Friday, November 06, 2009

Must Watch Friday - Spooks

Last month Kate Walker talked about her love of spooky ghost stories. This time, with the must watch TV slot, her focus is on some very different sort of Spooks.

Spooks is back. My autumn (Fall) viewing treat is guaranteed. I have a date and a space on my living-room sofa every Wednesday 9pm BBC 1 - for Spooks. (Well, I also have one for Flash Forward but that’s another topic.) Spooks is back and I’m happy. I’m also at the end of the current book and so can afford a little extra time to just totally relax, enjoy – and do some heavy duty research.

This is series 8 and so far nothing has grown tired or totally repetitive, the characters still fascinate even when the political machinations, behind the scenes machinations and need to save the world every week can sometimes blur into one. But it’s the characters who matter. I can still remember the first episode of the last series that had me sitting in the edge of my seat, watching Adam Carter played by Rupert Penry Jones drive a car that was literally a ticking bomb through London, thinking ‘They can’t. kill him off . . they won’t. . .’ But they can and they did. The car exploded and one of the main reasons for watching was gone. Spooks is like that. They are not precious with their stars. As the cast have often commented no one is safe on Spooks. Anyone can be killed off at any time.

And it’s that edge of the seat quality, the sheer sofa-chewing, nuclear bomb-defusing vividness of last December’s season-ending cliffhanger, that when the show blazed back onto our screens last night after a gap of almost a year it was as if time itself had stood still, leaving us effortlessly picking up the story with Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) the old –school knight of the realm, head of MI5’s counter-terrorism division still in the clutches of a Russian from Putin’s security service, trussed up in the boot of a car with tape across his mouth and that ‘they can and they might’ sense exerting its grip all over again

Spooks, after all, has a remarkably cavalier approach to its leading characters, and has a considerably higher personnel turnover than most long-running series. In fact, landing a big role here is just one step away from booking a spot on the mortuary slab – in the TV studios at least. No fewer than 12 major characters have been brutally decommissioned over the course of the last seven seasons, with almost the entire cast being regularly refreshed by way of bullet, bomb, radium injection or – most controversially – a head in a deep fat fryer. On this show, you’re lucky to make it to the end of an episode, let alone settle in for a comfortable retirement. And its that nerve-shredding feeling that you can’t relax and think ‘he/she’s a star so it’ll be all right’ that gives the show it’s extra special pull.

But for however long they last, the stars are worth the hour spent watching it every week. And that’s where the research come in. From the start the cast has been filled with the sort of actors who can deliver lines that can sometimes veer into ‘we have to save the world’ silliness with the sort of clench-jawed control and sang froid that somehow holds it just this side of melodrama in spite of the endless and often bonkers conspiracies they have to fight – both in the outside world and within ‘the Grid’ itself. (Because that’s another thing about Spooks – you can rarely, if ever, believe that just because a character has access to the central ‘grid’ they are in fact squeaky clean and totally trustworthy. Some aren’t and the revelation of just who can’t be trusted is another of those ‘Oh, they can’t’ elements because again they can - and they do.) )

Those stars have included , along with Peter Firth, Hugh Simon and Gemma Jones as the older team, the ever watchable Matthew MacFadayen, Keeley Hawes, Ruprt Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris, Alex Lanipekun. And that’s without including the list of guest stars such as Hugh Laurie, Robert Hardy, Tim McInnerny, Bruce Payne, Ian McDiarmid, Jimi Mistry, Andy Serkis, Andrew Tiernan, Anton Lesser, Anupam Kher, Alexander Siddig and Anthony Head.

And the last series provided compensation for the loss of Adam with then introduction of the new – and decidedly ambiguous - character of Lucas North played by the man the Romantic Novelists’ Association voted the sexiest thing on two legs – Richard Armitage. And as someone who has been addicted to dark, brooding , possibly untrustworthy, definitely ambiguous heroes who might turn out to be villains, this piece of casting just added to the ‘must see’ quality of the show. Especially when the BBC killed off Guy of Gisborne over on the much less watchable Robin Hood.
Incidentally, in an interview about this new season of Spooks, Richard Armitage admitted that he trained as a dancer, and his best dance was the Argentinian Tango. Now that is an Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars I’d love to see. But for now I’ll settle for the heavy-duty research of Lucas North, steely blue eyes narrowed as he deals with one of Spook’s many puzzles, and many more villains - or those eyes warming as he charms the female American agent into cooperating with the scheme he has planned.

Spooks still delivers high-class escapism at its slickest, most glamorous and entertaining. Over the years it has had its ups and downs. But the last series managed to claw things back superbly, balancing pin-sharp characterisation with plots of such tension-ratcheting complexity that a rollercoaster ride was virtually guaranteed in every episode. If last night’s opener was anything to judge by, series eight promises to be just as good.

Kate Walker’s latest Presents title Kept For Her Baby is still available in Presents EXTRA. And the hero, Ricardo was inspired by none other than Richard Armitage in the last season of Spooks.
One reviewer called this book “a masterpiece that will live in the hearts of the reader for many years to come!” (We Write Romance)
You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website or her blog


  1. Oooh Kate, I am so with you on this one. I only discovered Spooks at the beginning of the last season and was astonished at how good it was, both the acting and the scripts (which pull some great lines out of the ether every so often), that moody camerawork and the striking use of London locations - one of which was the office where I work, when I wasn't working there (grumble) - and then they added in bad boy Lucas North (perfect anti-hero name or what!) and I was gone...

    The programme makers skill at hiring prime male tottie in their prime should not be underestimated!

  2. I CAN'T GET SPOOKS. I've tried. Especially when RA joined the cast but nope. I've never had any luck finding it in my programming, otherwise I would PVR the crap out of it. SIGH.

    Great post Kate. I didn't know that RA was a dancer. Doesn't that take things up another notch, eh!

  3. Some friends have lent me the series starting with One. I am going to have to watch!

  4. Have you heard that a new Georgette Heyer audiobook (Venetia) read by Richard Armitage is going to be released in April 2010? :)

    Now please excuse me while I go and order Kept for Her Baby (love that cover, Kate!)

  5. Heidi - I would have expected that with your love of bad boy heroes too that Spooks - and specially Luc as was a treat for you. And the great thing is that there's still a question mark over the hero/villain thng with him. That's what I love about the show. I'm just a sucker for the ambiguous character.

    Specially if he happens to look like mr Armitage

  6. Donna - you can get the whole of series 7 on DVD - just say the word and I'll point you in that direction. Spooks has always been good but that double-edged, dark-light charactre of Lucas North adds a lot to it right now.

    And yes - the dancing . . .Can you imagine the tango . . . Sadly, he says he doesn't plan to do Strictly . . .

  7. Michelle - you are going to have to watch! And if you have everything from Series One there is a lot to watch! I envy you - hmm - I'm thinking Christmas present list . . . (But only if I have the time!)

  8. Hi Sandra - great to 'see' you again! I didn't know about the audiobook - that has potential!

    And yes isn't the cover of KFHB just gorgeous. I think it's one of my favourite ever. I hope you enjoy the book when you get it - thanks for saying you'll order it. It's still around on Amazon, M&B site etc. I'm getting lots of letters/emails saying they've loved it