Early adventures for Steed
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For all the fans of The Avengers familiar with the Emma Peel/Tara King era of the show, these early episodes featuring Cathy Gale and Venus Smith may come as something of a disappointment. In fact, fans of the later shows may find it hard to believe that they are even part of the same TV series! After the initial run of 26 episodes featuring Police Surgeon David Keel and his cohort John Steed had aired in the UK in 1961/62, the producers of the program opted to bring Steed to the forefront of the action and give him a number of different "assistants." Thus, for season two, 26 further episodes were made and broadcast in 1962/63 featuring Steed abetted by Martin King, Venus Smith or Cathy Gale. Mrs. Gale turned out to be the most popular and successful foil for the suave agent, and the other characters did not return after season two. Unlike the later Peel/King stories which were all made on film, these studio based TV shows are much more reliant on dialogue and plot than visual elements, and can be somewhat heavy going as a result.A&E is releasing these stories in a somewhat confusing order, and has started with season three. The first two sets released, Avengers 64 1 & 2, feature the LAST six episodes of season three. Next comes Avengers 63 sets 1 & 2 which comprises of the first half of the season. Next up in the release order is 63 sets 3 & 4 which precede 1 & 2 in running order and in fact feature the last seven stories from season two, plus the first from season three. Confused? Ultimately, it doesn't really matter, since thankfully there's no real reason to watch the stories in chronological order anyway.What is interesting is the development of the production standards. 63 sets 3 & 4, featuring the latter stories from season two, are far more rudimentary in terms of production quality. The sets are extremely small and sparse; The direction very slap-hazard; Camera work shoddy; Sound is extremely poor; and the acting is negligible. With no budget for editing or reshooting, all the actor's fluffs and goofs stayed in. Steed's character is far less suave and sophisticated then he became later during his familiar role alongside Mrs. Peel, and the relationship with Mrs. Gale in particular is at first downright hostile with very little warmth between the two. He seems to get along much better with Miss Venus Smith, a night club singer who he engages at various gigs to act as his eyes and ears. Venus is a very odd character, and played strangely, but enthusiastically by Julie Stevens. She looks about 12, sings like she's forty, and dresses like anything in between. She also seems extremely naïve and it's hard to imagine why Steed engages her to help him at all. The far more intelligent and elegant Mrs. Gale does eventually warm up to Steed, and in the season three stories where she is the exclusive companion to him, their relationship develops nicely and they become much warmer and closer to each other.The production values on season three are also much better than the earlier episodes. The sets became larger and more elaborate. The direction, lighting and sound improved greatly and the acting was much less wooden. Some editing was clearly allowed on these later stories, whereas the earlier ones clearly were broadcast as if they were live. There's a terrific blunder in "Six hands across a table," where Cathy is called "Ros" in one scene, and both actors realize the mistake, but keep going.The quality of the DVD's is somewhat disappointing, even accounting for the age of the material and the production values mentioned above. It may not be the case, but it certainly appears that A&E have made no attempt whatsoever to re-master the original tapes, and the flaws, jumps, scratches and sound blips are too numerous to mention. Virtually every episode on 63 sets 3 & 4 are hampered by picture and sound flaws and defects. Things do improve for 63 1 & 2 and 64 1 & 2, but the quality is still disappointing. Mind you, it appears they have done nothing to clean up the Tara King episodes either!As a big fan of the series, I wouldn't even consider not having these episodes in my collection, but if you're looking for the wacky camp humor and the tele-fantasy of the Peel/King eras, these stories may not be for you."
Before Steed met Mrs Peel.......
Jeanne Tassotto | Trapped in the Midwest | 07/30/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"there was Mrs Gale and Venus Smith.
These seven episodes of pre-Mrs Peel Avengers episodes. The series was originally meant to be a more serious spy adventure series about two agents Dr. Keel and a much less debonair John Steed. The second series (season to Americans) focused more on Steed, eliminating the Dr. and teaming him with Venus Smith and Cathy Gale among others. Cathy Gale, an accomplished, educated, self confident woman with considerable martial arts training is very much Steed's equal despite being an 'amateur' agent. She has very much in common with Emma Peel although her relationship with Steed, at least in the earliest episodes, is quite antagonistic and quite lacking the playful banter that would characterize the Steed/Peel exchanges. Venus Smith is a very young (perhaps 20) nightclub singer who has no apparent secret agent skills or qualifications other than her admiration for Steed. In many ways, her youth, inexperience, enthusiasm and adoration of Steed, she is a forerunner of Tara King.
The stories include: "White Dwarf" - an sci-fi sort of tale about the possible end of the world; "Man in the Mirror" - suspicious suicide and the living dead; "Conspiracy of Silence" - undercover at the circus to stop a Mafia drug ring;"A Chorus of Frogs" - deep sea murder and foreign agents; "Six Hands Across A Table" - corrupt businessmen attempt to control British shipbuilding; "Killerwhale" - smuggling in the boxing world; "Brief for Murder" - corrupt lawyers use every means to free their clients.
"Man in the Mirror" and "A Chorus of Frogs" feature Venus Smith, (and 'showcase' her singing), the rest pair Steed with Cathy Gale. These are very low budget productions, completely lacking in the polish that appears in later years. The stories are all in black and white, with rather sparse sets. Camera work is jerky, sound quality uneven giving the whole thing a feeling of being shot live (which it was not) even to the point of leaving in obvious errors, like forgotten or wrong lines.
So why get these dvds? For Avenger fans it is interesting to see the beginnings of their favorite secret agent, John Steed, to see him before he developed his lighthearted, polished sophistication. Cathy and Venus are the forerunners of Emma Peel and Tara King and paired with Steed face not the campy eccentrics of the later series but instead more gritty serious villians. In the later series the emphasis was on the flashy visuals, the campy comedy punctuated by adventure here the reverse is the case, the spy adventure is at times sprinkled with bits of comic relief."
Jeanne Tassotto | 07/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the best DVD set that I ever bought! This set is a must-have for true Avengers fans. The picture is crisp and this will be a part of your collection forever."
No real standouts
Mark James Drummond | 02/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not that much different from the other Blackman DVD sets, though the ending of the last episode contains a few too many references to "Goldfinger". The biggest surprise is that Steed calls up an unnamed female replacement for Cathy immediately after she departs. Don't be fooled into thinking that any Diana Rigg outtakes exist from this time though; she hadn't even been cast yet."