By Patrick J. White

Avon Books (1991). 456 pages. $12.50

Reviewed by Craig Henderson

[This review was first published in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY #28 in 1992. The book is now out of print but used copies are generally available and well worth searching for.]

The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier ($12.50 from Avon Books) is quite naturally a must for fans of that popular show, but its high quality is a happy surprise.  After the explosion in the last several years of books about classic TV series — written by people who could barely compose a sentence, had no idea how to research their subjects, leaped to the most specious conclusions or simply published outright lies — I’ve come to expect the worst. However, Mission’s author, Patrick J. White, obviously knew what to look for, where to find it and how to present it.

Structurally, the book resembles the first (and still the best) TV series reference, The Twilight Zone Companion. The show’s earliest development, production of the pilot, and each subsequent season is thoroughly covered, with episode-by-episode synopses, cast and credit lists, analyses and anecdotes. Copious comments from virtually everyone involved in the show accompany the text (unhappily, the notable exception, as with the Twilight Zone book, is the show’s creator; Bruce Geller died in a plane crash in 1978).

Every member of Mission’s large and ever-changing cast was interviewed, again with one notable exception: Steven Hill, the show’s original star who, as White points out, many viewers don’t even remember (though 25 years later, I still prefer Hill to Peter Graves as IMF leader). White otherwise is so thorough that I can only assume Hill refused to talk about his unhappy tenure on Mission. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, on the other hand, have a lot to say about their very bitter and very public exit from the show.

Paramount was apparently quite cooperative in providing photos and access to production files, but that doesn’t stop White from portraying Paramount’s takeover of Desilu and Mission as the beginning of the end. The studio bean-counters get their say, but the facts remain that they precipitated the departure of Bain and Landau, banned Geller from the lot and ultimately ruined the show.

The book goes on to describe Paramount’s various misbegotten attempts to revive Mission since the show ended in 1973, and concludes with a chapter on the recent mediocre ABC series (covered in somewhat less detail than the “real” series).

Within this wealth of information, White somehow failed to mention that Mission’s starting time was moved from 9:00 to 8:30 halfway through the first season, but that’s the only significant detail I found missing. It is odd that White chose not to reveal in many of his synopses how the trap is finally sprung on the bad guys. Is he trying not to spoil the show for new viewers? Admittedly, it would be difficult to reduce some of those convoluted plots to a few cogent sentences, but it lessens the reference value of the book somewhat. And some solutions are detailed, so it’s puzzling why others are glossed over.

That caviling aside, it’s unlikely anyone could have produced a more complete and entertaining look at Mission: Impossible (the book even reprints Mad’s parody of the show). It’s too bad so many other publishers and self-styled authors can’t do half as well.