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Strike Back (TV series)

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Strike Back
Strike Back title 2011.png

The broadcast title of the series since the second series, Project Dawn.
Genre Drama
Spy fiction
Written by
Directed by
Opening theme Short Change Hero” – The Heavy (Series 2 onwards)
Country of origin
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 46 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • Andy Harries
  • Huw Kennair-Jones
  • Daniel Percival
  • Elaine Pyke
  • Tony Saint
  • Frank Spotnitz
  • Sue De Beauvoir
  • Andrew Benson
  • Michael Casey
  • Chris Clough
  • Trevor Hopkins
  • Bill Shepard
  • Chris Thompson
  • South Africa (Series 1–4)
  • Hungary (Series 2, 4 & 5)
  • Thailand (Series 5)
Running time 45 minutes approx
Production company(s) Left Bank Pictures
Original network
Picture format 16:9 (1080i HDTV)
Original release 5 May 2010 (2010-05-05) – 29 July 2015 (2015-07-29)

Strike Back is a British/American action-adventure/spy-drama television series based on a novel of the same name by novelist and former Special Air Service (SAS) soldier Chris Ryan. The series follows the actions of Section 20, a secretive branch of the British Defence Intelligence service (DI), who operate several high risk, priority missions throughout the globe. The series began broadcasting on Sky1 on 5 May 2010, showing the first six-part series. After a second series was commissioned, it was announced that Cinemax would co-produce the franchise. The first episode of the ten-part second series, under the banner title Project Dawn in the United Kingdom, first aired on Cinemax on 12 August 2011. The ten-part third series, under the title Strike Back: Vengeance, began airing on Cinemax on 17 August 2012. On 3 October 2012, Cinemax and Sky commissioned a fourth series, which was broadcast on Cinemax beginning 9 August 2013.[1][2] A ten episode fifth and final series aired in 2015. The final episode aired on 29 July 2015. However, Cinemax and Sky1 announced on December 8, 2016 that they would reboot the show for a sixth season that would sometime around 2017 with an air date yet to be given.

Executive producer Andy Harries gained hold of the novel and pitched a television adaption to Sky, even though he had not read it. Sky commissioned the series as part of a £10 million commitment to adapt novels into original dramas following the successes of adapting Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels. Following Cinemax’s participation from the second series, the series faced a re-imagining due to the absence of first series lead Richard Armitage, who was at the time filming The Hobbit in New Zealand. Before filming several cast members participated in bootcamp training by former SAS and Special Boat Service (SBS) officers. The series was filmed on location in South Africa, although parts of the second series were filmed in Hungary.

Ratings for Strike Back were relatively high for the original networks. The Sky1 premiere was viewed by almost 400,000 viewers (according to overnight figures), tripling the average audience share for the channel’s time slot after three months. Project Dawn premiered to over 600,000. The Cinemax premiere saw the network’s best ratings since 2005. All five series have been or will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.


Series Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 6 5 May 2010 (2010-05-05) 19 May 2010 (2010-05-19)
2 10 12 August 2011 (2011-08-12) 21 October 2011 (2011-10-21)
3 10 17 August 2012 (2012-08-17) 12 October 2012 (2012-10-12)
4 10 9 August 2013 (2013-08-09) 18 October 2013 (2013-10-18)
5 10 3 June 2015 (2015-06-03) 29 July 2015 (2015-07-29)

Chris Ryan’s Strike Back (2010)[edit]

The first series consists of six episodes. It follows John Porter (Richard Armitage), who resigned from the SAS following the aftermath of a rescue mission in Iraq on the eve of the American led invasion in 2003, where two fellow soldiers were killed, apparently by a thirteen-year-old boy Porter failed to kill, leaving him responsible. Seven years later, Porter is “reactivated” following the kidnap of journalist Katie Dartmouth (Orla Brady) by the same terrorists he fought seven years previous, including the same boy, As’ad. Porter succeeds in rescuing Dartmouth and joins Section 20, headed by Hugh Collinson (Andrew Lincoln), who was also present during the fateful mission. By the end of the series, it is revealed that Collinson was the one who killed the soldiers, and covered this up. Section 20 officer Layla Thompson (Jodhi May) discovers this, and blackmails Collinson into saving Porter’s life in Afghanistan. There, Porter learns that during the mission, Collinson panicked and mistook the soldiers for terrorists. Taliban members raid their location, and Collinson is mortally wounded while aiding Porter’s escape.

Project Dawn (2011)[edit]

The second series consists of ten episodes. Porter is captured by a Pakistani terrorist called Latif (Jimi Mistry) while investigating a planned operation of Latif, Project Dawn. Sergeant Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) finds disgraced ex-Delta Force operative Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), who would not be hired by even private military contractors, who previously worked with Porter to track Latif. After Porter is executed, Section 20 discover Porter left the team clues to a hotel in New Delhi, India, where a group of terrorists attempt to capture a weapons scientist with knowledge of hidden weapons of mass destruction originally used to plant in Iraq, which serves as a part of Project Dawn. The weapon, namely VX nerve gas was kept in storage, and Latif has known about its existence.

Section 20’s worldwide search for Latif ends in Budapest, Hungary, where they learn he is using suicide bombers by implanting them with explosive devices inside their bodies, which in turn will release the VX. The attempted attacks against a World Summit were actually a diversion to capture former Pakistani general Akmal Ramiz (Silas Carson), who Latif fears will make Pakistan more accessible to the west. He also captures Section 20 head Colonel Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing) in an attempt to confess to “Operation Trojan Horse”, which planned to plant VX in Iraq, while also exposing Porter and framing Scott; Grant attempted to cover up the operation in shame. In the end, Grant forces Latif to shoot an empty VX canister, with the explosives still intact, killing them both. Although Scott gains the file that would clear his name, he decides to burn the file and remain in Section 20. Meanwhile, Stonebridge decides to leave to be with his pregnant wife.

Vengeance (2012)[edit]

The third series consists of ten episodes. Former military intelligence operative, Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) takes charge of Section 20. They work throughout Africa to get their hands on four nuclear triggers which are in the wrong hands after a mission in Somalia. The triggers have originally been sold to Conrad Knox (Charles Dance), an English billionaire and philanthropist based in South Africa, who runs the Knox Foundation, charged with disarming unstable regions. However, it becomes apparent that he is using the weapons to arm his own militia and is using the triggers to build nuclear weapons with the intent of liberating Africa “to a point where its voice is not just heard but listened to.” Due to Knox’s influence, Section 20 is forced to go dark to stop him. In the meantime, Stonebridge seeks revenge on Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor) for murdering his wife, and Scott has to contend with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Christy Bryant (Stephanie Vogt), with whom he used to work contract killing. Scott also has a relationship with Rebecca, a Mossad contract assassin (Lyne Renee).[3] By the conclusion of the series, two of the bombs were recovered, and the remaining two were disarmed before they could destroy Johannesburg, Stonebridge fulfills his revenge, and Knox is killed fleeing the failed attempt in a street altercation by the very South Africans he hoped to empower.

Shadow Warfare (2013)[edit]

A fourth series consists of ten episodes. Scott and Stonebridge are recalled from holiday in California to capture Leo Kamali (Zubin Varla), a high-ranking member of a terrorist cell led by al-Zuhari, an elusive terrorist. After capturing him in Colombia it is revealed that Kamali is working deep cover with the CIA to stop al-Zuhari. As Kamali is pressured to work with Section 20, Dalton is suspended by Colonel Philip Locke (Robson Green), who takes charge. Dalton is later killed by the Real Irish Republican Army (IRA), who have joined forces with al-Zuhari’s group. In the meantime, Scott and Stonebridge are wanted by the Russian mafia after killing the son of mob boss Arkady Ulyanov (Marcel Iureș) in Colombia. Scott learns he fathered a child from one of his past relationships, while Stonebridge is infected with a neurotoxin during one of Section 20’s missions in Beirut, which affects his combat abilities.

After attacking the British Embassy in Budapest, the IRA and al-Zuhari’s group steal a NATO hard drive and send it to a prison in Russia where a Swedish hacker and prisoner, Erik Andersson, is forced to decrypt it. While on mission in Russia, Section 20 also become aware of a secretive facility where al-Zuhari’s scientists are weaponising smallpox to be used to attack NATO bases. After the mission, Stonebridge is given the antidote to the toxin, and Kamali is executed by al-Zuhari’s men for being a double agent. Section 20 learn that al-Zuhari’s group intends to attack a NATO base in Berlin, Germany, where it is revealed that Kamali faked his death, having been behind the operation the entire time (it is revealed that the Israelis killed al-Zuhari six months before). After the terrorists successfully infect a train and the NATO base’s hospital, Section 20 thwart Kamali’s plot to fly a plane over Berlin to infect the city. Both Kamali and Ulyanov are killed by 20 during an exchange arranged by Locke. In his last moments, Kamali reveals that his daughter Ester has a pendant that contains the cure to the smallpox, though only enough to save those infected at the hospital.

Legacy (2015)[edit]

Main article: Strike Back: Legacy

Strike Back returned to Cinemax on July 31, 2015 for the final series of ten new episodes. Initially scheduled for summer 2014, the series had to be pushed back due to an off-set injury to series star Sullivan Stapleton.[4]

Strike Back Reboot (TBA)[edit]

On December 8, 2016, Cinemax and Sky1 announced they had greenlit a brand new series of Strike Back with a brand new cast, no longer focusing on former stars Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester. Daniel MacPherson, Alin Sumarwata, Roxanne McKee and Warren Brown have been cast to star in the new series.

  • MacPherson as Sergeant Samuel Wyatt, a bar-room philosopher who works best alone and has no intention of being dragged into a team situation.
  • Sumarwata as Gracie Novin, a gear-head who is looking to make the step up. Genuine, honest to the point of bluntness, she’s the heart and soul of the team.
  • McKee as Natalie Roberts, who comes from a military family, excels at psychological profiles and seeking weaknesses in others, although she might be blinded to her own fault-lines.
  • Brown as Sergeant Daniel “Mac” Macallister, a man of his word, affable, physically capable, and driven by a desire to avenge the team he’s lost.

The new series will focus on the now disavowed and disbanded Section 20 that is restored in order to track down a notorious terrorist following a brutal prison break. Tasked with covert military intelligence and high-risk operations, the resurrected unit embarks on a lethal manhunt that will uncover a vast web of interconnected criminal activity. As the team journeys across the Middle East and Europe, they uncover a deadly conspiracy which threatens to overwhelm them all and change the face of modern warfare forever.

The new series will be written by Jack Lothian who will serve as showrunner and executive producer with Andy Harries and Sharon Hughff for Left Bank Pictures. Michael J. Bassett will serve as director and executive producer, Bill Shephard as producer. The new Strike Back series is set to begin filming sometime in 2017.[5]

Cast and characters[edit]

Richard Armitage (left) plays first series lead John Porter. However due to other acting commitments, he could not return as a regular in Project Dawn, so Philip Winchester (centre) and Sullivan Stapleton (right) replaced Armitage as the series leads.

Richard Armitage plays first series protagonist John Porter, a character who is brought back into service by Section 20 seven years after he resigns from a botched rescue mission.[6] Armitage describes the character as “sort of like Lucas North [the character he played on the BBC espionage series Spooks], only on some kind of go-faster drug.”[7] Following the announcement of the second series, Armitage had to drop out of the role, following his commitment to appear as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit films.[8] He was replaced by Sullivan Stapleton, who plays former United States Delta force operative Damian Scott, and Philip Winchester who plays Michael Stonebridge.[9] Stapleton was originally contracted to appear in two series.[8]

In the first series, Andrew Lincoln plays Hugh Collinson, Porter’s comrade in the 2003 mission and Section 20 boss. Jodhi May plays Lieutenant Layla Thompson, an “ambitious woman working in a male-dominated field that she’s climbed to the top of”. Over the course of the first series she grows to distrust Collinson.[10] Shelley Conn plays Sergeant Danni Prendiville, a Section 20 officer who has an affair with Porter.[11] Colin Salmon appears as civil servant James Middleton,[12] and Orla Brady plays kidnapped Sky war correspondent Katie Dartmouth.[6]

Following Collinson’s demise, Amanda Mealing plays his successor, Colonel Eleanor Grant,[13] who was described as a “smart, tough military leader who is skilled with a gun and diplomacy, but knows when to break a rule or two.”[14] By the conclusion of Project Dawn, Grant is killed off, and later replaced by Rachel Dalton, played by Rhona Mitra, since Vengeance.[15] Eva Birthistle plays Captain Kate Marshall, a “crack commando” who oversees Section 20’s military personnel,[16] who also had an affair with Stonebridge even though the latter is married. In the fourth episode, Kate was killed in an explosion.[17] Rhashan Stone plays Major Oliver Sinclair,[14] Grant’s right-hand man,[13] and Section 20’s second-in-command.[18] Michelle Lukes plays Sergeant Julia Richmond,[14] one of the newer recruits of Section 20. Lukes describes her character as “exceptionally bright and technically brilliant,” with the ability to speak seven languages.[18] Richmond became more active in the field in Vengeance.[19]

Jimi Mistry plays Project Dawn villain Latif, the Pakistani terrorist and mastermind behind the eponymous plot.[14][18] The primary antagonists of Vengeance are guns-for-hire Karl Matlock, played by Vincent Regan.[19] and Conrad Knox, a billionaire who is using his humanitarian work as a front to build his own militia, played by Charles Dance.[19][20]



Andy Harries pitched the series to BSkyB, even though he had not read the book.

The television series is based on a novel of the same name by Chris Ryan, a former SAS soldier who was known as the only member of his unit, Bravo Two Zero, to evade capture by Iraqi forces during the Gulf War in 1991, and was regarded as the most difficult escape for a British soldier. Ryan became a novelist after leaving the SAS.[21] Andy Harries, the chief executive of his production company, Left Bank Pictures, saw the novel Strike Back at an airport while on holiday, but never got around to reading it. Regardless, he still managed to pitch the idea of a series from the novel to Sky’s Head of Drama Elaine Pyke, who commissioned it. Harries said of the experience, “I read the back of the book just to remind myself, I remember Elaine saying ‘what’s the story’ and I said ‘Don’t worry about that, it’s really the thrust of the piece.'”[22] The commission became part of Sky’s £10 million commitment to producing original dramas based on novels following the network’s success in adapting the Discworld novels from Terry Pratchett. It was also a part of Sky’s attempt to replicate the pace of American-based action series including 24. Chris Ryan became involved in the project by acting as a series consultant and script advisor.[21] Harries also served as a producer on the show.[22]

A second series of Strike Back was commissioned by Sky in August 2010, for a longer run of 10 episodes.[23] Later, in February 2011, it was announced that Sky entered a co-production deal with the American television network Cinemax, as the network wanted to introduce a new original drama series.[24] The first episodes of the series was written by The X-Files alum Frank Spotnitz. Spotnitz was brought in to start the second series with the purpose to re-imagine the show, as the producers needed it to work in the absence of first series lead Richard Armitage, due to the actor’s commitment to The Hobbit film series in New Zealand.[25]


In the first series, Armitage had to “bulk up for the role.”[26] The actor spent ten weeks with a trainer in the UK, before moving to Johannesburg, where the first series was shot, and participated in more training, however he had to spend ten days after arriving to acclimatise to the city’s high altitudes.[27] Before the second series, more main cast members took up intensive bootcamp style training in South Africa by former SAS and SBS operators. The two leads Stapleton and Winchester underwent the most intensive training. The actors were trained in many aspects including running, teamwork, tactical manoeuvres with and without weapons and other various military tactics.[17] Winchester recalled his training experience, “[Sullivan Stapleton] and I would meet every morning at 6am. We would run to a chosen location and on the way we had to memorise street names and directions and then our trainers would say ‘that car that you just passed what was the licence plate number?’ Our trainers were ex-SAS guys who made us study everything in detail, for example, we learnt step by step how to enter a room in twos, then alone. At the same time, we had to be constantly aware of where our weapon was trained.”[28]

The series uses a vast array of firearms and other weapons, including side arms, assault and sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and other explosives as well as knives and other weapons. In training, cast members started by carrying weights that mimicked the weapons so they could get used to carrying them during filming. They were later taught how to handle various firearms used in the series to make it appear as real as possible, they were taught to disassemble and re-assemble, fire and reload the weapons used before scenes/shooting. Former SAS and SBS servicemen gave many of the cast weapons training, and were also on hand during the filming to oversee and advise the cast members on the proper handling and use of the various weapons and tactics used in different scenes.[29]

Filming and locations[edit]

The principal filming locations include Johannesburg (left) and Cape Town, South Africa (centre), and Budapest, Hungary (right).

Filming the first series began in South Africa in August 2009,[30] and was shot with 35mm film.[21] 35mm cameras were used because the crew regard them as “the best and most flexible capture medium” available. Three Kodak film stocks were used for filming the series, along with a variety of Arri cameras. Each scene uses a minimum of two cameras, but the crew regularly use four camera angles.[31]

Having worked in South Africa several times in the past, he[clarify] decided to use the country as the filming location for the series, as he felt it could replicate anywhere in the world.[32] The first series was largely filmed in the Gauteng province, including its capital, Johannesburg. Local crew members were used to collaborate with the British crew.[33] Starting with Project Dawn, Cape Town was largely used as a filming location,[34] with other episodes filmed in Durban and Springbok, Northern Cape.[31] Before filming Project Dawn, the production crew were scouting other filming locations throughout Europe, South America and the United States.[35] The series would additionally be shot in Budapest, Hungary.[31] Some other scenes were also shot in the UK.[8] The first two episodes of Vengeance were originally scheduled to film in Mozambique, but a week before filming was due to start the country had “a massive freedom fighter rally.”[36]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Broadcast and ratings[edit]

The series aired on Sky 1 in the United Kingdom. The first series began airing on 5 May 2010, originally showing two episodes for three weeks.[37] According to overnight viewing figures, the premiere episode was seen by 398,000 viewers and a 1.7 per cent audience share, becoming one of the most viewed non-terrestrial broadcasts, and more than tripled Sky1’s average audience in their slots from the previous three months.[38] Project Dawn began on 21 August 2011, but was showing just one episode a week that time.[9] Overnight ratings saw a substantial increase over the first series premiere, having been seen by 616,000 viewers, with a 2.6 per cent audience share.[39] Vengeance premiered on 2 September 2012, however overnight ratings decreased to 385,000, and was beaten by new episodes of The Simpsons and Sinbad, which aired on the same channel.[40]

The United States did not initially air the first series, but on 25 October 2013 it was aired with the title Strike Back: Origins. The first series to air in the US was Project Dawn, and was known as “Season One” in the country,[41] it began airing on Cinemax on 12 August 2011. The premiere attracted 567,000 viewers on its first telecast, and an additional 500,000 viewed the two following encores.[42] Despite the limited availability of the network on American television (only 16.7 million homes have Cinemax available), it was the best ratings performance for the network since a broadcast of the film Titanic in 2005.[43] Vengeance premiered with two back-to-back episodes, on 17 August 2012.[44] It attracted 390,000 viewers, with encores increasing viewership to over half a million.[45] Vengeance averaged 310,000 viewers with an 18 to 49 rating of 0.13.[46]

The series was also made available in other countries. In Australia, the first series aired on ABC1, with Project Dawn airing on Channel Seven.[47][48] In Canada the show airs on HBO Canada,[49] while in France, it is shown on Canal+.[50] In Belgium, the second series of the show began airing on La Deux on 28 April 2013 while the channel did not show the first series.[51]

Critical reception[edit]

Strike Back received generally positive reviews from television critics.[52][53]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Strike Back was nominated for six accolades, winning two. In 2010, the first series was nominated for Best Digital Choice for the National Television Awards.[54] In 2012, the series was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design,[55] and Eva Birthistle was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role TV in the ninth annual Irish Film & Television Awards in 2012.[56] In the same year, Strike Back won a UK Screen Association Conch Award for Best Audio on TV Drama of the Year.[57] Additionally the series won a Royal Television Society Award for Best Special Effects, with South African company Big Bang Stunts & Effects being the recipient.[58] It was also nominated for Best Sound in Drama in 2010.[57]

Home media releases[edit]

The first series of Strike Back was released on a two-disc set on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on 7 June 2010 in the United Kingdom (Region 2),[59][60] after only over two weeks since the conclusion of the series on television. In Australia (Region 4), the DVD was released on 3 May 2011,[61] while the Blu-ray was released later on 2 June.[62] The release consisted of all six episodes, which were edited to three feature-length episodes, along with special features, namely cast interviews and behind the scenes featurette.[63]

The second series, Project Dawn, was released on a three-disc set on DVD and Blu-ray on 14 November 2011.[64][65] Along with the ten episodes, the set includes the special featurettes Top Secrets: Making Strike Back: Project Dawn, Firearms Training and Scott Vs Igor Fight Scene featurettes, as well as broadcast titles.[66] On the same day of its release, a collection of both series were also released on DVD and Blu-ray.[67] In the United States (Region 1), the series, labelled Strike Back: Cinemax Season One was released on 7 August 2012.[68] The American release includes audio commentaries from various cast and crew members on five episodes, along with a DVD and Digital Copy on the Blu-ray edition.[41] Vengeance was released on DVD on 5 November 2012 in the UK.[69] All five series are now available on DVD, with the fifth series available only in the UK until March 1, 2016, at which time the North American DVD and Blu-ray disc versions will be released. Series 1–5 are available in the UK as PAL DVDs, and series 2–5 (North American Cinemax series 1–4) are or will be available in North America as NTSC DVDs and Blu-ray discs by March 1, 2016.


Feature film[edit]

It was announced in October 2015 that plans to make a Strike Back feature film are in the early planning stages, with the two leads, Winchester and Stapleton, to reprise their roles.[70]


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