Review for The Avengers - Tunnel of Fear ('Lost' episode 20 - Series 1)
Thanks to the fine folk at Kaleidoscope (a Birmingham based organisation specialising in locating previously missing, believed lost, television footage), many episodes from classic TV shows, which were often recorded on once expensive video-tape and often thought ‘missing, presumed wiped’, are located, dusted off, renovated and digitally archived. Finding a third episode from the first series of cult TV favourite, ‘The Avengers’, for some is tantamount to locating the Holy Grail. Although all episodes from Series 2 onwards are safe and sound, the first series was subject to video-tape culling or re-use and, as a result, only two complete episodes of Series 1 survived. Until now.
Lost for over 50 years, a third episode was discovered in a private film collection in 2016 and handed over to the team at Kaleidoscope. It’s a corker too, featuring both Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee and is notable for being perhaps the first hint at Steed’s later character, which became more fully defined during the course of Series 2.
‘Tunnel of Fear’ (so-called because it involves a funfair, but more on that later) was the twentieth episode of the first series of The Avengers, originally broadcast in August 1961 – coincidentally the month and year I was born. It was the twentieth episode of the series, which itself was a kind of spin-off from the already popular ‘Police Surgeon’ TV series, featuring Ian Hendry in a starring role.
Only two previous episodes were known to exist (and have been commercially released via StudioCanal as part of the Series 1 & 2 box set) so, for Avengers fans like me, was a most welcome find, and it comes on a disc packed to the gunnels with extra features too.
Harry Black, an escaped convict, bursts into Dr David Keel’s surgery wounded. He claims to have been framed for a crime that he did not commit – and begs the doctor not to hand him over to the police. Steed arrives and ascertains that Black has links to Southend-on-Sea which might well tie in with an investigation currently being undertaken by his department. They are aware that top government secrets are being leaked from a fun fair in Southend, and Black’s story, if true, could possibly lead them to the source of the operation.
Can Steed and Keel bring down the operation, prove Harry’s innocence and get out of Southend with their lives?
It's a fun show, recorded ‘live’ to tape with all the limitations that brought – including the occasional fluffed line and boom in shot. It was remarkable that, given the MO, that such elaborate plots were devised, often meaning that sets looked absurdly primitive, with most throughout Series 1 and 2 looking positively warehouse like regardless of where they were supposed to be. From Steed’s apartment through to circuses, fairgrounds, and night clubs – all looked like they had been cobbled together on a show-string, which of course they had.
This episode is a prime example of that with Steed’s adventures at a fairground looking very dodgy indeed. A (delightful) surprise in the episode was just how racy it was – with Steed in his element, flirting around scantily clad belly dancers; an approach that would be toned down for his character which became much more gentlemanly as the series progressed.
The episode is in good shape and immensely watchable but it doesn’t look like much expense has been spent on restoring it any way. It’s a warts and all production with occasional signal break up, print damage (I assume this was transferred from tape to film at some point) and some audio interference.
Although a single episode might seem slim pickings for a DVD, buyers should note that this may be the centre piece but there is much more here for completists (like me) to enjoy.
With 23 episodes of the series currently still missing as complete programmes, and a handful of original scripts too, fans have had to rely on the sketchy memories of cast and crew for any details about what they have might have been like. Many were tele-snapped (where publicity stills were taken at most the key set ups) but some weren’t.
All available scripts for Series 1 are included on the disc (via DVD-Rom access) as PDFs. Also included are truncated audio versions of some 13 episodes complete with tele-snaps, which is a really nice bonus, filling many gaps.
Amusingly, a Big Finish audio production of ‘Tunnel of Fear’ is also included; made before the episode or script were unearthed and pieced together with whatever fragments were available (photos / plot summaries) with gaps being filled in via the imagination of vintage TV academic Alan Hayes and screen-writer John Dorney who is interviewed about this for this release. There was much in the guesswork that was correct, but also much that wasn’t, like who the person was who disappeared on the Ghost Train at the start of the story. It’s fun to listen to the episode despite those differences, and both version’s logic stands up pretty well as cohesive narrative.
Other extras include a period interview with Ian Hendry (Ulster Television 1962) as he was about to leave the series and another with Macnee from a couple of years further down the line, during the height of his and Cathy Gale’s reign. There are the aforementioned (13x) reconstructions from Series 1 which use audio and slideshows for the most part; all the surviving scripts and a 64-page booklet penned by Alan Hayes, which didn’t come with the check disc I received for this review, so I am unable to comment. However, I’m sure it will be rather good given Haye’s previous record with all things ‘Avengers’.
If you’re a fan of the series and have already got the surviving episodes from series 1 (on the series 2 box set) then this forms an utterly essential supplement to that. Congratulations to all involved – a really great example of archive television rescue.