DVD Review: Secret Agent AKA Danger Man (The Complete Series)

The spy craze was in overdrive in the ‘60s as 007 spawned numerous TV shows including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible and others. There are those willing to see Danger Man as merely another TV show cashing in on the James Bond movies. That’s only half true. Danger Man debuted in 1960, a few years before Dr. No‘s release.

The half hour series dealt with the exploits of John Drake (Patrick McGoohan), a NATO agent who did the dirty work. The show only lasted one season. ITV couldn’t get American backing for a second batch. After James Bond exploded, the money arrived. In America the show was renamed Secret Agent and received a cool theme song by Johnny Rivers. The show was expanded to an hour and lasted two more seasons until McGoohan abruptly quit the series to make The Prisoner, a program about a secret agent who abruptly quits his top secret post. Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection brings together both versions of the series.

“View From the Villa” introduces Drake as a NATO agent with a bit of an attitude toward his bosses. He refused to accept easy solutions. He heads to Rome to uncover what happened to $5 million worth of gold after a banker is found dead. This was back when $5 million of gold weighed a lot. Conspiracy minded viewers will note that the exteriors were shot at Portmeirion. This was the location of The Village on The Prisoner. You almost want to break out a bulletin board and string to connect how Drake just might be Number Six. There’s even an episode called “The Prisoner.” Although the plot deals with a diplomat stuck for five years inside his embassy since the country will arrest him if he goes near the airport. This is not foreshadowing.

Even though he’s a NATO agent, no part of the globe is off limits to his stealth investigations. “The Journey Ends Halfway” smuggles him into an isolated China. “Dead Man Walks” prowls the Indian wheat fields looking for evidence of bacterial warfare. “Deadline” slices through the African jungle to avoid a mass riot. He’s a globetrotter with numerous passports. There were 39 half hour episodes produced that gave tight intriguing tales.

When the series returned in the hour long format it stayed true to its half hour tone. The 47 episodes have twice the time, but that doesn’t mean Drake works at half speed. The major change was a transfer to a top secret British intelligence unit called M9. This new job was pretty much the same as his old gig. Although now he’s more likely to be assigned to bail out a fellow Brit. “Yesterday’s Enemies” makes him track down an ex-agent that might have gone into business for himself with a spy ring around Beirut. “The Professionals” sneaks him into the Czechoslovakia to locate a missing M9 agent. His cover gets blown by a Czech spy and his lady. Can Drake seduce his way out of trouble? “A Man to Be Trusted” revives voodoo while investigating a contact in the West Indies. Fourth season is only two episodes, but they were shot in color unlike the rest of the series. “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima” drips with hues as Drake infiltrates a murder racket in Japan. The final episode was directed by Peter Yates. He’d go on to make the classic films Bullitt, Breaking Away and Friends of Eddie Coyle. McGoohan’s attitude in these last episodes reflect Number 6 more than the early Drake adventures.

Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection combines all the action of one of the best spy shows. McGoohan isn’t aping James Bond. He’s his own undercover agent with plenty of attitude to match his firepower. The interesting angle is that this is the backstory to the The Prisoner. This is the life that John Drake wanted to quit. Danger Man doesn’t require you to already be part of the cult of The Prisoner. It might even serve you well to watch all Drake’s undercover work before Number Six’s struggles in the Village. Ultimately he might have been a British secret agent, but he wasn’t merely 007.1

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look crisp. The black and white photography brings out intrigue. These are the prints from ITV’s Danger Man so they lack the Johnny Rivers opening theme song. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You’ll her plenty of punches.

Audio Commentaries on Writer Brian Clemens and Director Peter Graham Scott are featured on three of the first season episodes including “View From a Villa” and “The Nurse.” “An Affair of State” allows Scott to talk solo. Clemens would have a great career involving The Avengers. Both men give the background of working for ITV. They try to figure out what happened to the actresses.

Interview with Catherine McGoohan (28:39) allows his daughter to give background on what Patrick was doing on the show.

Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection can be viewed as the prequel for The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan is the rough and tumble spy in a pre-Bond era.

Timeless Media Group presents Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection. Starring: Patrick McGoohan. Boxset Contents: 86 episodes on 17 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: December 9, 2014.

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