TV on DVD: 'MI-5: Volume 9'
This week, BBC Home Entertainment fulfilled its promise from earlier this year and brought us MI-5: Volume 9, the latest set of one of television's top dramas. Here's my review.
As I mentioned in my review of Volume 8, I'm a huge Spooks/MI-5 fan, and have been since the first episode. Even after all this time, when a new DVD set comes out, I run out and get it on release day and then spend the rest of my week watching it. It's definitely my favorite British series of all time and one of my favorite TV series of all time, period.
Yet there's a 'but' here. There's a rumor going around that the upcoming series ten will be the show's last, and having seen series nine, I think I'm comfortable with that decision. This season of Spooks clearly shows the program is running out of steam and this is not a show I want to see run itself into the ground.
I can't get too specific in my criticisms because of spoilers, but I will say the writing starts to run off the tracks in this series. There's a head-scratching reveal about a major player that seems pretty out of left field, as if it was done more for shock value. It's the first time I've felt like the writers were pulling a stunt rather than a well thought out plot twist.
And for yet another series, there's also a revolving door. I've always praised Spooks for not playing it safe with its leads, but there's a difference between that and consistently discarding them. It's very difficult to get attached to a character and care about what happens to them when you know they probably won't last the season. I tolerated it over the last few years, but this is where I think it finally started to wear on me. (Having said that, one has to admire Peter Firth, who's played Harry Pearce for the show's entire run and has gotten better every year, and Richard Armitage, who does his best with questionable material.)
Though this isn't the show's best year, this will always be an impressive series. Ten seasons is an accomplishment for any show, particularly in the British market, where it's practically unheard of. To put it in perspective, another favorite of mine, Law & Order: UK, just started its fifth series. Touching Evil only had three, Life on Mars just two, and the classic Ultraviolet just one. So for Spooks to make it to ten is applause-worthy. I just think we've come to the inevitable point where it's the right time to say goodbye.
Spooks comes back with a three-disc set in the same packaging that's been a headache for me ever since the first volume: a thin plastic sheath that slides over an interior case. Getting it out of said plastic is one thing, but getting it back in is the real difficulty. If you don't line it up exactly right - which can be hard to do with how flimsy the plastic part is (mine even arrived already wanting to bend to the right) - you're not going to be able to get it back in, but you can't really get rid of the darn thing either.
Spoiler alert: the back of the interior case contains major giveaways if you're not caught up on the complete series to date.
Once you get to the interior case, open it up and you'll find nothing but the three discs. No booklet and no disc information printed inside. Disc two is actually resting partially on top of disc three, so you're going to have to be careful how you remove disc three and how you put them both back in.
There are two forced adverts that can be skipped, which will lead you into some pretty menus (I do miss the early ones where they were much more animated, though). You have episode and scene selection available; the latter is a nice bonus since many recent TV on DVD releases lack that feature.
There's poor accessibility with this set: an English 5.1 audio track and English SDH subtitles, but no other languages or subtitles are included.
The Special Features
There are no special features on this set.
It's somewhat of an inevitability, I guess, because the bonuses have been dwindling for years now, but it's frustrating. Spooks has gotten incredibly shafted in the American market, between it suddenly disappearing off A&E (and then resurfacing on BBC America only to be pulled again) and these DVD releases arriving with less and less in the extras department. It's a shame, because this is a great, great series.
The Bottom Line
While this is not Spooks' best year and this set is lacking in some major areas, if you want to see the series at all, DVD is your only option. For that alone, it's worth a look, though die-hard fans should approach with caution and curious newbies are better off starting with earlier seasons.