Steed and Dr. Keel return to action in these four re-creations of classic lost episodes.
'Hot Snow'. Written by Ray Rigby, adapted by John Dorney.
When an incomprehensible tragedy strikes on what should have been the happiest day of David Keel's life, he is left traumatised. Confronted with an apparently motiveless crime, he feels compelled to investigate and is drawn into London's seedy underworld of drug smuggling.
'Brought to Book'. Written by Brian Clemens, adapted by John Dorney.
Still on the trail of the men who wrecked his life, Dr. Keel gets to know his new associate, John Steed, rather better as they infiltrate warring gangs running amok in the betting community.
'Square Root of Evil'. Written by Richard Harris, adapted by John Dorney.
Following the death of a colleague, Steed goes undercover amongst a group of forgers. As the stakes get higher, his risk of discovery increases, and Dr. Keel may be his only chance to escape alive. But with the formidable thug known as the Cardinal watching their every move, could Steed be dooming them both?
'One for the Mortuary'. Written by Brian Clemens, adapted by John Dorney.
It should have been an easy day for David Keel. A short flight and a conference to attend. But John Steed’s arrival disrupts everything, as usual. Without even knowing, he finds himself at the centre of an international conspiracy. The chase is on to preserve and protect a valuable medical formula, and with an assassin on their trail, our heroes find themselves enmeshed in an intricate web of laundry, taxidermy and murder.
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Jolly good fun
What I loved best about Volume 1 was that it gave a good introduction to, and got me hooked on, “The Avengers” – a popular British television show in the 1960s with which I was not familiar (the Avengers I knew were the ones in Marvel Comics movies). The stories, scripts, performances, music, and sound effects all combined seamlessly to tell the origin story of how the imperturbable David Keel, a physician, became a “budding criminologist” and the crime-fighting partner of suave secret agent John Steed. From the first episode, “Hot Snow,” to the fourth and last of the volume, “One for the Mortuary,” it was fun to listen as the two easily found their stride as a team even as the cases got more complex.
Some of the most memorable moments were in scenes shared by Steed, Dr. Keel, and Dr. Keel’s receptionist Carol. Steed first encounters Carol at Dr. Keel’s surgery, where he pretends to be a patient in need of an eye examination. Flirting seems to be a reflex for Steed, who eventually removes his dark glasses and says to Dr. Keel, in Carol’s presence: “When I arrived here I thought your receptionist was quite plain, but now I can see quite clearly how wrong I was. Sharp vision has so many compensations.” Dr. Keel, however, quickly replies: “Your wife and brood of children will be pleased to hear that.”
The template for this scene is repeated throughout the series: Steed flirts with Carol, Dr. Keel disapproves, Carol remains impervious to the secret agent’s charms. Dr. Keel, though, is not above using Carol to get what he wants from Steed. When, after treating Steed’s wounded hand, Dr. Keel advises him to return the next day, Steed protests.
“Now look, I’m very busy,” Steed says.
“Carol will give you another injection for your hand.”
“I’ll move heaven and earth.”
These witty exchanges between Steed and Dr. Keel provide many memorable and lighthearted moments that make listening to this audio book an enjoyable experience.
I liked how Anthony Howell (Foyle’s War, Wives & Daughters) and Julian Wadham (Outlander, The English Patient) were able to draw out and convey the distinct personalities of Dr. Keel and Steed, and how well-matched they were. There was a scene in the fourth episode in which a nervous woman on a plane found her courage just by looking at Dr. Keel. She said to him, “I saw you sitting there so calm and collected and upright, with a ramrod down your back… and then I knew I would be all right.” Anthony Howell, with his even baritone and leading man voice, portrays that description perfectly. Steed, by contrast, is all ease and charm, brimming with self-confidence. He complains, for instance, that it’s difficult pretending to visit Dr. Keel as a patient because it’s “hard to look ill when you are in peak physical condition.” Julian Wadham has a playful lilt to his voice that makes Steed lovable and not pompous, naughty but not sleazy.
I found it moving that, as the stories progressed from the first episode to the last, the relationship between Steed and Dr. Keel evolved from being a partnership of expediency to one of mutual respect and even friendship. There is a moment in the fourth episode when Dr. Keel goes to a Turkish bath to meet Steed, who is getting a massage. Dr. Keel starts to tease Steed. “A Turkish bath? Do you have a guide book called 101 strange places to meet in London or is coming up with them just a gift?” But he becomes concerned when he sees the bruises on Steed’s body, asking: “What have you been doing to yourself?” Steed, in turn, appears to have second thoughts about sending Dr. Keel on a dangerous mission. “I’m not sure I should ask you to do this at all.” The subtle shifts in tone by Anthony Howell and Julian Wadham ensure that the exchange doesn’t become soppy. The script makes certain of that, too. Dr. Keel reacts to Steed’s uncharacteristically earnest tone by trying to make light of the situation: “O-ho-ho! Come off it! I’m a godsend for pulling your… chestnuts out of the fire!”
Props to John Dorney for adapting the television screenplay for audio. The language, the music, and the sound effects (e.g., dialing on a rotary phone) effectively capture the feel of the 1960s. The dialogue is also efficient in setting each scene. For instance, the listener is able to establish that a character is a taxidermist long before he finally says, “This is a funeral emporium for animals!”
I also liked that in between episodes, there were short spiels in which the producer, writer, and actors spoke about the joys and challenges of working on the project. Being new to “The Avengers,” I found the background information interesting. It made me appreciate the audio book more.