Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker.

Top 5 guest spots
1 Alexandra Robinson‘s pro-choice doctor Sarah Lynott has the distinction of being the first person to  
2 Christopher Fulford‘s sinister Johnny Marks has all the makings of a series-long villain but sadly he doesn’t reappear, despite his nefarious connections to Tessa
3 Anthony Head‘s troubled deep cover man makes a strong impact
4 Hugh Laurie‘s smarmy MI6 Section Head embodies the first iteration of the age-old inter-agency rivalry
5 Tom Goodman-Hill‘s undercover journalist infiltrating a far-right group and leading to…

Saddest death
No two ways about it, Helen meeting the deep fat fryer was a game-changing moment, a twist to conquer all twists and perfectly setting the mood of jeopardy for every single person onscreen in Spooks. It is also a pretty devastating bit of TV, the sheer terror played by Lisa Faulkner can’t help but disquiet the soul.

Most WTF moment
I can’t move on from the above really. I remember the first time watching it, thinking how are they going to have her be a spy with a deep fried hand…oh, wait. Brilliantly done.

BIggest betrayal
Jenny Agutter’s Tessa was the first, and she wouldn’t be the last, to cross the line as Harry defined it, although given this is only the first (short) series, it isn’t a betrayal that bites particularly deep as we’ve barely gotten to know the character.

Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom really is the beating heart of this opening season, as the writers take a little while to really feel their way into establishing the ensemble nature that is the true essence of Spooks.

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