Big Finish - THE AVENGERS: The Comic Strip Adaptations Vol 5, Steed & Tara King Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish - THE AVENGERS: The Comic Strip Adaptations Vol 5, Steed & Tara King Review

Matthew Kresal checks out Big Finish's newest spy-fi box-set of The Avengers, adapted from the adventures of Steed and Tara King that were first printed within the pages of TV Comic.
Say '1960s British TV spy-fi' to someone, and, after they tell you that is 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 Linda Thorson as Tara King gracing screens throughout much of the decade. Steed and Tara were busy off-screen, too, in comic strip adventures printed in the popular TV Comic magazine. Now four of those adventures have been realized on audio in all their 1960s spy-fi glory.

The first half The Comic Strip Adaptation Volume 5 definitely puts the "fi" in spy-fi, as John Dorney's script proves in Whatever Next? Dorney presents a story involving a prediction for an imminent asteroid collision that leads our intrepid agents down a path involving aliens, flying saucers, time travel, and what one might not give to know the future. It's a heady brew of elements, as Dorney admits in the release extras it's one he essentially reimagined beyond the basic ideas for this version. But by channeling some classic Avengers episodes (ones which are close to this reviewer's heart), Dorney creates an immensely fun listen in keeping with the series despite (or because of) the elements at play.

The spy-fi flavor is just as strong, if not a tad more so, in Dan Starkey's How Does Your Garden Grow? An RAF base finds itself overgrown by a tropical rainforest overnight, leading Steed and King to investigate the surrounding countryside for its source. Of all the episodes in the set, this is the one that perhaps most benefits from the audio format, given that it almost certainly would have cost the budget of an entire season (or a feature film) to have done it on-screen. It's also an example of how Big Finish take what would seem to be stories capable of only being told visually and put an audio drama spin on them. And Starkey, along with director Samuel Clemens and sound designer Steve Foxon, manages to create what is essentially an unmade Avengers feature film, complete with a slightly over-the-top but wonderfully performed villain. Indeed, one line of dialogue late in the episode might sum it up best: "Insane but brilliant!"

Things are a bit back to normal, or what passes for it in The Avengers, for the back half of the set. Roland Moore's A Very Civil War feels like it could have been an unmade script from the original TV series with its tale involving a most unusual robbery and its connection to a group of English Civil War reenactors. It's a twisty, campy caper, one that plays out in some delightfully realized sequences, such as an initiation test into the reenactor's group and with some delicious dialogue. While the ending doesn't quite deliver on the villain's threat, it's still a solid listen for fans.

The set concludes with Sarah Grochala's Mother's Day, featuring a prominent role for the titular Mother (Christopher Benjamin). The Avengers boss is called back to his old school for a sports day alongside his fussy aunt, but things aren't quite what they seem. Grochala's script is another example of Big Finish doing what is inherently a visual story on audio and using the medium to its advantage. Especially since this episode would have required a large amount of location filming and more sets than the sixties TV show could have managed. It also allows some development of the character of Mother, who, like M in the James Bond films, existed mainly for exposition and plot reasons. It's an episode that also sees the return of original Tara King actress Linda Thorson to the Avengers fold in a new role which should delight fans of the original series.

As with so much of the Big Finish output, it also benefits immensely from its casting choices. Reprising their roles of Steed and Tara King, Julian Wadham and Emily Woodward continue to be ideal audio performers for these characters. Wadham, in particular, captures the wit and twinkle in the eye of Steed, honed over numerous releases. Woodward brings a spunky quality to her performance with some great banter between her and Wadham's Steed. Surrounded by a cast that includes Christopher Benjamin (who himself appeared in the Avengers three times in the 1960s) as Mother, the ever-reliable Dan Starkey, Jacob Dudman, and the return of original Tara King actress Linda Thorson to the franchise in the finale, 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 strip adaptations is well worth checking out. From the work of the writers in fleshing out the comic strips, to the performances of Wadham and Woodward, these four episodes represent a delightful slice from the cake of sixties spy-fi. And, if you require a few hours of escape (and, frankly, who isn't these days?), you could do a lot worse than give this set a listen.

The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 05: Steed & Tara King is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 May 2021 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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