurs, though in this one the big, roaring monster is BRIAN BLESSED!
The Mauritius Penny (Cathy Gale)
Written by Doctor Who authors-to-be Malcolm Hulke & Terrance Dicks, in which a tiny thing spirals hugely out of control and eventually into a plot that echoes later in Doctor Who – Robot. Though it gets even bigger there.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green (Mrs Peel, B/W)
The most infamous of all, as most of this plot sprouts again in The Seeds of Doom. Although it’s also fair to say that both borrow quite a bit from Quatermass…
Doctor Who Cameos in The Avengers
Death at Bargain Prices (Mrs Peel, B/W)
Featuring André Morell (more bonus Quatermass), T.P. McKenna, John Cater and Peter Howell, but this exciting adventure with a department store most strikingly sees Diana Rigg arranging toy Daleks.
I know what the male gaze wants… Daleks. – Death at Bargain Prices
Target! (The New Avengers)
Gasp at repeated cameos for a shockingly abused TARDIS in The New Avengers’ most iconic (if not most logical) episode. Featuring many familiar faces and the worst Doctor in the world (medically), Target! is written by former Doctor Who Script Editor Dennis Spooner and is almost a doppelgänger for the previous year’s Doctor Who – The Android Invasion, written by former The Avengers Script Editor Terry Nation. Even the very first episode of The Avengers, Hot Snow, has a pre-Doctor Who police box in a rainy film insert in its surviving quarter-hour.
Target! – a police box stands on a village corner, John Steed at its side.
The House That Jack Built (Mrs Peel, B/W)
Before the police box exterior in Target!, an old-fashioned exterior hides weird ultra-modern corridors with what seems to be a super-sci-fi central control console. If the titular House That Jack Built isn’t a TARDIS… I like to imagine the villainous Professor Keller let the Master have his identity for The Mind of Evil, and the Master let him borrow his TARDIS to get at Mrs Peel in return. If ever The Avengers consciously borrowed from Doctor Who, this is it…
An Eccentric Array of Doctor Who-interest The Avengers Episodes
The Cybernauts (Mrs Peel, B/W)
…While this most sci-fi of all The Avengers conspicuously influences Doctor Who from the obvious Cyber-monsters through The Web of Fear and Spearhead From Space to Terror of the Zygons, with an abundance of familiar actors as a bonus (Michael Gough, Frederick Jaeger, Bernard Horsfall, Burt Kwouk, John Hollis, John Franklyn-Robbins…).
The Cybernauts – a blank-faced metal Cybernaut (brilliantly disguised in dark glasses, coat and hat). Smashing!
The Positive Negative Man (Mrs Peel, Colour)
It’s not so much the plot here that turns up in Doctor Who as many individual images; with its mysterious stalking figure that kills with one touch, or burning files in a safe, not to mention people being ‘magnetised’ to an antique car, I wonder who was watching a repeat of this one evening while working on The Ambassadors of Death.
The Gravediggers (Mrs Peel, B/W)
A Doctor Who writer in Malcolm Hulke and not just several Doctor Who guest stars but even two from half a century later in New Who (Diana Rigg and Steven Berkoff). Not given much to do here but a particular favourite of mine, this is The Avengers with the fabulous Wanda Ventham, who guest-starred in Doctor Who stories in 1967, 1977 and 1987, and I have to say New Who seriously missed out by not casting her in 2007 and 2017 too.
The Wringer (Cathy Gale)
See Doctor Who producer-director-to-be Barry Letts when still an actor! Plus, amid several Who actors, mind-melting Terence Lodge makes me feel this is a little like The Macra Terror.
Quick-Quick Slow Death (Mrs Peel, B/W)
Strictly Avengers by Robert Banks Stewart, who later wrote two of the most Avengers-adjacent Doctor Who adventures in Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom.
The Town of No Return (Mrs Peel, B/W)
Introducing Diana Rigg, whose Doctor Who – The Crimson Horror features an explicit plot lift from this, and for me the first seven minutes of this are the ideal introduction to The Avengers. Plus the first of many appearances by Patrick Newell.
Escape in Time (Mrs Peel, Colour)
And finally – ish – not just guest-starring Geoffrey Bayldon, on audio the fourth First Doctor (or minus-oneth, or… well, another one, anyway), not just one of my favourite Avengers guest villains in his biggest role (Peter Bowles, who crosses over to The Sarah Jane Adventures many years later, just as Murray Melvin goes from the very first Avengers episode to an enigmatic enemy in Torchwood), not just one of the most vividly enjoyable escapades in Avengerland, but the one with time travel!
Or is it?
Though these are the ones that most stand out for me, you can find Doctor Who connections in dozens more of The Avengers. The Curious Case of the Countless Clues stars Edward de Souza, the only TV Doctor Who lead in a story with no Doctor at all; All Done With Mirrors and Angels of Death feature Dinsdale Landen, but in which is he as villainous as Fenric? Fog is as mock-Victoriana as The Talons of Weng-Chiang, even down to Patsy Smart’s crumbly Cockney, while The Enemy of the World borrows wholesale from The Living Dead. And I’ve somehow not paid enough attention to some of my very favourite Doctor Who villains who cross over as some of my very favourite The Avengers guest stars (and villains – or are they?), so three each for:
- Julian Glover – Pandora, The Living Dead, Two’s A Crowd
- Philip Madoc – My Wildest Dream, The Decapod, Death of a Batman
- Peter Jeffrey – The Joker, Game, House of Cards
The Three Villains (or are they?)
Or… Doctor Who Stories to intrigue The Avengers Viewer
Spearhead From Space (Third Doctor)
I’m mainly assuming all this is most likely to be read by people more familiar with Doctor Who than The Avengers, but for the other way round, this is a great place to start. As I said above, this is about as The Avengers (and as Quatermass) as Doctor Who gets, with crossover actors, a flamboyant Doctor and a brilliant woman lead, and where the sinister countryside should have a sign up saying ‘Twinned with [From] Venus [With Love]’.
The Seeds of Doom + City of Death (Fourth Doctor)
The Seeds of Doom is the most infamous homage, with a mean green* menace from outer space, a millionaire plant obsessive with a murderous chauffeur, and even a scene-stealingly fabulous eccentric elderly lady. But I’m going to go against the tide and say that while it may be very Avengers on paper (from Avengers writer Robert Banks Stewart), the stylish, powerful direction means it doesn’t feel like The Avengers at all. It’s the closest Doctor Who comes to The Sweeney. So I’d pair this with its opposite: between them brutal The Seeds of Doom and witty, arch City of Death are the tonal extremes of Tom Baker’s Doctor, and while the plot has little of The Avengers, City of Death has an insouciantly Avengers mood and even Villainous Julian Glover.
*Technically black and white in The Avengers
The Web of Fear + The Mind Robber (Second Doctor)
Similarly, take one story with terrific filming and robots exchanging great, smashing blows from The Cybernauts (and guest-starring part-time Avenger Jon Rollason), add another with fabulous Op-art sets and surrealism (featuring the most Avengers fight for any companion), to find Doctor Who being quite Avengers-y between them.
The Who Avengers!
The Crimson Horror (Eleventh Doctor)
Villainous Diana Rigg! Who could ask for more? With a diabolically The Avengers sort of plan a hundred years early and a fake-out with a gramophone borrowed from her first The Avengers episode.
The Trial of a Time Lord – Terror of the Vervoids (Sixth Doctor)
Guest-starring Honor Blackman as Professor Lasky, almost as intelligent as Mrs Gale (though to be frank both her judgment and her outfits are far better in The Avengers).
Planet of the Spiders (Third Doctor)
Gareth Hunt as a pre-The New Avengers bit of rough. Also starring (in thrilling stunt chases) Jon Pertwee from The Avengers – From Venus With Love.
The Android Invasion (Fourth Doctor)
Terry Nation writes by far his most The Avengers Doctor Who script in tone, with a mysterious village and the Brigadier replaced by Mother (Patrick Newell). And yet a completely different story is titled The Androids of Tara (though that one’s much better, even more entertaining, and stars Villainous Peter Jeffrey).
Robot (Fourth Doctor)
Terrance Dicks borrows just some of his The Avengers story The Mauritius Penny, the Doctor and Sarah Jane are as witty and wonderful a pair as you could wish for, and Harry disguises himself as Steed. And both Steed and the Doctor formatively fight fascists.
The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor)
Though Honor Blackman turned down a role in this one, we still have fabulous women, including an icily amazing Time Lady who’s the Doctor’s equal, and like so many Avengers it could be subtitled ‘Escape From the Country’ (the villain has chosen to escape to the countryside, which just proves it).
The Curse of Fatal Death (The Many Doctors)
A Comic Relief spectacular in which the ultimate Doctor is Joanna Lumley.
Pick one, dive in, and enjoy!
This was partially inspired by the lovely Roy Gill’s #AvengersWho Twitter thread at the beginning of the year, mashing up The Avengers / Doctor Who story titles. I particularly enjoyed his ‘Castle De’Ath To The Daleks’ and ‘The Hexapod’, Elliot Chapman’s ‘Dial a Deadly Assassin’ and Brendan Jones’ outstanding ‘You Have Just Been Pulverised Into Fragments And Sent Floating Into Space And In My Book That’s Murdered’. I added ‘Doctor Who Was That Woman I Saw You With’ and ‘Rise of the Cybernauts / The Age of Steed’, but then took eleven months to think about this more detailed contribution.
Update: Daniel Blythe brilliantly calls my attention to a fourth First Doctor (technically the third?) in The Avengers, as Frederick Jaeger plays a character who becomes the Doctor for a time in Doctor Who – The Savages.