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Friday, 22 February 2008 07:57

Mission: Impossible

A format hazardous for film adaptation ...


US - 1966-73 - 171 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Sanctioned by the US Government to undertake hazardous covert operations that could not be officially recognised, Mission: Impossible featured the Impossible Missions Force, IMF, facing an enemy, foreign at first but later in the series’ run growing more domestic, clever enough that only an intricate plan could defeat them.

Like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before it, Mission: Impossible stuck to a rigid narrative format. Briefed on the mission, the IMF leader assembles his team and plots an elaborate deception to counter an enemy’s plan. Once put into practise, with the IMF members taking their assigned roles, unforeseen circumstances jeopardise the operation and, with no back-up plan, disaster is averted through the team’s initiative and quick thinking.

Created by Bruce Geller to be built around team work and ingenuity, the IMF team was assembled every week from a roster of potential operatives, depending on the skills needed to carry out the given assignment. Although Dan Briggs was replaced in the second year by Jim Phelps as IMF leader, for the first three seasons, Mission: Impossible roughly kept to the same team of Rollin Hand’s master of disguise, muscleman Willie Armitage, model Cinnamon Carter acting as the femme fatale, and technical expert Barney Collier.

In fact technical sophistication was a key element to the series, exemplified by the synonymous self-destructing tape-recorder that delivered the IMF briefing. Famous too for its montage title sequence that begins with a lit fuse, accompanied by Lalo Schifrin’s theme music, these were the only elements recognisable in the 1996 film adaptation, although "MI:III" did see a slight return to the format's roots.

Steven Hill as Dan Briggs
Peter Graves as Jim Phelps
Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter
Martin Landau as Rollin Hand
Peter Lupus as Willie Armitage
Greg Morris as Barney Collier
Leonard Nimoy as Paris
Lesley Ann Warren as Dana Lambert
Barbara Anderson as Mimi Davis
Lynda Day George as Lisa Casey

Posted in Series Formats
Friday, 22 February 2008 07:40

Department S

When traditional criminology fails, call on the Interpol experts ...


UK - 1969-70 - 28 episodes (60 mins) – Colour

An Interpol branch which specialised in solving previously 'unsolvable' crimes, Department S was created by Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner, the second of three shows they collaborated on for ITC. Like The Champions before it and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) which would follow, the format took otherwise routine mysteries involving murders and kidnapping, that were part of the ITC regular diet, and blended them with a strong element of the fantastic so that even the most implausible scenario eventually led to a logical resolution.

More importantly, the show relied on the interplay between the three leads. While actors Joel Fabiani as action man Stewart Sullivan, and Rosemary Nicols as the computer expert Annabelle Hurst were cast as the traditional leading man and attractive female co-star, the memorable performance came from Peter Wyngarde's portrayal of Jason King. Established as a writer of detective thrillers, the character of King was modelled on a parody of James Bond's creator Ian Fleming. He would regularly drive his collegues to distraction by approaching each case they were assigned to as if he were his own literary creation, Mark Caine.

As relief to the more conventional roles beside him, King's flamboyance and unchecked egotism proved popular enough for ITC, once Department S had finished its run, to commission spin-off series Jason King. Rumour has it that Lord Lew Grade’s wife was particularly keen on Wyngarde’s portrayal, and the follow-up series saw the character brought back as a solo crimebuster, in even more outlandish adventures than before.


Peter Wyngarde
as Jason King
Joel Fabiani as Stewart Sullivan
Rosemary Nicols as Annabelle Hurst
Dennis Alaba Peters as Sir Curtis Seretse

Posted in Series Formats
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