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The Sandbaggers 2.1: At All Costs

March 16th, 2010 (11:46 pm)

gervase_fen likes to remind me that The Sandbaggers is the series the makers of Spooks would rather you didn't know about; and he is right. It takes its adrenalin in more measured form than its latterday successor; probably in leather armchairs in book-lined rooms in Whitehall or St James's, with ice, or alternatively in flasks, to be taken warm on the chilly embankment of a riverside in some Warsaw Pact city. Espionage is a career of foreign travel, back rooms, dingy flats, hard work, and moral compromise.

It appears that the event which concluded the first series, repeated in its brutality at the start of this episode, has prejudiced Roy Marsden's Neil Burnside from employing a woman as a sandbagger - a member of the high-risk covert operations unit of the Secret Intelligence Service - ever again, though this is not stated. Two men have replaced the ill-fated Laura Dickens, but though Burnside might not fall in love with his new Sandbagger Two (or his Sandbagger Three, though the casting of Michael Cashman in that role might have raised audience expectations of such a development by the end of the 1980s) Tom Elliott still ends up a proxy for Laura, both in the eyes of Burnside and perhaps also the Eastern Bloc intelligence services. Nowadays, in a culture more prone to psychobabble, we might have expectations of 'closure'; Burnside knows he can't find it, but events cheat him of what redemption he expects to be reasonable.

The Sandbaggers has the audacity of old television drama: Berlin, Sofia, Cuba, Whitehall can all be found in Leeds. (Then again, latterday Doctor Who has shown us Llandaff and the Rhymney Valley, and told us both are New York.) All those 4:3 portrait shots lend an intensity to the performances, amplfying the raised eyebrows, twitching lips and mildest hints of winces which betray emotion in turn of the 1980s Whitehall.


Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: March 17th, 2010 07:57 am (UTC)

For about five years my immediate boss was a man who had put in nearly twenty years in military security. According to him, The Sandbaggers, was the closest thing he ever saw on TV to what security work was really like. (He had a fine contempt for most cop or spy series - moderated in the case of The Professionals because they get the weaponry and tactics right.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: March 17th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)

Compared to what might be the popular image of the spy genre, a lot of The Sandbaggers involves the drudgery of sitting at desks in offices. The contrast between the routine office work and the forays into the field is part of what makes The Sandbaggers special, I find.

Posted by: GaramondBophin (garamondbophin)
Posted at: March 18th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
Same genre, earlier iteration
Dixon Owl Private Eye

I just got "Callan: The Monochrome Years" on DVD, but then developed an infection in my cheek that meant I couldn't see properly out of my left eye, so I have yet to watch it! I hope I won't be as disappointed as I was with "Danger Man"...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: March 18th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
Re: Same genre, earlier iteration

Callan is a different sort of beast to Danger Man, so I am more optimistic on your behalf. I trust the infection is being dealt with.