Thursday 25 May 2023

The Professionals season 3 (1979)

The mid-70s witnessed a revolution in British television. It started with seasons three and four of Special Branch but the series most associated with this revolution was The Sweeney. Shooting on video in the studio was out. Everything had to be shot on location, on 35mm film. The emphasis henceforward was on action, which usually meant violent action. Brian Clemens was not unaware of this trend and had taken his first tentative steps in this new direction with The New Avengers. For his next project Clemens decided to go all-out. He would out-Sweeney The Sweeney. That new project would become The Professionals.

The Professionals certainly attracted attention. And outrage. It wasn’t just the violence. It’s a series about a British counter-terrorist counter-espionage squad, CI5, that quite openly flouts the law.

The Professionals was made in five separate production blocks between 1977 and 1983 and screened as five seasons over the same period, but the production blocks and the seasons do not coincide at all. There was no attempt to screen the episodes in the order in which they were made. The 1979 third season is a mixture of episodes from the second and third production blocks.

The cast remained unchanged from season two - Gordon Jackson as CIA chief George Cowley with Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw as Bodie and Doyle, his two top agents. The characterisations haven’t changed either. Cowley is as ruthless as ever with a fine disregard for everything except getting the job done. Ex-mercenary Bodie is pretty much an ice-cold killer, although with a sense of humour. Doyle is equally tough but more sensitive, and is the only one of the trio with what you might call a fully developed conscience.

The stories haven’t changed a great deal either. CI5 battles spies and international criminals but their main focus is combating terrorism.

There’s enough action and mayhem to ensure that the viewer will overlook any deficiencies in the scripts. And for the most part the scripts are solid and tight.

The Professionals
was intended as pure high-octane entertainment so don’t expect any philosophical musing or too much in the way of subtlety. On occasions the series does confront ethical issues but this is not Callan, or even Danger Man. If you’re looking for a series that offers provocative intellectual insights into the morality of espionage this is not that series. The Professionals offers car chases, gun battles and explosions.

But the action is handled with style and energy.

Episode Guide

The Purging of CI5 was a logical enough choice for a season opener, with lots of action, lots of explosions and lots of excitement. Someone is trying to destroy CI5. Their plan seems to be to kill every last CI5 agent, including Cowley. And they seem quite capable of doing so.

This episode is quite reminiscent of the excellent 1969 Callan episode Let's Kill Everybody. In fact the premise is more or less identical. It’s not a bad episode.

In Backtrack CI5 have to stop an arms smuggling operation. They have a witness who might be useful, if they can keep him alive. They have to follow the trail of evidence back to a burglary. That burglar found something crucial. Bodie and Dole have to try out their own skills as burglars.

A typical but very entertaining episode with Cowley being particularly ruthless.

starts with a British agent who has just escaped from the Khmer Rough. He has some interesting information about a high-level defector. Of course there are twists. A solid enough plot.

In this episode there’s plenty of focus on the tense relationship between Cowley on the one hand and Bodie and Doyle on the other. They feel that Cowley is concealing vital information from them, forcing them to work in the dark. And they’re right. And they resent it, understandably. One of the best episodes of the season.

Dead Reckoning starts with an exchange of agents by the British and the Bulgarians. The British got double-agent Stefan Batak as their part of the deal. The arrangement was that the deal was to be kept secret. There is a complication - Batak’s daughter Anna who lives in London. She was all set to go to Bulgaria to visit her father in prison.

There are the usual betrayals and counter-betrayals and complex plot twists. Cowley is getting plenty of information out of Batak. He thinks the information is accurate, but he still isn’t certain. And then disaster strikes. Could Anna be an assassin? Or is she an innocent pawn?

Doyle takes some film and somebody is very keen to take it away from him. The trouble is that the film doesn’t show anything that could possibly be useful.

A nicely cynical twisted spy thriller plot. A very good episode.

The Madness of Mickey Hamilton starts with an attempted political assassination but the viewer already has reason to suspect that something else is going on. CI5 however are sure it was an attempt to kill an African diplomat. If they’d realised earlier that were barking up the wrong tree disaster might have been averted, but that the theme of this episode - by the time anyone realises there’s a problem it’s too late.

A good episode with Doyle showing an unexpected touch of compassion. To everybody else the villain in this story is just a villain, but to Doyle’s he’s a victim.

A Hiding to Nothing involves the possibility of an assassination attempt on an Arab leader. And CI5 has a leak. There are lots of twists to come.

Again we see a subtle difference between Bodie and Doyle, with Doyle being just as tough but with more of a human side. Excellent episode.

In Runner a gun shop is robbed. Robbed of a variety of very nasty weaponry. CI5 assume it’s the prelude to a major campaign of violence, a campaign of political violence by an outfit referred to as the Organisation (presumably some offshoot of the IRA).

CI5 are being manipulated and Doyle is being manipulated. The Organisation is being manipulated. There’s a dangerous game being played, and the motivations are not clear. CI5 have to find out what those motivations are. They have a number of sources of possible information but those sources are not exactly friendly. A solid episode with a fiendishly complicated plot. Maybe too complicated. You’ll have to concentrate.

In the season finale Servant of Two Masters Bodie and Doyle have to investigate a possible traitor - George Cowley. This is by far the weakest episode of the season. You have to take seriously the idea that Cowley might be corrupt, and I don’t believe that a single viewer would have bought that for a second. If you don’t buy it the story becomes boringly predictable.

Final Thoughts

Overall a strong season with the season finale being the only dud episode. Other than that there’s plenty of excitement and mindless violence. Highly recommended.