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Doctor Who (8.7): The one with the Soup Dragon

By Pranavspn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIt’s funny how attached we are to that great big lump of rock that orbits us – its pock-marked silvery face waxing and waning over 28 days. Quite aside from the practical benefits our planet reaps from it, we’re all a bit in love with the Moon (it’s kept poets, writers, painters and photographers enthralled for hundred of years afterall) – so the idea of killing it is a genuinely shocking one.

Spoilers below the line… Continue reading

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The Spies Who Went Into The Cold – No More Spooks

As reported by various news sources today, the tenth series of Spooks to be shown this Autumn will be the last.

Because Jo The Hat would kill me if I didn't use a picture of Richard Armitage

The decision was rather unusually taken by the programme makers Kudos rather than by the BBC, on the grounds that they wanted to stop the show whilst it was still “in its prime”. Anybody who watched the most recent season may choose to strongly disagree with this statement, but still.

Despite its dip in form of late, Spooks can easily claim to be one of the most consistently brilliant dramas of the past ten years. This was due to a number of factors. Firstly, its excellent writing. Secondly, its often shocking plots. It speaks volumes that Spooks became something of a victim of its own success in this sense – you ended up expecting the unexpected, which when it happened became, er, totally expected. But the impact of killing one of its major characters in only  the first series without any warning is more than most serial dramas ever manage. Although I doubt deep-fat fryer manufacturers were quite so welcoming of this turn of events.  Continue reading

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Outcasts: Is there anybody out there?

It’s lonely out in space, as Elton John once informed us, and it’s lonely watching Outcasts these days, as plummeting ratings have shunted it to a slot in the dwindling hours of Sunday evening and I’m the only person left in Britain still watching it.

I can see why many people fell at the televisual wayside. The negative aspects are pretty obvious. Plot-wise and theme-wise, it’s all over the place. Partly it’s about how people use and abuse planetary resources (“This planet doesn’t want us here,” said a wizened old man, who, as officially the first human settler on the planet in question – Carpathia – was required to embody the wisdom of the ages and some kind of mythology all on his own); partly it’s about the morality of creating then disposing of genetically modified people as and when it suits you. A supernatural element has recently been introduced, with people being visited by their presumed-dead relatives (and pets). And in the most recent episode it looks like some alien life form is able to create doppelgängers of existing people. There’s also a power struggle going on between the President of the planet’s only settlement, Forthaven, and a man who we know is very evil because he does everything apart from go “Mwah hah hah!”

Further silliness is provided by the set, which requires anyone who has to run anywhere to do it along the same small, curved length of corridor, and by the small character pool which means that two under-equipped and fairly useless police people (Cass and Fleur) end up doing everything. “We’ll send back up!” the President announces, and off go Cass and Fleur in their leisurewear. “We need a search party!” says the President, and barely have Cass and Fleur had time to change their socks than they’re off again for another hike into the desert.

So why am I watching this stuff when there are two perfectly good episodes of Treme on my Sky+ waiting to be watched? Darned if I know, really, but I’m sort of hooked. Having come this far, I want to find out where it’ll all lead, although the writer Ben Richards said in an interview that it was all going to finish with a cliffhanger, so possibly an “end” will be frustratingly elusive. I enjoy watching Hermione Norris, whose stiff upper lip is practically a character on its own (she should send it out on missions with Cass and Fleur). I like the idea (or ideas) behind it, even if the execution doesn’t always work. It is getting better as the series continues (too late to save those ratings, though).

So I will stick with it till the end, to find out who’s on this spacecraft that evil Julius keeps communicating with and whether they will be defeated by Hermione Norris’s stiff upper lip. And whether Fleur really did see a snake in the grass.

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Spooks: Not afraid to die

The series finale to Spooks, and we knew it was going to be Ros’s last episode. How would she go out? With a ticking bomb and a helluva bang, that’s how. To the very last her core of iced iciness remained intact. In a hotel room, practically sitting on the counting-down bomb with a baddie, she told him they’d stay there till he told her which room he’d stashed the Home Secretary and the Pakistan Prime Minister. “I’m not afraid to die,” she told him, and he believed her. We believed her. She left him tied up, with the plastic ties she keeps in the pockets of her leather jacket for such a purpose.

Sadly she doesn’t keep a set of trolley wheels in her jacket pocket (this is where big coats really do come in handy), because when she and Lucas found the Home Secretary and the Pakistan PM, they’d been paralysed with a nasty drug. It was imperative to get the Pakistan PM outside and in front of TV cameras, otherwise his supposed demise would be used as an excuse to start a nuclear war. Ros commanded Lucas to lug him out (help couldn’t be summoned as outside communications had been cut off). This left her to try to drag the Home Secretary out with only seconds remaining as the bomb counted down. This was the new, younger and lighter Home Secretary – I don’t think even Ros would have attempted to drag Robert Glenister very far.

Lucas got out, the Pakistan PM was dusted down and unparalysed and delivered into the safe care of BBC News 24, and Lucas started back to the hotel to get Ros – and the bomb went off. End of episode. And, presumably, end of Ros. We will never see her like again.

Luckily we won’t be seeing Sarah Caulfield either, as she and her rubbish American accent (which veers from Brooklyn to Baton Rouge and back in the same sentence) got shot in the head. And not before time.

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Spooks: Shoot, Lucas!

How’s this for a dastardly plot? Wind up two volatile factions, get them to carry out terrorist attacks on each other, and pretty soon their home countries will be involved – and they have nukes.

In an episode that looked like it started out in a street market in Mumbai but was actually Sarf London, Section D had to deal with the evil plotting of the shadowy Nightingale sect (or is it a project? Exactly what – and who – is Nightingale?). Hindu boys were being primed to carry out terrorist attacks on Muslim targets, while the Muslims were being similarly wound up. The Pakistanis had an asset who had infiltrated one of the Hindu gangs, and he was fairly quickly acquired by Lucas, who sent him in with an earpiece and wired up to get information about the target of the planned attack.

Poor Ruth, who serves as the Jiminy Cricket of Section D though no-one is much interested in a conscience when there’s work to be done, was very uneasy about putting this boy, Ashok, in harm’s way. Ros, as we know, has had her conscience replaced by a core of liquid nitrogen. When the leader of the gang had Ashok in a head-lock at the other end of Lucas’s gun, Ros had no qualms: “Shoot him!” she barked down his earpiece.  You’ve got to love Ros.

Anyway, this was all a tad immaterial, as they foiled that particular plot only to discover via the medium of Sky News that similar plots were going off all over the world. It was all a whole lot bigger than anyone had thought. And where is it leading? To India and Pakistan facing off with their nuclear weapons primed and ready. But why? And who? And what’s going to happen? Next week’s series finale is going to be tense, to say the least.

Meanwhile, the episode benefited greatly from the lack of Sarah Caulfield, who is still apparently at large (she did run away from Lucas’s flat, as I thought last week), and will presumably pop up next week. And we met the new Home Secretary, who is not a patch on Robert Glenister, and seems very young for the job – like the lost Miliband brother.

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Spooks: Ros goes to extremes

Ros is suffering badly from the aftermath of Jo’s death. She’s normally hard as nails and cold as ice, but recently she’s been more emotional and extreme, and this culminated last night in a terrifying scene where she extracted information from someone by stringing him up in a disused warehouse and hanging him ever so gently by the neck until he squealed. She was like Bob Hoskins in leather, and I imagine this was the “violent scene” that the BBC were careful to warn us about before the episode began.

Extreme situations call for extreme measures, though, and Ros was acting to save the life of a bank insider who possessed such incendiary information that the world’s best hitmen had been despatched to get him. And if MI5 didn’t get him first, it could all lead to an economic meltdown. “Britain could be a third world country by the weekend,” the Home Secretary told Harry. Well, thanks to Ros that’s not going to happen, so our Christmas shopping plans are safe for now. Sadly the Home Secretary has been set up by some unspecified baddies so that it looks as though he’s been consorting with the Mafia (I bet you were wondering how long it would take for the Mafia to appear), and he’s been forced to resign.

All roads are currently leading to Basel, where something Very Big and Dangerous is brewing. And all roads lead to CIA Sarah, who until the very end of the episode was still Lucas’s girlfriend (this was before she pretended to shoot him and escaped, after admitting that she had been in Basel herself). She isn’t anywhere near as ruthless as Ros, though. She had Lucas on his knees, with a gun at his head, and what did she do? Run away. No imagination, some people.

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Spooks: Ros’s old mentor goes rogue

Last week Lucas had to face up to demons from his past when his former interrogator turned up. This week, when CIA agents kept being killed under mysterious circumstances, it turned out that the person behind it was a figure from Ros’s past. Coleville was her former mentor, the person who’d recruited her into the service. He was seeking revenge for a woman who’d been betrayed by MI5 as part of a deal several years earlier.

No-one knew him better than Ros, so they let Coleville believe Ros had been one of the agents involved at the time, which meant she was next on his hit list. In what was the most tense episode of the series so far (lots of split screen moments and Hermione Norris keeping her upper lip stiff even in the most extreme of circumstances), it was a cat and mouse game where Coleville evaded all the armed officers who’d been put in to cover Ros’s back, and the showdown was just between the two of them. When he heard that Ros hadn’t been involved in the former incident at all, Coleville turned his gun on himself.

Meanwhile, Section D were worrying about the death of Sam Walker.  A suicide note had been found which mentioned that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, so the official story was that he killed himself – but via some techie business to do with mobile phones, Tariq discovered he hadn’t been alone when he fell. There was only one other person in the building – CIA Sarah.

As if having to cope with a girlfriend with a very dodgy grip on the American accent wasn’t enough, Lucas now has to face the fact that she is also most probably a murderer.

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Spooks: Lucas faces his demons

Lucas had to deal with two evil, ruthless foreigners this week. The first was Darshavin, the man who’d tortured him for four years in a Russian prison. The other was his girlfriend, CIA Sarah (or is she FBI Sarah? We’ll stick with CIA for the purposes of alliteration). Of the two, it turns out that CIA Sarah is possibly the more dangerous.

The former interrogator had information about a terror plot, but he would only divulge what he knew if he was given a new identity and a lot of money. And he would only deal with Lucas. This involved Lucas meeting him in a deserted fortification on the Thames Estuary, where for no good reason that I could fathom, Lucas was ordered to take his clothes off and put on a boiler suit. Obviously this afforded us the chance to enjoy Richard Armitage’s pert derriere, and enjoy Lucas’s prison tattoos, so I’m not complaining.

The brief flashbacks to scenes in the Russian prison were truly harrowing – we only glimpsed what had happened to Lucas, but it certainly looked nasty, and at one stage he even tried to hang himself, and was “saved” by his interrogator – obviously all a part of the torture process.  Unfortunately, confronting his demons has coincided with Lucas falling in love. I say “unfortunately,” because the object of his affections is CIA Sarah, a woman so cold she makes Ros look like Linda Bellingham in the Oxo ads. She had no qualms at all about shoving her boss off a very high balcony (in a mysteriously empty building), so lord only knows what she’ll do next.

Where was Ros while all this was going on? She was having a few bad dreams herself, of the “Oh my God, I shot Jo” variety. Apart from that she was doing the usual Ros stuff, like calmly sitting almost on top of a lorry load of bomb moments before it was due to detonate. Luckily the bomb got defused, the nasty interrogator man got dished up to the Russians, and all was well with the world. Apart from the “big thing” which is brewing in Switzerland (it’s not the Hadron Collider, it’s some other Big Thing). And apart from CIA Sarah, who we left hugging Lucas. Her mouth was saying she loves him – but her eyes told a different story. Look out, Lucas!

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Spooks: A very, very bad day at the office for Ros

This week, Ros faced the situation that every Spook dreads.

A group of the world’s most powerful and richest men was kidnapped and held in a panic room deep below a house in London’s leafy Hampstead. No way in apart from a lift which the kidnappers were controlling. The whole place rigged with explosives.  They were using the situation to stage “trials” of the billionaires for their crimes against humanity, and the whole thing was going worldwide on the internet. Back at the Grid, Tariq was trying to shut the internet sites down, but it had all been fixed so a new site opened each time he tried.

When the executions started (voted for by internet viewers), the Americans got tetchy and wanted to go in with air strikes (on Hampstead? Surely not!). The Home Secretary ordered the building to be taken by force. Harry knew that this would mean the whole place would get blown up – and Ros was in there.

Ros Myers is exactly the person you’d want to be on the spot when it all kicks off. She spent much of the time watching and waiting (while Lucas was out busy punching people for information). You could see her brain ticking over, working out what to do. She was without weapons or communications, her hands were tied (literally). So she used psychology to work on the most vulnerable-seeming of the kidnappers, a woman whose uncle was one of the billionaires – and eventually got her to reactivate the lift.

Jo was sent in to try and negotiate with the kidnappers, and she managed to get the chief instigator in an armlock. His other hand was holding the trigger to the bomb that would blow the whole building. Ros grabbed the gun from the female kidnapper. There was only one chance at a shot – get it wrong and the bombs would be detonated. But to get it right, she’d have to kill Jo.

Ros has this ice cold exterior, but you could see the pain in her face as Jo signalled with her eyes that she knew what had to be done. I was hoping that something would happen – the kidnapper would crack, Lucas would arrive,  anything. But it didn’t. Ros took the shot, Jo crumpled to the floor. Tears rolled down Ros’s cheeks.

Good heavens. I didn’t see that coming at all, and I’m still in shock. The only consolation is that the trailer for next week featured Lucas’s tattoos…

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Spooks: Lucas gets into bed with the Americans

ros-lucas-spooksAfter last week’s missing uranium, this week’s worrying substance on Spooks was gas. Following an accidental explosion, Britain found itself in urgent need of gas from abroad. But who to get it from? Not those nasty Russians, who always want to attach conditions to everything, apparently. Best to deal instead with some dodgy former Soviet state with all sorts of human rights problems and an almighty grudge against a dissident poet.

Harry was a bit distracted this week, feeling guilty about ruining Ruth’s life, so it was up to Ros, Lucas and Jo, and new guy Tariq, to sort things out. Well, it got nasty, as things on Spooks tend to do. It all ended up with Section D setting up the dissident poet to shoot the bad guy (who had been responsible for the torture and deaths of the poet’s family). Things never go exactly to plan in Spooks, though, and the poet shot herself as well, then the bad guy’s government withdrew their offer of gas when they obtained photographs of Jo at the poet’s flat.

Gas was still needed, so it was back to Plan B – the Russians. Only the Russians were a bit sniffy about not being asked first, so it was up to the Americans to broker a deal. This all involved a lot of clandestine meetings on bridges and in parks between Lucas and American agent Sarah, and by the end of the episode they were arranging an assignation in a posh hotel. Sarah, the strumpet, had booked a room. Oh, lucky, lucky Sarah – she gets to examine Lucas’s prison tattoos at close quarters. But what will the implications be for national security? There are bound to be some – this is Spooks, after all.

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