This week saw the return of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, the gripping drama featuring the work of police anti-corruption officers.
If I’m honest, I rated the first run as merely ‘okay’ as it felt to me to be a little too obsessed with overtly mocking the politically correct health and safety regulations that police officers in general have to work under. The point of the story in that first season is that one can either follow the rules but achieve little of note, or be a successful law enforcer with the best arrest and conviction record in the Force in which case one’s career will be wrecked for the perceived cutting of corners. Most searingly of all, the lesson was that no one could do both at the same time but had to choose which side of the fence they came down on.
After this somewhat over-worthy first run (which featured Lennie James as the stand-out turn playing the detective chief inspector under suspicion), the second series spectacularly exploded into brilliance with the tale of the unit’s investigation of DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) after a convey transporting a protected witness was ambushed and Denton left as the only survivor. Was she complicit in the crime or framed? This uncertainty drove six episodes of truly stunning drama in which any health and safety swipes were introduced as natural background details rather than as the central part of the series’ raison d’etre.
After that brilliant series it’s hardly surprising that it’s taken Mercurio two years to come up with a third season. I had fears that the follow-up was never going to equal the superb second series, but if anything the first episode of series 3 could actually prove to be Live of Duty’s finest hour. Read the rest of this entry »
I hadn’t realised until I saw the publicity for series 2 that the original run of Line of Duty that aired last July had been the most watched original new drama on BBC2 for ten years: I suspect this achievement was subsequently eclipsed by the even bigger success of The Fall, but that merely serves to put it into even more impressive company as far as I’m concerned.
It’s a quick return for writer/creator Jed Mercurio’s police drama, but it immediately seems a very different beast. The first season was essentially a head-to-head confrontation between Tony Gates – a wildly successful, popular and charismatic Detective Chief Inspector played by Lennie James – and AC-12 anti-corruption officer DS Steve Arnott who was out to prove Gates complicit in ilegal activity and bring him down with the help of DC Kate Fleming. The structure of the original six-parter was evenly split between the characters of Gates and Arnott, with the audience invited to make up their own minds as to which – if either – was on the side of the angels. Gates, after all, brought down the bad guys while Arnott was using the absurdly Kafka-esque police procedures and health and safety regulations to entangle him over seemingly petty transgressions.
While the character of Gates does not return for season 2 for reasons obvious to anyone who saw the first series, Arnott (Martin Compston) and Fleming (Vicky McClure) are back along with their boss Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and new recruit DC Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine from Call the Midwife, An Adventure in Space and Time and Doctor Who episode “Hide”) and this time the target of their investigation is DI Lindsay Denton played by Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes, Spooks). Unlike the first season, in this story Denton is no obvious hero and indeed is a complete enigma to us: this time we are firmly in Arnott and company’s shoes in trying to figure out just what is going on and who exactly is responsible. That makes this Line of Duty in many ways a more traditional and conventional type of crime thriller, but at least that means it has also dropped its slightly tiresome soapbox preaching about the unfair burdens of paperwork and overbearing scrutiny that the police toil under. Anything that it might have lost is more than made up by the shock-upon-shock developments of season 2, which instantly grip us by the throat and refuse to let go. Read the rest of this entry »
While I’m delighted to see all the attention being given to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I’m somewhat saddened to see a lack of any mention at all for another significant anniversary in the annals of television science fiction: July 18 saw the 60th anniversary of the 1953 début of one Bernard Quatermass, arguably the Doctor’s spiritual father.
Quatermass was a phenomenon in the 1950s, the first science-fiction/horror show to really go mainstream in British television and literally clear the streets when it was on. There were three six-part serials beginning with The Quatermass Experiment in 1953 then followed by Quatermass II in 1955 and Quatermass and the Pit at the end of 1958. The lead character was always the same, a leading British rocket scientist played initially by Reginald Tate but who sadly passed away before the sequel in which John Robinson was hastily cast; Andre Morell took over for the third story, and Sir John Mills subsequently played Quatermass in a 1979 big-budget production for ITV, the last new story to be filmed. All three of the original serials were also made into films – indeed, 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment (as it was retitled) was the first horror outing for the small Hammer Film Productions and which persuaded them that the genre might be a good one to exploit more fully in future…
The film version is good (despite a miscast American actor Brian Donlevy starring as Quatermass) and has stood for a long time as the definitive record of the original story since the telecast has been mostly lost. Off-air recordings of the first two episodes do survive and were released on DVD by the BBC in 2005, but they are in a pretty poor condition: watchable for the connoisseur, but not broadcastable. Nonetheless they’re fascinating for a true fan of this sort of thing such as myself. The story revolves around the return of a rocket presumed lost which crash-lands near London; three crewmen were on board but only one is recovered, and he’s acting very strangely. In the end it’s clear he’s undergoing a violent metamorphosis and Quatermass is in a race against time to save the planet. Read the rest of this entry »