A stunning tribute to a ground-breaking TV series.
David Callan is an operative working for The Section and his methods are sometimes brutal, but when you are dealing with the scum of the earth, that’s all in a day’s work. His boss, Hunter, sits aloof and away from the action but has his finger on the pulse of the world of espionage. Callan is aided in his job by Section secretary Liz and fellow operative Meres, as well as his friend Lonely – a burglar and thief of the highest standard.
Callan was a hit series that premiered in 1967. It presented British audiences with the first truly gritty crime drama, reflecting the success of the James Bond series and films like The Ipcress File. It was ground-breaking in its harshness, and audiences lapped it up. It set the template for future cop shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals and made a star out of the ruggedly handsome leading man, Edward Woodward.
Big Finish released the first volume of their adaptation in 2018 and now audiences are blessed with the second volume, recorded remotely in lockdown. The four episodes are based on short stories written for the Sunday Express by the show’s creator, the late James Mitchell, and they have been adapted by his son Peter Mitchell for the format.
Ben Miles plays the title role and brings out the swagger and grounded nature of David Callan without resorting to a cheap impersonation of Woodward. The regular cast includes Nicholas Briggs as the posh and typically British bureaucrat Hunter, Jane Slavin as his harrowed secretary Liz, Frank Skinner as the cockney thief Lonely (a wonderfully eccentric performance), and Tam Williams as Toby Meres, the fellow agent who has trouble driving cars.
They are joined by a stunning guest cast which includes the wonderful Beth Chalmers (Mrs Ventris), Imogen Church (Conchita), Nicholas Day (Odgers), Mark Elstob (Judd/Jorge/Armstrong), and Emily Raymond (Diana Browne). They all play their roles to perfection and help to capture the spirit and feel of the original series.
Listeners expecting a high-octane series full of explosions and car chases will find themselves deeply disappointed. These are stories that, at their heart, are detective stories and although there are some wonderful and exciting set pieces throughout the series, there are long stretches of dialogue as Callan and his team investigate the various missions. There is also next to no incidental music except for the original theme music. Steve Foxon provides the listener with an outstanding sound mix – one of his absolute best for Big Finish – and that helps director Samuel Clemens create a tense and suspense-filled atmosphere. Bonus interviews with the cast and crew are peppered throughout the release and show the love that the writer and director (as well as the cast) have for the series.
This is one of Big Finish’s stronger releases this year. It is out of the comfort zone for them and regular listeners but that is something that Big Finish is never afraid to try. It is well worth a listen whether or not you are a fan of the original series.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: September 2020
Approx RRP: $51 CD, $25 Digital Download