The Sandbaggers – Set One
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
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
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:
A Proper Function of Government
Is Your Journey Really Necessary?
The Most Suitable Person
Always Glad To Help
A Feasible Solution
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
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