The Professionals: MkII

The Show

Hard-hitting CI5 action men Bodie and Doyle and their no-nonsense boss Cowley returned to British TV screens in late 1978 with the second season of The Professionals, presented here on this ‘MkII’ Blu-ray. My thoughts on the show in general can be found in my review of the ‘MkI’ Blu-ray here, and although this second run is just as gloriously outdated in terms of sexism and racism, it still tells gripping stories and it’s worth elaborating upon the key behind-the-scenes changes.

Creator and Executive Producer Brian Clemens had begun to distance himself from the day-to-day upkeep of the show, not in terms of dissatisfaction but for the simple reason that he was a busy man with several other projects on the go, and he was satisfied that he’d got it off to a good start (though several of his stories were used for S2 anyway and he was still the showrunner). Producer Sidney Hayers left for pastures new so Raymond Menmuir was brought on board as the new producer and he had his own ideas for the show, wanting total creative freedom within the bounds of what Clemens had laid down, made possible because there was no definitive show ‘bible’ for people to refer to.

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Gone was Cowley’s office, a standing set where many an episode was wrapped up or exposition was laid out, as Menmuir wanted more movement and kineticism in both the storytelling and the camera movement, and Cowley himself began to lose the limp which dogged him in S1 and he became more of a ‘hands on’ boss in more ways than one. The setting of the show was also altered; with S1's production based out of Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire the series often had more of a suburban feel, shot around places like Slough and Watford, and other locales were downright bucolic at times, which didn’t quite fit with Clemens’ original idea of CI5 being a tough inner-city outfit.

The production was subsequently moved to a set of studios in Wembley, affording more access to old London town and giving the producers more of the grittier urban outlook that one tends to remember as an overriding feature of the show. London looks tired and worn out, full of the rubble-strewn scars of WWII and big old disused factories, which are apt visual metaphors for the moral decay that runs through S2 like a disease. The titles were also reshot by Ray Menmuir to provide more of that big city flavour, dispensing with the somewhat cheesy “assault course” sequence for the memorable “car smashing through the window” opener, and giving us a first look at the black-on-green motif for the title graphics which has since become synonymous with the show.

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The Professionals had of course come under fire from the moral guardians of the time (ITV have famously refused to screen one episode on British TV, a ban which is still in place to this day) and in response the excess language and violence was toned down, though not to the show’s detriment in this reviewer’s opinion because it meant that the writing had to be that bit more creative. Indeed, one of the stories focuses on CI5 being held to account by some rabid left-wingers after a suspect dies in custody and the writing throughout S2 follows up on that theme of looking inward rather than outward, dealing with subjects like a mole inside CI5, Cowley’s own loyalty coming into question, a quasi-fascistic police force taking justice into their own hands, and corruption inside the building trade.

While Clemens lamented certain of these episodes as not befitting the action-packed brief that he originally set out, they help to broaden the scope of the show and give it more texture than the simpler ‘rough and tumble’ antics, adding shades of grey and proving that there are enemies within as well as without. My own personal favourite is the le Carré-esque spy caper A Stirring Of Dust where an old defector returns home to die and sets off a chain of events involving CI5, the KGB and some elderly government spooks who are looking forward to giving the defector the ‘welcome home’ that he deserves. There’s still the usual smattering of terrorists, anarchists, shootouts and car chases so it’s not like S2 is all talk and no trousers (who could forget the classic episode with the 'Laser Lock' machine gun?), but it’s great to see it spread its wings like this. And while poor old Doyle seems to get captured by the baddies every other week, there's some much needed character development for Bodie as we meet his East German ex-wife.

All in all, season 2 of The Professionals has been another very enjoyable trip down memory lane for this reviewer. Roll on season 3!

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The Blu-ray

For this ‘MkII’ Blu-ray release Network has issued the next set of 13 episodes on 4 all-region discs. Lewis Collins' parachute accident put the last few episodes on hold while he recovered, which meant that they were originally broadcast as part of the show's third run but they have been presented in original production order here. The episodes are: Rogue, Hunter/Hunted, First Night, The Rack, Man Without A Past, In the Public Interest, Not A Very Civil Civil Servant, A Stirring Of Dust, Blind Run, Fall Girl, Backtrack, Servant Of Two Masters and The Madness Of Mickey Hamilton. As with the MkI set, the discs come housed in a G1-sized slipcase and are once again accompanied by a 180-page book titled The Professionals Viewing Notes by Andrew Pixley.

The picture quality adheres to the same high standards set on MkI and adds just a little more polish, having been remastered in 2K from the original A & B roll 16mm camera negatives (with a 35mm title sequence) and encoded at 1080i50 to preserve the 25fps origination. The original 4:3 aspect has also been preserved (pillarboxed inside a 16:9 frame) and the show looks marvellously fresh and clean because dirt, scratches and print damage have all been digitally taken care of, and there are less instances of little white flecks than with the MkI release (which is dirt on the negative itself, hence it reading as white in the positive). The image is less prone to the slight fluctuations in density seen throughout S1, though as with S1 you’ll still spot a few hairs in the gate from time to time. The scan itself is exceedingly solid and stable, i.e. you won’t find the credits weaving about from side to side. Black levels are superb, going good and deep, and the contrast is nicely controlled.

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The small reservations I had in my MkI review about the colour are replicated here, for while the primaries look sumptuous the secondaries are still quite variable, with skin tones looking overly yellow in one shot or with too much magenta in another. Whether this is due to the remastering (I’ve seen a very similar effect recently on Spearhead From Space, a 16mm Dr Who story which was restored by the same BBC team) or is due to colour issues with the ageing 7247 film stock itself is unclear. And I’m still not all the way comfortable with the level of grain reduction that’s been deployed, not that it’s impacted on the excellent detail reproduction because it’s been applied with care, but it leaves behind a grain field that can sometimes look static and soupy.

Strangely enough there’s one scene where the grain is more in keeping with how it should appear, which occurs during the pre-credits teaser for Servant Of Two Masters where Cowley is showcasing the effects of the nerve gas he's trying to sell with a cine presentation to his prospective buyers. When the footage is shown full frame the grain is readily apparent, and I can only surmise that the restorers left it intact by way of an artistic choice to differentiate it from the actual episode itself. But, all told, this is still an extremely good effort that brings a level of immediacy and vibrancy to The Professionals which I never thought was possible.

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Audio options are much the same as before, with a new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mix (derived from the original 35mm magnetic DME elements) and the original mono presented in 320kb/s lossy Dolby Digital 2.0. I preferred the mono audio on the MkI set because the 5.1 sounded just a touch too strained and hollow, but this time around it’s about even. The mono is clean and pleasingly robust but the 5.1 remix is very respectful and doesn’t sling effects around the room for the sake of it, expanding outwards to add touches of atmosphere and ambience with only an occasional discrete effect like a car driving off to the rear. The bomb blast in Man Without A Past is quite effective though, with a good punch of LFE and chaotic surround effects.

The music sounds fuller than it did previously, as having been recorded in mono it suffered slightly from having to be artificially spread across the sound stage for 5.1, but they’ve reined in the processing a little and it sounds stronger as a result. The dialogue is clear enough, though it’s not as well balanced against the other elements as it is in the mono mix and I detected a couple of crackles in the speech which don’t seem to be there in the mono. There is also a PCM 2.0 'music only' track for all the episodes which highlights Laurie Johnson's terrific score, although it’s a pity that Network still hasn’t seen fit to provide a lossless/uncompressed encode for the original mono mix. It’d be nice to have that rectified for the MkIII release, hint hint...

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For the extra features we get much of the same as before: a sprinkling of short outtakes and ad bumpers, with stills galleries full of portraits, on-set photos etc, plus reams of PDF material (inc. production paperwork and memorabilia) which are accessible via your computer if you have a Blu-ray drive. The outtakes consist of a paused shot from A Stirring of Dust which shows the camera crew and a shot from Blind Run which has Martin Shaw falling out the back of a van set to canned laughter (I’m guessing it’s been lifted from It’ll Be Alright On The Night or a similar blooper show). There’s a 4-minute behind-the-scenes video taken for an LWT promo series during Blind Run which has a very brief interview with producer Ray Menmuir, and a 5-minute US sales trailer voiced by a Robert Wagner soundalike.

Unfortunately there isn’t a retrospective documentary like what was provided on the MkI set but the book of Viewing Notes by Andrew Pixley more than makes up for it, presenting another fascinating in-depth look at the production of these 13 episodes (along with a short story by Ranald Graham) as well as the media hoopla which greeted the show and its stars. The tiny font and tightly-packed formatting are hard on the eyes (a PDF version would’ve been greatly appreciated for viewing on ebook readers or tablets) but fans will lap up the information that’s on offer regardless. I dare say that when the Blu-ray releases are complete, Pixley’s tomes will surely come to be regarded as the definitive chronicle of the day-to-day making of the show.

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Overall

As I said in my MkI wrap-up, the The Professionals has stood the test of time in some ways but not in others. Thankfully all that matters is that it still provides thrilling entertainment - not least because there isn't anything quite like it on British TV at the moment - and the show really started to hit its stride during this second season. Network's MkII Blu-ray release is testament to the enduring appeal of the show, bestowing upon it best-ever picture and sound quality along with a handful of extras and a superb book about the production. It comes highly recommended.

Overall

TDF SILVER

9

out of 10

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