Did we like it?
An entertaining, unintelligent drama that so ludicrously exaggerates the potential and influence of young people on the world of politics that it makes Willy Wonka seem as rooted in reality as Life on Earth. Or perhaps we’re just old.
What was good about it?
• Evidently being the surly teenage younger brother to Spooks, Code 9 shares kindred qualities in slick action sequences, covert selfish politicians, opaque conspiracies and for the world to forever tremble on the edge of an apocalyptic abyss (although, strictly speaking, Code 9 has already suffered its apocalypse in the shape of a nuclear device that “incinerated 100,000 people” at the 2012 Olympic Games – on the bright side that means that The One Show will cease to exist).
• While a trifle hackneyed, the dramatic device of introducing a new character into an unfamiliar environment, and to drag the audience along too, works pretty well. Here it’s “geeky” mathematician – all the Code 9 squad come from disparate professions/ backgrounds seemingly chosen at random as if a modern day version of Mr Benn adventures because of the casualties MI5 took in the bomb attack – Charlie Green, who is elevated to leader of a counter terrorist team after one mission, a position which he got for standing up to bigger boss Sarah, who herself seems recruited from a background in fashion journalism.
• While improbably pulchritudinous, the rest of the Code 9 team are made up of enough different stereotypes to fulfil the roles of likeable two-dimensional spies. There’s Jez, the ‘streetwise’ former crook (black, naturally), Rachel, who looks far more like she’s arrived from The Bill (via Hollyoaks) than actually serving in the police force, Vik, a rather anonymous entrepreneur whose role seems to be to tell others what they’ve done wrong, and Kylie, the most amiable and convincing, who is terminally ill and joined the team to make the most of the rest of her days. There’s Rob, too.
• The overall story arc that the nuclear explosion was caused by someone in MI5 is promising, and gives firm structure to what appears to be a fluid stream of one-off stories. But we do wish that in Hannah’s message from beyond the grave she’d actually say whom she suspected instead of the old “they’ve got me before I got them” spiel. Come on, tell us who “they” are, you’re dead now so it doesn’t really matter.
• And if you can ignore the grating inconsistencies and superior silliness, then the action sequences as the spies avail to hunt down their dastardly adversaries can be quite gripping. But please remember to switch off all cerebral activity before tuning in.
What was bad about it?
• Spooks Code 9 doesn’t seem to be aimed at anyone above the age of 23, which given BBC3’s target audience may be understandable. However, Spooks instils no such parameters and appeals to all ages (or rather it did until it became mediocre in the past couple of series).
• The nuclear device unleashed on the Olympic Stadium seems to have killed most of the people over 30 not just in London, but the whole country. Every single position of influence seems to have been appropriated by the young. The team’s soon-to-be-late boss Hannah (Joanne Frogatt) is in her late 20s, while the head of MI5 (we presume dear old Harry either perished or retired) is about 35 at oldest. Old people only manifest in the form of obsequious coppers or grieving parents.
• We don’t actually see the prime minister, but given the wave of yoof-kultur-iz-kool sweeping this devastated Britain, we imagine he’s either Jamiroquai or Chris Moyles. And it all has the air of one of those Children’s Film Foundation stories made in the late 70s when Jeremy, Henrietta and Godik had to save the day because their parents were just too damn stupid and busy being adults.
• The nuclear attack is further exploited to justify the actions of the characters. Interrogating an arms dealer, Rob extorts information by shooting him in the foot. “New world, new rules!” crows Kylie, with rather too much smugness, as if the freedom that enables them to torture suspects is the welcome removal of antiquated, obstructive rules on human rights. And the impact of such scenes, as well as killing off main characters, was blunted by the fact that this is a stale staple of Spooks that spent most of the last series teasing viewers about deaths rather than focusing on narrative.
• The dialogue is also problematic. The team seems to communicate in a corrupted hybrid of youth speak and the kind of officious, ominous vernacular you would expect people to employ had they spent the past five years injecting liquid Spooks into their veins. Worryingly, this is probably how such people would genuinely speak, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable.
• “Get the samples in ASAP!” barks Rachel. Those who use the phrase ‘ASAP’ are people who actually have the time to say ‘as soon as possible’, but use ‘ASAP’ as it makes them sound more important and efficient. They’re more commonly found running store cupboards on industrial estates.
• And Charlie’s pointless ruse of asking Sarah for “five-and-a-half hours” to find the person who ordered the hit on Hannah. “It put her on the back foot,” Charlie said, “she was thinking more about the half than the five.” It was never suggested that Sarah wouldn’t let them have that amount of time, and besides he crippled his own argument by compounding his request for “five-and-a-half hours” with its equivalent “330 minutes” which ‘sounds’ a lot longer than five, six or seven hours.
• Rachel also assured Charlie that “Hannah is the best person you’ll ever work for”. A statement she draws on all her 20-odd years of life experience to make.
• But the worst, and most unintentionally funny, line was when the team were musing trying to catch the elusive terrorist who had been using the identity of a dead woman. “How many more identities has she got?” mused one of the team, as the scene cut to the terrorist assuming a whole new identity – by putting on a blonde wig.
• The risible absurdities began when the assassin supposedly targeting the visiting prime minister was tracked down by his phobia to hamburger garnishing and is 15 years old (which the script at least had the decency to recognise the ridiculousness of).
• The assassin, Jermaine Lee, is notorious for being the deadliest shot in Britain – “He can shoot a head off a matchstick from a mile away” – so why does he gun down Hannah, the real target, with a bullet to the abdomen (far less lethal than a headshot) from a distance of about 200 yards, also within easy chase distance of the Code 9 team, before plummeting off a roof to his death.
• The only reason for the body shot we can surmise is that it gave Rob, an ex-medical student, the chance to practise and show off his ‘superpower’.
• There was no intimation beyond Rob’s blundering sojourn into a relocation camp, Jez’s search for his missing family and the odd reference to Kylie’s illness that there had ever been a nuclear attack; no sense of a nation crushed and in mourning. Elsewhere, shoppers happily bustled about smart department stores, students dutifully attended lectures, nightclubs were full of the same brain-dead beats and mobile phones were the most important thing in everyone’s life.
• It was almost as if a portion of London had been clinically excised from the country with an ice cream scoop while everyone else got on with their merry lives – no sign of economic collapse, no food parcels from America (although they were probably waiting the usual two years and calculating a debt repayment scheme) or dispossessed Arsenal fans.
• Thankfully there’s an absence of the ubiquitous Arab terrorists that clog up Spooks, but this creates another problem – ostensibly motiveless attacks. In the second episode, Laura wanted to avenge the death of her brother who had died in a prison riot after being locked up without charge. Her path of retribution was to cause a crush in a train station that killed three people and then threaten to bomb a university. But why? With no demented ideology she didn’t seem malevolent enough to murder civilians to get at MI5, reducing her to an unpersuasive villain waterlogged with limp dialogue such as “violence is all they understand”.