The Assets, originally made by ABC in the United States in 2014, has finally made it to this side of the Pond. Now that it’s available as a box set from UKGold’s Alibi channel, ahead of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who debut. But was it worth the wait?

The Assets is set in the spy world of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. It focuses on the ongoing duel between the CIA and the KGB. A never-ending chess match as they persuade each other’s agents to turn traitor while rooting out their own traitors. Doctor Who herself, Jodie Whittaker takes the lead as CIA analyst Sandra ‘Sandy’ Grimes. Tasked with recruiting and running the CIA’s ‘assets’, Sandy quickly becomes obsessed with tracking down a mole in her department.

The Assets’ make the parallels to the massively successful The Americans clear. But The Assets is the real deal. It’s based on actual events surrounding the treason of Aldrich ‘Rick’ Ames, who sold CIA secrets to the KGB for millions of dollars over three decades and betrayed a dozen or more of the CIA’s most valuable assets to their deaths. It also featured the real-life Sandra Gries as a consultant.  As a result it’s has an authenticity and reality to it that The Americans lacks.

We see into Grimes’ home life, but her husband (Julian Ovenden) is portrayed as a solid and understanding rock. He’s always ready to accept another lost weekend of his wife buried deep in her office at Langley. And always on hand with an inspirational speech about the importance of her work when she feels low. It feels a little like a touching love letter from Grimes to her husband.

Sandy Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) and her boss Arthur O'Neill (Stuart Milligan) receive their orders (c) ABC
Sandy Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) and her boss Arthur O’Neill (Stuart Milligan) receive their orders (c) ABC

Jodie Whittaker leads a strong cast of familiar Doctor Who faces

The mole hunt is typified by missed clues and botched chances to catch Ames. Whittaker executes some excellent scenes expressing Grimes mounting frustration as she suspects Ames but his met with a stubborn refusal of her bosses to aid her investigation. In the real world, the CIA Director fell on his sword over the Ames affair. This goes unmentioned in The Assets.

The series’ greatest asset, so to speak, is its cast. Future Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker shows herself her as more than capable of heading up a show in her own right. She does a great job balancing Sandy’s passion and drive along with her professionalism and analytical intelligence. Whittaker’s charisma is central to anchoring a character who spends her time pouring over documents and leading meetings, in the audience’s affections. Her opposite number, Rick Ames, is played by Paul Rhys (Ivan in Being Human). He bounces between being a squirrelly, sweaty mess of nerves and a swaggering confidence in his apparently charmed life.

We also encounter Noel Clarke, the one time Mickey Smith. Clarke appears as a CIA agent partnered with Ames on the hunt for the traitor. Elsewhere in the cast is Christina Cole (The Shakespeare Code) as a member of Grimes’ investigative team. While Stuart Milligan – (Richard Nixon in Doctor Who) finds himself here as Grimes’ boss.

An intriguing dramatization of a true story,

Ultimately, The Assets underlines Jodie Whittaker her fine abilities as an actor. She effortlessly manages the load of leading the majority of scenes across eight hours of television. Beyond that, it’s an intriguing dramatization of real-world events, if one that stays a little too close to the facts to be a really compelling drama.

The Assets

It’s 1985. In a final showdown of the Cold War, the most notorious and dangerous traitor inside the CIA is discovered… Sandy and her partner Jeanne Vertefeuille had vowed to find the mole, who would turn out to be Aldrich Ames. Sandy is in a race against time to save the Soviet intelligence officers from being caught and killed. Living her own double life at home, this beautiful wife and mother vowed to stop at nothing until she uncovered the truth.

The Assets is available on catch-up services until October 20th.


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