Review: Return To Eden – Complete Series

My name is Stephanie Harper, and this is Eden – here my father was king. On the day he died 17 years ago, I was 23, lonely and afraid. If I’d known then of the nightmare that lay ahead, I think I’d have chosen to die with him.

Wise words from Stephanie, coming from the series that brought Australia to the edge of their seat – in Return To Eden.

The 1983 mini series starring Rebecca Gilling as Stephanie Harper, a rich 40 year old mother of two, has very little personality and a string of bad marriages, is the heiress to the Eden Homestead. She has finally found love again after she marries tennis professional Greg Marsden (James Reyne). However, Greg has other romantic plans with Stephanie’s bestie Jilly Stewart (Wendy Hughes) and conceives a plan to get rid of Stephanie while on their honeymoon. The best way to do it? Send her over the side into a crocodile infested swamp, so they can inherit Stephanie’s riches.

James Reyne and Rebecca Gilling in the Mini Series

As Greg and Jilly head back to reality and live a normal life sans Stephanie, unbeknownst to them – Stephanie has survived the crocodile attack. Her body is found in the swamplands clinging to life by hermit Dave Welles (Bill Kerr), who nurses Stephanie back to health. While she has been disfigured by the crocodile attack, Stephanie is introduced to a highly successful plastic surgeon Dr. Dan Marshall (James Simillie) who helps restore her face, and improves her looks by making her appear younger than before. With her renewed confidence – takes up a new alias and returns to the city, and creates a conniving plan to seek revenge on Greg and Jilly, and claim back what is rightfully hers.

The six hour, three-part mini series was screened on the TEN Network in 1983 in late September (shown on other regional stations such as Capital 7), and was a ratings success. It was broadcast in the UK and developed a cult following, and a book of the series was printed. Even Reyne and Hughes won Logies for their efforts.

Canberra Times, 1983

Due to the popularity of the mini-series, a 22 episode TV series was created in 1985 (screened in 1986), with a quarter of the original cast returning, such as Gilling, Kerr, and Simillie. The TV series picks up 7 years after Stephanie’s life-changing incident, and has more scandals and twists than you can poke a crocodile at.

Gilling and James Simillie in the TV series.

Return To Eden: The Series ticks all the boxes of soapie trash that you can think of: half-relatives, sex, money laundering, blackmail, murders, attempted murders, jealousy and outrage. Even Stephanie is forced to revisit her traumatic crocodile past to move on with her future.

While the both the mini series and complete series have been released on DVD in the past from other distributors, this is the first time both are together in one box set, thanks to Via Vision Entertainment.

In this 10 DVD set of Return To Eden: The Complete Series, you have the 1983 mini series spread across the first three discs, then the 1986 broadcast of the TV series on seven discs.

 

Mini Series

  • Disc One – Part 1 = 1hr 28m
  • Disc Two – Part 2 = 1hr 28m
  • Disc Three – Part 3 = 1h 28m

The Series

  • Disc Four – Episodes 1 to 3
  • Disc Five – Episodes 4 to 6
  • Disc Six – Episodes 7 to 9
  • Disc Seven – Episodes 10 to 12
  • Disc Eight – Episodes 13 to 15
  • Disc Nine – Episodes 16 to 18
  • Disc Ten – Episodes 19 to 22

Each episode has a run time of 46 minutes, except for Episode 22, which runs for 51 minutes.

 

Presentation

Now for the quality: Don’t expect anything grand or digitally restored. This is a simple master-to-DVD transfer with no upgrade in quality. Everything is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

The DVD menu for the mini series – while presented in 16:9, will default to 4:3 when you action to play the feature.

The mini series is screened ‘as is’, complete with film scratches and cigarette burns. While some scenes aren’t visually sharp and appear washed, it’s actually quite pleasant to view as it feels like a visual record vinyl player where you can feel the warmth and age. If you remember watching it from the original broadcast, this will have the same familiarity.

While the mini series is three episodes long over three discs, there are zero special features, subtitles, and presented in English audio only.

Mini series DVD menu

Mini series opening titles

For the TV series, all 22 episodes are spread over seven discs. As with the mini series, the DVD menu is presented in 16:9 ratio, and will flick over to 4:3 when you activate the presentation. Again, do not expect any glorious restoration.

TV series DVD menu

TV series opening titles

The episodes appear to be a direct transfer from the master tapes with zero touch-up, which is visibily noticeable in the first episode that has a static-like distortion. Some episodes are harshly saturated with colour, while one episode looks like the colour has been washed out. However, I stress – this should not interrupt your viewing pleasure. The overall presentation and quality is really, really good.

Static-interference sample

Colour brightness sample

Washed out sample

Overall great picture presentation

Dedicated fans will know that there was one ending for the final episode, where it was designed to be a cliffhanger and lead into a second season in Australia. However, due to failing ratings, the show was canned. Due to the show being sold overseas, the cast were brought back to film an alternative ending which hastly wrapped the storylines up to end the show properly and was shown internationally. While early foreign DVD releases show the alternate ending as a bonus feature, this boxset release only has the new international alternate ending.

With a Region 4 format and a run time of 21 hours and 19 minutes, Return To Eden: The Complete Collection is a fantastic time capsule of 80s Australiana – whether its the scenic cutaways, fashion (YES, the FASHION!), the cheesy decor, and the dramatic and somewhat over-the-top storyline twists that will have you reaching for the booze, it is a definite must-have in your collection of classic Australian television.

Return To Eden: The Complete Collection – available through Via Vision Entertainment and good retailers.

This boxset was graciously supplied to us from Via Vision Entertainment for review and critiquing purposes.

Comments

  • Jay

    I am Jayson (Jay) Duncan. I played Dennis Harper in the original 3 part mini-series. Such a remarkable experience.

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