Ask most people what they remember about The Avengers – the TV series, not the Marvel comic and its movie spin-offs – and chances are they’ll come up with images of bowler hats and kinky boots (which, coincidentally, is a pretty good translation of the French title for the series). They might remember the name John Steed, or Emma Peel – or recall that Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman or Joanna Lumley were in it.
All of that is correct – but it’s not where the series started from. Think of the name of the show – The Avengers. Is it just a snappy title, or was it meant to mean something originally? What, in fact, were the leads “avenging”? Finally, there’s a chance to find out, as Big Finish recreate those early episodes of the series which have (for the most part) long been lost to posterity.
Hot Snow is the first story, and quite rightly takes a little bit of time to get going, introducing us to Dr David Keel, and his fiancée, as well as his partner, Dick Tredding. These three, and the relationships between them, are central to the story, leading up to the shocking event (which, it has to be said, is telegraphed a long way in advance) which triggers a complete change in the previously happy go lucky Keel, and introduces him to a character, who prefers at this stage to remain nameless, who knows far more than he ought to about what has happened.
In the CD extras accompanying Hot Snow, John Dorney downplays the amount of work he’s had to do in order to turn the television script into an audio play, but a quick perusal of the first few minutes of the episode (which do still exist) shows just how skilfully he’s turned a very visual sequence, which the television director intercuts with the character-building material, into a seamless audio experience. Anyone who’s experienced the unbelievably awful South African radio versions of the Steed and Peel adventures will know how easy it would be to screw this up.
Director Ken Bentley ensures that we’re always clear as to who is where (which in the case of some characters is important to understand from the start of a scene, particularly once all the double and triple-crossing starts), and ensures that there’s a very 1960s flavour to the whole thing. Not the 1960s of Counter-Measures with its heightened reality, but the 1961 of the first broadcast of the episode, the not quite swinging yet London.
The recreation has been very well cast. Anthony Howell steps into Ian Hendry’s shoes as David Keel, a character often forgotten by fans of the series (although he does make an appearance in John Peel’s continuity-fest, Too Many Targets). His is the biggest journey of the episode, and he’s very believable as the doctor out for answers. Colin Baker almost deserves second billing on this story as Tredding, Keel’s best friend and business partner, who could easily have been a bit of a stock character. Camilla Power adds some depth to Keel’s fiancée Peggy, and Julian Wadham makes a quick impression as Keel’s mysterious benefactor whose penchant for playing both ends against the middle is likely to cause him problems.
With the proper Johnny Dankworth title music – and the end of act stings going into the commercials (the first time that happened, I really did half expect to hear Nick Briggs promising listeners that subscribers get more!) – this is the closest we’re going to get to a full recreation of the episode.
There’s not a lunatic megalomaniac in sight – this is the gritty era of the original Danger Man series not the Bond-influenced period – just a gripping story, credible characters, and well-realised danger.
Verdict: A fantastic start. 9/10