Last Night's TV - Spooks, BBC1; Bouquet of Barbed Wire, ITV1; Coronation Street, ITV1

These spies are still licensed to thrill

Hurrah,
Spooks is back. In my case, however, it is a slightly muted, self-conscious hurrah, because before I watched last night's episode, I had never seen a second of Spooks. Nothing. Not a sausage. Not that I suppose sausages have ever played much of a role in Spooks, but I can't be certain. Maybe there's been an exploding toad-in-the-hole.

Now, I'm aware that television critics, who need all the credibility they can muster, should be a little circumspect about declaring their ignorance of a hugely popular series. Even the splendidly waspish A A Gill, who normally doesn't seem to mind who he offends, was uncharacteristically apologetic the other day in admitting that he has never sat through an episode of Coronation Street. And my friend Hunter Davies won't mind me telling you that back in the Nineties, the grand panjandrum of Associated Newspapers, Sir David English, ordered his termination as TV critic of the Mail on Sunday after he coughed up in print to having pursued an EastEnders-free existence.

Mindful of that, I wondered whether to review the first episode of the ninth series of Spooks – the ninth series! – feigning a degree of familiarity. But I quickly realised that all you Spooks regulars would see right through me in no time. I'd be the MI5 undercover operative wearing a Groucho Marx mask, deceiving nobody. So I thought I'd better come clean.

Anyway, the good news is that I can see what all the fuss is about. Last night's episode started brilliantly, with angst-ridden spymaster Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) taking it upon himself to bump off the former Home Secretary, who it turned out had been complicit in the death of Ros Myers (Hermione Norris). I can't imagine that this is how it works in real life, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller or whoever getting her hands dirty with a spot of garrotting, or even with a spot of deadly poison in a bottle of 30-year-old malt whisky, which was Sir Harry's modus operandi, but it was a terrific scene and made fans of my wife, a fellow Spooks novice, and me from the off.

There followed a complicated storyline involving an al-Qa'ida plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with a couple of dolphin-shaped underwater missiles. This was masterminded by a teenage girl doing her dastardly planning on a computer in her bedroom in a London suburb, so don't be thinking that they're all just talking to their mates on Facebook. Actually, the entire episode, and no doubt all eight previous series, required a sustained suspension of disbelief, but it was very slickly done, with a few smart nods to reality. Neatly, the new Home Secretary (Simon Russell Beale, no less) talked about being part of the coalition government.

He also said that "everything in life is about timing, from sex to the golf swing" and I couldn't agree more, which brings me to my own flawed timing, in that I finally started watching Spooks just as Hermione Norris's character, Ros, was buried in a country churchyard. Ros might yet be magically resurrected, which I gather has happened before, but on the assumption that she really was blown to kingdom come at the end of series eight, I have to record a small personal irony, Norris being one of my favourite small-screen actresses.

It's not so much that she is lovely to look at and all the sexier for often seeming just a little bit repressed, more that she really is very good at acting – not that she ever gets cast as women who couldn't conceivably also be called Hermione. And so to the final episode of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, in which Norris's character, Cassandra, could just as easily have been a Hermione. This is a drama I have resolutely championed on this page as nigh-on unmissable, but it is with a heavy heart that I confess to giggling most of the way through the denouement.

Those of us who come from the 1970s are understandably wary when TV executives sanction remakes of programmes that practically defined our lives back in the kipper-tie decade; indeed, there have been few worse crimes against nostalgia than Reeves and Mortimer in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). I was worried that the same might apply to Bouquet of Barbed Wire, but was cheerfully reassured by the first two-thirds of the thing, which brought Andrea Newman's cauldron of warped sexual mores nicely to the boil for the 21st century.

Last night, regrettably, it bubbled right over. Everything went so far over the top – the writing, the acting, even the score – that it began to look like a spoof, and when Peter Manson (Trevor Eve), finally driven bonkers by the wholesale destruction of his apparently successful life, took his last-act swallow-dive out of a hot-air balloon, I'm afraid I could no longer suppress the tears. I haven't laughed so hard at the telly since Larry David tried to prise a golf club away from a corpse in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The mistake, I think, was cramming it all into three episodes. The original ran for two series, which allowed room for the misery to develop properly. Consider poor Gail McIntyre (Helen Worth, another small-screen favourite of mine) in Coronation Street. Last night she learnt that her son Nick's new fiancée is only pretending to be pregnant, the very least in a series of terrible trials, which include giving birth to one psychopath and marrying another, that Gail has endured since arriving in Weatherfield. But her suffering has lasted since 1974. These things need time.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk