Spooks returned for its tenth and final series last night. Showing on BBC 1, ITV had scheduled its Autumn heavy-weight contender, Downton Abbey, alongside it. But in the age of Personal Video Recorders such ratings-showdowns matter not to us the humble viewer. Well leaving aside that Big Brother was also airing on Channel 5 and Heston’s Mission Impossible on More 4!
The viewing figures reveal that it was the World War 1 costume drama and not the post Cold War spy drama that proved the most popular of the two, with twice as many Brits tuning into it.
Spooks is the British equivalent of the US 24 – or James Bond in a post-cold-war, post-9/11, al-Qaeda world.
Except there is no Jack – Spooks is about the team not the individualist action hero of Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne or the prototype JB, James Bond.
The leading men always perish – Tom Quinn (Matthew McFadden), Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones), Lucas North (Richard Armitage) – far more realistically I would think than the US world view where heroes always prosper, villains always get their comeuppance, eventually!
Having said that James Bond was unrealistically invulnerable – but with Spooks we have grown up. Though perhaps our Jack Bauer equivalent is Harry Pearce, played by Peter Firth, the MI5 Section head? And as Spooks is about to meet its mortal end destined for a Telly heaven of re-runs on UK Gold or Dave – though just how many re-runs before that TV heaven becomes Celluloid Purgatory then Telly Hell?! – can we assume for Harry Pearce the assassin’s bullet finally catches up with him?
I wrote leading men but Spooks has given us leading women too, Ros Myers (Hermione Norris), Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes), and does so again in series 10.
This time with Erin Watts the successor/rival of Harry Pearce – Erin Watts is played by Lara Pulver – who you may recall from True Blood and alongside fellow ex-spook Richard Armitage in the BBC’s Robin Hood. She is the new acting head of Section and was its MI5 Chief while Harry was on enforced sick-leave during his ’employment tribunal’ (he comments that for one dark moment during it he had considered taking up gardening!).
Erin Watts as Lara Croft when Lara Croft has to resist going it alone and act as a team-player – if its leader.
In the opening episode it is all about Harry – and has the veteran of his team and the service it is in his Cold War past that skeletons start to do more than rattle. Harry is still supported by his wax-and-wane love interest Ruth Evershed, played by Nicola Walker, and in this episode it is not just former enemies that resurface – Ruth finds herself face-to-face with a former asset of Harry, Elena Gavrik, played by Alice Krige, – a former asset and so much more. I think you can probably guess how much more?!
A former spy and colleague of Harry, Max Witt, is found murdered and had also been trying to set up a meeting between them. Harry and his team must find out why. Alongside this the UK is now to set upon a political and diplomatic course to make a friend of a former foe, Russia, and is this what Max was trying to warn Harry about?
Like 24, technology of the bleeding-edge variety is never too far out of view – this episode sees them all sporting iPads if naturally kitted out with highly encrypted spyware – authorized spy-ware! I recall in a previous series, as a rival to fingerprint and iris recognition, blood-vessel recognition – or was that an episode of Hustle?! In this episode the body recognition software is about how we walk-the-walk rather than talk-the-talk. We all apparently walk in a unique way – our height and weight and its distribution – such that no matter how we disguise our face our gait gives us away. I do not know whether this technology is science fact or fiction. I rather like the thought that it is but the product of the Spooks’ script-writers’ imagination and the various intelligence services of other governments watching Spooks are then sent scrambling to investigate its veracity and or plausibility!
I hope that Spooks is not being decommissioned due to Harry Pearce meeting his demise – that is back to James Bond logic – the service is greater than any one man or woman – a show about spies has endless plot-lines and machinations.
Previous threats to our green-and-pleasant-land and democratic-life and everything-we-hold-dear have included inevitably al-Qaeda home-grown and abroad, the re-emerging Chinese Economic and Military Super Power, and post Cold War Russia and its many ex-Soviet Satellite States be they of a European or Asian leaning persuasion.
In this series as noted the UK are making – or having to make – a choice to go it alone or find new allies in a post special-relationship world where the USA have become more isolationist – so an alliance with an old-enemy (an old Country has many old enemies!) Russia is posited. No European Union of spies entertained by the Spooks script-writers then?!
We are always living in interesting times. Currently we have the Arab Spring and WikiLeaks and information spun and information overload and global financial melt-down and possible end of free-market-capitalism with ever more wealth going to ever fewer people – though as the Fiona Bruce hosted The Queen’s Palaces currently showing on BBC 1 reminds us 95% of the wealth with 5% of the people was ever thus – with high finance and big global corporations in bed with governments and media – (News International an evil empire right there!), the terrible appropriation of confusing party political interest and ambition with national security – a new Orwellian night-mare…where is a spook to begin!
Truth is giving fiction a good pasting these days – you could not make it up as the saying goes. Fiction has to work that much harder to avoid looking like a dry documentary if suffused with poetry!
Spooks has been one of the best shows at giving reality a good run for its proverbial money – I will be sad watching its demise.
In the meantime, will Harry save us? Ruth? Erin? All spooks as one save us? And, of course, save us from what?
- Spooks, BBC One, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- First Night: Downton Abbey, ITV1 ****, 9pm/Spooks BBC1, 9pm ** (independent.co.uk)