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Barrie Maxwell presents... The British Beat!

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TV DVD Reviews (Continued)

Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection, which has just been released by A&E, has been with us before on DVD in several incarnations. A couple of the individual seasons have seen separate releases from A&E as has the entire collection three years ago.

Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection (DVD)

So what's new with this latest effort? As it turns out, the disc content is exactly the same, but the packaging has changed. The cover art is modestly different from the previous Complete Collection release with a different image of star Patrick McGoohan gracing it, though the logo and flavour of the graphics remain the same. The package takes up less shelf space as we now get 9 thin cases each containing two discs rather than the 18 thin cases with one disc each of before. Best of all, the SRP has been reduced by a third from $150 to $100. As to that content that remains the same, all 86 episodes are included. That comprises 39 half-hour episodes that were produced between 1960 and 1962 in which McGoohan played John Drake, an American NATO agent, and a further 46 hour-long episodes from 1964 to 1966 when Drake somehow morphed into a British agent for MI9. The resurrection of the series in 1964 came about as the result of the popularity of the James Bond films that began with Dr. No in 1962. The hour-long shows also sported a catchy title tune sung by Johnny Rivers called "Secret Agent Man". A sampling of the half-hour and hour-long programs shows that the latter were generally more interesting. The extra length allowed for more fully-developed plots and better character development. There isn't significantly more action though as the half-hour shows certainly packed in plenty of that. What also remains the same is McGoohan's characterization of John Drake as a rather smug, self-satisfied individual who rarely seemed to contemplate the possibility of his ever being wrong or intellectually bested by anyone. Viewing the shows a week apart when originally telecast, that characteristic never seemed to grate, but viewing a number of episodes at a sitting makes that aspect of the program harder to take. Ameliorating that is the variety of worldwide locations in which the stories were set - locations well evoked despite the program's British-bound production work. When the series ended with two colour episodes in 1966 (all 84 others were B&W), Patrick McGoohan went on into a little series known as The Prisoner. His "No. 6" character in that venture seemed little different from his "John Drake" persona. The full frame (as originally telecast) transfers in this A&E set are quite good on the whole. Contrast is noticeably fine and image detail quite acceptable with some modest grain present. Some episodes, notably a few among the half-hour ones, look soft with appreciable flaws and dirt apparent, but the overall average is sufficiently high that I can't imagine anyone being disappointed with the package. The stereo sound is generally in good shape. The only supplements are the US program opening featuring the Johnny Rivers song, a photo gallery, and a text biography/filmography for Patrick McGoohan. If you don't have Danger Man on DVD already, this new packaging of the complete set is recommended.

Current and Upcoming Releases

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (First complete collection) - Oscar® and Emmy® winner Helen Mirren in her groundbreaking, icon TV role. Mirren (The Queen) stars as Detective Jane Tennison, "one of the great character creations of our time" (Washington Post), in this revolutionary police drama broadcast on PBS to universal acclaim and more than 20 major international awards, including seven Emmys®, eight BAFTAs, and a Peabody. The 9-disc set includes nine feature-length mysteries as well as a 50-minute behind-the-scenes special. Seen on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! from the 1990s to the present and created by crime writer Lynda La Plante (Trial & Retribution, The Commander), guest stars include some of Britain's biggest stars--Ralph Fiennes (English Patient) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton). From Acorn Media, Sept. 7

Pie in the Sky, Series 3 (DVD Debut) - A detective with an eye for crime and a nose for pie. Featuring equal amounts police work and culinary adventure, Richard Griffiths (Tony®-winner The History Boys, Equus, Harry Potter films) gives a "brilliantly understated performance" (The Times) as a part-time cop, part-time restaurateur whose talent for cooking is only exceeded by his knack for solving crimes. Series 3 guest stars include Michael Kitchen (Foyle's War). Seen on public TV, it debuted on BBC1 in the U.K. in March 1994 and aired for five series. From Acorn Media, Sept. 7

Dalziel and Pascoe, Season 2 - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Sept. 14

Robin Hood: The Complete Series - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Sept. 14

Being Human: Season Two [BD and DVD] - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Sept. 21

Mr. Palfrey of Westminster Complete Collection (DVD debut) - In the vein of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Callan, this series follows a British spy hunting down traitors in the heart of government. Golden Globe® nominee Alec McCowen (Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence, Travels with My Aunt), "plays [Palfrey] to perfection" (The Times, UK) in this stylish drama about a mild-mannered British civil servant who's secretly a counterspy. Premiered in the U.K. in 1984 and aired in the US on public television in the 1980s and 2000s. From Acorn Media, Sept. 21

Taggart, Set 3 - Featuring eight contemporary episodes, the smash hit series follows a team of Glasgow detectives taking on the city's worst cases—from blackmail to murder. Witty scripts and black humor round out this gritty police procedural, lending it universal appeal and helping it become the world's longest continually running police drama series. Available to U.S. audiences for the first time, Set 3 includes episodes that aired in the U.K. in 2005. Stars Alex Norton (Patriot Games), John Michie (To Walk with Lions), Blythe Duff, and Colin. From Acorn Media, Sept. 21

Dangerous Knowledge (1976, John Gregson) - From VCI, Sept. 28

Land Girls - Discover how the Women's Land Army stood guard as a largely unheralded part of British war history. Those who served risked their lives while sharing hardships and working alongside captured POWs. The BBC commissioned this vivid, award-winning five-part series to remember the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. Share the brave, moving and dramatic stories of Annie, Bea, Joyce and Nancy, four young women stationed in rural England who toil in the fields to grow food for the war effort. From BBC via Warner Home Video, Sept. 28

The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, Set 2 - Hailed by critics as one of the finest mystery series ever filmed. Based on the novels by beloved crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers, the late Ian Carmichael stars as the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey in these wittily scripted and lavishly produced BBC adaptations. The mysteries ranked with Upstairs, Downstairs as the most successful series on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s, and the mysteries were so popular they inspired PBS's spin-off series Mystery!. Set 2 includes the final three feature-length mysteries: Murder Must Advertise, Five Red Herrings, and The Nine Tailors. From Acorn Media, Sept. 28

Midsomer Murders Set 16 (U.S. debut) - Four contemporary, stand-alone mysteries from Acorn's top-selling series. The feature-length mysteries in Set 16 have not aired in the U.S. and are available to U.S. audiences for the first time with their DVD release. DVD includes an episode commentary by star John Nettles. Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery, Midsomer combines quirky characters and surprising mysteries with postcard-perfect English village settings and the ever-charming John Nettles as the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. The episodes in Set 16 are part of Series Eleven (2008), which never broadcast in the U.S. From Acorn Media, Sept. 28

Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset - The Thames Years 1969-1989 - 58 full-length episodes on 18 DVDs. From A&E, Oct. 5

The Queen (TV) - From Acorn Media, Oct. 5

The Roman Invasion of Britain - From Acorn Media, Oct. 5

Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series DVD Megaset - This 14-disc release. includes all 42 episodes from the seven seasons of the series. From A&E, Oct. 5

Great Detectives Anthology - As portrayed by Peter Cushing, the definitive Sherlock Holmes exercises his legendary deductive skills in five classic BBC productions, including The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Meanwhile, Dame Agatha's diminutive detective, Hercule Poirot, portrayed with fastidious elegance by the inimitable David Suchet, applies his "little grey cells" to ferret out the cause of a Death on the Nile and solve the Mystery of the Blue Train, among other Christie classics. Rounding out the trio, Joan Hickson received an Order of the British Empire for her portrayal of the brilliant spinster Miss Jane Marple, who is here to untangle the riddles of the Murder at the Vicarage, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side and many more. 18 programs on 12 discs. From A&E, Oct. 12

Inspector Lewis, Series 3 - From PBS, Oct. 12

Criminal Justice: Series 2 - The second season of this BAFTA Award winning series has five episodes on 2 DVDs. From BFS Entertainment, October 12.

Jonathan Creek: The Specials - Master of illusion and lateral thinker Jonathan Creek lives in a windmill, is employed as the mastermind behind a cut-rate magician and has unusual relationships with women. So it's not surprising that his Christmases are anything but ordinary. Jonathan Creek: Specials includes all 4 of the holiday adventures, including the 2010 special The Judas Tree. From BBC via Warner Home Video, Oct. 19

A Mind to Kill, Series 2 - From Acorn Media, Oct. 19

Wallander: Faceless Killers/The Man Who Smiled/The Fifth Woman [Blu-ray and DVD] - The award-winning drama returns as Kenneth Branagh resumes the role of Wallander in these three thrilling tales set in the beautiful landscape of southern Sweden! From BBC via Warner Home Video, Oct. 19

Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Murder on the Orient Express [Blu-ray] - This sumptuous new adaptation of Christie's most famous and acclaimed novel features fan-favorite David Suchet as Hercule Poirot as he searches for a killer on a snowbound train. The Blu-ray single includes a behind-the-scenes documentary about the history of the Orient Express, hosted by Suchet. From Acorn Media, Oct. 26 Poldark, Series 2. From Acorn Media, Oct. 26

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 2

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 2

Midsomer Murders: Village Case Files - The villages of Midsomer County seem as placid and pristine as any in England-but just below the surface lie deceit, blackmail and murder. This 16-disc set is packed with 16 sinister crimes tackled by Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles, Bergerac) along with brash Detective Sergeant Dan Scott (John Hopkins, Love in a Cold Climate) and, later, zealous Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes, This Life). From Acorn Media, Nov. 2

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis's enchanting tale comes to life in this BBC adaptation from 1988. This set includes the following complete stories from the series: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair. From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 9

Sherlock: Season One [Blu-ray and DVD] - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 9

Dr. Who: The Complete Fifth Series [Blu-ray and DVD] - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 9

Lennon Naked - John Lennon is one of the most enduring figures in musical and cultural history. One quarter of 'The Fab Four', peace activist, visual artist and author, he was a man whose personal life was never short on drama, intrigue and eventually, conspiracy. Thirty years after his death, Christopher Eccleston stars as the enigmatic musician in a defining period of his life, as he moved from 'Beatle John' to an icon. From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 23

Luther: Season 1 - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Nov. 23

Naked Fury (1959, with Reed de Rouen)/Cover Girl Killer (1960, with Harry Corbett) - From VCI, Nov. 30

Renown Pictures Crime Thrillers Collection (Murder Can Be Deadly [1962]/The Marked One [1963]/Pit of Darkness [1961]) - From VCI, Nov. 30

Tomorrow We Live (1943, with John Clements)/Inquest (1939, with Elizabeth Allan) - From VCI, Nov. 30

Sarah Jane Adventures, The: Season 3 - Investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, one-time companion to that strange wanderer in time and space known as the Doctor, is back for more alien-busting adventures. From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 4, 2011

Doctor Who, Story #111: Meglos - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 11

Doctor Who, Story # 44: The Dominators - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 11

Skins: Volume 4 - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 11

Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1987 - 12 episodes, and includes the 1986 New Year's Special "Uncle of the Bride". From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 18

Waking the Dead: Season 5 - From BBC via Warner Home Video, Jan. 18

Well once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.

Barrie Maxwell

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