It’s been almost a decade since the BBC spy drama Spooks (aka MI-5), created by David Wolstencroft, came to an end with the tenth series. But also five years since the theatrical film The Greater Good was released. Right now, all 86 episodes and the film have been added to BBC iPlayer, in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Spooks is based around a fictionalised MI5 Counter-Terrorism department, Section D, known as “The Grid”. Several cast members have made guest appearances in a number of Doctor Who episodes (including Keeley Hawes, Hermione Norris, and Sophia Myles), as well as Big Finish audio dramas; notably Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka) and Miranda Raison (Constance Clarke). Neil Cross (The Rings of Akhaten; Hide) also acted as showrunner for two seasons.
Over the course of the show’s progression, there have been more or less a number of changes to the main cast, with the exception of Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) who was the only character to appear in every single episode. Firth later reprised the role in The Greater Good alongside Kit Harington (best known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) as Will Holloway.
When Spooks first aired back in 2002, critics initially deemed it to be very much the British equivalent of 24, due to the espionage conventions and regular use of split screens. I see that as more of a coincidence rather than trying to be derivative, even though they both premiered after 9/11.
Regardless of your views, the series also touches upon a wide range of issues from political ideologies and religious beliefs to loyalty and betrayal. Some were (initially) regarded controversial, at the time of broadcast; others were met with high acclaim. I’ll leave you to find out for yourselves.
One thing I should also point out is that the DVD and iPlayer versions, of all episodes, are fully uncut; the only way you can buy the DVDs is through marketplace or eBay. Making this worse, the digital releases (e.g. iTunes, Amazon Prime) have every episode, except Series 9 and 10, trimmed down to 50 minutes long. Now that a number of dramas are being remastered/upscaled in HD, including various Classic Doctor Who serials, I think now is also the time for Spooks to receive the long awaited treatment – considering that they were never released on Blu-ray.
Unlike most television dramas which nowadays rely upon serialised storytelling, a format of my personal preference, Spooks tends to vary from having a mixture of standalones, and occasional two-parters, to experimenting with series-long arcs. So because the entire show is continuity-driven, with dramatic spoilers and unpredictable plot twists and cliffhangers along the way, I think it’s best to start at the very beginning.
Although I would prefer not to say much about the plots, there are quite a number of gaps that may need filling. Maybe a revival on audio? Are you listening, Big Finish?