DVD Review: Mission Impossible '88 / Director: Various / Teleplay: Various / Starring: Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Thaao Penghlis, Antony Hamilton, Jane Badler, Phil Morris / Release Date: July 23rd
Fifteen years after the original show was cancelled, Mission: Impossible returned for two seasons in 1988-90. This 5 disc boxset brings together the 19 episodes of the 1988 season, which sees Jim Phelps (Graves) coming out of retirement to lead an all-new Impossible Mission task force, who roll up their sleeves to tackle crime and corruption. Wait, what am I saying? This is the Eighties, their sleeves are already rolled up…
The team consists of rugged charmer Max Harte (Hamilton, whom connoisseurs of bad Eighties TV may remember from Cover Up, where a fashion photographer and her models moonlight as secret agents), master of disguise Nicholas Black (Thaao Penglis) and Grant Collier (Phil Morris,) a science whiz (whose technical mumbo-jumbo now seems rather dated and patronising, witness the priceless moment when he explains to his teammates that a computer virus isn't harmful to humans but only to other computers, just in case they were reaching for their gas masks). Oh, and there's a token girl, Casey Randall (Terry Markwell,) “international designer”. She doesn't get to play with any of the toys, though, and her role quickly dwindles to making beds and straightening the boys' lapel mikes, until she ends up getting bumped off, and has to be replaced by Shannon Reed (Jane Badler,) “with a background in investigative journalism,” who shows more cleavage and gets to drive a speedboat but spends most of her time watching what everyone else is doing through powerful binoculars.
The series was shot in Australia, with Oz standing in for Honolulu, the Himalayas, Hong Kong and, in one uncanny instance (an episode where an aborigine is killed with a rocket launcher) itself. The missions all follow the same formula. An evil dictator, corrupt official, drug baron or what you will has to be prevented from doing something very, very nefarious, and this involves ensnaring him in an elaborate sting operation, and/or turning a key underling against him in a classic divide-and-conquer gambit. To this end, the IMF team use all manner of trickery, including holograms combined with hallucinogenic drugs, and cunning latex face masks that enable them to impersonate the baddies (although these only work, presumably, if the character you're impersonating happens to be exactly the same height as you. Luckily, that always seems to be the case in the world of Mission: Impossible).
You can't help feeling a bit sorry for the villains, who include 1970s Spider-Man, Nicholas Hammond, and Bond girl Maud Adams; by and large they go quite meekly to their fate. But there's still a degree of tension, akin to first night jitters, as you watch the team rushing to complete the various parts of their demanding charade on schedule. Yes, it can get a bit repetitive, but in a way that's soothing rather than irritating. The tone, playful and witty but never straying into camp, complements the amusing puzzle element of the stories. There's also something totally mesmerising about Peter Graves. This is very much his show, even though by late Eighties he already looked older than God, and you might well reflect that a white-haired giant with a face like a kindly iguana is hardly ideal material for undercover work. Even when you tire of the smoke and mirrors, his presence makes Mission: Impossible '88 a retro delight.