For the record, the series of Spooks
that starts screening on the ABC tonight -- which hasn't previously been broadcast on free-to-air -- is Series 6 (made and screened in the UK two years ago) not the latest, Series 7, which was recently released in Australia on DVD.
Here's a spoiler-free review of the DVD release of Series 6 and, for the record, of series five and four. The short version: 6 is a considerable comedown after the spiky adrenal heights of 5. Spooks, Series 6
The Home Office takes a leaf from The Dummy's Guide to World Domination in Series 6 of Spooks
. Defence of the realm turns to offence. And it proves not to be the best defence after all.
Mistakes are made -- both by ministers and MI5 operatives -- resulting in the deaths of countless civilians and, gasp, even the odd CIA field agent.
Unusually for Spooks
, the sixth series has a narrative through-line -- so it's well worth watching on DVD -- it concerns Iran's nuclear and biological weapons, and America's eagerness to wage war. (Inexcusably, that plotline peeters out in the penultimate episode.)
While the stakes are impressively and increasingly high, the plotting gets farther and farther fetched. The scripts have some ludicrous mistakes and unbelievable twists. If series five was about killing agents off, six is about their miraculous (and sometimes laughable) resurrections.
With its combination of moles and molls, Spooks is an oil and vinegar blend of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
and the Profumo affair. It's absorbing and exasperating. Finally, it is the extraordinary ensemble acting that keep us watching.
After the jump, reviews of series five and four.
Spooks, Series 5
In the course of the first few episodes of this still unscreened [at the time of writing, in May 2008] on free-to-air series, MI5 officers will be hanged, stabbed and poisoned... as well as beaten up, locked up and liberally doused with petrol. All (pretty much) at the hands of their colleagues at MI6. Indeed, a great deal of the terrorist activity happening in London in now initiated by the powers that be. Powers that envy the US Homeland Security Act. And by MOSSAD. At least the team get to whack a few in retaliation!
The few old-fashioned Le Carre-style operatives -- assassins and traitors -- turn out to be the Good Guys. And the fifth column at 5 turn a blind eye. Rather like Melbourne's gangland, only the guilty need look over shoulders.
If you're looking for a thoughtful and absorbing Ace of Spies-style spy yarn, Spooks -- increasingly -- is not for you. But what it lacks in fine detail, it makes up for in sheer adrenaline. Right up to the heart-stopping climax.
WARNING: There are MAJOR SPOILERS in the extras on disks 1 and 5. Do not watch them -- or listen to audio commentaries -- until you've watched the ENTIRE series.
Spooks, Series 4
"We're not philosophers, Harry, we're spooks." Adam's wrong. They're both.
Pre-9/11, before the battle waged between the US Department of Justice and the combined forces of the White House and Pentagon, a series like Spooks would be incomprehensible. Who would believe in a security organisation fighting against flat-earth conservatism?
But, here, a British counter-terrorism unit repeatedly finds itself on the cusp of treason. And MI5 acts as a fifth column for anti-CIA thinking. (On the one occasion in series four where Habeas Corpus is denied, the wrong man is imprisoned for two years... where he is radicalised.)
Episode 1 begins with Danny's funeral. Like Henry VIII's first three wives, the core agents have fallen: divorced (the dour main man, Tom, who departs after a big dummy spit), beheaded (Danny, executed), died (Zoe, faked death to avoid life imprisonment).
The newbies are good, especially Raza Jaffrey as Zafar. But the soul of this good-looking and well-written series is Peter Firth as unit boss Harry Pearce. Something of an equivocal character in the past, Pearce has emerged as a powerful -- if lonely -- voice for what Agent 86 would call goodness and niceness.
Extras: an hour's worth of fluffy promo interviews with cast and crew.
These reviews were published in The Big Issue: editions 282 (July 2007), 305 (June 2008) and 311 (August 2008).