by Dave Adamson
A fair ground, a ghost ride and a missing man, thus begins the recently recovered The Avengers episode Tunnel of Fear.
A first series episode from 1961, Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry) becomes embroiled in a mystery sparked by the arrival of Harry Black, an escaped convict who claims to have been framed. The danger increases when John Steed (Patrick Macnee) connects Black to a case he’s working on involving leaked government secrets, Southend-on-Sea and the fun fair.
At the fair, we see Steed go undercover, which seems to mostly consist of Steed in a turban (whilst occasionally being a touch inappropriate to the troupe of alluring dancing girls) and a race against time for Keel to prove Black’s innocence. The fun fair, though, is more than it seems, with shady officials galore who want to silence Black.
With Steed captive and the operation at risk, lives are on the line for what Harry Black knows and Steed and Keel may not get out of Southend alive!
One of only three known series one complete stories to survive, Tunnel of Fear has been lost for 55 years, though recently saw a recreation by Big Finish (the audio play is an extra feature on this disc, along with an interview with John Dorney who scripted the reproduction). Found in a private collection by the British television preservation group Kaleidoscope, it’s discovery was such an event it was featured on BBC Newsnight.
Unlike later, and potentially more familiar, series of The Avengers, this series 1 story is from a much more dialogue heavy time with far less of the whimsy and suggestion that would feature in the adventures of Steed and Cathy Gale, Emma Peel and company. Tunnel of Fear has a more serious feel, though the nature of the threat is never fully realised and it does feel like it’s a bit of a pedestrian race against time.
This isn’t to take away from the story itself, it’s still an entertaining yarn, with Macnee and Hendry putting in solid performances and Anthony Bate, as Harry Black, managing to inject emotion into his framed criminal character.
Presented in its original black and white, the quality is surprisingly good, especially considering the age of the material in question. The recovered recording was a 16mm film telerecording. The screenshots for this article really don’t do the video quality justice.
The DVD will include a 64 page booklet of rare stills from the episodes with a foreword by Neil Hendry, nephew of Ian Hendry, and an essay by Alan Hayes, the author of the guide to The Avengers Series 1, Two Against the Underworld.
The Big Finish audio play continues the high quality work that the company is doing across its ranges, which has also included recreating lost (albeit not filmed) Doctor Who stories.
Along with the Big Finish audio play and interview with its writer, there’s archive interviews with Macnee and Hendry for Ulster Television, a slideshow of series 1 of The Avengers and surviving scripts. It certainly offers a glimpse into a series that still remains largely lost, though it would have been nice to have an interview with the Kaleidoscope team, or a commentary of some description to give us some context to the series, the recovery and its importance.
One for the curious or the completist, The Avengers fans will certainly enjoy this as will fans of vintage television series.
You can find out more about the work of Kaleidoscope here https://www.tvbrain.info/
Big Finish can be found at https://www.bigfinish.com/
Dir: Don Leaver
Scr: John Kruse
Cast: Patrick Macnee, Ian Hendry, Ingrid Hafner
Runtime: 52 mins
The Avengers: Tunnel of Fear is available on DVD from 9th April 2018