Enter the dark world of spy David Callan. He’s a secret agent for the British government. But he’s no James Bond. Callan’s world is not the glamorous one full of Aston Martins, Walther PPKs, and shaken vodka martinis. Instead, his world is completely devoid of such things — and yet all too realistic at the same time.
For starters, the Cold War is much colder here. His agency is so secret that few people even know it exists. His colleagues are sometimes as devious and nefarious as the enemy. And then there’s David Callan himself: a tortured man who extremely abhors his entire profession — but has no choice to do otherwise.
Spawning from an episode of Armchair Theatre, Callan was developed into its own series and became a crowning moment for spy noir. First broadcast to British television sets in 1967, the show ran for four series with a total of 43 episodes (ending in 1972), spawned a 1974 big-screen version (which was actually a remake of the Armchair Theatre episode), and a TV-movie follow-up in 1981 (which every fan seems to hate).
As David Callan, actor Edward Woodward (you know, the guy from The Equalizer) is in top form. Woodward fills his character up with all the pent-up emotions he can — and the result is nothing short of superb. The series also benefits from some moving performances from it co-stars: William Squire (who looks like a gay British Peter Gallagher), Patrick Mower, and the very fabulous Russell Hunter.
Callan: Set 1 arrives on DVD from Acorn Media, the best company for British TV in the U.S. Oddly enough, Callan: Set 1 is not the beginning of the story, but rather the entire Third Series from 1970, picking up with Callan in hospital recovering from having nearly being killed at the end of Series 2.
As confusing as that sounds, it’s not. I found it extremely easy to follow straight from the get go. There is enough exposition in the dialogue to keep everyone on the same page, without insulting their intelligence. The set contains nine episodes spread out over three discs.
Since a major portion of Callan was filmed live with the video cameras the BBC had at the time, the picture can come off as imperfect. Worse still, the original masters were nowhere to be found, so this is as good as we’re going to get it, .(Acorn Media has wisely thrown in a disclaimer about that.)
That said, Callan: Set 1 doesn’t look as bad as you’d think it might. The sound is sufficient and is a little crisper than the video presentation — although there are some noticeable lapses where the sound was out of synch. No subtitles are included with this release. Special features for Callan: Set 1 are limited to some trivia about the character and a bio for star Edward Woodward.
While the lack of decent extras is a bit of a frown, the incongruously-named Callan: Set 1 (it should be called Callan: Series 3, just for the record) is a keeper for any fan of British drama or Cold War espionage.