The Avengers: Review: Big Finish Audio: Steed and Mrs Peel 1.1: Return to Castle De’ath

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Steed gets lost in the mist, and Mrs Peel goes off-piste

Back in the mists of time, when Big Finish first released their Lost Episodes of The Avengers, I pointed out that this wasn’t the series that many people would be expecting – the whacky, considerably larger than life adventures of the bowler-hatted Steed and the ever-elegant Mrs Emma Peel, partners in derring-do, battling an unlikely collection of maniacs and misfits in an ever-so-idealised version of the British countryside.

This, however, is.

Based on the comic strips that first appeared while Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg were starring on TV, these are the nearest we’re likely to get, I suspect, to all-new adventures of the best-known (and probably best-loved) of all the Avengers pairings. From Alastair Lock’s reworking of Laurie Johnson’s opening theme (the odd different chord and accent just setting it apart from the original) to the final tag and appalling pun, this feels like The Avengers from those halcyon days.

That’s thanks to the hard work of a lot of people brought together by producer David Richardson. Simon Barnard and Paul Morris provide a script that acts as a sequel to the original Castle De’ath without either reprising too many of its beats, or making those who don’t know the episode feel as if they’re missing out. (I was expecting a gag about the car though…) The characterisation of the leads feels right, and while Julian Wadham is still recognisably the John Steed he’s honed over five box sets (so far) of Series 1 recreations, here he’s the more refined, laid-back, urbane version of the colour series. Olivia Poulet recaptures the freshness of the character of Emma Peel, never trying to imitate Diana Rigg’s performance, but giving it a similar zest and joie de vivre – you always felt that Mrs Peel was having fun in the TV series, and that comes across here. This episode has its Avengers eccentrics – Simon Greenall’s Colonel prime among them. Can’t wait for him to find his elephant with an AK-47…? (Don’t ask.)

Director Ken Bentley keeps everything moving at a cracking pace, with the requisite speed for the repartee nailed. Alastair Lock and Steve Foxon’s sound design and music are spot on (particularly the reworking of the various Scottish folk tunes into the score).

Verdict: It’s very late night on Channel 4 in 1982 again (oh alright, early evening in 1966 for those who weren’t three or less at the time), as the Bowler Hat and Leather Booted pair make a very welcome return in this excellent opener. 9/10

Paul Simpson

 

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