While Downton Abbey came back to our screens last night in a roar of battlefield fire and clattering teacups, BBC1 saw a much more understated return - the tenth, and final, series of spy drama Spooks.
Although it hasn't stopped TV pundits pitting them in a head-to-head for ratings, particularly when the pair kick off simultaneously on rival channels, it's unfair to compare these two dramas, each so British in their own way. Downton has got the tailwind of being last year's surprise breakthrough phenomenon for hits and critics alike - overnight multi-Emmy success just the latest evidence - and is only beginning to flex its narrative muscles, with the travails of World War I providing plenty of scope and scape for the characters to move up and down the social ladder - with all the emotional, romantic and financial whirlwindery that has to offer.
Spooks, meanwhile, having announced that this is the last season of a decade of London doorstep espionage, has the far harder task of going out with a bang, not a whimper, but somehow satisfactorily tying up all the loose ends - by which, obviously, I mean section chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth in the role he was always born to play) and trusty sidekick Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) finally eschewing love for country in favour of something a little less abstract.
This could prove tricky as the final season kicked off last night with a big trowel digging into Harry's past - including an inevitable Russian femme fatale who, we swiftly learn, not only got sufficiently "turned" by Harry, not only to betray her oligarch hubby at the height of the Cold War, but also bear Harry's son, now a pale-eyed warrior in, you guessed it, the FSB (that's KGB before the re-brand) which means he's now in London with a sawn-off shotgun and a grudge. Along with his parents, sneaked into London in top secrecy, without the security services knowledge, apparently, never mind that they were guests of honour at a white-tie embassy ball the following night.
Yes - despite my fears that Spooks couldn't get any more silly after last season's exploits with the treacherous agent Lucas North falling off a building, and an equally duplicitous Home Secretary falling on his glass of poisoned whisky, they've somehow managed it. But the backbone remains intact, that being Harry's oft-repeated disappointment as one more person charged with preserving national security tumbles off his pedestal, and Harry gets ever lonelier. No wonder he's so dependent on stalwart, defiantly unglamorous Ruth, and their eventual partnership will be up there with Moonlighting and Friends for long-awaited couplings.
Less convincing is the new section chief (I forgot to mention, in true Smiley style, Harry's now an official loose cannon and fighting for his job) - a ridiculously glamorous Lara Pulver (of True Blood fame). Now I know that the techniques of Thames House are justifiably shrouded in secrecy, but I'm guessing that page one of the spy craft handbook does not mention donning mini-skirt and heels to investigate a suspicious warehouse, and the Charlie's Angels hair is equally bothersome.
But, frankly, I'm not as bothered by this as I would have been, say, three series ago. There are only five more episodes of Harry's trench coat facing the bitter cold of a London park while he confronts yet another person who's disappointed him over the years, and I'm savouring them for all they're worth.
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