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The Sandbaggers Set 3 (1980) – DVD Review

Sandbaggers Set 3 DVD


Series Created by Ian Mackintosh
Starring Roy Marsden, Ray Lonnen, Alan MacNaughton, Dennis Burgess, Michael Cashman, Bob Sherman, Jerome Willis, Sue Holderness


  • All seven third season episodes
  • The Sandbaggers Files: Secrets Declassified with Roy Lonnen and Bob Sherman
  • Ian Mackintosh biography
  • Biography and Filmography of Roy Marsden
  • Sandbaggers prequel written by Ian Mackintosh
  • Episode Guide
  • Memorable Dialogue
  • Production Stills
  • A Guide to Sandbaggers Abbreviations

Released by: BFS Video.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Own It.

[ad#longpost]As a colleague of Neil Burnside (Marsden) observes, Burnside never takes half measures, it’s all or nothing for him. As Director of Operations for the Secret Intelligence Service this is usually a necessary attitude. But recently, this attitude has been causing him to act independently of his bosses, Deputy Chief Matthew Peele (Willis) and ‘C’ John Tower Gibbs (Burgess). From creating a station that doesn’t exist to stop another from closing to conducting an unauthorized defection to stop SALT talks he thinks are worthless, Burnside is acting like his judgment is better than the elected government’s. And Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t like a man with Burnside’s resources, including the special agents known as The Sandbaggers, running his own show, no matter how good his reason or intentions are. Even his ally and former father in law Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (MacNaughten) is getting tired of Burnside’s antics. Burnside’s liaison with the CIA, Jeff Ross (Sherman), is taking far too much advantage of the US/UK special relationship for Burnside’s liking. He even has to deal with one of his Sandbaggers, Willie Caine (Lonnen), trying to chat up his new secretary (Holderness). With Burnside losing friends and allies, can he keep up the good fight, or more importantly, should he?

Here we are at the third and final season and I’m having a hard time trying to come up with more praise for this series. One aspect we haven’t discussed is how the series portrays the conflict between Burnside’s determined and near-fanatical running of the Sandbaggers and the government who sets the directives, both for the people and for themselves, that Burnside should follow. Burnside does have the experience of being a sandbagger himself to back up his opinions, but his worldview is far too focused. In one episode, he assists a terminal NATO official to defect to serve as a double agent. She also plans to make herself a martyr for the cause of dissidents when she is eventually captured and tried. While most might help her on humanitarian grounds, Burnside is purely practical since the rise of dissidents will cause destabilization within the Soviet Union.

While the show does lean towards Burnside’s point of view, Mackintosh does allow the other characters to voice their criticism of Burnside’s methods. When Burnside tries to sabotage the SALT talks, he is reminded rather forcibly that the elected government wants this treaty. Burnside is putting his own judgment above everyone else. No matter how good his reasons, he is still a servant of the government. The head of the SIS, ‘C’, says that there is a line where on one side you act for the government, one the other you act despite the government. What the show illustrates is how attractive the other side can be and how easy it can be to walk across the line. Or be pushed.

I’ve already talked about the Ian Mackintosh biography, the episode guide, the memorable dialogue, and the guide to Sandbaggers abbreviations–you can check those out for yourselves in my reviews of Season 1 and 2, so I’ll cover the rest here. The featurette The Sandbaggers Files is a somewhat silly reunion of two of the stars of the show, Roy Lonnen and Bob Sherman. They talk primarily about where the stars are now and the mysterious disappearance of the show’s creator Ian Mackintosh. The show was abruptly cancelled because of his apparent death from an apparent plane crash. Which is a shame because Lonnen reveals that the plan for the next season was for Lonnon’s character to become head of Operations after being placed in a wheelchair by a Russian sniper.

There is also a good biography written about the star Roy Marsden as well as a filmography of his work. Another nice feature is a short story prequel of The Sandbaggers used to set up the show. It deals with a risky plan to rescue a merchant marine captain who seems to have done a sloppy job spying for England. It’s a scheme that Burnside never approved of and he may have to risk a sandbagger to clean the mess up. It is an interesting technique to present a show concept to prospective producers and let them see the concepts that will be in the show where they were first developed. Even with the cliffhanger that is never resolved, The Sandbaggers is a series that is acted and written to perfection and never settles for the easy resolutions. It is not to be missed, so buy it.

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