Ahead of the new series of Spooks, here's a preview I wrote which will be appearing on the Orange website tomorrow. I've never been a regular viewer of the series, but the first episode was utterly gripping. I haven't had my heart in my mouth as much since the last couple of episodes of The Sopranos. -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spooks, Monday 9pm, BBC One ****
After the barely satisfying snack of Spooks: Code 9, the main course is served tonight, as Spooks starts its seventh series. However, BBC spies have sworn me to secrecy on a number of plot developments, and the last thing I need is one of their notorious ninja dwarf assassins coming through the cat-flap to dole out restricted-height punishment.
Unusually, the series doesn't start too well. As soon as we see an off-duty soldier in the pub toasting his new baby and having a lovey-dovey phone call with his wife, we can guess he's in for a bit of a shock. When he gets kidnapped by Islamic extremists who want the Government to cancel Remembrance Sunday, we fear the worst: the world of Spooks doesn't always guarantee a happy ending.
But there's a lot more going on. A new Russian spymaster in London ruffles a few feathers by offering co-operation in the war on terrorism – at a price. He also engineers an exchange in which M15 agent Lucas North – a new character played by Richard Armitage – returns home after eight years in a Russian prison. He wants to get back into the action, but is a torso covered in tattoos all he's brought back?
This first episode is as slick and exciting as you'd expect, picking up from the climax of the previous series and spinning the action in a whole new direction. Not knowing every character's true agenda creates a palpable sense of paranoia and the feeling that everything could change in the blink of an eye. The camera lurks round corners and spies on the spies themselves; you never know when someone is going to spring out of the shadows.
Brilliant editing and 24-style split screens heighten the tension to almost unbearable levels as the episode approaches its climax, and just when you think one threat has been averted, things suddenly get much worse. And while the agents are helped along the way by a lot of implausibly beepy and flashy technology, they're ultimately left to make their life-or-death decisions on their own.
The arrival of fresh characters makes this a perfect jumping-on point for new viewers, while long-time fans of the show should be prepared for some jaw-dropping action as the series makes an explosive comeback. Nothing in Section D is ever going to be the same again – and that's all I can say without a ninja dwarf having to jump on the 176 bus to Penge.
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