Judge Cynthia Boris wrote this review before jetting off to Paris to stop international art thieves from robbing the Louvre.
"Filled with intelligent, intriguing characters, exotic settings and fabulous cars…"
When I was a teenager, I learned the art of storytelling writing fan fiction for my friends. These early works were all devoted to The Protectors, a little-known British TV show that became my first fandom. It was a strange, half-hour crime drama that captured my attention like nothing before it and so it holds a very special place in my heart. That's why I was so delighted to see the show included in this huge box set from A&E. Ironically, the other shows on this set fall into three other categories: one I don't care for, one I can take-or-leave, and one I'd never seen before. I suspect this might be the case for most people thinking of buying this set. I know it's a bit of an investment, so let's take a closer look.
Facts of the Case
You get the first 13 out of 24 episodes on this DVD.
You get the first 15 of 30 episodes in this DVD set.
You get the whole first season, 26 episodes out of 52 total on this DVD.
Though A&E calls this set The Spy Collection, I think it should be called "The Noun Police" instead. The lack of originality in the titles of these four shows makes me wonder if it's not a coincidence, and it also makes me wonder why they didn't call The Champions "The Peacemakers" in order to keep with the "The P-noun" theme. Add to that the fact that only two of these shows involve actual spies and one of those two is retired, and you'll find my title is a much better fit.
The title aside, this is a pretty cool set of similarly styled UK shows from the late '60s and early '70s. Let's look at the shows one-by-one.
First up, The Prisoner.
My first exposure to this series was when it ran as artsy PBS fare many, many years ago. My sister was a fan and all I really remember from that time was a big white ball chasing people around the empty streets of a quaint village. I also remember that I didn't understand it and thus, I was bored. Fast forward 20-plus years, and my opinion hasn't changed much.
I will say that I appreciate the production values of the show in a way that I couldn't on first watching. The Village is a fabulous set piece and I got a kick out of the whimsical touches such as the penny-farthing bicycles and the umbrellas and the happy voice on the loudspeaker. There are certain shots of The Village that made me think of Disneyland which counterpoints so nicely to the true, devious nature of the show.
The packaging says the episodes have been remastered, and they really are very vibrant and clean except for alternate version of "The Chimes of Big Ben" which is faded and grainy. As far as the special features go, this show has more than any others on the set but they're nothing to write home about. (Is there mail delivery in The Village?) The rare "Foreign File Cabinet" footage is nothing but a shot of a file cabinet with a tag written in different languages. Apparently this was filmed for use when the show aired in foreign markets. The "interactive map of The Village" scrolls left and right and that's as much interaction as I could get out of the thing. The original broadcast trailers are always interesting and there is a photo gallery with a clever themed navigation screen.
Now that AMC is filming a remake of this series, it's a good time to catch up with the original, but with only four episodes, this set will barely whet your appetite if you end up enjoying the show.
Next up is The Persuaders
This is a show I've seen a few times but it's been a good number of years. It's basically a buddy show with two very dominate personalities always vying for the lead. Tony Curtis plays a rough-edged boy from the streets who has worked his way up to millionaire status. Roger Moore plays an English playboy who was to the manor born. They both love brightly colored Ferraris, alcohol, and women, women especially. Watching this show in a post Austin Powers era makes it seem more like a parody than the action show it was supposed to be. The show was designed to be funny (in the way that Hart to Hart is funny), but you'll find yourself laughing at more than the jokes. Just watch either of the two characters drive in front of a moving background and you'll laugh yourself silly.
If you can get past the production values and the stereotypical American lout vs. the English gentleman plot, there's a lot to like here. Curtis and Moore have a fun relationship on screen that feels very adlibbed at times. I have a feeling that the script often went out the window in favorite of true-life on-upsmanship between these two stars. If you can allow yourself to watch through seventies-colored glasses, you may find this show a refreshing change from the darker crime dramas of today.
As for bonus features, Roger Moore does commentary on two episodes and there is a photo gallery and bios of the stars.
Next we turn to The Champions.
This was the only show on this set that I'd never seen before. Quite the quirky little spy show, it nearly plays as a series for children as there's a lot of comedy built into their superhero abilities. When it leans toward the grown-up side it has the feel of The Avengers and that's what saves it from being Power Rangers without the suits.
Stuart Damon is the only one of the three who will likely be familiar to American audiences as he went on to become a soap star on General Hospital. He's handsome and stalwart and I'm sure he had the ladies swooning in their seats as he led his team into danger on a weekly basis.
Light, fast, and clever in spots, The Champions is worth a look if you're a fan of Heroes or even Doctor Who. Sadly, the only bonus features included here are a photo gallery and bios of the stars.
Finally, it's my favorite of the bunch, The Protectors.
The most unusual thing about this series is that it's only a half hour long, and that means character development was kept to a minimum. As a result, it's often hard to understand why they're involved in any given case or why we should care. I say, don't let either of those things bother you—this is Robert Vaughn being as cool and continental as he can possibly be. Who else would fight crime with a woman who was having tea with the queen only an hour before? And then there's my favorite character, the dashing Frenchmen who had very little to do in most episodes except stand around looking Italian (in spite of the fact that he was supposed to be French).
Honestly, I can't tell you why I loved this show. The dialogue is stiff, Vaughn is stiffer, the plots are confusing and Porter gets driven to crime scenes by her chauffeur. Still, I have a very distinct memories of setting up a cassette recorder in front of the portable TV so I could have the "episodes" to play over and over. I also remember saying to my best friend, wouldn't it be cool if we could somehow record the picture so we could actually watch the show any time we wanted? And here I am, all these years later, holding those recorded episodes in my hand.
Old favorite TV shows on DVD, it doesn't get better than that.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only complaint I have about this DVD set is the packaging. It opens like a book with an inner foldout that houses plastic molded trays for the DVDs. Nice and secure, except that there's no sleeve to keep the set closed when you pull it off the shelf. Second, there's no booklet with a list of the episodes contained on each disc. There's a pocket for a booklet, but no booklet. Very strange. Perhaps I should hire The Champions to look into that.
If you're a fan of one of these four TV shows, you'll probably enjoy at least two of the other three. It may seem a little pricey, but it's actually a great deal for such a rare collection of cult shows from our friends across the pond.
This court commissioned a panel of international scientists, law enforcement agents and jet setters to study this DVD in depth. They responded by sending over a martini, a Beretta, and a not guilty verdict.
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