If you’re a fan of the spy-fi side of spy fiction chances are you’re a fan of The Avengers. With Patrick Macnee as the debonair John Steed alongside fellow agents such as Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel, it’s become a quintessential piece of 1960s British television. Indeed, the series was part of my teenage years as I watched re-runs of it and The Saint on BBC America some four decades after it originally aired. It’s also perhaps no surprise then that Big Finish Productions, who have spent two decades now bringing such cult TV properties as Doctor Who back to life as audio dramas, have spent the last couple of years tackling this iconic series in that medium with the most recent release, Too Many Targets, released back in September.
Too Many Targets is a bit different from Big Finish have tackled to date. From 2014 to 2017, the company recreated various missing episodes from the show’s first season with Julian Wadham taking up Steed’s bowler and umbrella alongside Anthony Howell as Dr. Keel. In 2016, they also released two sets of adaptations of the 1966-67 comic strips based off the series with Wadham reprising Steed alongside Olivia Poulet in the role of Emma Peel. For this release, Big Finish turned to the world of The Avengers in prose and a 1991 novel written by writer John Peel and TV historian Dave Rogers which acted as a reunion story of sorts for the series, one that would be perfect fodder for the company to adapt.
As the story kicks off, two agents of The Department are dead, suggesting a traitor within the agency. Thankfully, the traitor’s voice is on tape, conclusively proving their identity. The only problem is that two different recordings exist, one that blames Steed himself and the other his boss known as Mother. With Steed unable to believe Mother is a traitor and his associate Tara King unable to think that of him, the two set off to discover who the real culprit is. While Steed turns to Mrs. Peel for assistance, two more of his former associates are having troubles of their own. Cathy Gale is on the hunt for an apparent gorilla marching through the English countryside, while Dr. Keel is hunting for a kidnapped fellow physician on the eve of their leaving for Africa to stop a plague. All turn out to be strands in a web in which all of these Avengers are targets.
As that may suggest, this is a reunion story as well as a celebration of the series. There are a lot of characters who return and a lot of callbacks to the history of the program which always runs the risk of making it impenetrable to listeners who are less than die-hard fans. Thankfully the adaptation by John Dorney never lets that happen thanks to the occasional piece of exposition to fill in the blanks. He completes the trick by never permitting such things to stifle the pace by getting too bogged down. Instead, the result is, much like the series itself, a fun adventure with a tongue in cheek sense of humor.
Something which is helped by the cast, including some new additions to the Big Finish Avengers stable. As with the odd bit of recasting done in their Doctor Who range, the company’s secret remains to find actors who embody roles without resorting to impersonations. Wadham as Steed is the perfect example here, capturing the wit and twinkle in the eye of Macnee’s performance even without necessarily being a close match for his voice. Reprising their roles from earlier releases are Howell and Poulet in the parts of Keel and Peel with both doing quite nicely with Poulet, in particular, credibly channeling Diana Rigg. Too Many Targets also sees Beth Chalmers (one of Big Finish’s most versatile performers) slip ably into the role of Cathy Gale while Emily Woodward makes a solid debut Tara King and Christopher Benjamin (who himself appeared in the Avengers three times in the 1960s) takes on the role of Mother. Combined with the company’s trademark sound design and music and a supporting cast that includes Big Finish regulars Lucy Briggs-Owen, Dan Starkey, and Hugh Fraser and the results are immensely satisfying.
If you’re a fan of The Avengers or merely have fond memories of it as I do, then Too Many Targets is well worth a listen. It’s a fun tale, brought nicely to life over two hours of wit and thrills. With a solid cast and strong production values, it’s also one done with an immense amount of love and respect for the source material. With no further Avengers projects announced by Big Finish, it could also be the finale to the company’s work with the franchise. If so, it’s a worthy one.