Spooks: Code 9 episode 1 review

What does aspirant spy Mark make of the brand new Spooks spin-off? Did it leave him shaken, stirred or indifferent...?

Ever since Torchwood garnered some viewers, the idea of ‘spin-off’ shows has been a popular one at Auntie Beeb.

These types of shows have the advantage that you don’t have to spend half the first episode run explaining the idea, or maybe all the characters, because we’ve seen it or them before. The challenge as ever, is to take the show into new areas that aren’t the preserve of the original, and explore a different aspect. That’s the theory, but I’m not sure how well that was explained to producer Chris Fry who has made the Spooks-lite series, Spooks: Code 9.

Pilot episodes are always difficult, because it’s always going to be like a by-the-numbers checklist. Nod to the old show, check! But the success or otherwise of this show appears to have been predestined by the BBC, who has chosen to launch it into the barren savannah that is the BBC Three schedule, but curiously warranted it taking a slice of valuable BBC HD bandwidth later on Sunday.

So what of the show? Does it have the mental agility of Sir Harry Pearce or the unstoppable drive of Adam Carter? Err…no…not so far, but it’s early days.

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The timeline of the series is that it’s set in 2013, after MI5 is blown to bits and they decide to regionalise it, to make it less easy to be taken out in 2012 by a ‘Code 9’ nuclear attack on London. The Britain of 2013 appears to be a Police state, where the citizens really need protecting from the authorities as much as the ‘bad people’.

That makes some sense, but what they then present is a scenario where a single experienced team leader has an entire force of intelligence officers who’ve got less a years’ practical experience. I know James Bond is fantasy, but this is a leap that I found especially hard to accept. Their argument that ‘terrorists’ are getting younger seems a convenient one for their PR department.

But having tried to make the viewer swallow that, they then present a succession of cardboard cut-out characters with whom we’re supposed to relate. All the girls are beautiful and feisty, and the men are boyish and naïve. Because Code 9 is for that exact demographic, where women want to be gutsy heroines and men need to get in touch with their sensitive side. Please!

Let me list the characters; we’ve an ex-nerd, ex-con, ex-cop, ex-doctor, ex-physiologist and ex-toff. All that’s missing is the reformed alcoholic who no-one trusts, and we’d have the full set here. But amazingly, some of the actors are actually good enough to rise above their cookie-cutter personalities, for which I heartily salute them.

Then towards the end of the 50 minute running time I confusingly started to like a couple of them, and they killed off one that I especially hated. By the end of show I wasn’t as remotely depressed as I’d become three minutes in. Some characters are utter rubbish, but this show isn’t Bonekickers bad, despite having a collection of albatross-bad ideas hung around its neck.

There is potential in this show, but I’m suspicious that it’s been fed into the BBC Three grinder, like they’ve seen the other five episodes and it goes downhill from here.

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I’ve got the second episode lined up on iPlayer, so I’ll report back later in the week if Code 9 is the start of something intriguing or a pale imitation of its espionage origins. o Spooks cameos yet, so I guess that will be held for the final episode, or it’s not in the Code 9 budget.