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I spy a silly series

John le Carre doesn't like Spooks. He called it "crap" the other week. But I don't think he means "crap" as in awful; more like "crap" as in nonsense.

MI5 agents are more likely to be dull, grey, nondescript men in dull, grey, nondescript suits -- just like le Carre's world-weary hero George Smiley -- than handsome, well-groomed young chaps who go running, jumping, punching and shooting their way around London in an effort to foil the latest dastardly terrorist plot.

By that token Spooks is indeed crap, albeit crap that's been popular and entertaining enough to run for 10 years.

But despite consistently good ratings, this is to be the final series, after which veteran spymaster Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, the only surviving original cast member) will hang up his metaphorical hat. If, that is, someone doesn't blow him up first.

People are always getting blown up in Spooks. The last time I watched it, about a year ago, the villain was planning to detonate a dirty bomb in London.

In last night's episode an anarchist called Grier looked like he too was planning to detonate a dirty bomb, but turned out to be planning to fatally irradiate an individual with stolen plutonium.

That's what I like about Spooks: you can miss it for ages and know that whatever longer story arc is rumbling away in the background -- in this case, some stuff about Harry's past dealings with the KGB -- there'll always be a solid, if slightly silly, self-contained plot to get your teeth into.

This one was more silly than solid as Dimitri, the latest in the long line of hunky young agents who enter and exit (usually in a coffin) Spooks on a regular basis, was assigned to get close to the anarchist by bedding his sister.

He was reluctant to do it. In le Carre's murky world, this might have been because he was a closet gay or a Russian mole. In the shiny, hi-def world of Spooks, it was because he had, gulp, moral qualms.

Dear, oh, dear. Never mind le Carre: what would James Bond creator Ian Fleming say?

There's no high-octane action in Waterways: The Royal Canal, just the immensely soothing and satisfying sight of Dick Warner cruising through Dublin on Rambler, a barge which, as he put it, is "even older than I am". It dates from 1878, when it was a cargo tug on the canal.

Apart from the stunning photography, the best thing about this new series -- Warner's first for some years -- is his witty, self-deprecating commentary, which remains as dry as a cream cracker no matter how wet everything else gets.

Warner made a similar journey along the Grand Canal in 1992.

Rambler, however, is too wide and unwieldy a boat to fit through the narrow Grand, which is why he's piloting it along the newly reopened Royal. Pleasurable as it is to watch, it's no pleasure cruise for Warner and his crew. Every bridge and lock presents a challenge, due to reed, rubbish and fallen masonry clogging the water.

Warner started his journey in Sheriff Street, passing under "the Effin' Bridge", which is what people in the old days nicknamed it when it failed to open. He met Ulick O'Connor, who talked about Brendan Behan, cycled to Mountjoy Prison to see Behan's Auld Triangle (the title of this opening instalment), sought out the graves of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan in Glasnevin Cemetery, and went fly-fishing in Finglas with his old pal, marine biologist Ken Whelan.

At Hamilton Bridge, named after William Rowan Hamilton, the scientist who scrawled a mathematical equation into its stones, Warner said that Ireland was once a world leader in the production of scientific instruments.

Surveying the surrounding concrete landscape, he added: "In the 21st century, we became world leaders in something else: building apartments with borrowed money." A delight.