In the final ever episode of Spooks, broadcast last October, Matthew Macfadyen's character, Tom Quinn, one of the mainstays of Section D during the first two series of the BBC1 spy drama, made an unexpected return to the show. At the time, Macfadyen's cameo seemed like something of a valedictory treat to reward the five million or so fans who had stuck loyally with Spooks during its decade-long run – a glimpse of an old favourite that was perhaps also something of a tease: would there be a Spooks spinoff with Quinn as a main character?
No, is the answer to that question, although in retrospect what was interesting about Quinn's re-appearance was the nature of his new job – the former M15 agent had become a private-security contractor. And it is the booming private-espionage business that forms the backdrop of a new eight-part BBC1 action series, Hunted, which has been made by the makers of Spooks, independent production company Kudos, and created by the chief writer of The X-Files, American scribe Frank Spotnitz.
"There are thousands of these private security firms," says Spotnitz. "They spy for anyone from Russian oligarchs to football clubs to manufacturers – gaining information and advantage on their competitors. Everyone has heard of the private military contractors like Blackwater [Blackwater Security Consulting – the American firm that controversially provided military personnel in the aftermath of the Iraq War], but people don't know about these, so I thought it was really timely."
Hunted stars Australian actress Melissa George (In Treatment, The Slap) as Sam – an operative for a private-intelligence agency called Byzantium. The private companies are often set up by former M15, M16 and CIA agents, who recruit from their old workplaces within the secret state. However, the new business environment is not necessarily a happy one for these old spies, says Spotnitz. "You don't know what agenda you're serving and I thought that was really interesting".
In Hunted, someone attempts to murder Sam, and she comes to believe that the killer comes from her team at Byzantium – kickstarting (and she is very adept at kicking) a racy adventure that stretches from Morocco to the wilds of Scotland. On one level she is a slightly implausible character – a sort of female Jason Bourne – but Spotnitz has given Sam an intriguing enough back-story – and George portrays her with enough veiled emotional intensity – to suck you in. And it helps, of course, that Spotnitz is an old hand at this serial television drama game.
Spotnitz – raised on Ian Fleming's James Bond novels – formulated his idea of a spy drama, with his former X-Files star Gillian Anderson in the leading role. "Gillian worked on it for a long time and gave a lot of ideas to the development of the character," says Spotnitz. "But by the time I got the green light she had to drop out.
"So then I was in the position of having to find someone else who could play this role and believe me it was extremely difficult. We went through 200 actresses who put themselves on tape for this. Sam has got a lot of walls up and that can become very dull, and what Melissa brought to the role from the very first audition is the sense that there is somebody behind that wall that you want to know more about."
'Hunted' begins on BBC1 on 4 October