The Cybernauts Trilogy Reviewed

The Cybernauts Trilogy

In May, 2019, Avengers fans received some rather exciting news courtesy of Network Distributing, a company that has released countless vintage television series on DVD and Blu-ray over the years. The Avengers, however, has not been among them, save for a single episode (The Winged Avenger) which appeared on their ITV 60 compilation boxset. That changed with Network’s announcement of a new Avengers Blu-ray release, The Cybernauts Trilogy. This sparked considerable excitement amongst Avengers fans, especially those with a particular fondness for the series’ 1970s “sequel”, The New Avengers.

Why? Because, unlike the other filmed eras of series—namely the Emma Peel and Tara King seasons—The New Avengers has never been remastered or released on Blu-ray. This is due to the fact that, until Network made its announcement, it was widely believed that TNA’s original masters had been lost. Several searches for the elusive masters were conducted by rights-holder StudioCanal, but turned up nothing. Without adequate source material, remastering TNA was impossible, and past releases have made do with the prints that were available. For this release, however, Network conducted restoration work on a, presumably newly-discovered, “2K ARRI-scanned from 35mm original cut negative”. Where this negative came from is unknown, but its existence has enabled Network to produce an HD release of a TNA episode for the very first time.

Of course, there is more to this release than TNA’s HD debut. The Cybernauts Trilogy consists of three remastered episodes in total: season four’s The Cybernauts, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as John Steed and Emma Peel; season 5’s The Return of the Cybernauts, also starring Macnee and Rigg; and the first season New Avengers episode The Last of the Cybernauts…?? starring Macnee, Gareth Hunt, and Joanna Lumley as Steed, Mike Gambit, and Purdey. All three episodes come with the option to watch them with period commercials from the time of their respective broadcasts. This is quite a fun feature, as the ads provide social context for each episode, and one or two feature some familiar faces. The release also includes a 32-page booklet written by television historian Andrew Pixley, which outlines the history of the Cybernauts’ appearances on television and beyond, as well as production information about each of the three episodes.

Before I give my thoughts on the episodes themselves, I should note that I’m generally not too bothered about having a release with the “absolute best” picture quality. I’ve held off on getting a Blu-ray player until now because anything I wanted to watch on Blu-ray was readily available on DVD in good enough quality that I couldn’t justify buying more expensive Blu-ray discs for what might be a marginally better picture. Even in the case of The Avengers, a show I love, I primarily upgraded to the StudioCanal DVDs from my old A&E releases for the bountiful extras, rather than the remastered episodes, and I haven’t purchased any other Avengers Blu-ray releases to date. All this is to say that, if you’ve held off on buying this release because you already have a copy (or two, or three, or four) of these episodes, and have been wondering whether you can justify buying them yet again when you’ve been managing perfectly well with the picture quality you already have, I can relate.

So, is this new release worth repurchasing these episodes yet again? Well, I haven’t done any side by side comparisons with previous releases, but to my eyes, The Cybernauts looked a bit more vivid, with a slightly unreal quality that comes from making something filmed in black and white more photorealistic. There have been several reports of audio issues with this release, and The Cybernauts occasionally did sound a bit odd in places, but nothing earth-shattering enough to ruin my viewing experience. Of the three episodes, Return of the Cybernauts looked the most similar to previous releases to me. This was also the episode that most notably suffered from audio issues, with some of the dialogue sounding a bit "boomy".

Finally, we come to The Last of the Cybernauts…??, which was my main motivation for buying this release, and as a massive TNA fan, I’m happy to report that the purchase was worth it for this episode alone. Fans have been lamenting the picture quality of existing TNA prints for years, but I didn’t realise how poor they were until I saw TNA in all its remastered glory. The picture quality is crystal clear, on par with shows being made today. Aside from being easier on the eyes, the best thing about the clean-up is that it reveals lots of small details that were previously lost to the graininess. Thanks to the remastering, I could see the glint of the sequins on the lilac jumpsuit Purdey wears to Steed’s party, while the leather applique detailing on her gold halter top had infinitely more texture than was previously apparent. I also noticed for the first time that the reddish-pink make-up used on actor Robert Lang’s chin and jaw to simulate Felix Kane’s burnt skin had transferred to his otherwise pristine white cravat. The remastering also revealed the make-up department’s failure to completely conceal Gareth Hunt’s forearm tattoo—keep your eyes peeled when he regains his footing after Purdey rolls him out of bed. And then there are all the little background details that were simply too grainy to make out before, but are now discernable. Steed’s house provides the most value, with the knick knacks scattered about the living area now popping out, most notably his photos of Cathy, Emma, and Tara. Although these were included for a visual gag in House of Cards, they were not permanent installations on the set. However, the filming of House of Cards and Last of the Cybernauts…?? overlapped, and as they didn’t interfere with the plot of Last, the photos were obviously left where they were. On previous watches, I spotted them when Fitzroy enters Steed’s living room while Purdey is tending to Gambit’s injured hand, but with the clearer print I also caught a glimpse of Tara’s photo in the righthand corner of the frame during Gambit’s reaction shot to the death of Terry. There’s probably more waiting to be teased out, but after countless rewatches over the years, it’s a delight to find new, small details revealed by the remastering. I’m also pleased to say that I didn’t notice any audio issues with this episode.

The final verdict? If you’re a TNA fan, it’s worth picking up this release to see The New Avengers in its fully remastered, cleaned-up glory alone. The difference in picture quality really is staggering, and I’d love to see the other 25 episodes receive similar treatment. Imagine Three Handed Game without that quavery audio issue in the opening minutes, or Hostage without an orange tint. Does Network have a remastered TNA set in the pipeline? Unclear, though any release is obviously contingent on the availability of suitable source material. If Network only uncovered usable negatives for this one episode, and perhaps one or two others, then a full series remastered release is nigh-on impossible. Despite several inquiries, no one at Network has confirmed whether other TNA negatives have been discovered; indeed, it’s still not clear where the Last of the Cybernauts…?? negative was found. However, it is interesting to note that, upon the announcement of The Cybernauts Trilogy release, Network tweeted the following in response to a couple of queries about a complete TNA Blu-ray release: “This release has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. It has been an obsession of ours for some time but it is a complex project. We’ll keep you posted.” That response, name-checking three TNA episode titles no less, certainly seems to indicate that there is more TNA to come from Network, but unless and until something more concrete materialises, this release is a lovely treat for TNA fans.

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