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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Adventure > TV > Sandbaggers - Set One (Spy TV series/BFS DVD Set)

The Sandbaggers – Set One

 

Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: C+     Episodes: B

 

 

In the late 1970s, when the James Bond films became a hit again, spy revivals from The New Avengers to The Nude Bomb to Return of the Saint sprung up.  There were a few new shows and films.  On TV, NBC tried A Man Called Sloan, while the British had The Sandbaggers.  Unlike Sloan, a James Bond knock-off that was done as a TV movie pilot, then starred Robert Conrad (the original Wild, Wild West) in the title role, The Sandbaggers was one of the rare moments in the Spy genre when the bureaucratic side of the business was shown.

 

Roy Marsden is Neil Burnside, the head of the Special Intelligence Sector that handles these special agents.  The idea is that they are the few, elite who can carry out important missions when all else fails or something unique is called for.  He’s a smart spymaster, but the adjoining agencies and his own personality flaws can get in the way.

 

Also complicating things is that his ex-father-in-law is a top official, his ex-wife someone he simply never wants to see again, and he is having a problem getting new recruits to be Sandbaggers.  He was once one himself, which helps give him a better understanding than other bureaucrats of the matters at hand.

 

This is one of the smartest Spy shows ever made, as complex (and hard to follow) as early episodes of Mission: Impossible, The Prisoner or feature films like The Ipcress File (1965). It is stunning that this series has not had more U.S, airplay, but a few boxes of the show have already been issued by BFS and now everyone can catch this buried treasure.

 

There are seven episodes in this first box, including a seventh “bonus” show that was never aired, yet is the bets in the set.  The shows have to be watched in their original order, or you will be lost.  Like Dr. Who, this is a series where the indoors are videotaped, while the outdoors are filmed (or look film-like).  This series uses actual film for that part.  It was produced when color videotape (PAL format in this case) was still a new thing, so that makes what you see all the more unique.

 

The full screen images are in color and a disclaimer about quality trouble appears at the beginning of each DVD.  There are video images that briefly shake sometimes, but the picture is usually stable.  Producer/director Michael Ferguson knows how to construct this world most convincingly, while Ian Mackintosh’s teleplays are some of the brightest ever created for television anywhere.  It is amazing how well this particular series endures, over a dozen years after the end of The Cold War.  That situation often plays second fiddle to the games afoot in this most-complex world of espionage.

 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is average as well, showing its age, but it is about as clear as it is going to get.  Obviously, the British accents sometimes get slightly distorted, so the audio fails there, and the DVDs do not have captions or subtitles of any kind.  Otherwise, it is serviceable and Roy Budd’s music and theme song is really good.  The unbroadcast Special Relationship episode is considered an extra and so be it, it’s so good, but there is also a brief guide to the alphabet soup of abbreviations the characters use throughout the series worth using to better understand what is going on.

 

The episodes here are:

 

First Principles

A Proper Function of Government

Is Your Journey Really Necessary?

The Most Suitable Person

Always Glad To Help

A Feasible Solution

Special Relationship

 

This is the point where we usually give synopsis of each show, but we cannot in this case, or we could give away too much.  In general, we are introduced to most of the characters in episode one, each show after offers a few new ones and increasingly flushes out this often-dark world, and then we get really good character development.  I should also point out that this is an exceptionally cast series, including Ray Lonnen (Sandbagger 1), Alan MacNaughtan, Richard Vernon, Elisabeth Bennett, Diane Keen, and a parade of top talent that ups the suspense level with their convincing work.

 

The series this reminded me of outside of the Spy genre was U.F.O., the early 1970s Science Fiction show with Ed Bishop as Commander Straker, often in the same position.  The show got just as dark as this one.  The Sandbaggers is a pleasant surprise and highly recommended.  More boxed sets will be featured on this site.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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