TV preview: Legacy | Doctor Who: Day Of The Doctor

Charlie Cox, right, with Romola Garai and Andrew Scott in Legacy

Charlie Cox, right, with Romola Garai and Andrew Scott in Legacy

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Decades after the Cold War defrosted, spies are still everywhere.

Legacy

Thursday, BBC2, 9pm

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor

Today, BBC1, 7:50pm

In the real world, they’re reading our e-mails or singlehandedly padlocking themselves into bags without leaving a trace; on screen they’re Carrie and Saul, insisting on the virtues of old-fashioned human intelligence over targeted strikes in Homeland, or the undercover Russians in 1980s-set The Americans (returning next year). Spooks, it was recently announced, is coming back as a movie and James Bond will always be with us.

But how did, for example, Spooks’ Harry Pearce get to be that scheming, double-thinking, betray-my-friends-before-my-country spymaster? While not directly drawing on any previous spy stories in particular, new one-off drama Legacy is a sort of answer to that question.

It’s set in 1974 and its spy, Charles (Charlie Cox), is a keen young chap only a couple of weeks into the job. He’s still being taught how to do dead letter drops and not get followed, when he’s asked to recruit an old pal, now working for the Russian Embassy. Naturally, secrets, betrayals and agonising decisions follow and by the end, young Charles is well on the way to becoming as cynical and jaded as any career spy.

Legacy, adapted from a novel by Alan Judd, suffers a little from its brisk pace here: a romance is rushed, with Romola Garai quite wasted, and it’s hard to be really engaged with Charles’ discovery of a family secret before we’ve got to know him or his family. There’s also a daft scene where a spy cache is found in a patently ridiculous hiding place. Cox is fine, as is Andrew Scott as the Russian contact (with dodgy accent), and the scenes of spycraft are slick and gripping.

But the stand-out of this drama is the trio of senior handlers at MI6 who direct Charles’ mission: Simon Russell Beale, born to play a manipulative spymaster, Christian McKay as his suspicious second in command and Tessa Peake-Jones as a veteran agent. Together they’re reminiscent of Spooks at its best and would be worthy of a spin-off. Maybe in the end, it is just more interesting to watch spies who’ve already accepted the price of what they do.

The biggest TV event of the week, of course, is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who which, inevitably, is not to be spoiled in advance. After the nostalgic one-two whammy of behind-the-scenes drama An Adventure In Space And Time and the online short prequel bringing back Paul McGann, it’s expected that The Day Of The Doctor will be an epic event bringing together different threads from the show’s past. For me, showrunner Steven Moffat doesn’t do well with epic, cramming in too many overblown attempts at creating big moments, with too much jabbering dialogue and too little sincerity. But if there’s any occasion when Who can be forgiven for wallowing in its own mythos, it’s this once-unlikely anniversary of the most unlikely series to be one of the country’s most popular.

Oh, and I expect there will be Daleks. I mean, why wouldn’t there be?

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