The episodes starring Diana Rigg as Emma Peel are iconic.
Whether “iconic” means “good” is another matter.
The black-and-white Mrs. Peel episodes (1965-66) are the show at its height: witty, stylish and oh so clever. These were the first episodes shot on film and shown in the United States, so they look better than the videotaped Mrs Gale episodes and had a larger audience. The playful scripts explore a concept or a setting: hotels, department stores, thrill-seeking and mind-controlling plants from outer space.
And, of course, there’s Diana Rigg herself.
Best episodes include:
The Cybernauts (16 October 1965): Killer robots, karate, Michael Gough, and a tense final sequence – with a theme you won’t be able to get out of your phrase: dum dum dum dadadada.
Death at Bargain Prices (23 October 1965): The Avengers in a department store. ‘”Our Mrs. Peel is in ladies’ underwear.” I rattled up the stairs three at a time.’
The Hour That Never Was (27 November 1965): A surreal, creepy episode, set at an air-base.
Too Many Christmas Trees (25 December 1965): The best of the lot? Dickens, brain-washing, bad dreams and a sinister Santa Claus.
The Girl from Auntie (22 January 1966): A comic delight. Mrs. Peel’s been kidnapped and replaced, and Steed keeps finding dead bodies in cupboards.
A Touch of Brimstone (19 February 1966): Not the best episode, but infamous for Mrs. Peel as the Queen of Sin.
The House That Jack Built (5 March 1966): The one with Mrs. Peel in the Op Art maze.
The colour episodes (1967) are weaker – a triumph of style over substance. With one eye on American sales, producer Brian Clemens made The Avengers formulaic. The show coasts along on the charisma and chemistry of the leads, but the inventiveness of the earlier episodes is missing. The stories are often shallow and insubstantial: half a dozen spies or scientists or cabinet ministers are murdered, and the Avengers swap bon mots over cooling corpses.
Epic (1 April 1967): A crazed moviemaker kidnaps Mrs. Peel and makes her star in his new film: The Death of Mrs. Peel.
The Joker (29 April 1967): A remake of the Mrs. Gale story “Don’t Look Behind You”.