Spooks: An Obituary

SHAUN LU eulogises about the spy drama.

I for one am lamenting the imminent end of Spooks – one of a select few truly and consistently excellent dramas in recent years from the Beeb.

It hasn’t been without its critics. They have usually pointed to its often gaping plot holes, over-reliance on bombs of various degrees of dirtiness to drive stories and a hackneyed neo-Cold War conception of politics.

The latest series has to some extent rectified the latter – the Americans are now the baddies (shock horror) even though CIA bigwig Jim Coaver, the implied baddy-in-chief, seems about as threatening as an aubergine. The Russians are portrayed as really quite nice, friendly people who are genuinely not trying to spike your drink with the radioactive material most in vogue. But of course there’s still time for twists.

What has persevered in Season 10 is the script writers’ penchant for killing off the main characters, which should really worry their
psychiatrists (if they don’t have psychiatrists, they should do). You knew resident geek Tariq was a gonner in episode two as soon as we saw him alone in his flat. The poor guy, what was he thinking? Cue vaguely threatening strains of strings and a shadowy man with a poisoned umbrella – which by the by is just a fantastic choice of weapon.

The action continues to be painted with a refrigerated pallet of gritty greys and blues, meaning that it doesn’t look as lush as some other notable dramas, such as its Sunday evening adversary Downton Abbey. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking that entire episodes were filmed inside the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But, of course, this merely draws attention to the Machiavellian realism of the spy world, and its crown Prince, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) -who I strongly suspect must have come out the womb with a receding hairline and a joie de vivre so utterly and crushingly absent that one wonders how long it is before he needs to be plugged in and recharged. His admission that in his darkest moments of an enforced hiatus from MI5 he “was almost driven to take up gardening” was perfectly delivered.

Harry’s long-suffering love interest Ruth also continues to be a credit to the series – her lines are sparse and brillantly executed, and a meeting between her and Harry’s Russian ex-lover Elena in the National Gallery was especially evocative.

But the saturnine – thank you Thesaurus – Harry and the meagre but somehow fulsome Ruth are far from having a monopoly over the superb acting on show. Dimitri (Max Brown) made a somewhat dubious plotline about needing to have sex with a suspected bomber’s sister (tough life) seem genuinely credible.

And that’s why I’m able to ignore the very valid criticisms (they just couldn’t resist throwing a cheeky dirty bomb in there could they?!) and continue to enjoy the show for the remainder of its life, which is just 3 episodes.

Spooks will meet its demise not at the hands of a poisoned umbrella, or a subtly-placed tripwire, but due to an inexorable slide towards so-called ‘structured reality’ shows. Downton Abbey was in part so successful in the ratings war because its slot came immediately after The X Factor. It may not be hyperbole to say that we might not see drama of Spooks‘ ilk and quality again. RIP.

Catch up with Spooks on BBC iPlayer or at 9pm on Sundays.


  • Lady Sybill

    Downton Abbey's popularity is because it's REALLY REALLY GOOD. Nought to do with it being after the xfactor, which is complete balls.

  • http://donjuanelmoro.blogspot.com/ John Moore

    I thought the poisoned umbrella routine was thought up and deployed by the Bulgarian Secret Service in 1978. Not much originality there. I know your columnist was probably not around then. Spooks is always a sad disappointment to those who remember the great Spy drama "Tinker Tailor.." with Alec Guinness as George Smiley. I am sorry to say that I have not seen the new version yet, but I understand that I am likely to enjoy it when I do.


    RIP Spooks and my cosy nights alone on my laptop 🙁

  • This one time…

    … we walked in on a guy in college wanking to Spooks.

    • Timing

      Worrying crossover with the previous comment.

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