With the first volume of The Avengers (Steed and Mrs Peel): The Comic Strip Adaptations, I heard the audios, then read the original comics; with Volume Two, it was the other way around, which made for a very interesting experience. The comics are so short that reading them doesn’t really spoil anything from the audios, as the comics are more like capsule descriptions of the audios than anything approaching a full-blown synopsis. The Diana comic stories were pretty inventive, and these audio stories capture that as they expand on their stories.
Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky open the set, with an adaption of Playtime Is Over, about a gang of diminutive circus performers committing a series of outrageous crimes by disguising themselves as children. Okay, it’s a little goofy, but there are delights to be had, such as a thief actually named “Fingers” and Andrew Wincott’s very large Tiny Tim, a toy manufacturer. (For some reason, though, Khan and Salinsky change the original’s dwarf hiding inside a giant teddy bear into a giant teddy bear robot.)
Matt Fitton’s The Mad Hatter is also decent fun, as Steed and Peel have to stop a murderous haberdasher from committing regicide, while Steed gets his double entendres on with the threatened princess, who refuses to believe she’s in any danger. Maggie Service is fun as the flirtatious Princess Helga. (This was probably the thinnest of the original Diana comic stories, so how much bigger Fitton took this was pretty impressive.)
I thought that The Secret Six had a great premise that went unfulfilled in the comics, so I was looking forward to the audio, but I don’t think John Dorney’s adaptation delivered. Oh, his villains are fun (I really enjoyed Ozzie Yue as Ying-Tu in particular), but I feel like there was a more tense story in here that the breezy tone of this audio doesn’t bring out. Steed and Peel are trapped with six of their deadliest enemies, but you never feel as though there in any sort of danger. Which I guess is in the spirit of the television originals, but I’ve never seen them.
My favourite one here was The Antagoniser by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris. Like with Return to Castle De’ath in Volume One, Barnard and Morris populate their story with delightfully over-the-top caricatures, such as a TV presenter who spends his days at home watching past episodes of himself presenting. Down to the ending, this is the perfect sort of Steed and Peel story, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Julian Wadham has long delighted as Steel, and he continues to do so here. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I also feel like Olivia Poulet put in a more polished performance as Emma Peel — the banter between the two is especially perfect.
That said, I just can’t get into this form of The Avengers as a whole. I love the Steed and Keel lost episodes, witty crime dramas that they are, but the Emma Peel stories are a completely different beast, and I think on the whole too camp for me. I’ve never watched the original programme, but on audio, the Keel stories have captured my imagination in a way the Peel stories have not. I think it largely goes back to what I said in my comments on The Secret Six: these stories just don’t take themselves seriously enough. I believe in Dr David Keel as a character in a way I just don’t believe in Mrs Emma Peel. Though I’d applaud if Big Finish got to do more Avengers stories beyond what they’ve released (so would the charming fellow from StudioCanal featured on the CD extras), I’d fervently hope they were Keel stories and not Peel ones. But if you’re a fan of the original television programme, your mileage may vary!
The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume Two (by Robert Khan, Tom Salinsky, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, Matt Fitton, John Dorney; starring Julian Wadham, Olivia Poulet) was released by Big Finish Productions in November 2016.