Blu-Review: retro-ACTION! Volume 1

Released By Network DVD
Featuring Episodes From The Persuaders!, Strange Report, Department S, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and The Champions



Of all the fondly-remembered TV shows from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s pretty staggering just how many were the result of British production company ITC. Having birthed such retro favourites as The Prisoner, The Saint, The Persuaders!, Danger Man and The Champions, ITC’s stable of shows helped define everything that we’ve come to associate with Bond era TV – action-packed kitschy adventures featuring stylishly-dressed, cooler-than-cool agents of the law thwarting evil, their crime-fighting prowess usually proving less crucial to their success than their womanising skills, gadgetry and access to a slick, speedy automobile. Network DVD, prime purveyors of retro TV, have seen fit to assemble three volumes of individual episodes from a wide selection ITC shows, all presented in lovingly-remastered Blu-ray goodness.
.
.

retroaction7

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
The episodes featured on Volume 1 are as follows:

  • The Persuaders! – Chain of Events (Series 1, Episode 11)
  • Aristocratic English Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) and rough-and-tumble former US Navy recruit turned oil tycoon Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) are mis-matched millionaire playboys forced to team up and solve crimes beyond the reach of the police. When Danny winds up handcuffed to an attache case full of valuable government secrets, he finds himself on the run from a hit squad led by a German criminal mastermind and a duo of MI-6 operatives who’ve mistaken him for a rogue CIA agent.

  • Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – When Did You Start To Stop Seeing Things? (Series 1, Episode 10)
  • Jeff Randall and the ghost of his dead partner Marty Hopkirk fight crime while working as private detectives. Hopkirk starts a new day with the realisation that Randall can no longer see him, while a sinister hitman has started impersonating Randall in order to kill off a group of his clients.

  • Department S – A Small War of Nerves (Series 2, Episode 13)
  • A trio of skilled detectives – flamboyant author Jason King (Peter Wyngarde), straight-thinking American Stewart Sullivan (Joel Fabiani) and tech-savvy analyst Rosemary Nicols (Annabelle Hurst) – make up Department S, a division of Interpol assigned to solve strange crimes that regular officers find impossible to crack. The team are forced into action when a disgruntled chemical engineer (special guest star Anthony Hopkins) wanders off the job, taking a large quantity of a potent biological weapon with him.

.
.

retroaction1

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.

  • The Champions – The Invisible Man (Series 1, Episode 2)
  • After their plane crashes in the Himalayas, three elite agents working for a secret government branch dubbed ‘Nemesis’ are rescued by members of an advanced civilization living in the mountains. As well as saving their lives, they bestow the trio with supernatural powers – gifts ranging from ESP to superhuman strength – which they keep secret and use to aid them in their cases. The team must track down the source of an ‘Invisible Man’ – a device implanted into the ear and used to remotely command helpless, unsuspecting victims.

  • Strange Report – Kidnap: Whose Pretty Girl Are You? (Series 1, Episode 14)
  • With the help of American researcher Hamlyn Gynt (Kaz Garas) and artist/model Evelyn McLean (former Dr. Who assistant Anneke Willis), criminologist Adam Strange (Anthony Quayle) uses a forensic approach to tackle unsolved cases that perplex Scotland Yard. When a young American beauty queen is kidnapped, Strange is called in to ascertain whether it’s a genuine abduction or a publicity stunt.

.
.

retroaction2

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.

Sadly, though Network’s aim is for the three volumes to serve as a buffet sampler before the potential release of full-series Blu-ray sets, none of the episodes collected on Volume 1 are the pilot episodes from their respective series, which feels like a huge oversight. As a means to introduce retro series to those who might’ve missed them over the years, it’s an odd choice to cherry-pick episodes from late in their run rather than assembling a collection of pilot episodes which start the viewer off from the beginning and introduce the show’s main (often high) concept. Still, those who’re already well familiar with the cool, campy kitsch of ITC’s output won’t find that a problem, and even without catching the shows’ origins, it doesn’t do too much to spoil the enjoyment of each standalone adventure.

Naturally, with a random selection of episodes from different shows, there’s bound to be some ebb and flow where enjoyment’s concerned, and Network’s grab bag of episodes is sometimes hit and miss. The Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) pick especially proves to be quite a plodding, meandering one, mainly owing to the episode’s content. Corporeal protagonist Randall is out of the picture for most of the episode, leaving ghostly Hopkirk to get to the bottom of things – a tough task considering he can’t physically interact with anything and nobody but his now-absent partner can hear him. As a result, the banter between the two that provides much of the show’s appeal is missing and much of the episode is spent with Hopkirk repetitively jumping to a hypnotist, passing messages through entranced patients to help save the day, with things not gaining momentum until the last few minutes.
.
.

retroaction3

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
Strange Report provides a welcome dash of diversity to the disc as the show is less the traditional ITC spy adventure and more a straight-faced forensic detective show in the style of latter-day police procedurals. The episode itself is an engaging hour and Anthony Quayle is a likeable lead, though the episode is a little let down by the terrible overacting of damsel in distress Sally Geeson. The dry-humoured, flamboyantly-styled adventuring of Jason King in Department S is even more entertaining, and upgraded to ‘must-watch’ status by the dishevelled, manic performance of guest star Anthony Hopkins as a virus-infected bio-engineer. Though the cast of The Champions aren’t quite as engaging as in the other shows, the episode is entertaining nonetheless, and makes an excellent companion piece to Department S, since that series’ lead Peter Wyngarde also makes an appearance here as a villainous doctor.

The Persuaders! provides the disc’s unquestionable highlight, though; Roger Moore and Tony Curtis make a fantastic double act with incredibly fun chemistry, the episode is action-packed, well shot and there’s plenty of fun links to the Bond series, too: a decoy case contains the entire Bond book collection; director Peter Hunt helmed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and edited several of the films; the show’s excellent theme song was put together by the late John Barry, composer of the Bond theme; and, of course, Roger Moore would later become 007 himself. It’s a tremendously entertaining hour of old-fashioned adventure movie action that left me instantly craving more, and of all the series featured on the disc, it’s the one that has aged most resiliently.
.
.

retroaction4

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
While the choice to include later episodes rather than introductory pilot episodes is unfortunate for newcomers, and the Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) selection isn’t a particularly strong one, the other shows represent a fairly eclectic and tremendously entertaining selection of kitschy retro action hi-jinks. Newcomers might find that their enjoyment hinges largely on their tolerance for ’60s-era campiness, but even so, the shows featured have aged surprisingly well, offering an incredibly fun look back at some of the forebearers of today’s plentiful action-heavy crime dramas and police procedurals for the uninitiated and a great grab bag of sweet nostalgia for fans.
.
.

retroaction5

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.





Though the episodes themselves are all well and good, it’s the quality of the Blu-ray transfer that’ll undoubtedly be of most interest to fans. Unsurprisingly considering the stunning treatment they gave to their recent Space 1999 Blu-ray set, Network’s restoration of the ITC shows exhibits a similarly astonishing high definition transfer that makes all prior releases look like beaten, broken Betamax recordings by comparison. Presented in 1080p 4×3 pillarboxed format (preserving the show’s broadcast aspect ratio) and remastered from the series’ original 35mm prints, the episodes on the retro-ACTION! collection offer an absolutely staggering amount of detail. Some very minor blemishes and wear on the print are apparent, mostly during stock establishing shots and title sequences, but overall the transfer is revelatory.
.
.

retroaction8

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
Sadly there’s no 5.1 audio remastering treatment, instead each episode gets a 2.0 Linear PCM track, which sounds excellent. Unfortunately there aren’t any extra features on the disc (not even English subtitles), and while it would’ve been nice to see a little something else included, a wealth of extras weren’t really expected on what is essentially a TV show sampler disc. Instead the disc holds five 50-minute-long episodes of excellent retro TV remastering with loving care in gorgeous high definition, which is surely excellent value for any fan.

The Episodes:

The Blu-ray:




retro-ACTION! Volumes 1-3 are available on Blu-ray in the UK from 28th February 2011 exclusively from NetworkDVD.
Click here to pre-order Volume 1.

(Note: The images above were captured and saved at a reduced quality, and though they give an idea of how the film looks, they aren’t intended to reflect the true quality of the Blu-ray image itself.)