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Julian Wadham’s take on John Steed returns for another quartet of deleted stories from the rather dark, realistically inclined and decidedly street level first season of The Avengers.

First up, things play out in somewhat recognizable territory for fans of the Cathy Gale and earlier Emma Peel runs and the less fanciful of 60’s secret agent adventures in a tale of international intrigue.

An imaginary Asian nation is brokering an oil deal with Great Britain, and their exalted ruler Tenuphon (Lobo Chan) is on hand to personally see it through.  But his is a tumultous reign, and hired hitmen lurk at every turn…can Steed protect the King long enough for the deal to go through?

Well, it’s a tad dry, but what can you expect from an early Cold War serial revolving around some now-questionable motivations.  Seriously, this is all anyone cares about – petroleum rights?  Shades of the two Bushes and not only blood, but endless war for oil…oops, I meant “on terror” (cough).  Taking this one at face value, much less justifying this rationale, proves a bit difficult at the present juncture.*

* yes, that was an intentional appropriation of Sr.’s favorite catchphrase.

Then we shift gears to a pair of episodes that play more into the realm of Michael Shayne, The Saint or Boston Blackie than the stylish high espionage of The Avengers.  Racketeering, insurance scams and ex cons falling out over a bank robbery?  How does this involve Her Majesty’s government?

Nonetheless, A Change of Bait is a far more likeable and entertaining bit of small-focus business, with a 1940’s feel (yes, children, even Superman and Green Lantern routinely tackled these sort of scam artists and shady business dealings in their four color, and in the former case, radio adventures back in their earliest days, and are well worth looking into for those interested).

Unsurprisingly, I found myself far more perturbed about the fates of the unfortunate banana shipment investor Archie Duncan (Oliver Cotton) and misled antiques dealer Andre (Michael Chance) than I ever was about Tenuphon or the fate of British oil rights in Shanpore, and this left me more engaged with both the story and characterization associated thereto.

While (like several first season Avengers tales) this one is very local and personal, and could easily leave Emma Peel/Tara King era fans feeling quite lost and confused – are you sure this is the same series? – this tale comes recommended as the best of the set by a Missouri mile.

The next tale, Hunt the Man Down, operates in similar territory, but seemed less intriguing. An ex con (Tim Treloar) takes advantage of his release from jail to track down the ill gotten gains that sent him up the river in the first place: the cash from a bank job he’d pulled years ago.  Unfortunately, he is waylaid by another pair of cons who have an interest in the money themselves…

Along the way, Steed acts as insurance investigator for the bank (once again, isn’t this a bit out of his line?) and Dr. Keel’s nurse assistant Carol (Elizabeth Morton) is kidnapped by the johnny come lately crooks.  It’s a bit noiresque, but again falls somewhat flat and drier than that statement would imply.

Finally, the series closes on a more familiar note with a Nazi doctor hiding out in Argentina, who is freezing his fellow expatriate conspirators in a grand plot to survive and conquer after a nuclear war they intend to instigate…and this time it’s Dr. Keel who winds up kidnapped!

With elements that presage such filmic efforts as The Frozen Dead and The Boys From Brazil, Dead of Winter is a fun little apocalyptic nazisploitation nightmare scenario that manages to keep the British end up by retaining a measure of coolness and reserve where things could easily have gone quite amusingly over the top.  One almost believes Kreuzer’s (Robbie Stevens) mad scheme to be concocted wholly in earnest, doubtless leaving the tin foil hat crowd looking over their South American shoulders for mad Nuremburg escapees hellbound on Saving Hitler’s Brain, as it were…

In sum, this is a bit of a mixed bag.  A Change of Bait and Dead of Winter are well worth investigating for the Avengers aficionado, but the other two are of somewhat dubious value, despite the presence of New Who’s loveable Strax himself, Dan Starkey in Kill the King.

Your move, ladies and gentlemen…