Director: Guy Verney
Screenplay: John Kruse
Starring: Ian Hendry, Patrick MacNee, Ingrid Hafner
Duration: 52 min
BBFC Certification: PG
I’ve been obsessed with The Avengers for almost 30 years. Not the Marvel superhero team (Captain America is irritatingly too goody goody for me and The Punisher really needs to put him out of his misery), but the 1960s TV series. The chemistry between John Steed and Emma Peel produced the greatest crime fighting duo on screen. I love the show so much that in the mid-90s my short lived punk band, Planet Dan (don’t ask!), had our own tribute song, although I’m a little embarrassed by my cringe worthy lyrics – “Mrs Peel you look so good in PVC” (really?!?). Anyway, like many fans of my age, I was introduced to The Avengers by repeats of series 4, 5 and 6 on British TV in the late 80s. It was later that I was able to watch Cathy Gale partner Steed in series 2 and 3, but it has not been until recently that I have seen the 3 known surviving episodes from series 1, of which Tunnel of Fear is the most recently discovered.
The first series opens with Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry) investigating the murder of his fiancée, and office receptionist, Peggy by a drug ring. Keel crosses paths with John Steed (Patrick MacNee), who is investigating the ring, and together they set out to avenge her death in the first two episodes. Afterwards Steed asks Keel to partner him, as needed, to solve crimes.
Tunnel of Fear is the 20th episode, aired in 1961, and follows Keel as he is drawn into a mystery sparked by the arrival of Harry Black, an escaped convict who claims to have been framed. Steed soon connects Black to a case he’s working on involving leaked government secrets that revolves around a fun fair in Southend-on-Sea. At the fair, Steed goes undercover as Keel races to prove Black’s innocence.
This version of The Avengers is very different to what was to come later. Like much of British drama of the time, it is very theatrical, with minimal scene changes and very dependent on dialogue over action. Much missed is the whimsy and surreal nature of later series, although Steed is still recognisable. He is not the fully formed bowler hat wearing agent with a twinkle in his eye, but the seeds are there. Tunnel of Fear is a much more serious story, and the nature of the threat is not really developed, but still, it’s an entertaining story with everyone putting in solid performances.
The episode was originally recorded in black and white on videotape and StudioCanal have done an excellent job of presenting the visuals cleanly, although the stock footage of fun fair rides that is used is glaringly scratchy (which is not Studio Canal’s fault). Kudos also for the remastering of the original mono audio.
For fans, the extras are an absolute gift. There are a number reconstructions of series 1 episodes using stills and script readings, with episode 1 even having some surviving footage used. Also included is the audio play of Tunnel of Fear recently released by Big Finish. This stars Anthony Howell as Dr Keel and Julian Wadham as John Steed. To round things off, a couple of archive interviews with Ian Hendry and Patrick MacNee are also included.
So, for fans of The Avengers, Tunnel of Fear is a compulsory purchase. Maybe less so for the casual viewer, but still an interesting look at how one of British TV’s much loved series began.
The Avengers: Tunnel Of Fear is released on DVD by StudioCanal.