Spooks

The best show on television comes back for a ninth series this week, and I haven’t even seen the eighth. I’ve just pre-ordered season eight of Spooks (known as MI5 in the USA)  on DVD – released on 20th September – with the hope of managing to record the first episode of season nine and catch up as quickly as possible so I don’t have to spend yet another year walking around with my fingers in my ears shouting “la la la” and hoping my work colleagues don’t spoil things for me.

Spooks wasn’t always the best show on TV. Other than attracting controversy with the terrifying death scene of a lead character in the second episode (head plunged into a deep fat fryer, no less!), it wasn’t remarkable – just a standard BBC drama that would have stood between Casualty and, say, Waking the Dead. It was intriguing but unambitious – and much too angsty and soapy. Then, somewhere along the line, the writers watched a few too many episodes of 24 and figured it would make a decent clone. The result was a sudden shift in quality from the second season that turned Spooks into a slick, beautifully written/directed/acted series that stands miles above any other British show bar perhaps the splendid Rome.

This is the actual moment that reeled me in, from the fourth series – I immediately caught up on the first three seasons and watched it ever since.

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Spoilers follow the jump …

What Spooks is most famous for, however, is the casual disregard for the lives of its characters. In the making-of documentary of an early episode, one of the stars admits that the very first thing they do before reading a script is to flip to the end to see if their character is still alive at the end of it.

One particularly memorable offing in series 5 is widely held to be that little bit too close to the suspicious death of David Kelly (at the centre of a scandal regarding the Iraq war).

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More than just shooting, hanging, blowing up and otherwise disposing of its leading cast, Spooks excels in simply creating a fantastic yet believable world of espionage and intrigue. You’ll never watch the news the same way after seeing it.

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Most of all, though, it’s the mixture of American-style action and thoroughly British stiff upper lip that makes the show so compulsively watchable. I can’t wait for more.

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