Now available from Acorn Media is Circles of Deceit. The two disc DVD set includes four film-length TV episodes, coming in about one hour and forty minutes each. They are all under the title Circles of Deceit, but also have episode titles, and they aired between 1993 and 1996 on British television. This release marks the first time they are available in North America.
All four star Dennis Waterman (New Tricks) as John Neil, a former special forces officer who is called upon by members of Britain’s security services to do special operations, generally undercover. There are some references between each of the specials, but all four can be viewed as stand alone works. They are spy thrillers, as Neil works to take down some bad element. Waterman is a competent actor, though has little room to stretch his talent in most of the series, which is done to a specfic formula.
The first episode, “The Wolves Are Howling,” may be the best. In it, Neil is haunted by the death of his wife and child at the hands of an IRA bomb. When he goes undercover to take down an IRA cell, he learns they are the same people who killed his family. He falls for the daughter of the leader, allowing him to get close, but he still puts duty first. Flashbacks of the tragic event show Neil’s helplessness, and inform his motivation throughout.
In the second episode on the disc, “Sleeping Dogs,” which is actually the final one to air, Neil takes on KGB sleeper agents. It is appropriate that the DVD reorders the episodes, as this one has many references to the first entry. It also introduces Susan Jameson (Grandpa in My Pocket, New Tricks) as his Controller, essentially, his boss. She appears in all but the first of the specials.
“Sleeping Dogs” and “Kalon,” the third entry, do little to expand upon the back story of John Neil. Rather, they are standard adventures where Neil takes on a different identity to stop some bad people. In “Sleeping Dogs,” he spies on the Russians, while in “Kalon,” Neil tries to figure out who murdered an army officer. Both feature different love interests, and are very similar in format.
The fourth episode, “Dark Secret,” originally aired second, but as it delves more into Neil’s life, it is a fitting capper to the series. Neil does not assume a new name this time, but actually deals with people from his past, and ends up investigating several murders. His Controller stands in his way, withholding information and manipulating him, much like his bosses from the first episode, and in a way she does not in the middle two entries.
By the time you get to the fourth, a fairly standard formula is in place, and all four begin to blur together. While each part of Circles of Deceit is interesting, and has the same gripping quality, they are all so similar that they begin to get boring when watched in a row. Should you check out the series, I recommend spacing out viewings so that each will still seem fresh and exciting.
Picture and sound quality is pretty good for a 1990’s series, and there should be no complaints. The lone special feature is a handful of Cast Filmographies, but like most Acorn Media releases, the point is to make available international shows, not add a lot of frills. In this, it succeeds.
Circles of Deceit was released on May 17, and so is available now.