Guest Essays
Page 9 of 14

GENERATIONS OF CHANGE: TNA SEASON 1

The New Avengers (TNA) is looked upon with mixed reactions by fans. Some feel that it should be regarded as a separate (albeit inferior) animal. Others appear resigned and begrudgingly accept it as part of the history. TNA at first glance seems to be a curious hybrid that does not quite fit in with its predecessor. But the original show itself was an ever-evolving creation. So if one dissects the first thirteen episodes, one can see elements that coincide with aspects of the different eras of the original series as well. Despite clear differences, TNA has enough common elements to establish a connection and natural lineage.

Despite the title, it is still The Avengers, since it is still revolves around John Steed. Other major shows have undergone changes with the central character still at the focus. A prime example is the character of Archie Bunker. When most of the original cast of All in the Family left, the title was changed to Archie Bunker's Place. However, his character was still the same. And regardless of issues of copyrights over The Avengers name, it would make sense to have a different title since the show was off the air for seven years. And after all, it was created by Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell with the musical scoring by Laurie Johnson, three men strongly identified with the Emma Peel era.

Obviously where TNA differs is that there are two partners, Gambit and Purdey. The addition of Gambit was based on the issue of demographics, appealing to the male youth market. The presence of another man in itself is not particularly striking since Steed has had male partners. The real difference lies in the personal dynamics between Steed and them. With Mrs. Gale, Steed had a continual clash in ideology, with Mrs. Peel a sense of whimsy and irreverence, and with Miss King an overprotective fawning. Yet you knew the relationships were always more complex than just platonic friendships. In TNA, he is much more of a paternal figure, lending or sometimes even forcing his wisdom and guidance on them. His scenes with Gambit, while humorous and witty, are often laced with social jabs at the latter's expense. Interestingly enough, Steed has far more moments with Gambit than Purdey and the ones he shares with her lack the same quantity of repartee. During season one, there seemed more of an effort made for Steed to have a connection or chemistry with Gambit than with her. Steed was more often paired with Gambit when investigating a case and Purdey would act on her own, independent from the men. This is particularly noteworthy since Clemens has always made a point not only stressing the quirky sense of humor of the show, but also the girl to channel that humor and play those scenes.

It would be wrong to say Purdey never had any banter with Steed. But it seemed more likely to occur with Gambit present in the scene. Unquestionably the show had witty interactions and chemistry forming between all three characters to create a proverbial family with Steed as its head. However, we don't see a lot effort put into the Steed/Purdey relationship. This may be due to how well the actors interacted on screen or may be due to the design of her character. The latter might be the more likely cause owing to the dynamics developed between her and Gambit. In every one of the episodes from the first season they are shown in some kind of exchange with Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt playing off each other with a natural ease. Defining their relationship clearly took higher priority.

Another point of comparison is the overall theme of the stories. Each of the designated eras from the original series had its own feel, particularly in terms of plots. In that sense TNA would not be detracting from the legacy of the show. The prevalent theme of this series seemed to be one of corruption and betrayal. Several of the scripts dealt to varying degrees with traitors or people in responsible positions gone bad. That is the focus in "To Catch a Rat," "Faces," "Tale of the Big Why" and "Dirtier by the Dozen," and is touched upon in "The Last of the Cybernauts...??," "Target!" and even "Gnaws." Why a prevalence of such a concept? Clemens had stated once that The Avengers was a humorous spoof with dramatic overtones, and TNA was a serious adventure with humorous undertones. To create such a show, the writers may have felt compelled to employ such dark elements. It's also possible it may have been an indirect influence of cynicism that may have existed in the writing staff. Almost the entire first season was penned by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner, with Clemens responsible for the majority of it. While this is merely speculation, the feel of the show may have been a reflection of the attitude Clemens held at the time.

Where TNA indisputably deviates from the original is in the music. The previous show's scores always had a definite jazz motif to it despite its different incarnations. TNA tried to be much more hip and contemporary with its electronic techno-funk and disco sound. Ironically, the scoring ends up sounding much more dated upon present day viewing.

Despite the above observations, TNA does share elements with the original show to support it as a true progeny. A complaint some fans have lodged against the show is the reliance on heavy action in many stories and the tendency to go into the realm of realistic violence as opposed to the more stylized forms of the original. It is true that you see a lot more car chases and outdoor work, and some of the fights can be a bit much in terms of quantity. However, it would be incorrect to say there is no stylized action at all.

Purdey's fighting style while exciting came across as being rather artificial owing to its uniqueness. This application of a savage/panache-like method maintained the coda that each partner had a distinct combat method, as well as providing an elegant fantasy element. The same can be applied to Gambit. Although he is billed as a karate expert, montage editing created a distinct fighting style that seemed very stylized.

While the bulk of the fight scenes tend to be more in sync with "realistic" action shows, occasionally the more spoof-like elements did slip in. A little of that is seen in part of Purdey and Gambit's fight with the three soldiers in "Dirtier by the Dozen." Most of the action in "Sleeper" is kept in a humorous vein—i.e. Purdey's fight at the dress shop, and Steed and Gambit subduing the same opponents later on the street. The most evident moment that the show was willing to be like its predecessor was the final fight in "The Three-Handed Game." The tap dance duel is reminiscent of any number of battles you would have seen Steed, Emma or Tara engaged in.

Furthermore, Robert Fuest, Sydney Hayers, James Hill, Cyd Child, James Hough and Ray Austin—people connected to the original show—all worked on this series. These were production people who understood the show, and you would think might try to preserve as much of the original's feel as possible. We do occasionally catch glimpses of Fuest's camera angles highlighting a scene. Hill does a very memorable crosscutting camera effect in "Faces." James Hough added some very eerie and effective dissolves to "Cat Amongst the Pigeons." And the set design of Felix Kane's headquarters in "The Last of the Cybernauts...?" does evoke sets from the earlier show.

Another aspect the first season shares with the original series is the villains. We do have the unusual enemies of old such as obsessed masterminds in Turner from "The Midas Touch," Felix Kane from "The Last of the Cybernauts...?" and Zarcardi from "Cat Amongst the Pigeons." The resources of these bad guys also hark back to the 60s. Besides the cybernauts, we have a secret Nazi order, killer birds on command, Midas himself, a mind transfer machine and a super sleeper gas. These are all villains or devices you'd expect to see in the original show.

Of course the most important element to compare is the humor. Referring back to the comments earlier about the banter between the heroes, the dialog between Steed and Gambit has a feel that is not unlike that of the old series. Yes, a good chunk of Steed's barbs involve Gambit's social background or his playing the "straight man," but there is often a light one-upmanship in their dialogue. There's also a certain irreverent commentary on occasion that hints from the other eras. A good example is the "beer out of the bottle" conversation in "Sleeper."

In sharp contrast is the interaction between Gambit and Purdey. The dialogue is often filled with sharp-tongued put-downs and one-liners doled out equally by both. The relationship comes across combative like Steed and Cathy, yet there is a very strong, deliberate sexual tension reminiscent of shows like Moonlighting. Such a charged interaction is where TNA greatly differs.

However, as in the case of the action, TNA does manage to slip in satirical humor a few times. In "The Midas Touch," the dress rehearsal where the guard is actually wearing a dress and the man size birdcage in "Cat Amongst the Pigeons" is typical of the old signature style. The small vignettes in "Sleeper," particularly the bits with the radio programs, give the episode a light touch. But perhaps the most defining use of classic Avengers humor during the first season is in "Dirtier by the Dozen." Steed rescues Purdey from the minefield by helicopter, and he just happens to have a bottle of champagne and glass to lower down to her on the ladder.

While TNA was not quite what fans of the show were conditioned to expect, there were enough common factors to warrant the word "avengers" in the title. Sadly, much of that would change going into the second season.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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