Warning: contains spoilers for the Alex Rider TV show
If you haven’t read the first two Alex Rider books, Stormbreaker and Point Blanc, since their release near the turn of the millennium, you might now be watching the Alex Rider TV show on Amazon Prime Video and wondering why some of it feels familiar – but some of it feels fresh and new.
That’d be because the team behind the Alex Rider TV show have remixed the books a fair bit, as well as adding in all-new elements in a bid to make the concept work better as a TV show. While the Stormbreaker movie was mostly quite faithful to the books, the Alex Rider TV show makes some bigger changes.
It’s a similar adaptation process to comic books becoming movies: some of the sillier elements have been trimmed out, while a gritty sheen has been put over everything in a bid to add some realism. Keep reading to discover which bits changed, and which bits remain faithful to the books…
Let’s start things off with one of the biggest changes: the Alex Rider TV show has conflated together the first two books in the Anthony Horowitz novel series. In the books, Alex’s uncle Ian is killed while investigating a millionaire’s computer project (the computer was named Stormbreaker, giving the first book its name). In the books, MI6 sends in Alex to investigate Stormbreaker in his uncle’s stead, giving the teenage spy his first mission.
Also, it’s worth noting that the first book opens with Alex finding out that his uncle has died, and readers learn more about Ian Rider later (as Alex finds it all out). However, in the show, we are given a few scenes of Ian and Alex living together and interacting before Ian gets murdered.
During the Stormbreaker book, we learn that Ian Rider was shot and killed by Yassen Gregorovich as he tried to escape the Stormbreaker facility in his car – he was on the way to report his findings back to base. In the TV version, although the subject of the investigation has changed and Ian isn’t in his car when he gets shot, it is still the expert assassin Yassen Gregorovich that pulls the trigger. So not everything has changed!
In the Stormbreaker book, Alex spots a shifty van and then uses a directory enquiries book to find a breaker’s yard that is housing his dead uncle’s car. In the Alex Rider TV show, he uses the much more modern Find My Phone service to track down the car. In both versions, Alex heads there on his bike and ends up putting himself on MI6’s radar.
In both the Stormbreaker book and the Alex Rider TV show, the British secret service threatens to have Jack Starbright deported in order to motivate Alex into accepting the mission. In the book, the threat is merely verbal. In the show, there’s the whole scene of social services and immigration showing up on their doorstep to illustrate the point.
In the novels, it isn’t until the second book that Alex is sent to investigate Point Blanc, with the ominous school in the Alps giving book two its name. Alex’s uncle had already been killed, long before the second book begins, so the book contains no instance of Ian investigating Point Blanc before being killed.
Fun fact: the elevator shaft hologram murder that kicks off the TV show is pretty much the exact opening of the Point Blanc book, although the killer in the book is a mysterious chap known as The Gentleman. In the show, this kill is attributed to Yassen Gregorovich.
The Point Blanc book gives Alex and Stellenbosch a stop-off in Paris on their way to Point Blanc. It is in a fancy Parisian hotel that Alex is drugged, giving the baddies a chance to fiddle around with him while unconscious. In the TV show, Alex is drugged at Point Blanc and passes out while brushing his teeth in his room at the school. Poor TV Alex – he missed out on a holiday to Paris!
Fans of the books will probably also have noticed some rather significant changes to some of the characters.
Alex, for one thing, has aged up from 14 to 16. Introducing Alex to the spy world a couple of years later into his life does make the fact he is so capable seem a little bit more believable. Plus, Alex being a bit older makes it slightly less awkward when you put him in a scene with a young woman in a bikini. (That scene, very similar to the book, is still a bit cringe though.)
Alex’s new legal guardian, Jack Starbright, is made aware of Alex’s spy antics a little bit sooner than she is in the book, meaning she gets much more agency and freedom to have her own subplots during these formative stories. In the first couple of books, Jack doesn’t feature much while Alex is off galavanting.
Tom Harris, Alex’s best mate from school, doesn’t factor into the book versions of Stormbreaker and Point Blanc at all. In fact, he didn’t appear until Scorpia, the fifth book in the series. It makes sense to bring him in earlier for the TV show, giving Alex more of a support network and making his world feel a bit more fleshed out.
Ayisha, Alex’s school crush, is a new character for the TV show. In the Stormbreaker movie, you might remember that Alex had something of a romance with Sabina Pleasure – a character that was originally introduced to the canon in Skeleton Key (book three in the series). There was no Sabina in the TV show’s first season, unless we blinked and missed her.
In the books, Alex and Wolf go through SAS training together. In the show, Wolf has completed his training well before Alex shows up, but they still meet in the early stages of Alex’s story (when Wolf tortures Alex into singing Jake Bugg on a loop). In both versions, Alex and Wolf eventually team up at Point Blanc.
There are a couple of changes to the way characters look, as well: Point Blanc’s Miss Stellenbosch is described as looking hideously ugly in the book, and gadget-master Smithers is described as being very overweight – although, in later books, you find out he was wearing a fat suit. The TV version of Smithers is slim from the start, and Stellenbosch is arguably a very attractive person and something of a fashionista.
There is no mention of Smithers or Jack Starbright being black in the books – the first two books, which were re-read for this article, made no mention of their race at all. Smithers is revealed to be Irish in a later book, but is clearly English in the show. And Jack has red hair in the books, but she has black hair in the show. Oh, and Stellenbosch was meant to have wispy ginger hair.
In the Point Blanc book, Smithers approaches Alex on a combine harvester, to drop off some gadgets while the young spy is exploring the ample grounds of David Friend. The TV show, sadly, contains zero combine harvesters.
The gadgets Alex receives from Smithers are different in the books, too. In the Stormbreaker book, he gets handy tools that are disguised as a tube of acne cream, a yo-yo, and a Nintendo Game Boy (which was swapped for a DS in the film). In the Point Blanc book, his gadgets are hidden within an ear stud, a ski suit, some ski goggles, and a Sony Discman.
The main gadget that the TV version of Alex receives is a Sony MP3 player (an upgrade on the books’ CD player), which is intended to send coded messages back to base (which was one of the functions of the Game Boy in the books). However, with all long-range signals being blocked, he never successfully uses the MP3 player for its intended purpose.
One thing that they did keep from the books (surprisingly enough), is the fact that Alex makes a makeshift snowboard out of an ironing board to escape Point Blanc. In the book, he makes it partway down the mountain before crashing into a train. The TV show crashes him into a snow-plough instead, but you’ve got to applaud them for attempting the most audacious set-piece from the book so faithfully.
Changes at Point Blanc
The villainous headmaster of the Point Blanc academy is called Dr Grief in the books, and I always pronounced it as grief as in mourning – one of the not particularly subtle names in the series. In the TV show, though, his name is changed to Dr Greif (to rhyme with… um… pie-f), which sounds a bit less silly.
Also, Greif/Grief is very much defined by his red glasses in the book, while the TV show version prefers a red waistcoat and lots of red lighting to highlight his evilness.
In the books, Greif and Stellenbosch are revealed to be former residents of South Africa who believe that Apartheid have ended – they’re racists that want to impose their own role on the world. In the show, they’re changed to Neo Nazis that take inspiration directly from Hitler and Mein Kampf.
Point Blanc has changed a bit, too, with female classmates added to the school that were not present in the books. Kyra, Laura and Sasha are all new characters for the TV version. Kyra is arguably the coolest new addition, and her computer hacking and toast-burning skills come in very handy.
Alex gets chummy with a pupil named James in both versions, but the book one is German and the TV one is Australian, played by Earl Cave.
The school itself (including the closed-off second floor and the cells in the basement) and a lot of the things that happen there (down to the creepy kids playing table tennis is perfect sync) remain unchanged from the books. The foam party in the kitchen was a new addition, though.
There are a few changes to the way things end, as well. Greif is killed in London by Yassen Gregorovich in the TV show, but the book version of Greif died at Point Blanc – the book version of Greif was trying to escape in a helicopter, but Alex crashed a snowmobile into the getaway vehicle and caused it to blow up and kill Greif. That set piece is missing entirely here, with Greif instead being captured.
In the Point Blanc book, Yassen Gregorovich does not feature at all – so his involvement in Greif’s downfall, and his trip to the school earlier on, is new for the TV show. But in the Stormbreaker book, Yassen is seen collaborating with the main villain (computer genius Herod Sayle), and that subplot has been ported into the TV show and mapped onto the Point Blanc story instead.
At the end of the Stormbreaker book, for example, Yassen follows the instructions of his employers to kill Sayle because he was becoming a liability – but he spares Alex, saying he has no instructions regarding the teen spy. In the TV show, it seems like Yassen kills Greif and the Alex clone for similar reasons, but again he chooses not to kill regular Alex when he has the chance.
The Alex clone gets a whole episode to shine in the show, but is consigned to one short chapter in the Point Blanc book – and in the book, we only see Alex interact with him. Although we still end up with a school-set showdown between the two Alexes, the way it plays out is totally different – the book has no school disco and no library fight.
Also, the book version of this school showdown ends with an explosion in a science lab that Alex thinks has killed his clone. The book version of the clone is later revealed to have survived the incident at the school, and he makes a bit of a comeback in later books – but there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that for his TV counterpart.
It’s also worth mentioning that, in the books, you don’t start to properly learn about the evil Scorpia organisation until book five (which was named Scorpia). It is only in the sequel books that readers learned Yassen was working for Scorpia during the events of Stormbreaker.
The TV show decides to start hyping up Scorpia nice and early, with lots of mentions towards the end of the season. Because, after all, what is a new TV show without a whopping great big tease for season 2? And if a second season does happen, we’ll be here to pore over it with you!