Review: Mission Impossible '89 / Cert: 12 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Peter Graves, Thaao Penghlis, Anthony Hamilton, Phil Moris / Release Date: October 15th
In the late '80s, ultra-craggy Jim Phelps (Graves) returned with an all-new Impossible Mission Force for two seasons of crime-busting action. Starburst very much enjoyed the first season, and now the second season arrives on a 4-disc boxset. So – should you accept the mission of watching it, or disavow all knowledge?
To recap, the gang under Phelps consists of Nicholas Black (Penglis), master of disguise; Max Harte (Hamilton), pilot and carpenter (not a skill you usually associate with cloak and dagger, but actually of vital importance, as many of the IMF's operations call for the construction of elaborate sets); Grant Collier (Morris), tech guy (whose gizmos this time round include a device that can forge priceless paintings in a matter of minutes, and a laser printer that can run off perfect copies of ancient Egyptian papyruses); and Shannon Reed (Badler), token girl. In a series of globe-trotting adventures that takes them to all corners of Queensland, Australia, where much of the show was filmed, the team lay low various greedy and power-hungry baddies by entrapping them in elaborate subterfuges.
In a programme as formulaic as Mission: Impossible, even the smallest tweaks and modifications become fascinating, and this series introduces quite a few. The producers must have been worried that the '88 season had seemed a little staid and old fashioned, because the '89 season bears signs of a concerted effort to sex things up. It kicks off with a lively two-parter packed with James Bond-style moments, including a tussle high up on Sidney Harbour Bridge and a decent speedboat chase. Phelps (very much the front man of the '88 season) is relegated to more of a backroom role, allowing the focus to shift to the young guns. And gender equality catches up to the IMF with a bang when, in one Moonraker-ish episode, Shannon Reed gets to fly a space shuttle.
As for the new crop of baddies, they're a bit more switched on than before, with the team often having to move to plan B or even C before getting their man. There's also less naivety in the choice of plotlines, i.e., fewer missions implausible in the Eastern bloc (where the native language is always English with a thick foreign accent, thus making it hilariously easy for the team to pose as locals). Instead, the writers cast their net wide, taking in the troubles in Ireland, Far Eastern triads and trade in nuclear armaments. Fezzes and mummy wrappings come out for a colourful tale of an Egyptian death sect, and there's a brilliant episode dealing with illegal gold mining set among a stone-age tribe who worship a downed aviator as a god. A good final season before the show self-destructed.