World War 2 was as bad as that name sounds, and most of us probably can't imagine what it was like for anyone who experienced it. But SECRET AGENT SELECTION: WW2 gives us a small insight into a single specific part, and it's gripping.
In this new competition series, 14 recruits go through the challenges, selection processes and training that a hopeful Special Operative Executive agent would have done in the 1940s. It's to see whether ordinary 21st-century citizens can cope with the rigours presented in those times.
The first episode follows 14 recruits through challenges in the initial selection process, each hoping they will succeed and be chosen to undergo full 1940s SOE training. Every period detail is impressively and meticulously recreated, from the uniforms to the scoring system to the largely outdated Rorschach inkblot tests, all creating a strong atmosphere which allows the audience to believe in the reality of what the recruits must undertake.
On that note, the voiceover is one of the most important and impressive parts of the episode, providing historical context when describing the tasks and intermittently expanding on the history of SOE itself.
My personal knowledge of WW2 doesn't extend beyond Year 9 History classes (I hadn't even heard of SOE before watching this), but even someone who knows a great deal might find there is something new to learn from the concise explanations overlaying the action.
Perhaps part of what's so gripping is the recruits themselves, and how each of these individuals does and doesn't have the capabilities or fit the personality requirements that SOE would have been searching for. Characters who seem able in one respect may fall down in others, and gauging the instructors' perception of those successes and failures based on their knowledge and interpretation of SOE requirements is as intriguing as the context provided by the voiceover.
I understand that WW2 may not appeal to some, and similarly competition series may not appeal to others. No show can appeal to everyone. But this one offers a historical edge, and a grit.
It's perhaps not as apparent in this first episode (which makes my statement a little premature), but this premiere only takes the recruits through a selection process. The preview at the end shows a much more intense and demanding picture of SOE training, a clear step up from the entry tests.
"Secret Agent Selection: WW2" is an informative, eye-opening window into the world's past. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're a fan of competition series, intrigued by World War 2, or just get hooked by this sort of show when you stumble across it whilst absent-mindedly scrolling through channels (we all do it), then this is definitely your cup of tea.
- Aired on BBC2, April 10 2018 at 21:00.