SPOOKS: CODE 9
OTHER POST APOCALYPSE SHOWS
The Last Train
Following a nuclear attack on London by unknown terrorists, Britain is plunged into political chaos and economic recession. Millions of people are evacuated to the north of the country leading to overcrowding and poverty. There's a new brand of criminal out there, radicalised and, most importantly, younger. The security service MI5 was decimated by the blast and so has recruited new agents from the younger sections of the population. Barely trained, they are the only line of defence against the new threats assailing a battered country.
The dystopian future view of Britain is the only thing that really makes this science fiction. There is some advanced hardware, to be sure, but that's normal for any spy series. It's the view of a country under security so tight that it would put a third world dictatorship to shame, Big Brother style surveillance, ghettos arisen from the evacuation camps, black market radiation drugs and government cover ups that is the most interesting thing about the show. It's all too convincing, all too plausible.
If only that were true of the plots. The stories are fairly straightforward police procedurals that are hamstrung by the necessity to tell the whole story in one single episode, not leaving enough time for convincing investigation and unearthing of facts. There is a constant voiceover that explains rapidly how they know all the things they need to know to get onto the next part of the action. It's too rushed and never realistic.
Fortunately, over time, the young cast make an impression and start to grow on the audience, though not enough to overcome the story and script problems. They are so impossibly young and attractive that it undermines any sense of this being possible. They also aren't helped by action sequences that are consistently fluffed or just don't add up to much.
SPOOKS:CODE 9 has a setting that promises much more than the actual plots can deliver. A shame really as this was an opportunity missed.Top
Episode 1 - first transmitted August 10th 2008
In 2012 a nuclear bomb was set off in the centre of London and changed the nature of the British Isles completely. Security is tightened to the point of dictatorship. London is evacuated and the population resettled in an overstretched north. With most of the intelligence network of the country dead or jumped ship for private work, MI5 needs to recruit fast and goes for the youngest and brightest it can find. Less than a year later one such team, Field Office 19, have learned of an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister and have to go all out to stop it, but something doesn't quite add up.
The background set up for SPOOKS:CODE 9 is a smart one, even if it is ripped directly from American sci-fi action show DARK ANGEL. The shattering of public confidence, the collapse of the economy, the poverty, overcrowding and oppressive security measures all smack of a very plausible future.
Unfortunately, the background is the only plausible thing about this first episode. The world goes to hell in a handbasket and so MI5 recruits a bunch of pretty kids to save us all? True, Hannah is an experienced spy, but not one of the other characters comes across as the kind of person you'd trust with the fate of the country. Charlie is a nerdy mathematician who looks about 7 years old and ends up being in charge of the whole shooting match when....ah but that would be telling. Rachel is supposed to be smart and capable, but manages to look clueless and vacant. Rob is a gung ho action type and Kylie is a girl with attitude (though little else of use) and these are the only two characters that actually manage to make an impact. There's also Jez, a stereotypical street wise small time hoodlum and Vik who is, well who is also there. None of these characters manage to capture much sympathy let alone get us liking them with the possible exception of Hannah until...ah, but that would be telling. At least the show takes the time to try and introduce everyone.
The plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as we drop in on the team halfway through the mission so that it doesn't have to be explained where the information about the potential threat came from. It's also bloody ludicrous when it turns up the fact that the most feared assassin in the country is a 15 year old kid. Even the characters find that one hard to swallow. There is a lot of running around and everyone talks very fast in the hope that speed will mask the fact that it's hard to tell whether the script is actually worse than the plot.
This is the pilot episode and so there's a lot to get in. It doesn't inspire confidence, but then most shows get better than their pilots rather than the other way around. SPOOKS:CODE 9 needs to get a lot better fast.Top
Episode 2 - first transmitted August 10th 2008
The team face their first real threat without their leader. One of Jez's informants, with whom he has sleeping against the rules, has gained access to the alert warning system that has been installed throughout the country and used it to broadcast images of three dead bodies, apparently killed in a Ministry of Defence detention centre. The spooks have to find out who she really is, what her agenda is and stop her - without burning Jez in the process if possible.
The second episode is already an improvement on the first. The set up is again the most impressive thing with Guantanamo - style detention centres holding terrorist suspects without charge, military cover ups, a warning system that automatically dials everyone's mobile phones in an incident and relocation camps that are just like the african refugee camps that are seen too often on the news.
Once again, however, the story doesn't live up to the set up. Rob goes into the refugee centre and makes contact with the supplier of fake IDs within about ten minutes. Jez is so obviously guilty of something that it's surprising trained spies take so long to rumble him. The IT of the alert system can't identify a single user or lock them out. The performances aren't strong enough either. Heshima Thompson gets more time as the apparently less streetwise than he thought Jez, but continues to be more of a cypher than a character whilst Christopher Simpson's scenes as Vik show what a complete non-character he is. The girls do better, but they seem to have stronger characters to work with, not least Rachel's willingness to frame an innocent soldier to get his co-operation.
The scenes in the train station where panic leads to people being crushed against gates that can't be opened, the security measures killing those they were meant to protect, make for uncomfortable viewing and the finale is matter of fact and brutal.
The plot arc is also revealed as Hannah sends a message to Charlie that the nuclear explosion in London was set by someone within MI5 (a plot twist that is stolen directly from JERICHO).Top
Episode 3 - first transmitted August 17th 2008
Fake radiation pills are flooding the market and intelligence has tracked down the source as being within Prospect Park,the most dangerous resettlement camp in the country, a place where even the police fear to go. Jez just happens to have a friend inside the camp so he and Kylie go undercover in an attempt to find Zero, the leader of the operation, a man who everyone seems to know, but no-one has ever seen.
SPOOKS:CODE 9 is trying to pour plots into an hour format that don't really go. Any real set up is sacrificed to speed and then sense has to make way for action and movement. It's a problem with the show that seems unlikely to go away.
Which is a shame because again the background location is the most interesting thing about the episode. With the current concerns over internment camps for immigrants and failing housing estates, Prospect Towers is a melding of these problems then taken to their extreme. So is the government response of heavy-handed police and military mixed with overkill surveillance and crowd suppression systems. It really isn't a stretch to imagine any of this.
What is a stretch is that the team can waltz into this powder keg, locate the drugs factory and identify Zero all within a couple of days.
As for the twist at the end, well it really is no twist at all and predictable from the first few minutes.Top
Episode 4 - first transmitted August 24th 2008
MI5 informants are turning up dead despite having been protected through the witness protection programme. As their own informants go scurrying for cover, the team have to find out how security on the victims was broken and who is next in line. Rachel, in the meantime, is given her own undercover operation in tracking down someone who might have been involved with the London nuclear explosion.
At one point, after spiriting Rachel away from under the noses of his team, Charlie says 'I can't believe that worked', but there's a lot more in this week's story that is hard to believe than the fact that his team would allow their team mate to be taken away by an ambulance they don't know to a hospital that isn't identified and don't take any sort of action to find out who supposedly stabbed her.
Once again, the running time just isn't long enough to hold the plot that the writers are trying to pour into it. The search for the leak of informants' information takes so long to get going that it is almost perfunctory once any clue is followed. Rachel's getting of information from a born-again people smuggler once again relies on her gaining his trust within mere hours of meeting him. Hardly likely when he's a hardened criminal who is also partly responsible for the explosion that killed hundreds of thousands in the capital.
Just to top off a wholly unsatisfactory experience there is an action sequence which ends up with Kylie lying on a car windshield unloading bullets into a chasing vehicle. Sounds exciting, but it is so badly muffed that it is more laughable than anything.
Some of the characters (Kylie, Jez and Rachel specifically) are beginning to grow on us, so it's a real shame that the show can't come up with better for them.Top
Episode 5 - first transmitted August 31st 2008
The team are bugging a very rich Korean businessman's dealings with a UK bank when a girl walks in off the street and opens her coat to reveal enough explosives to level the whole street. Whilst Rob and Kylie try to keep the situation inside the bank under control everyone else looks for the identity of the killer. Everyone except Charlie, that is, because he is on the trail of something much bigger and much more chilling.
By keeping the plot tight in on just two events, this episode works better than any of the others to date. Hostage sieges are always good value for tension and the one hour deadline allows a ratcheting up of that as it becomes clear that they are going to have to take risks with all the hostages lives.
The background to the siege, the unearthing of a corporate plot between the Korean nuclear industry and the economically crippled UK government is chillingly plausible and makes up for the disappointingly predictable turns of events that the bank siege takes, involving the identity of the inside man and the manner of the siege's resolution.
There is, however, the bigger plot going on in the background. Charlie sneaks into Camp Guantanamo Bay (sorry, Windsmere) and learns something that scares the living daylights out of him and sets up an interesting finale to the short season.Top
Episode 6 - first transmitted September 7th 2008
With only a couple of days to go before the anniversary of the bomb blast in London, the team set about finding out where the second bomb is. Their only lead is the scientist in maximum security detention and so the first task is to break him out. That leads to a trip into irradiated London and the truth about the traitor within MI5.
It's the season finale and whilst the questions are answered about who the MI5 mole is (not exactly hard to guess since there aren't a lot of suspects to choose from) and why the cliffhanger leaves one team member bleeding to death on a disused factory floor and half of the team stood by a nuclear weapon about to go bang in a very big way. It's a cliff-hanger that we'd like to see resolved, but that we wouldn't cry over were we never to find out.
SPOOKS: CODE 9 never really got over the plotting problems that beset it and whilst the the characters have grown on us somewhat they haven't grown on us enough to make up for the story issues. Ironically, this is an episode that almost gets it right. The MISSION IMPOSSIBLE stylee breakout from the detention centre is fine and the trip into abandoned London is creepy enough, even if a trained assassin with the element of surprise and an automatic weapon can't kill his targets. Once the mole is revealed, the ease by which the bomb is located is somewhat unbelievable, but it's not as grating as some of the plot manipulations have been throughout the series. There is just one plot, one set of action and that focusses the episode to the benefit of the show.
As to whether it comes back, we'll not be having sleepless nights one way or the other.Top
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