Big Finish: The Avengers – Too Many Targets review

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Following the success of the Lost Episodes and the comic strip adaptations comes the latest instalment in the Avengers universe on audio from Big Finish. Adapted by John Dorney from the 1990 novel by John Peel and Dave Rogers, Too Many Targets is a rip-roaring story of duplicity and subterfuge that “puts the team back together” and reintroduces a former nemesis with revenge and retribution on their mind.

Too Many Targets, as many fans have suggested, is the Avengers equivalent of The Five Doctors in the canon of Doctor Who. In the case of The Avengers, it’s a joyous celebration of the breadth of the sci-fi-spy show’s sixties’ world.

The plot opens with the kind of “inversion of the expected” which was one of the TV series’ signatures. After the shocking deaths of two agents, John Steed is informed that his boss “Mother” is a killer and double-agent, while Emma Peel is told that Steed himself is the murderous mole. Both are given an extraordinary assignment: to neutralise the rogue asset in the team’s ranks. Meanwhile, Carol Wilson assists David Keel in his preparations to tackle an outbreak of plague in the African state of Katawa when his associate Dr Bennett Cowls is kidnapped by a gang of hoodlums. Keel teams up with Cathy Gale, who is on the trail of a wild gorilla on a murderous rampage. These are just the opening salvos in a complex and fast-moving plot that involves robot doppelgangers, crazed ideologues with a cunning scheme for world domination, and a ruthless plan to put paid to Steed and his compatriots once and for all.

The story unfolds through the parallel adventures of different sets of paired-up protagonists, who are finally drawn together in a fitting life-or-death showdown with the drama’s merciless villains.

Dorney has done a creditable job in translating the original novel to an audio script. Inevitably, he has had to streamline, prioritise and augment Peel’s and Rogers’ narrative, but the material he has selected and reworked gels well and keeps things uptempo.

Tonally, the script hits the right, recognisable Avengers notes. There are moments when the required exposition slows the pace a little, but for the most part this is a richly atmospheric tale in which the action and adventure is rendered with just the right amount of quirky and knowing wit, flair and joie de vivre. It’s hard to think of any picnic that wouldn’t be enlivened by the deployment of a rocket launcher. And, of course, there’s a ton of jeopardy and peril, and some great locations (like spooky graveyards and creepy crypts) brought vividly to life through some strong sound design.

It’s an affectionate and tuned-in ensemble piece, with a whole set of accomplished and well-judged performances. Julian Wadham exudes confidence and panache in his interpretation of the character of John Steed, his reading of the role in the audio realm now fully established. Olivia Poulet thoroughly convinces as a focused and self-assured Emma Peel; Beth Chalmers is an excellent Cathy Gale; while Anthony Howell and Emily Woodward bring both warmth and toughness to the roles of David Keel and Tara King.

There are story threads left too little explored. The rampaging gorilla on the loose perhaps deserves more attention than it gets; while the plague unleashed in Africa (something of a bleak motif in an Avengers story) unfolds essentially unheard (although not unremarked). But in this context, those are pretty minor points. Too Many Targets is a cracking, energetic story that delivers an authentic Avengers experience, lit up by some bravura performances and a winning plot. The question now is whether the series can move into new and original audio territory: taking aim at some fresh targets of its own.