How did two episodes of different British series made nearly a decade apart come to have so much in common? J. Ferguson ponders this question for The Avengers Declassified in a special feature.

As I slowly add to my repertoire of British cult classic series, it becomes easier and easier to discern certain themes and storylines that pop up over and over in multiple incarnations. This is not in itself surprising. With a common pool of writers, actors, directors, even sets, being shared among multiple shows at the same time, there would obviously be a modicum of repetition. Since The Avengers was the first series I viewed, and is still the one with which I am the most familiar, it is not uncommon for me to spot episodes of other series with plots more than a little reminiscent of particular exploits of Steed and Co. Pop psychology, drugs, technology, doppelgangers, Cold War espionage, betrayal all are common themes resulting in similar episodes and storylines. Indeed, it was not unusual for writers to recycle scripts to meet a deadline. What they had written for, say, The Saint or Danger Man, could often be tweaked and altered to produce a story for The Persuaders! or perhaps Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Indeed, The Avengers even recycled its own stories on more than one occasion, with several Cathy Gale episodes remade later for the Emma Peel era. Watching The Charmers back-to-back with The Correct Way to Kill reveals whole swathes of word-for-word identical dialogue. Indeed, with all of these facts in mind, there would seem to be no particular reason why I should find the resemblance between episodes of The Champions and The New Avengers to be particularly surprising or unusual. And yet, upon viewing The Champions for the first time early in 2009, I was indeed taken aback to find a strong degree of resemblance between The Champions story, The Mission, and Faces, a perennial favourite New Avengers story.

The scripts are by no means identical, but they have several elements in common. The Mission follows a plastic surgeon, Dr Pederson, who, rather uncharacteristically, runs a mission house for the homeless, even going so far as to provide health care for the tenants. His motives are not entirely altruistic, however. The mission is only the surgeon's sideline. His main line is providing criminals with new faces and identities so that they may flee with their ill-gotten gains, untraceable by the law. The mission provides him with a plethora of 'spare parts' needed to complete the operation. Similarly, Faces gives us Dr Prator, another plastic surgeon, also running a mission and using the tenants for raw material, although his purposes are less gruesome those with a passing resemblance to notable civil servants are trained and altered to become perfect copies of their better-off twins, and subsequently replace the genuine articles. Once they are in place, they begin passing off secrets to Prator and his co-conspirator, Mullins, who, in turn, sell them to the highest bidder. Clearly, the plastic surgeon/mission storyline provides the strongest link between the two stories, and the likelihood of both ideas cropping up together on two different occasions without one influencing the other seems highly unlikely.

A further, notable parallel between the two stories concerns the personas adopted by Nemesis agents Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett, and those of Purdey and Gambit. Sharron poses as a gangster's moll, Ann Collins, on the run with her boyfriend, played by fellow agent Craig Stirling, looking to change her face to escape the clutches of the law. Purdey, as Lolita, plays the part of the tarted up girlfriend of a bank robber looking to change her face to escape the law. Both characters even adopt the same sort of mannerisms: chewing gum, draping themselves over furniture, dragging around fur coats over their shoulders, and posing. Richard, meanwhile, pretends to be a homeless man in order to infiltrate the mission. His connection to the charitable organisation is provided by a fellow down-and-out, a drunken Irishman. Gambit, in comparison, also pretends to be homeless in order to gain access to the mission. His persona, Terry Walton, another drunken Irishman, would seem to be a neat melding together of the two characters. It is this strong similarity between both the characters' new identities and the basic set-up of the plot that hints at a script for Faces that, while not a straight copy, seems to have borrowed elements from The Mission.

Seeing the parallels, my first instinct was to check the writing credits, to ensure that this was not another case of a writer polishing up one of his old scripts. However, The Mission was penned by Donald James, who contributed several scripts not only to The Champions, but also Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Persuaders!, and Jason King, amongst others. His sole Avengers credit is the John Bryce-produced Tara King story remade as Have Guns--Will Haggle (originally written and filmed as Invitation to a Killing) and he bears no connection to The New Avengers at all. Faces was, instead, a product of the infamous Brian Clemens/Dennis Spooner script swap, in which the two writers, having hit a wall creatively, traded stories a process likely necessary due to the fact that they were writing the majority of TNA's stories between them. Clemens had himself written for The Champions, notably the well-regarded Autokill, which bore a striking resemblance to the King era story My Wildest Dream. This makes it possible that he recalled the storyline for The Mission almost a decade later from his association with the series. On the flip side, Dennis Spooner was, of course, one of the instigators behind The Champions. Indeed, he also played the role of script supervisor on the series, which means it is entirely possible that the basic premise behind The Mission was his own, with Donald James enlisted to flesh it out into a fully-fledged script. Thus, it could be the case that Spooner was the one to recall the storyline. Perhaps he is a better candidate than Clemens?

This all seems fairly conclusive, but problems start to arise when one begins to check up on the logistics. Due to the order of the writing credits, we are able to discern who began and finished each story. Clemens receives first billing for Faces, while Spooner is the instigator of Three Handed Game, the aforementioned other half of the script swap. If each script was genuinely half-finished, with the final act or so only left to be written, then that makes the groundwork for Faces, all of which is set up in the first half, Clemens' work. Indeed, the storyline begins to deviate more from that of The Mission in the latter half, with Purdey dealing with the aftermath of Gambit's 'death' at the hands of Terry Walton, while The Mission involves Sharron's impending operation and Craig and Richard's attempts to stop it. Did Spooner give Clemens the elements of the story in the first place? If so, why did he not write the story himself? Was he already too busy with Three Handed Game, and so gave Clemens the idea as a place to start? This is entirely possible, particularly since both were obviously struggling to keep the creative juices flowing over an extended period of time and several episodes. It would seem the only explanation, but it still seems fantastic that either Clemens or Spooner should recall even some aspects of a storyline written and filmed nearly a decade earlier.

Of course, Faces adds another layer to the premise with the doppelganger element, the same element only featuring at the end of The Mission, in which Pederson fixes Boder's face to resemble his own. In addition, the Champions work together throughout the story, while the Avengers split up, with Purdey left on her own for the majority of the story. Was this a conscious change by Clemens, introduced to alter the dynamic of the storyline? After all, the way he splits Purdey off from Steed and Gambit has always seemed somewhat arbitrary and manufactured. Steed justifies keeping Purdey in the dark by telling Gambit they have no way of knowing that Purdey has not been swapped for a double, but it is never adequately explained why he is so confident that the same has not happened to Gambit. Of course, having Purdey and Gambit working at cross purposes is the source of much of the fun in this episode, namely watching Terry and Lolita interact as they 'learn' to become Purdey and Gambit. Scenes such as these would never have been possible in The Champions, mostly because the team dynamic does not allow it. The Purdey and Gambit relationship is replicated at a baser level by Terry and Lolita, but has its roots in the back and forth flirtation between the characters. Purdey and Gambit's relationship is based on ever-present sexual tension and the promise of future culmination. The Champions, meanwhile, has no such tension within its trio, any interest in Sharron coming from the outside, while Richard and Craig treat her as a close friend and colleague, but never make romantic overtures. To lift the script for The Mission exactly would have resulted in unrealistic interactions between the characters, and clearly either Clemens or Spooner saw the potential in writing fresh material that could play with Purdey and Gambit's infamous 'intercourse'. Later on, we see Purdey's reaction to Gambit's demise, providing us with a nice sketch of the relationship between the two characters, again one that would not have played out the same way in The Champions.

It is true that many storylines were recycled among the various series in the Sixties, but for such similar elements to survive the almost decade-long gap between The Champions and The New Avengers still seems surprising, at least to me. No other explanation seems to fit, except that of long memories at work!

Written by J. Ferguson - Anew
Photo montages by Alan Hayes

Back to Top