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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Adventure > TV > Sandbaggers - Set Three (1980/BFS DVD Set)

The Sandbaggers - Set Three (1980/BFS DVD Set)

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

Ian Mackintosh's The Sandbaggers concludes as Roy Marsden's Neil Burnside, the head of the Special Intelligence Sector who runs these special agents, faces being driven out of his job by forces that include by a an older rival who just became his new boss, the ever-obnoxious Peel, and an young upstart who would have his job. It is urgent to note again that the entirety of the first two sets should be seen in order before checking out this one.

The title refers to special agents who do specific missions when bureaucratic and political means fail. By this time, the section has been hit harder than usual in the field, making Burnside's job even more complicated.

There are seven episodes in this third and final box, and like Dr. Who (again, Michael Ferguson is a new director here who worked on both shows), this is a series where the indoors are videotaped, while the outdoors are filmed (or look film-like). Peter Creegan and Michael Ferguson do the directing for the remaining shows. 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 technical aspects are above the previous two boxes a bit, since the source material has survived a bit better.

The 1.33 X 1 full screen images are in color and the disclaimer about quality trouble that appeared at the beginning of the DVDs in the previous two sets is absent on the three discs here. These video images do not briefly shake at all. Producer/director Michael Ferguson knows how to construct this world most convincingly, while creator 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, but these final shows got more into the subject and the implications of Soviet success. If only they could have imagined the world now.

The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is a bit above average in this case with a little more clarity than the previous sets, again though, as clear as it is going to get. The British accents can still get slightly distorted, and these DVDs do not have captions or subtitles of any kind either. Otherwise, it is serviceable and Roy Budd's music and theme song is again, really good. Besides repeats of the brief guide to the alphabet soup of abbreviations the characters use throughout the series worth using to better understand what is going on repeating itself on this set, other extras include an Ian Mackintosh biography his brother Lawrie wrote, production stills from the show, dialogue highlights form all the shows, and an episode guide to all twenty shows with bonus information. The new extras are a text section with an unshot prequel to the series by Mackintosh and a nice 15-minutes-long piece with Ray Lonnen (Sandbagger One) and Bob Sherman (the CIA head in GB). I wanted even more!

The final episodes here are:

All in a Good Cause

To Hell With Justice

Unusual Approach

My Name is Anna Wise

Sometimes We Play Dirty Too

Who Needs Enemies

and Opposite Numbers

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, the shows increasingly flush out this often-dark world, and then we get really good character development. These shows touch on things like defection, Cold War politics on many levels, other aspects of 'the special relationship' between the CIA & SIS (the Sandbagger outfit, not the same as MI-5), the very great, overwhelming and real fear of a Soviet-dominated world and more daring items that are as bright today as ever, though a few are more dated than in previous sets. In an ironic moment, Afghanistan is brought up; the site where the USSR would have their Vietnam and the same site that sowed the seeds for 9/11 and more Middle Eastern terrorism. This exceptionally cast series includes Ray Lonnen (Sandbagger 1), Richard Vernon, Richard Berson, Bob Sherman, Dennis Burgess, and a parade of top talent that ups the suspense level with their convincing work. That brings us to why such a great show abruptly ended.

Ian Mackintosh disappeared! The former spy took an airplane flight and was gone. Also, no wreckage or bodies were found in the immediate area. Even as of presstime, no one still knows the truth about what happened, though his brother discusses it in his bio of Ian. The Lonnen/Sherman piece talks about the great skills of him and his co-pilot, plus some fascinating postcard that offers a hint about what happened.

That is a real shame too, because no TV series on the subject has even come close since to be anywhere as good as this. A late 1980s Mission: Impossible revival on TV was killed by a writer's strike before it could get started, and now it's a 'fun' and ever-ongoing Tom Cruise franchise. Not even cable-TV, with all of its high quality and artistic freedom has attempted anything as bold. Thanks to many a bad James Bond-like film, Spy TV and cinema is trivial these days on a grand scale. That is why it is such an event for a great series like The Sandbaggers to be out on DVD. Set Three completes a journey too short, as did The Prisoner, though at least that show had closure and said what it had to say.

Whether you get them in three volumes (or BFS is bold enough to do a mega-box of all three sets later, or better, a Blu-ray set if they or someone can finds the actual 16mm footage), The Sandbaggers belongs with The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Saint, and Secret Agent/Danger Man on your 4K/Blu-ray/DVD shelf, the way you keep the James Bond films and Alfred Hitchcock classics on hand. They are simply too important not to have. This series may be over, but the story behind it is far from finished!

- Nicholas Sheffo


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