Mission: Impossible 1988 DVD

Monday, 03 September 2012 10:14 Written by 

Mission Impossible '88 comes to UK DVDIt comes as no surprise in this blinkered and myopic world that there are so many people who think the Mission: Impossible franchise began with Tom Cruise.  Brian de Palma’s 1996 shocking demolition of the format, seeing lead character Jim Phelps stabbing his country - and most of his colleagues - in the back, started with a homage scene to the original, and then proceeded to trample on the enduring memories of what had come before.

The original Mission: Impossible ran from 1966 until 1973, clocking up 171 episodes.  Less well known in the UK is the two-season revival, filmed in Australia, which began in 1988, and was given the impetus to go into production due to an American writers’ strike of the time. Peter Graves was back to lead a new team, with the series given an excellent makeover, and within the run probably some of the show’s best-ever episodes. 

Consisting of 19 episodes, this first season of new episodes featured the Lalo Schifrin theme music in a suitably updated form, giving us one of the most strident and dynamic versions of the tune that has ever been rendered, before or since. Regrettably we got a generic title sequence for each episode – one of the original Mission’s most memorable elements were the first half of those credit sequences which lifted short clips from throughout the episode, acting as something to immediately intrigue and hook the audience.

Episodes featured a pre-credit sequence which hinted at the mission Jim and the team were going to have to take on. Post credits, Jim would receive his instructions via a portable DVD player – cutting-edge stuff back in 1988, particularly with the mini-DVDs that were inserted into the ‘play’ slot of the unit.  Much like the original show, except then it was a mini reel-to-reel tape recorder for the most part, the DVD player, following having given out its information, would warn of its impending self-destruction, before going up in smoke! To maintain continuity, the original voice Bob Johnson returned to give Mr Phelps his missions (although now the voice less formally acknowledged their communications with “Good morning, Jim”).

For true appreciators, one thing which will grind on your nerves is the unnecessary levels of exposition that the characters vocalise, something that was never done in the original series. Someone, somewhere, decided that audiences weren’t able to pay attention in the way they used to 15-20 years before, so everyone is constantly explaining either what they are doing, or what will happen next. It used to be the Director’s job to make the visuals alone detail the story, with the viewer being intrigued by what was being done and how this would fit into the overall operation.

There had been several attempts to resurrect Mission: Impossible between its original cancellation and its return in 1988. However, it was the Writers’ Strike of that year, which lasted around five months, which gave the impetus for its return.  The original plan was to restage 13 of the best episodes, although information is sketchy as to how this was going to be decided.  In the end, just the initial first four stories were officially remakes – “The Killer”, “The Legacy”, “The System” and “The Condemned”.

“The Condemned” also raised the stakes of this being a sequel series rather than a remake. Original series stalwart Greg Morris returned as Barney Collier, the original electronics genius. Also making a return was Lynda Day George in “Reprisal”, who played Casey in the show’s sixth and seventh seasons, now with the extended name ‘Lisa Casey’ to avoid confusion with one of the new characters.

It was the new characters that really ringed the changes for this restaged series. The dynamic was altered, so that it became more of an ensemble show than it had been before. Greg Morris, and Peter Lupus (who played strongman Willy Armitage) were always a little bit in-the-background compared to those higher up the pecking order back in the original run – although this did change a little in later seasons. This time, everyone got to have a more balanced ‘piece of the action’.

Thaao Penghlis, himself Australian of Greek descent, got to be the new master-of-disguise character, Nicholas Black. The function had previously gone to the likes of Martin Landau (‘Rollin Hand’) and Leonard Nimoy (‘Paris’). Thaao was a regular on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives over the years 1981-1985, 1993-1995 and 2002-2009, clocking up an amazing 1,185 episodes in that time.

Tony Hamilton (aka Antony Hamilton) would fulfil the strongman role of Max Harte. Tony first came to prominence when he took over the male lead role in Cover Up, following the tragic accident which led to the death of original star Jon-Erik Hexum (killed by a prop .44 Magnum which he aimed at his skull, on-set). Hamilton himself would also have his life cut short – dead of AIDS-related pneumonia at just 42 years of age in 1995. He was once considered for the role of James Bond, when Pierce Brosnan was unable to get released from his Remington Steele contract - the role finally being handed to Timothy Dalton.

Continuing to cement the links with the original series, Phil Morris, son of Greg, took on the role of electronics wizard Grant Collier (who, in the series would be the son of Barney, his father’s character). This relationship was one that would be continued in the second season of the new series (Greg Morris returning as Barney for the two-parter “The Golden Serpent” – which we’ll be able to see when the second season is released on UK DVD by Revelation Films on 15 October 2012).

Starting out with an uncredited role as ‘Army Hat Boy’ in the Star Trek episode “Miri”,  Phil Morris had a big break with a small role in daytime soap The Young and The Restless, before having a regular supporting role in sit-com Marblehead Manor. He has since gone on to various guest star and voice artist roles, including John Jones/Martian Manhunter in Smallville, and has kept his Star Trek connections with roles in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (as Trainee Foster), plus Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Remata’Klan in “Rocks and Shoals” and Thopok in “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places”) and Star Trek: Voyager (Lieutenant John Kelly in “One Small Step”). He has now moved into writing with the “Jackie Chiles” series of shorts, which he also stars in.

Terry Markwell, then listing herself as an actress-model-designer, was the original new female lead, Casey Randall, having previously featured in a quartet of episodes of Australian glossy soap Return to Eden. Not much is known as to whether Markwell’s departure a dozen episodes into this first season was by design or due to other matters, but to not be too much of a spoiler, the new production team make her exit very memorable.  Markwell herself went on to some small guest roles in the 1990s, in the likes of The Client, Sliders, and The Burning Zone.

Cult fans will be delighted to see that taking over the role of new female lead, Shannon Reed, was Jane Badler, who is best known as Diana in the original TV series of V. Before landing Mission, she had also played Meredith Braxton in Falcon Crest and Tania Winthrop in The Highwayman. She even appeared on a couple of dozen episodes of Neighbours in 2010 as Diana Marshall, before becoming the alien Diana again in the restaging of V in 2011.

Unlike the original series where for much of the time Jim Phelps would look through his folder of mug-shots to decide on the team to use that week, this element is dispensed with almost entirely in this new run of episodes. While the odd interloper would be used now and then, in general we see this IM Force being tight-knit and enjoying each other’s company.  When tragedy strikes, this makes their feelings and reactions more believable and understandable.

And so, all the elements are in place for what proves an incredibly entertaining revival of the Mission: Impossible format.  It’s tense as well as being fun, and somehow you just wish the movie series had seen itself as a continuation of this run of episodes. If that had been the case, then by the end of that 1996 movie we would have seen the REAL Jim Phelps reappear. Peter Graves, once again in character, coming to sit next to Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in the aircraft scene at the end of that film, disavowing any knowledge of John Voight’s villain of the same name (“You see, the name Jim Phelps is taken on by many people, almost becoming a badge of honour – it’s just that some don’t deserve to wear it”).

A good remake, revamp or reimagining, always benefits from having a production team that know and understand the original and its roots. It took until JJ Abrams came aboard to sort out “Mission: Impossible III” and “Mission: Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol” before we saw a return to the classic atmosphere of Mission: Impossible on the big screen. Let professional fans loose on remakes, and no-one else; and let that be a lesson to anyone looking to revive any TV series in future!

Mission: Impossible – The ’88 TV Season is out now from Revelation Films.  It has a running time of 923 minutes approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RRP of £24.99 – or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Thanks to Cult TV and Revelation Films, you had a chance to win one of three copies that we had up for grabs, and all you had to do was answer the following question:

Aside from Peter Graves and Greg Morris, which other star of the original Mission: Impossible series can be seen in this 1988 TV season of the show?

The answer was Lynda Day George, and the winners were Helena Evans of London, Stuart Rankin of East Kilbride, and Roman Krause of Rugby - well done all!

Last modified on Sunday, 16 September 2012 08:02

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