Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.
Two’s A Crowd
There are no outright dodos in Season Four, but Steed doing doppelgangers, despite an enjoyable Macnee performance, is about pedestrian as it gets.
Creaky, clanky robo-fun, if you’re about seven. Otherwise, the high point comes early on, in the form of John Hollis as Sensai, who, of course, ROCKS!
The House That Jack Built
Emma banged up in a psychedelically-automated housetrap, which sounds more enticing than it is in this re-envisioning of Season Three’s Don’t Look Behind You.
Room Without a View
Steed’s M Gourmet goes down a treat, but the Manchurian Candidate fixtures and fittings don’t quite blend with the broader-toned hotel setting.
A Surfeit of H20
The premise of weather-to-order and title are fun, Mr Cheeseman makes an inevitable impression, as does Jonah, the prophet of doom, and Steed gets to pose as an affable idiot, but the nondescript villains rather let the side down.
Man-Eater of Surrey Green
The one that inspired The Seeds of Doom, allegedly, and a rare science fiction foray for the show, one that’s played pretty straight and includes Emma shotgunning a hapless henchman; the less said about Steed’s “herbicidal maniac”, the better.
The Danger Makers
So-so notion of military types enlivening increasingly unadventurous service with thrill-seeking escapades, but matters improve considerably when Mrs Peel is required to take an initiation test.
The Town of No Return
The season opener is full of iconic imagery and ideas – an overgrown plastic bag emerging from the sea unzips to a reveal a man in a suit, an all-but-empty village conceals mysterious goings-on after dark, Terence Alexander sports a ridiculous moustache – and establishes the increasingly daffy tone of the show as Steed unpacks an entire tea set, kettle and cake display from a voluminous carpet bag.
Dial A Deadly Number
Death by bleeper in an episode that enters the realm of stock market manipulation but really scores during a wine tasting duel: “Chateau Laffite-Rothschild…1909, from the northern end of the vineyard”.
Small Game for Big Hunters
Crumbling colonialism retires to the home counties in an inventive plotline that makes yearning for the lost Empire the stuff of diabolical masterminds.
Honey for the Prince
A little less light on its feet in treading the line between irreverence and racial stereotypes than Small Game, but nevertheless possessed of a winning self-awareness, Ron Moody and Emma’s Dance of the Six Veils.
The Murder Market
Murder by marriage as Steed and Mrs Peel sign up to Patrick Cargill’s Togetherness Inc and Steed is soon required to kill her; it’s occasionally evident how early in the season this came with a certain Mrs Gale-ishness to Emma’s attitude.
The Master Minds
Brainwashed boffins stealing secrets, as Emma succumbs to their spell and Steed needs a little help in hitting his pass marks.
How to Succeed… At Murder
Like Honey for the Prince, this creaks a bit at times in its of-its-era sensibility, hoisting “silly old feminism” by its own petard, but also sports an engaging line in absurdity, not least Christopher Benjamin’s perfumier JJ Hooter (“My nose is in great demand… I have smelled all over the world…”)
The Thirteenth Hole
Once it gets going, the dirty tricks on the golf course make for a highly engaging episode, as Steed, with Emma’s assistance, outwits first Patrick Allen and then Peter Jones; just don’t ask why a golf club (beyond a “bunker in a bunker” gag).
Emma joins the hunt while Steed gets shot at; an episode more engaging for its colourful cast than plotting, including a wonderfully amused Joanna Wake and convincingly brutish Jack Watson.
The Hour that Never Was
A fine “What is going on?” setup, as Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at his old RAF base for its closing party only to find it strikingly Marie Celeste-like; if the second half reset is a little less rewarding, the episode still gets by on that early attention to atmosphere.
John McSteed flashes his nobbly knees in a haunted highland castle that inevitably isn’t all it seems, ably presided over by Gordon Jackson, while Mrs Peel shows off her deadly aim with the crossbow.
A plot involving a missile jamming signal is strictly secondary to the steam age nostalgia of Sir Horace Winslip (Ronald Fraser), taking his meals in a mock-up “travelling” train carriage, only topped by the silent movie finale with Emma tied to the tracks of a miniature railway.
The Quick-Quick Slow Death
A dance school as a front for infiltrating foreign agents into the country is no sillier than… using a golf club to send secrets to the Russians, I suppose, and there’s much silliness to take in here, including a fake Italian foot fetishist – the foot fetishism is real, the nationality isn’t – and a knockout dance-off finale.
Too Many Christmas Trees
The Avengers goes all Dali-in-Spellbound, but with a festive spin, as Steed has his mind probed; a rare excursion into supernatural (or, to be overly generous, pseudo-scientific) and if you really must do a Christmas-themed story, this is how to do it (take note Doctor Who, which has churned out consistently lousy ones for more than a decade now).
Death at Bargain Prices
Undoubtedly the most bonkers scheme of the season – and by far the most devastating if it had succeeded – is effectively juxtaposed against the incongruity of a department store where shop assistant Mrs Peel dodges predatory superiors while Steed is forcibly ejected from the premises.
What the Butler Saw
John Le Mesurier fits the butler bill perfectly, and Steed is welcomed with open arms as a major domo, having adopted an array of facial appliances en route; Emma, meanwhile, is unleashed on Dennis Quilley’s celebrated lothario and possible secrets spiller. He doesn’t stand a chance.
The Girl from Auntie
The season’s only experiment proper in changing the line-up, with Steed teaming with Liz Fraser’s gorgeous Georgie Price-Jones when Emma is put on sale to the highest bidder; the result is a deliriously energetic succession of murders and mishaps as Steed and Georgie track down the kidnapper.
A Sense of History
Emma returns to her studies while Steed poses as an old boy at St Bode’s College, where Patrick Mower is on marvellously malevolent form as a particularly self-assured student.
A Touch of Brimstone
Controversial but also brilliant, A Touch of Brimstone reignites the Hellfire Club under the direction of a tremendously charismatic Peter Wyngarde; Steed’s audition takes some beating (it’s so damn cool), but Emma’s Queen of Sin pips him.