Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Avengers Seasons 1-3 DVD Upgrade

Being an American fan of the quintessential British TV show The Avengers has not always been easy.  The Avengers, that 1960s crime drama/spy series with British secret agent John Steed and a host of assistants tends to be overshadowed by a certain superhero group sharing the same name.  Getting the series in America has been afflicted by times of plenty followed by long periods of drought.  In this blog let me talk about the first half of the series and the ideal means to watch it today.

The Brief History of The Avengers on Disc

The Avengers (1961-69) began as a videotaped series for its first three seasons and ended as a filmed series for its last three.  The filmed seasons helped the show gain international popularity and proved popular in reruns in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  In the mid-1990s the American cable network A&E had been showing restored episodes from the Emma Peel Series 4 & 5 and they were well received.  A&E began releasing the series on VHS, the first official releases of the show in the US on home video.  It also ran a website devoted to the series,

The series was also a fairly early adopter of DVD, with the fifty-one Peel episodes being released in 1999 on Region 1 DVD.  These sets undoubtedly proved popular because A&E decided to release episodes from the less popular seasons, starting first with the Cathy Gale Seasons 2 & 3 (2000-2001) and then the Tara King Season 6 (2001-2002).  Eventually they released the two seasons of The New Avengers in 2003 and 2004.  By the time the second season of The New Avengers had been released in mid-2004, A&E had released all known existing Avengers episodes except for the first half of Season 2 and the known surviving episodes of Season 1.  That was completed in early 2006.  

In the United Kingdom, the Avengers had also been rebroadcast on several occasions.  Even though the show had been created by an ITV franchisee (ABC TV), I am pretty sure the BBC ran it at some point in the following decades.  The rights holder to The Avengers, StudioCanal, remastered and re-released the series from 2009-2010 on Region 2 DVD under their Optimum Releasing/Optimum Classic labels.  DVD sets had been previously released in 2002 (by Continuum) and 2006 by StudioCanal/Optimum.  It later released the filmed series, 4-6 on Blu-ray in 2015.  When the missing season 1 episode Tunnel of Fear was found, StudioCanal U.K. released that on a DVD in 2018 with several reconstructions of still-missing Season 1 episodes.  

The New Avengers had been released in 2006 on DVD in the UK but its Cybernauts episode was released in high definition alongside the two Peel Cybernaut episodes in 2019 on The Cybernaut Trilogy Blu-ray.  The full New Avengers series has yet to see a high-definition re-release on Blu-ray.  

Thanks to those VHS releases that A&E put out in the mid-1990s, I became a fan of the show.  I was not satisfied until I bought all the color Peel episodes on VHS, then I later replaced them with DVDs.  I do not recall if I bought the B&W Peel episodes on VHS before DVD.  In the late 1990s I was so obsessed with trying to see the non-Peel episodes that I bought a bootleg VHS of Death of a Great Dane off eBay.  By the mid-2000s, I was satisfied for the other eras of the series.  

The Avengers Seasons 1-3 - U.S. v. U.K.

The White Elephant Region 1
The White Elephant Region 2

In every instance, the U.K. beats the U.S. when it comes to the releases of The Avengers.  The U.K. transfers are much fresher than the U.S. ones, and the Blu-rays make the DVDs or either region obsolete.  (There is a U.S. Blu-ray of Season 5 but it crams the same number of episodes onto three discs that the U.K. set puts on seven).  The U.K. DVDs and Blu-rays are relatively inexpensive at around $35 per set and readily available.  The U.S. DVDs are long out of print and vary wildly in price on the used market.  

Right now, if you want to get everything Avengers in the best quality, you need to buy these disc sets (release dates from Amazon U.K. given):

The Avengers - Tunnel of Fear - 04/09/2018
The Avengers - Complete Series 2 And Surviving Episodes From Series 1 - 10/05/2009
The Avengers - Complete Series 3 - 02/15/2010
The New Avengers - 10/30/2006

U.K. Blu-ray
The Avengers Series 4 - 02/23/2015
The Avengers Series 5 - 06/22/2015
The Avengers Series 6 - 10/05/2015
The Avengers: The Cybernauts Trilogy - 12/02/2019

The Undertakers Region 1
The Undertakers Region 2

The U.K. has two complete DVD releases, "The Complete 50th Anniversary Collection" - 05/09/2011 and "The Avengers The Complete Collection" - 04/28/2014 and/or 06/07/2021 which are not overpriced for the amount of content provided but probably unnecessary if you buy the DVDs for the videotaped series and the Blu-rays for the filmed series.  These sets come on 39 discs.  Disc 39 is devoted to special features and can be purchased separately as The Avengers - Special Features - 10/03/2011.  I am uncertain whether the special features devoted to the Peel/King eras on this disc were all ported over to the Blu-rays.

A discussion of formats is in order.  The first three seasons of The Avengers were originally shot with  405-line, 50 interlaced fields per second, B&W cameras, a technology dating back to 1936.  The resulting visual resolution is 377 actual picture lines.  In order to preserve the episodes for overseas sales or library reference (reruns were not generally done in the 1960s), the episodes would be transferred from tape to film using a telecine machine.  A telecine machine films a special TV monitor playing the recording or broadcast of an episode onto 16mm (usually) or 35mm (occasionally) film being exposed at 25fps.  All episodes of The Avengers which exist from Series 1-3 exist as telecine copies, their videotape copies were wiped and being reused by the mid-1970s.

Intercrime Region 1
Intercrime Region 2

DVD has a resolution of 720x480 @ 60i for NTSC video and 720x576 @ 50i for PAL video.  This is more than sufficient to resolve standard definition NTSC and PAL videotape material, even for telecine.  In the case of The Avengers Series 1-3, the greater resolution of the PAL format is not likely to matter much.  What is more important for a purist perspective is that the original field rate of 50i can be respected in PAL but must be converted to 60i for NTSC televisions.  This involves interpolation in both the spatial (576 to 480 lines) and temporal domains (50i to 59.94i).  When standards are professionally converted from PAL to NTSC or vice versa, quality loss is minimal and hard to see without seeing both side by side.  

While the standards improvements with a PAL DVD versus an NTSC DVD may not compel a rebuy, the improvements in the image and audio quality on the Season 1-3 episodes on the 2009-2010 Optimum/StudioCanal DVDs over the A&E DVDs present a much, much more compelling argument.  I have posted a few screen captures from the U.S. and U.K. discs for purposes of comparison.  Overall the Region 2 DVDs offer more image on the edges of the screen, elimination of the greenish tint, much better detail and contrast and improved audio.

Mr. Teddy Bear Region 2
Mr. Teddy Bear Region 1


I was not fully aware of the extent restoration work done for the 2010 discs until I watched the From the Archive/Greg Bakun's interview with Jaz Wiseman.  Mr. Wiseman, the producer of these discs, is to be commended for his heroic efforts to present the Gale Seasons in the best possible quality.  As he recounts in the interview, he was given little time, few resources and met with substantial indifference from Studio Canal (a French company) with the restoration project.  In this blog entry I have given an assorted collection of comparison photos from these two discs.  Even the 2006 A&E discs look inferior to the 2010 StudioCanal discs, I believe they were mastered at the same time as the other episodes of Season 2 and held back.

The Frighteners Region 2
The Frighteners Region 1

The Tunnel of Fear DVD is the only way to watch that particular Season 1 episode, as it was only discovered in 2016.  It also has the Season 1 reconstructions found disc 39 of The Complete 50th Anniversary Collection and more reconstructions.  The Tunnel of Fear restoration has a superior reconstruction of the first episode of The Avengers, Hot Snow, compared to the restoration found on the 50th Anniversary Special Features Disc.

Hot Snow Region 2 2009 Version
Hot Snow Region 1

Hot Snow Region 2 2011/2018 Version

As Season 1-3's Episodes were originally broadcast from a video camera or videotape, the VIDFire process or a similar process could be applied to approximate the original high field rate video effect these shows would have presented when first broadcast.  This has not been done due to time or expense, except in two instances.  First, I believe it was applied to the surviving video footage of Hot Snow as found on the Tunnel of Fear and The Complete 50th Anniversary Collection Special Features disc.  Second, I also believe it was either applied to Police Surgeon - Easy Money as found on The Avengers - Complete Series 2 And Surviving Episodes From Series 1 and The Complete 50th Anniversary Collection.  

One final thing that distinguishes the Region 2 from the Region 1 DVDs is that the Region 1 DVDs removed almost all the "End of Part/Act I" "Part/Act II", "End of Part/Act II" "Part/Act III" cards.  In the 1960s, 1970s and even into the 1980s, hour long ITV shows generally broke the action up into three blocks of show with commercial breaks sandwiched in between.  (Half-hour shows had two blocks). Shows during this era would indicate by a caption or card that Act I or Part I had ended, informing the viewer it was time for commercials.  This formalism would be ditched at some point, but as these cards were part of the original broadcasts, it is good to see them on the Region 2 DVDs.

1 comment:

  1. "Even though the show had been created by an ITV franchisee (ABC TV), I am pretty sure the BBC ran it at some point in the following decades."

    You can look up BBC programme listings on BBC 2 showed The New Avengers in 1995-1996. BBC Four showed just the Diana Rigg seasons of The Avengers several times between 2005-2009 (starting with a documentary about the series), then The New Avengers in 2008-2009 - and that's it. I'm pretty sure there were terrestrial repeats of at least some of the series in the 90s, but they would have been on ITV/C4.

    - Adam