Science Fiction in The Avengers (the Emma Peel episodes)
The Avengers began production in 1961.
, Secret agent John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, had a host of partners over the next eight years - Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel, Honor Blackman as Mrs. Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, and Linda Thorson as Tara King.
A brief commercial message
Please support this site by searching for sci fi, electronics, and other goodies at Ebay through our search box, and bidding on them...and winning them!
In 1976, Macnee returned as Steed in The New Avengers, with Joanna Lumley as Purdey and Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit.
Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry
The Avengers: 1961
There was no science fiction in the first 22 episodes of The Avengers. Dr. David Keel was the "amateur," who helped mysterious secret agent John Steed solve various crimes against the people, and the state.
Hendry left the series after this first year, and it was decided to give Steed a female partner - the first time a man and woman had been equal partners in a drama series on TV. (Television as we know it was a little over eleven years old at this point.)
Cathy Gale may have been suggested by the new comic strip Modesty Blaise, created by Peter O'Donnell, which also started in 1961, and featured a karate-chopping secret agent, Modesty Blaise (assisted by Cockney associate Willie Garvin.)
The Avengers: 1962-1964
At this point, The Avengers were still filmed "almost live," and production values were not as high as they would be in a couple more years. Nevertheless the episodes are of great interest.
Steed isn't the charming gallant that we know from the Emma Peel episodes, and he is much more devious and deceptive towards his reluctant partner, Cathy Gale. They frequently have confrontations over his cold-bloodedness, for example, and their relationship is frequently edgy.
(Steed actually had three partners during the 1962-1963 season. Singer Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) was tricked into helping Steed in 6 episodes, and Dr. Martin King (Jon Rollason) for a couple more. However, most of the episodes did star Honor Blackman as Catherine Gale. And for the next season - 63- 64, he was partnered only byCathy Gale.
The episodes during these two seasons were crime and spy thrillers as well. A very few had science-fictional overtones, such as a device that could jam all electronic and mechanical activity in a certain radius, or a meteor that was suspected to be on a trajectory to hit the Earth, but nothing worth covering in an article on Science Fiction in The Avengers!
The Avengers: 1965-1967
When Diana Rigg came on the scene in 1965, The Avengers really hit their stride. Steed and Cathy Gale had been extremely popular in England, but with the arrival of Diana Rigg, interest from the United States generated funding from CBS, which allowed the production values to rise accordingly. Instead of videotape, the episodes were filmed, as well, so that flubs could be edited out easily.
The first Peel season continued in b&w, the second season was in color.
View our video article: Science Fiction in The Avengers, Pt. 1
Click twice on arrow to start.
Emma Peel starred in 51 episodes of The Avengers, and of these, eight can be qualified as science fiction.
"The Cybernauts": first aired October 16, 1965 (Science fiction)
Businessmen are being killed by an unstoppable human figure in black, who can punch through walls, withstand bullets from guns, and shotgut pellets, and kills with the whip of a hand and a sound like the crack of a whip.
The killer is a Cybernaut, invented by a scientist who intends to turn the world into a cybernetic police state.
Neither Steed or Mrs. Peel fight The Cybernaut. They elude it with their speed, and then Steed cleverly sets one Cybernaut against another using the pen-homing device that is the Cybernaut's target.
John Steed and Emma Peel meet their first science fiction nemesis: The Cybernaut.
"The Man-Eater of Surrey Green": first aired December 11, 1965. (Science fiction)
The central plot in this episode might have been suggested from any of a dozen science fiction tales from the 1950s...or even the movie The Thing (which starred James Arness as an "intellectual carrot" - a survivor of a spaceship crash on Earth, who craved human blood.)
The plot of Doctor Who's "Seeds of Doom" (1976) is very similar - but just remember that The Avengers came up with it first - ten years earlier!
Steed and Emma Peel do battle with a sentient plant, and the humans it controls.
A year previously, Britain has sent a manned rocket into orbit. There is a malfunction, the astronaut dies, and the rocket continues to orbit until "something" collides with it, and both rocket and collider re-enter earth's atmosphere and crash in Surrey Green.
Within days, local inhabitants begin to act very strangely...
Steed and Emma, along with scientist Dr. Sheldon, journey to the house in Surrey Green with a can of weed killer, to do battle with the gi-normous alien. Unfortunately, things are more complicated than they expect...
And that's all the science fiction in the first Emma Peel series. Oh, other episodes have "science fictional" elements, invasion forces living underground, jamming devices for Early Warning Systems and so on, but those are just incidental to exciting thrillers.
The five remaining science fiction episodes take place in the final, color season of Emma Peel.
"The Winged Avenger": First aired February 18, 1967 (Science fiction)
Businessmen are being killed...ripped apart at the top of secure, penthouse apartments. Steed and Emma speculate at first that it's an enormous bird, until they discover Dr. Peel-Poole and his invention of a remarkable pair of boots...
Very much a take-off on the current Batman craze in the United States, there are plenty of comic strip panels drawn life size in this episode, including the climactic duel in which Steed assists Emma Peel with placards labels "Bam!", and "Splat!"
No, this scene is not upside down.
"Never, Never Say Die": March 18, 1967 (Science fiction)
Androids, including Dr. Frank N. Stone (Christopher Lee) have Steed and Emma trapped and helpless.
Another episode that gets four bowlers at The Avengers Forever, but which I've never cared for, for all that it has one of my favorite scenes in any Avengers episode - in which a chess player (played by David Kernan), plays chess via short-wave radio with people from around the world.
Unfortunate driver Mr. Whittle keeps running over the same man...who doesn't die.
It turns out that he lives near a research facility where Dr. Stone has been creating androids...who take over their creators.
"Who's Who": First aired May 6, 1967 (Science fiction)
The instructions to Basil and Lola are to kill the Floral Network, British agents whose codenames are all flowers. In order to achieve this, they have a mind-swapping machine, invented by Dr. Kelmmer, and they use this to swap minds with John Steed and Emma Peel.
The false Steed and Emma move into Steed's apartment, where they proceed to enjoy themselves, not only in killing the agents but also each other's company. Meanwhile, the real Steed and Emma, in the bodies of Basil and Lola, fight to discover a way to return to their original selves.
Agents from the Other Side have a mind-swapping machine.
"Return of the Cybernauts": First aired September 30, 1967 (Science fiction)
John Steed and Emma Peel meet their first science fiction nemesis: The Cybernaut.
In "The Cybernauts," Dr. Armstrong had intended to make a perfect world, policedby cybernauts who would not have the frailties of human beings. Steed and Emma defeat him, and he is killed by his own creations.
In "Return of the Cybernauts," Armstrong's brother, Paul Beresford (played by Peter Cushing), is motivated only by revenge. He uses Armstrong's old assistant (Frederick Jaeger, reprising his role as Benson from "The Cybernauts"), and a Cybernaut to kidnap various scientists.
Beresford puts the proposition to them. He wants them to come up with the perfect torture for Steed and Emma, and they do.Episodes with prosaic explanations
And there were three other episodes that had science fiction overtones - but turned out to have prosaic solutions in the end.
In the United States, the TV series Mission: Impossible began in September, 1966 (and would last until March 1973). Among the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) was "Cinnamon Carter" (played by Barbara Bain), a "fashion model and actress" who could hold her own among the other agents.
"The Positive-Negative Man": First aired November 4, 1967 (Science fiction)
Scientists who had worked at a research facility called Risley Dale are being killed in bizarre ways. Blown through walls, and so on. It turns out that one of their members, Creswell, has discovered a way to tap "Broadcast Power," and has rigged up his minion Haworth in such a way that he carries an electrical charge at all times. A single touch from an aluminum-capped finger means death.
Creswell intends to create an army of such super-beings, to take over the world.
The silver coating protects the villainous Haworth as he goes about electrocuting people.
"Mission: Highly Improbable": First aired November 18, 1967
Every good TV series has episodes that are excellent, episodes that are good, and episodes that are... not so good. This is one of those where a great deal of "suspension of disbelief" must be attempted.
Steed was inside this tank, which was shrunk. He calls to Mrs. Peel, who doesn't believe her eyes. "It's a dream. A dream. A tiny dream."
Nicholas Courtney plays the role of the doomed Captain Gifford (a year later he will portray Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who.)
The episode is played for laughs for the most part, and there are quite a few amusing lines, but the shrinking machine is just too far-fetched for The Avengers.
[And note this is one person's opinion. The Avengers Forever website gives this episode four bowlers!]
This was the last Avengers episode filmed with Diana Rigg (not counting "The Forget-Me-Knot" - the first Tara King episode.
Episodes with elements of SF, but which turn out to have prosaic explanations
"From Venus With Love": First aired January 14, 1967 (Science fiction elements )
Amateur astronomers are being killed, in a way that ages them prematurely, turning their hair snow white.
The British Venusian Society suspects that the Earth has been invaded by Venusians, but it turns out that a near-sighted optometrist is behind it all.
Guest-starring in this episode is Derek Newark (who played an important role in the "Inferno" episode of the Dcotor Who serial starring Jon Pertwee), and Jon Pertwee, who plays an eccentric old soldier narrating his adventures during World War II and providing his own sound effects via an array of old-fashioned record players.
Emma Peel discusses the events with the British Venusian Society.
"Escape In Time": First aired January 28, 1967 (Science fiction elements )
Emma Peel arrives at Thyssen House to find the Escape Route lies...back in time.
Top criminals are taking their ill-gotten gains and disappearing. This is nothing new, except that they were last seen heading for English shores, which is unusual.
Steed and Emma are given a clue to the escape route...a Colonel Jacino will be at Mackiedockie Court with a black crocodile. The duo follow the Colonel until he disappears. Next, Steed, follows the escape route - using the knowledge gained when they'd followed Jacino, with Emma as his back-up. When Steed disappears, Emma follows the escape route.
The problem is that the escape route is back in time. Waldo Thyssen's home has been in his family for generations, and each of his ancestors has a different personality, including Matthew, the black sheep of the family. It is said he invented the rack.
"The See-Through Man": First aired February 4, 1967 (Science fiction elements )
Major Vazin and his entourage arrive in the Russian embassy in London, where Ambassador Brodny is to cater to his every whim. Brodny is shocked to realize that the Major is actually invisible.
Steed and Emma investigate and discover the true facts behind Vazin's invisibility.
This is a fun episode, although it is not at home to either Mr. or Mrs. Logic. Commedian Roy Kinnear has a funny turn as eccentric scientist Quilby, and Warren Mitchell's Brodny is over-the-top as usual.
Brodny sees Major Vazin...or does he?
After Diana Rigg left the series, she was replaced by Linda Thorson as Tara King, for the final season in 1969. There were some "science fictional" episodes in this season, including the final scene in the final episode, where Steed and Tara are accidently launched into space.
While the Tara King episodes have their fans, they are beyond the purview of this article.