Big Finish - THE AVENGERS: The Comic Strip Adaptations Vol 4, Steed & Mrs Peel Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish - THE AVENGERS: The Comic Strip Adaptations Vol 4, Steed & Mrs Peel Review

Matthew Kresal is transported back to the heyday of spy-fi.

Say '1960s British TV spy-fi' to someone and, after they tell you that's quite a mouthful, they'll likely mention The Avengers. As they should, given its iconic status thanks to Patrick Macnee as the debonair John Steed alongside fellow agents such as Diana Rigg as Emma Peel gracing screens throughout much of the decade. But, Steed and Mrs. Peel were busy off-screen as well, in a series of comic strip adventures appearing in various publications such as TV Comic. It is those stories that Big Finish has been adapting since 2016, with the latest box-set featuring four of the TV Comic adventures realized on audio in all their 1960s spy-fi glory.

The set kicks off with Listen Hear... from Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, an episode that puts the series' spy-fi credentials on full display. Its plot, involving Steed and Peel trying to recover a piece of tech with the potential to upend the Cold War power game in a race against enemy agents, certainly is of the period. But there's also a slightly surreal and fantastic feel to the story, in proper Avengers-style, especially in the latter half. Khan and Salinsky, drawing and expanding upon the original comic, pitch a tale that perfectly captures the show in this era, including the interactions between its two protagonists. Featuring action above and below the waves, not to mention a pair of bickering eastern European agents, it makes for a fun listen indeed and a delightful kick-off to the set.

Dan Starkey's adaptation of The Clown Has Two Faces sees the duo in a most unlikely location: at the circus. Following the theft of secret plans, Steed and Peel find themselves up against a group of enemy agents trying to smuggle plans for a new nuclear reactor out of the country right under the big top. Given the circus setting, it's a story that's both very easy to imagine being onscreen at the time and also immensely visual. The latter is something that can be the kiss of death for audio drama, with the potential for characters to describe things unnaturally in dialogue. Thankfully, Starkey (likely best known to Big Finish listeners as Strax the Sontaran in The Paternoster Gang Doctor Who spin-off) and director Samuel Clemens (himself the son of longtime Avengers writer/producer Brian Clemens) avoid the cliche and deliver a fun listen.

Of the four acventures in the set, the one perhaps most rooted in sixties spy-fi is White Heat by Gemma Langford. There's a new super-weapon being used to ransom London, to the tune of a cool million pounds, or else it faces being laid waste in a second Great Fire. It's up to our duo to locate it and its inventor down, following the only lead they've got: one of their fellow agents, wounded trying to track it down, who lost their partner in the attempt. What on the surface appears to be a simple mad scientist story ends up being something more twisty as it progresses, with double-crosses and humorous banter existing side by side with a ticking clock. It's that spy-fi mix of elements, which the Avengers revealed in on TV, which also secures White Heat as this reviewer's favorite from the set.

The ever-reliable John Dorney takes a bow with his script for Now You See Him.., the prequel to a Steed and Tara King story adapted in last year's set. That's something that if, like this reviewer, you missed out on hearing that set (something which I aim to rectify shortly) need not worry you. Dorney's adaptation is a sublime stand-alone tale involving a brain drain from one of the country's most prestigious scientific institutes, with the disappearances seeming to have one link: a magic show at a theatre. Though following hot on the heels of Starkey's similarly themed tale, Dorney's script is a different kettle of fish, playing up the theatrical and magic elements of the plot to full effect. It might be in this episode's favor that it features a fantastic villain in the form of Nicholas Asbury as Margrave the Magnificent, rounding off perhaps the best of this set's adaptations.

As with so many of Big Finish's works, it also benefits immensely from its casting choices. Reprising their roles of Steed and Mrs. Peel, Julian Wadham and Olivia Poulet continue to be ideal audio performers in these roles. Wadham, in particular, captures the wit and twinkle in the eye of Steed, honed over six years and numerous releases. Poulet, meanwhile, captures the self-assuredness of Mrs. Peel superbly in her own right, with the banter between the two perfectly replicating Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in their heyday. Surrounded by a cast that includes Jessica Martin, Paul Putner, Jeany Spark, Corrinne Wicks, and Dan Starkey, and the results are immensely satisfying.

Whether you're a fan of The Avengers or merely have fond memories of the series, this latest set of comic adaptations is well worth checking out. From the work of the writers in fleshing out the comic strips to the performances of Wadham and Poulet, the four episodes represent a marvelously pleasing slice from the cake of sixties spy-fi. And, if you’re in need of a few hours of escape (and, frankly, who isn't these days?), you could do a lot worse than spend time in the company of Steed and Mrs. Peel.

The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 04: Steed & Mrs Peel is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until July 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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