Gordon Flemyng and Peter Duffell, “The Avengers (Season 5, Episode 6: The Winged Avenger)” (1967)
The father-and-son team of stony-hearted corporate vultures at Simon Roberts & Son Publishers has been found mysteriously murdered – clawed to bloodless death, as it were, by a giant eagle – so Steed (Patrick Macnee) and trusty sidekick Peel (Diana Rigg) are immediately on the trail of this bird of prey. Initially an author with a grudge against Simon Roberts pere et fils is suspected of the deed but he’s discounted early on when his assistant is literally scratched out. Chasing more leads and more dead bodies, the intrepid twosome link a comic book studio called Winged Avengers Enterprises which specialises in writing, drawing and producing a comic around a superhero called the Winged Avenger with an inventor called Professor Poole (Jack MacGowan) who is trying to promote his special magnetised boots which allow people to walk up walls and on ceilings.
A homage to comic books and borrowing effects and some of the music from the Batman live-action series that starred Adam West as Batman / Bruce Wayne and which was popular in the mid to late 1960s, this episode is loopier than many others of the season and features as its climactic battle an upside-down fight between Peel and her enemy which viewers can see was originally filmed right way up because of the way the falling chair moves as if being pulled. The transitions between storyboarded cartoons and the live action are an interesting touch and illustrate how the villain Arnie Packer (Neil Hallett) has confused his fantasy world with the real world. On the other hand, the violence is unrealistic – for all the tearing and scratching that occur, there’s no blood shown at all – and the constant repetition of it when the novelty of the killing method wears off makes for a lot of tedium throughout the episode. It’s as if the script is running out of ideas so the fifty minutes allocated to the episode have to be padded up with pointless killing, especially that of Poole and of the actor playing the cartoon character for the storyboard illustrations. An unnecessary scene of a callous businessman shooting pheasants who ends up very dead to the delight of his would-be victims is included to drive very heavily home the point that his eponymous killer is motivated by social justice to pursue and destroy those who would exploit others for their own selfish interests.
The best scene is right at the beginning where Simon Roberts is instructing his son on how to sack people in the cruellest, most cold-hearted way possible and Junior turns out to be a chip off the old block when turfing out a loyal employee of the publishing company. Needless to say, the role model is quickly turfed out of the story and this sets off the race to find his killer.
The acting varies with MacGowan almost over-acting his role as the batty boffin bestriding the firmaments of his mansion and looking not a little flitter-mouse himself with his elfin features, and Hallett not quite looking and acting crazed enough as the creator of the Winged Avenger taken over by his child. John Garrie is unconvincing as the Asian man-servant to explorer / adventurer Lexius Cray (Nigel Green) which is a bit strange as the show had used Chinese-British Burt Kwouk in three episodes in the past; the role of man-servant could have been adjusted slightly to be non-Asian.
This was one of two episodes that featured birds as a sinister motif and it’s hard not to think that Alfred Hitchcock (“The Birds”) was not an influence on this episode and on other episodes of the show.