Ghost of its former self

Having started in 2002, when I was at school, and run all the way through to 2010, Spooks has always been with me and, as a result, it is a programme I have become rather protective of – hence my disappointment at the shaky start to the final ever series.

There’s now a real sloppiness and a lack of care that contrasts with the slickness and sheen of the previous years. Only two series ago Russia tried to crash the British economy by attacking it with a cyber weapon and collapsing London into a giant crater by exploding a nuke on the Tube. Now, however, Harry and the Russian Ambassador stride arm in arm down the banks of the Thames like two young lovers.

Despite being a show primarily built around stuff blowing up, Spooks has always been a cerebral programme with an element of clever-dickness about it – a feature which seems to have been lost. Apart from the axing of most of the main characters, the main unwelcome change is the dropping of the continuous plot arc.

The implication – whether intended or not – was that the viewer can be trusted to follow the twists and turns over a whole series. We’re now back to individual episodes with scant links between them: fine for the first few series, but after more than 60 instalments, the format is starting to become very tired.

Part of Spooks’ appeal is that it is thrilling but not so farfetched that you can’t imagine that it might have happened in real life. In my favourite episode, a cabal of civil servants plot to blackmail the Prime Minister into letting them run the country, while he and his ministers serve as a puppet government. Fanciful, but given the last government’s record on human rights, not impossible.

The current series, however, is full of bizarre, nonsensical plot twists that make it look like the writers only had thirty minutes of material and had to shove something in at the last minute.

In the first episode, Al-Qaeda somehow get their hands on a fleet of super fast mini submarines, with the intent of sailing them up the river and blowing up the House of Commons. Luckily, Harry just happens to have an electromagnetic pulse bomb stashed away in the basement underneath the Lords; he sets it off and the MPs live to fiddle another day.

The new characters don’t help either. The difficult, sexy, mysterious Ros has been replaced by Beth – the majority of whose talent is concentrated in her cleavage – which distracts you from the fact she spends most of every episode being a pretty shit spy. Dimitry stands around in the background looking implausibly chiselled and handsome, but doesn’t appear to do very much else besides.

The rest of the cast are essentially ephemeral given the all-encompassing character of Harry (the incredibly talented, unwavering Peter Firth), the head of Section D.  Gruff, sullen, moody but brilliant, he helps keep together what has unfortunately become rather a ramshackle series. To satisfy the inevitable outcry that will follow the cancelling of Spooks, the BBC should commission Harry: a one man show in which he goes round defeating the world’s terrorists simply by scowling at them and being a bit grumpy.

There are some excellent episodes with genuinely innovative stories – in one, Section D are charged with protecting a Chinese scientist who has developed invaluable desalination technology. This proves that Spooks is running out of steam not so much because they’ve done everything there is to do, but because the writers have lost touch with their audience and forgotten why the show was so popular in the first place.

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