British TV Mini-Reviews vol. 2 H – S

Previously published on my Live Journal on: 06/14/2009

Note: This is an older review (Second of three), previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. This review consists of a series of mini-reviews of various British TV series I have watched and that are in my personal DVD collection. Some of these may also have complete reviews on BitchwithWiFi. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

Again, my TV DVD collection is pretty vast, and of course, includes American shows as well as British ones, but in preparation, for a possible panel next Mediawest (a Midwestern Media fan convention) I’m writing-up and posting these mini-reviews. This takes off from the previous post which ended with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Enjoy!  And feel free to comment with your own suggestions of favorite British TV on DVD.

Title: Hornblower (AKA The Adventures of  Horatio Hornblower)
Featured Actors: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Jamie Bamber, David Warner.
Episode Length: 2-hr movies
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 4, 2, 2
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Note: I have the Complete Series boxed sets from A&E which is a total of 8 2-hour movies in 3 boxed sets.
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: ITV
General Information: The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, a naval officer in 1794, from a wet-behind-the-ears ensign with sea-sickness to a seasoned officer, based on C.S. Forester’s series of books. Beautifully shot, with gorgeous tall ship design British fighting ships, including Horatio’s ship The Indefatigable. Think Master and Commander but with a lower budget, though, honestly, it doesn’t really look like a low budget production. The filming is gorgeous, despite the budget. A bit of trivia, the original C.S. Forester novels were one of Gene Roddenberry’s inspirations for Star Trek.

TitleJeeves and Wooster
Featured Actors: Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 5 or 6
Total Seasons (Series): 4
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: Granada
General Information: Based on PG Wodehouse’s short stories, Jeeves and Wooster is about Bertie Wooster (Laurie) an upper-class twit in 1920s England (although in the last series he spends several episodes “abroad” in the US) and his perfect valet Jeeves (Fry). Jeeves can do anything. He also pulls his charge out of trouble, prevents him from getting in trouble, sees to it that he’s always in style, and basically cares for him like a child. Watch for Laurie’s piano playing – it’s often the highlight of the show.

TitleLife on Mars
Featured Actors: John Simm, Philip Glenister
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 8
Total Seasons (Series): 2
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Note: At least Series 1 of this series is also available in NTSC, Region 1. But, because there is an American series of the same name, make sure you are buying the right one.
Production Source: BBC
General Information: Sam Tyler is a detective in modern London who’s knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. He wakes up in 1973. However, it is very unclear whether he’s in a coma and dreaming, gone totally off the deep end and has created his own world, or he’s really time-traveled to 1973. This intentional ambiguity is what made the show very, very special. The second thread of the program was that it gave the producers the chance to do a 1970s-style cop show, without running into obvious social changes involved. Life on Mars does actually deal with 70s social issues, including those specific to the UK such as football hooliganism, but in a very clever way, since Sam is from 2006 and has modern viewpoints, and he’s confronted with a world that’s very different. Someone once said, “The Past is a Foreign Country,” and this show deals squarely with that concept. Third, it is a fun 70-style cop show. The publicity, press, and special features all mention that the show is like The Sweeney, something I’ve never seen (so I don’t know), but I found it very similar to The Professionals, which was another reason I really liked it.

TitleNeverWhere
Featured Actors: Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser
Episode Length: 30 Minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 1 (mini-series)
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: BBC
General Information: Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, this fantasy series follows a man, Richard Mayhew, who falls into another world below the London Underground. The plot of the novel is very similar to L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz, in that once he discovers the fantasy world he just wants to go home.

TitleThe Piglet Files
Featured Actors: Nicholas Lyndhurst, Serena Evans, Clive Francis, John Ringham
Episode Length:30 Minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 7
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: London Weekend Television
General Information: Peter Chapman is a teacher at a small Polytechnic when he is recruited by MI5 to teach the field agents how to use technology. Over time, he also becomes a field agent himself. This is an extremely funny series – smart, clever, intelligent, etc. It also really pokes fun at the British secret services and various programs (The Sandbaggers, James Bond, etc) that celebrate them. However, to call The Piglet Files a British Get Smart would be an over-simplification because the program is not a parody and Peter is not working for his own agency, the way Max works for Control. Rather, Peter really is working for MI5 but in this series, they are very much taking the Mickey out of the British security services, especially MI5.

TitleThe Professionals
Featured Actors: Gordon Jackson, Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 14 or 15
Total Seasons (Series): 5
Note: Packaged as 4 separate boxed sets
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source: London Weekend Television (ITV)
General Information: William Andrew Philip Bodie (who goes by just Bodie) and Ray Doyle are the top agents for CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5), a fictional British security agency – somewhere between Scotland Yard, MI5 (internal security) and MI6 (external security). Their “Controller” (or boss) is George Cowley, a principled and dedicated agent of the State. Although this 1970s-era program focuses on anti-terrorism plots for the most part (think about when it was made and what was going on in the UK at the time), the fact that it is a fictional agency with a wide purview allows for a wide plot landscape. There is even a stunning episode that focuses on what happens when an individual representing the State is given too much policing power – that is, citizens may be safe from crime but they also have no freedom (“In the Public Interest”). That’s another focus about “Pros” that makes the show particularly interesting for an American viewer – here’s a show that is willing to criticize the very “agency” it also portrays as heroic. Similarly, the heroes are not perfect – they make mistakes, they mess-up and when they do innocents die. Of course, since it is a 1970s show, there’s plenty of jiggling women who are portrayed as a distraction to Bodie and Doyle, and other attitudes of the 1970s prevail. But it’s still well worth watching, especially in this day and age.

TitleRandall and Hopkirk, Deceased (2000)
Featured Actors: Vic Reeves (Jim Moir), Bob Mortimer, Tom Baker, Emilia Fox
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6 or 7
Total Seasons (Series): 2
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source: BBC
General Information: A remake of a 1960s ITV series of the same name, in my personal opinion the 2000 version is better. Jeff  Randall and Marty Hopkirk are best friends and partners in the private detective business. In the premiere episode, Marty is murdered and returns as a ghost to help his friend and partner solve his own murder. When circumstances force Marty to remain past sun-up, he is stuck on Earth as a ghost that only Jeff can see. Tom Baker plays Wyvern, Marty’s “spirit guide”, who teaches him the ins and outs of being a ghost. Jeannie is Marty’s fiancée who ends-up becoming Jeff’s new partner in the detective business. Since she cannot see Marty and doesn’t know that Marty’s ghost visits Jeff, this adds a comic element. Because of Jeff and Marty’s genuine friendship – there is also a bittersweet element to the series since Jeff is in mourning for his friend – yet his friend is still around. This particular version of the series also has a supernatural or paranormal focus. A very, very good program that should have lasted at least one more season.

TitleRobin of Sherwood (AKA Robin Hood)
Featured Actors: Michael Praed (Series 1 & 2), Jason Connery (series 3 only), Clive Mantle, Ray Winstone, Judi Trott, Peter Llewellyn-Williams, Phil Rose, Mark Ryan, Nickolas Grace, Robert Addie, et. al.
Episode Length: 1 hour normally but with several 2-hour episodes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6, 6, 13
Note: I have The Complete Boxed set which consists of 22 episodes on 8 discs (counting each of the many 2-hour or 2-part episodes as a single episode.)
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Format: PAL
Region: 2 (Also available in NTSC, Region 1)
Production Source: ITV
General Information: The single best version of  Robin Hood I’ve ever seen. Robin, in this version, is a follower of Herne the Hunter, a mysterious figure who speaks like Obi-Wan Kenobi or a Vorlon. However, when not possessed by Herne, the very old human male lives in a cave. Robin, as Herne’s son, gets advice from both Herne, the mysterious god, and Herne the guy who gets possessed by the god. It’s a little confusing but it gives this version of Robin Hood it’s lovely mystical quality. Because Michael Praed leaves after the second series and is replaced with Jason Connery, this is also the only version of Robin Hood I’ve seen that deals with the death of  Robin Hood. And, both versions of the legend are used – Praed is the traditional pauper, Robin Hood; whereas Jason Connery is Lord Robert of Huntington, a Peer of the Realm, who turns his back on Society when he sees how the people are being exploited and takes up Robin’s role, gathering Robin’s scattered men and women in the process.

TitleThe Sandbaggers
Featured Actors: Roy Marsden, Richard Vernon, Dennis Burgess, Ray Lonnen, Alan MacNaughton, Bob Sherman, Jerome Willis, Michael Cashman, et. al.
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: Granada
General Information: A serious fictional portrayal of MI6. Although there are some great funny lines in this series, overall it’s very, very depressing, and regular characters are killed off on a routine basis. But, it’s still very much a “do not miss” show if you like the spy genre.

Title: Sapphire and Steel
Featured Actors: David McCallum, Joanna Lumley, (and David Collins, occasional)
Episode Length: 30-minute episodes, forming multi-part stories
Story Length: 4-8 30 Minute episodes, one story per disc. The boxed set contains all six stories.
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: ITV
General Information: A mysterious, moody, and dark series. Sapphire and Steel are “elements” who act sort of time detectives or police officers, showing up after time has messed-up to fix things and set things right. This is the weirdest TV show I’ve ever seen and still enjoyed. (The Prisoner is weirder, but I don’t like it – it’s too strange.) Needless to say, you really don’t know what is going on. Ever. Though in the individual stories, all of which are very, very different from each other, you can follow what’s going on, it’s just really hard to describe such a strange show, accurately. It’s also very scary and dark. Joanna Lumley is Sapphire, normally dressed in blue, with the powers of telepathic communication with Steel, and the ability to manipulate time to some extent. David McCallum is Steel who is super strong and has the ability to lower his body temp to near absolute zero (though’ it also takes a lot of energy). Because of the 30-minute cliffhanger format (the same as classic Doctor Who), the series is very addictive.

The Sarah Jane Adventures – See separate entry under Doctor Who

Title: Sea of Souls
Featured Actors: Bill Paterson
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 2 (that I know of)
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source: BBC
General Information: Set in Scotland, this series follows a university professor and his students as they investigate paranormal mysteries. Each episode is a 2-hour movie, however on the DVD set they are broken into 1-hour parts with a “to be continued” card.

TitleSherlock Holmes (AKA, The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Return of Sherlock HolmesThe Casebook of Sherlock HolmesThe Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and various movie specials)
Featured Actors: Jeremy Brett, David Burke (Series 1 only), Edward Hardwicke (thereafter)
Episode Length: 1 hour, some 2-hr movies
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): varies
Note: I have the Complete Boxed set, which is 41 episodes on 12 discs. It is sold in the US under the title “Sherlock Holmes the Complete Granada TV Series”.
Total Seasons (Series): 5
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: Granada
General Information: No one can play Holmes like Jeremy Brett, and surprisingly both Watsons work extremely well as well since the changeover is made between “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House” when Watson is supposed to be three years older anyway. What makes this version of Sherlock Holmes so good is that they actually adapted the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories – which are, of course, darn good.  And, it being British, the historical detail is unmatched.

Read my British TV Mini Reviews vol. 1 – A through H

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