DVD Review: MI-5

Season 5
Series ••••½ Picture •••½ Sound •••½ Extras •••

It doesn't pay to become attached to a favorite character in this taut, dramatic TV series. All too often, you'll find him or her suddenly dispatched, often by a violent death. With most genre shows, you never really fear for a character's well-being, unless you know the actor playing the role hasn't negotiated a new contract. Not so with MI-5, and it's one thing that gives the series a singular, nervous, and compelling edge.

The show is called Spooks in the U.K., where it originates, and it deals with the efforts of Military Intelligence, Unit 5, to keep Britain free of terrorists. To heighten the sense of reality, no acting credits are given in the original BBC broadcasts, and the DVDs adhere to that practice. The episodes are very topical: In Season 5, the team must deal with a homegrown Al-Qaeda cell, an American administration selling arms to African dictators, and a lethal religious-right sect - not to mention traitors within MI-5's own ranks. The intricate plots of this season allow for more dramatic use of split-screen techniques and pulse-pounding soundtracks that help propel the chases and twists to a height of frenzy.

And yes, we see the departure of a major character, as well as the emergence of a new one: tight-lipped, tough-as-nails Ros Myers (Hermione Norris). Rupert Penry-Jones is still around as hunky chief investigator Adam Carter, and Peter Firth remains as the solid, staid Sir Harry Pearce, who heads up the unit.

The DVD transfer gets everything right, but be aware that the original images are deliberately washed-out and coarsely focused, to simulate the perhaps now old-fashioned idea of news broadcasting. The sound is in nicely spread stereo, which the Brits seem to prefer to Dolby Digital 5.1.

Extras are light, consisting of some frothy "interviews" with cast members, commentaries for two episodes, and a teaser for Season 6. (Note: Many people have experienced problems with Disc 3 of this five-DVD set, so be sure that you're buying a corrected version.)

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