The original, classic Mission: Impossible series ran for 7 seasons, from 1966-1973. It followed the adventures of the talented Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a group of elite spies who were often assigned seemingly impossible tasks, but always managed to come through in the end. My first introduction to the IMF was the show’s revival series in 1988. At the time I wasn’t even aware that there had been a previous series, and only saw the original show for the first time on DVD about 14 years ago. Now the original series makes its Blu-ray debut, feeling fresh and new in glorious HD!
While I didn’t get a chance to re-watch all 171 episodes of this new Blu-ray release prior to writing this review, I did get a good sampling of episodes from every season (and I do plan to go back and re-watch the rest). Each episode follows the same general formula. It opens with the show’s iconic theme song as a match lights a fuse and the viewer is presented with a montage of exciting scenes from the upcoming episode. Then the IMF team leader—Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) in the first season, and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) afterwards—goes to some remote or seemingly ordinary-looking location to obtain a recording of the mission briefing. Shortly after listening, the tape self-destructs, and then the team leader flips through photos and dossiers as he puts together the perfect team for the mission. This usually consists of the same main cast, but sometimes also includes a guest character with a particular expertise related to the mission. Or, if it’s a larger ruse the team needs to pull off, one of the photos may be of The Horizon Repertory Players, or some other acting troupe. The leader then gathers the team to go over the plan for mission, and test out some of the logistics. Here’s where the viewer gets their first look at how the IMF team plans to carry out the mission, and a glimpse at the gadgets they are going to use. These briefings are also sometimes used to throw in an audience misdirect, planting a scare for later when things seemingly don’t go as originally planned. After the briefing, it’s time to put the plan into action, and there’s always some hiccup or issue along the way. But in the end, the team always manages to complete the mission and make their escape. In some of the later seasons, the team selection and/or briefing is skipped and instead the episode jumps right into the action of the mission with a pre-credits scene.
In the first season, the IMF team leader is Dan Briggs, and his mission team usually consists of the same four people. First there’s the beautiful Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), who utilizes her feminine wiles to distract and disarm the target. She can be the damsel in distress or the strong confident woman—whatever the mission requires. Then there’s muscle man Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), whose immense strength always comes in handy, for general grunt work, but also things such as secretly carrying tools or people into vaults or locations. Electronics expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris) is the team’s tech guy. If they need some gadget built or communications system wired up, he’s the guy. He often spends the missions in the rafters, underground or behind walls. And finally, there’s master of disguise Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the expert mask maker of the team. He can transform himself or the other team members into completely different people (aka guest actors) as the mission requires. During the show’s second season, Jim Phelps replaces Dan Briggs as the IMF team leader. No explanation is given as to why Briggs is gone—perhaps the secretary had to disavow any knowledge of his actions. Phelps is a little more hands-on when it comes to the missions, where Briggs sometimes felt like just the mastermind behind the plans.
The third season is the last for Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter as real-life couple Landau and Bain exit the series. There are some big cast changes in the fourth season. Master magician The Great Paris (Leonard Nimoy) becomes the team’s new master of disguise, and is a worthy replacement for Landau’s Hand. Bain proves harder to replace, with many different guest actresses filling the role of the female team member throughout the fourth season. Sam Elliott also joins the cast for the season as Dr. Doug Robert, who fills Willy’s role for about 13 episodes of the season. (Willy is still very much part of the team and remains so for the rest of the run). In the fifth season, the team finally gets a new regular female with the gorgeous Dana Lambert (Lesley Warren). However, in the show’s sixth season, both Dana and Paris are gone, and makeup artist Lisa Casey (Lynda Day George) joins the team, becoming not only the team’s female member but also taking over the team’s master of disguise role. And in the final season, while actress Lynda Day George is on maternity leave, Mimi Davis (Barbara Anderson) joins the team for a bunch of the missions. Throughout the seasons, there are also some great guest stars, such as Tom Bosley, James Hong, and so many more (all looking way younger than the projects I remember them for) as the various targets and victims the IMF team interacts with.
Today TV shows are just over 40 minutes when you take out all the commercials. However, back when this series was made, episodes were over 50 minutes long. This really allows the show to breath, and move at a more measured pace, but not in a slow, boring way. The extra time allows the viewer to see more of the details of how the IMF team executes its plan, and also gives time for the camera to linger on scenes to build the suspense and throw in a few red herrings and unexpected curveballs for the team to deal with. This makes it really fun for the viewer as the show is constantly trying to make them think the team is in trouble, only to have it often be part of their original plan. The team is also quick on their feet and able to adjust quickly and use their intelligence to fix the situation when they encounter the unexpected. Most of the episodes follow a new mission of the week whose events don’t really carry into other episodes. The initial seasons often find the team heading to Eastern Europe or South America to deal with some evil dictator or regime, while in the later seasons, the team deals with more domestic issues, master criminals, corrupt politicians and crime syndicates. Many of the earlier seasons also have a couple two-parters that play out like an extended mission (usually ending with some perilous cliffhanger between episodes). These are always my favorites as they feel more like feature films with lots of twists and turns. There is even an excellent three-parter, “The Falcon” in the fourth season, featuring Lee Meriweather as the team’s female agent. She plays a mystical mind reader, the partner of Nimoy’s Paris, who’s undercover as a magician as they try to rescue a king, prince and princess who have been kidnapped by a man trying to take over their kingdom. While I still quite enjoy the series as a whole, a little bit of the magic is lost in the later seasons without Barbara Bain, Martin Landau or Leonard Nimoy. The series also gets a bit crazy with the 70s style and language in the later seasons. By the end of the series, people are saying things like “I dig that” or referring to people as “that cat” or “that dude”, and it makes the show feel a bit dated. However Peter Graves will always be the first person I think of when it comes to this series (as I first saw him on the revival series), and he really does an excellent job throughout the run.
CBS’s new Blu-ray release, for the most part, looks fantastic, almost like a brand new show. The picture is very clean with excellent colors and a pleasant amount of grain. I found that thanks to DRM, it’s not easy to get a Blu-ray screenshot for comparison, but in general, the Blu-ray looks sharper and more detailed than the previous DVD releases. The picture just feels more lively, natural and enjoyable. It’s difficult to tell from a single screenshot comparison, but in the example below you can still see the more defined facial features, and the extra detail in the pleats in the shirt. However, I also chose this screenshot because it demonstrates an issue I saw while watching the third episode of Season 1. There was this thin white line that appeared down the right side of the screen during one short scene (whenever the scene cuts to a specific angle on the character). However, this defect appears to be new to this release—it is not present on the original DVD version of the same scene. I did not notice anything similar on any other episodes I watched, though as I said, I didn’t go back an re-watch them all. In some of the later episodes, I did notice some occasional white dirt or flecks on the picture.
The audio track appears to be the same 5.1 mix used on the original DVD releases. It provides clear dialogue, and showcases the show’s iconic theme and score. There may be some slight use of the surround channel to add some ambiance, but it wasn’t anything that noticeable. While the original DVD releases included a Spanish language track and Spanish & Portuguese subtitles, those have been replaced with French/German audio and subtitles for this Blu-ray release.
Like the original DVD release, there is no bonus material included. Each season is spread across 6-7 discs, with no more than 4 episodes per disc. Each season is placed in its own cardboard case which unfolds with slots for each disc, and adorned with episode titles, descriptions and photos from that season. These folders then stack in a tray that slides into an outer cardboard box. I was a little disappointed with the set’s packaging. I found that the discs slid out of the folders fairly easily. The slots on my Season 1 folder were all torn (one of them completely such that the disc slides out the side)—only the season 1 folder was torn, so it wasn’t a widespread issue, but still disappointing. Also, some of the artwork was inaccurate—Leonard Nimoy’s photo appears in the folder for Season 3 even though he didn’t join the show until Season 4. The outer cardboard box also isn’t quite as sturdy as some of the other complete series box sets I recently received for review.
- All 177 episodes of the series on 46 discs:
- Season 1 (1966-1967), 28 episodes (23:33:05):
Disc 1: “Pilot”, “Memory”, “Operation Rogosh”, “Old Man Out (Part 1)”
Disc 2: “Old Man Out (Part 2)”, “Odds on Evil”, “Wheels”, “The Ransom”
Disc 3: “A Spool There Was”, “The Carriers”, “Zubrovnik’s Ghost”, “Fakeout”
Disc 4: “Elena”, “The Short Tail Spy”, “The Legacy”, “The Reluctant Dragon”
Disc 5: “The Frame”, “The Trial”, “The Diamond”, “The Legend”
Disc 6: “Snowball in Hell”, “The Confession”, “Action!”, “The Train”
Disc 7: “Shock!”, “A Cube of Sugar”, “The Traitor”, “The Psychic”
- Season 2 (1967-1968), 25 episodes (20:56:23):
Disc 1: “The Widow”, “Trek”, “The Survivors”, “The Bank”
Disc 2: “The Slave (Part 1)”, “The Slave (Part 2)”, “Operation Heart”, “The Money Machine”
Disc 3: “The Seal”, “Charity”, “The Council (Part 1)”, “The Council (Part 2)”
Disc 4: “The Astrologer”, “Echo of Yesterday”, “The Photographer”, “The Spy”
Disc 5: “A Game of Chess”, “The Emerald”, “The Condemned”
Disc 6: “The Counterfeiter”, “The Town”, “The Killing”
Disc 7: “The Phoenix”, “Trial by Fury”, “Recovery”
- Season 3 (1968-1969), 25 episodes (20:55:58):
Disc 1: “The Heir Apparent”, “The Contender (Part 1)”, “The Contender (Part 2)”, “The Mercenaries”
Disc 2: “The Execution”, “The Cardinal”, “The Elixir”, “The Diplomat”
Disc 3: “The Play”, “The Bargain”, “The Freeze”, “The Exchange”
Disc 4: “The Mind of Stefan Miklos”, “The Test Case”, “The System”, “The Glass Cage”
Disc 5: “Doomsday”, “Live Bait”, “The Bunker (Part 1)”,
Disc 6: “The Bunker (Part 2)”, “Nitro”, “Nicole”
Disc 7: “The Vault”, “Illusion”, “The Interrogator”
- Season 4 (1969-1970), 26 episodes (21:56:26):
Disc 1: “The Code”, “The Numbers Game (AKA The Key)”, “The Controller (Part 1)”, “The Controller (Part 2)”
Disc 2: “Fool’s Gold”, “Commandante”, “The Double Circle”, “Submarine”
Disc 3: “Robot”, “Mastermind”, “The Brothers”, “Time Bomb”
Disc 4: “The Amnesiac”, “The Falcon (Part 1)”, “The Falcon (Part 2)”, “The Falcon (Part 3)”
Disc 5: “Chico”, “Gitano”, “Phantoms”, “Terror”
Disc 6: “Lover’s Knot”, “Orpheus”, “The Crane”
Disc 7: “Death Squad”, “The Choice”, “The Martyr”
- Season 5 (1970-1971), 23 episodes (19:16:40):
Disc 1: “The Killer”, “Flip Side”, “The Innocent”, “Homecoming”
Disc 2: “Flight”, “My Friend, My Enemy”, “The Butterfly”, “Decoy”
Disc 3: “The Amateur”, “Hunted”, “The Rebel”, “Squeeze Play”
Disc 4: “The Hostage”, “Takeover”, “Cat’s Paw”, “The Missile”
Disc 5: “The Field”, “Blast”, “The Catafalque”, “Kitara”
Disc 6: “A Ghost Story”, “The Party”, “The Merchant”
- Season 6 (1971-1972), 22 episodes (18:41:01):
Disc 1: “Blind”, “Encore”, “The Tram”, “Mindbend”
Disc 2: “Shape-Up”, “The Miracle”, “Encounter”, “Underwater”
Disc 3: “Invasion”, “Blues”, “The Visitors”, “Nerves”
Disc 4: “Run for the Money”, “The Connection”, “The Bride”, “Stone Pillow”
Disc 5: “Image”, “Committed”, “Bag Woman”
Disc 6: “Double Dead”, “Casino”, “Trapped”
- Season 7 (1972-1973), 22 episodes (18:36:39):
Disc 1: “Break!”, “Two Thousand”, “The Deal”, “Leona”
Disc 2: “TOD-5”, “Cocaine”, “Underground”, “Movie”
Disc 3: “Hit”, “Ultimatum”, “Kidnap”, “Crack-Up”
Disc 4: “The Puppet”, “Incarnate”, “Boomerang”, “The Question”
Disc 5: “The Fountain”, “The Fighter”, “Speed”
Disc 6: “The Pendulum”, “The Western”, “Imitation”
- Season 1 (1966-1967), 28 episodes (23:33:05):
- 1080p / Fill Frame 4:3
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio German 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital
- Subtitles: English, French, German
Unfortunately, like the original DVD releases, there is no bonus material included.
Mission: Impossible is a classic spy series, featuring an amazing cast, that defined a winning formula that still resonates and remains thoroughly entertaining over 50 years later. While I wasn’t really a fan of the packaging, the content of this new Blu-ray release is well worth the purchase. The series looks amazing and better than ever (with a few minor hiccups) in HD. Die hard fans of the franchise will certainly enjoy the remastered picture of this release, and for current and future fans who don’t already own a version of the series, this is certainly the release to pick up. CBS’s new Mission: Impossible Complete Original Series Blu-ray would make an excellent gift for any TV fan on your holiday shopping list, and provide endless hours of entertainment. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to purchase this Blu-ray set for yourself or someone on your gift list!