Shown: 2002 – 2011 (UK)
Starring: Peter Firth, Nicola Walker, Matthew McFadyen


A fond farewell to a sometimes ludicrous but always brilliant programme

It’s been just over a week now since the last ever episode of Spooks aired and I’ve just about recovered enough to put down in words my thoughts on the finale and the Spooks phenomenon over the 9 years since it first began.  I normally do my utmost to avoid spoilers but it’s going to be impossible to review Spooks and its impact without discussing the stories.  If you haven’t yet seen the final episode and are likely to watch it then best not read on.  It’s Hallowe’en today, why not read one of my non-spoilery reviews of a scary movie instead?


Spooks bowed out exactly as it began.  With a shocking death and a brooding Tom Quinn dealing with a dangerous situation.  In the intervening years the programme had changed its emphasis from a fairly straight and sensible spy drama to a moderately campy,  over-the-top thrill ride.  And I loved it in all of its guises.

When we first meet MI5’s counter-terrorism team (Section D) everything seems quite believable.  Tom Quinn, Zoe Reynolds and Danny Hunter are three keen and committed young officers who do their best to protect the country.  They are led by tough but caring Harry Pearce.  For the first two series the star of the show was undoubtedly Tom Quinn played by Matthew McFadyen but when he left the service and was replace by the gorgeous Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam Carter the focus shifted to Harry.  Officers came and went (almost always violently) but Harry was the constant, the rock of Section D and the mainstay of the programme.  Gradually the show became about Harry, his career and his relationship with the bonkers but brilliant Ruth Evershed.  This was never more true than in the final series.

One of the defining characteristics of Spooks was its willingness to kill off its main characters.  No-one was immune.  The most famous death (until now) was the first one of the programme.  Administrative officer Helen Flynn was tortured by a far-right extremist who forced her head into a deep fat fryer.  Viewers have voted Helen’s death as the series’ most shocking but I disagree.  For me the murder of Technical Officer Colin Wells in the first episode of series 5 was much, much more upsetting.  And now of course the death of Ruth and the destruction of the possibility that she and Harry could have a happy ending was heartbreaking.  In the final episode Harry visits the Thames House memorial wall and we see the names of the characters who have died over the years – Helen Flynn, Danny Hunter, Fiona Carter, Colin Wells, Zafar Younis, Adam Carter, Ben Kaplin, Jo Portman, Ros Myers and finally Ruth Evershed.  I was surprised that Tariq Masood didn’t appear on the list but will be generous and assume that it was just out of shot.  Section D was not a safe assignment for an aspiring young spy.

Spooks had a talent for capturing the current zeitgeist.  It began just after the 9/11 attacks and as the world has become more dangerous and paranoid so too did the programme.  Some might even say ludicrous as the show took a slight dip in the Ros Myers years with international conspiracies to destabilise world governments were uncovered.  It was almost utterly unbelievable – there was a consistent element of truth that kept us believing in the characters and situations.

Part of the brilliance was in the performances.  Peter Firth and Nicola Walker were sublime as Harry and Ruth.  The final 20 minutes of the final episode offer a masterclass in understated emotion.  There’s no hysteria, no screaming, no overwrought crying but Ruth’s death and Harry’s visit to the memorial wall are heartbreaking in their simplicity.  It was also a real tug to the heartstrings to see Tom Quinn return, even if only for a few minutes.  It was the perfect cameo.

Production company Kudos made the decision to end Spooks while they felt that it was still on a high.  The brilliance of the final episode has led to calls for them to reconsider.  They shouldn’t.  They absolutely shouldn’t, to bring it back now would be to lessen the impact of the final story.

Spooks has bowed out in a perfect and fitting manner.

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  1. The Thames House memorial wall is actually a home I believe. http://archipreneur.blogspot.com/2008/07/david-adjaye-lost-house.html

  2. Londiniensis says:

    Spot on about Harry and Ruth, but for me the series “jumped the shark” – about mid way through – as the stories got more and more divorced from anything approaching plausibility: more movie Bond or TV NCIS then Le Carre or Rimington. It was almost painful to see “real” characters like Harry and Ruth marooned in these monstrous plots.

    That being said, always compulsive watching with good production values. But not the classic it could have been.

    • There was definitely a dip in the Ros Myers years, and the final series wasn’t great. But all saved by the very last episode. It should have been a five-ribbon programme but just missed it.

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