It’s all back to Roker Bridge for a third and, alas, final time, with the start of series 3 picking things up in Central Lancaster six months on, and starting with a dream sequence. Hodge is taking his driving test. It’s very important to him because he’s being allowed to take his god-daughter Kirsty (actually his real daughter as only Eric and Dawn know) out on his own for the very first time on Saturday. But he’s failed, as the dry litany of mistakes is quietly reeled off by the examiner, including reversing through a supermarket window – at which point we twig we are not in Roker Bridge’s own specialised form of reality – only for the examiner to rip up the Fail sheet in time for a hallucinogenic congratulations sequence as even Stirling Moss (the real one) tells him he is a better driver.
Then he wakes up.
For the third and final series there are cast changes. Lucy Akehurst, aka Laura, has dropped out, and will appear only briefly in a later episode as a guest star. Carolyn Pickles replaces Susan Wooldridge as Jeanetta, Kieran Flynn, Ozzie Yue and Holy Grainger are all listed and there are two newcomers in Oliver Pickles as Declan (no last name given), a plastic surgeon and Jeanetta’s new ‘boyfriend’, and Angela Lonsdale as Mel, who plays a somewhat detached role in the first episode.
‘Hodge’s Driving Test’ isn’t quite as fuinny as previous episodes, though it contains a great deal of banter, farcical fun and confusion, not to mention my favourite Preston Front gag of them all (there’s another, nearly as good, later in the series).
The TA, under the puffed-up orders of Sergeant Polson (whose elevation by blackmail still rankles with Lieutenant Rundle and Corporal Minshull, aka Ally, since it’s them he’s blackmailing), are being trained in mine detection. Deisel assumes sophisticated ultrasound devices but the reality is glorified knitting needles, placed across the forearm and inserted into the ground – carefully – at a 30 degree angle.
Lloydy doesn’t like the prospect of this and starts chunnering. Polson describes the standard insertion from a prone position, but there’s also a two-foot extension so it can be done standing up. Lloydy immediately suggests a two hundred foot extension so it can be done standing up in Bradford. Next thing, he’s face down in the ‘minefield’, proding carefull, with Spock and Deisel immediately behind. He’s still chunnering. He asks why the Army can’t train moles to do this? Spock sighs and says they tried but it didn’t work. And Deisel agrees. It didn’t wiork because they had to have their desks too near the blackboard…
But whilst that, and many other things, like Lloydy facing down a tank, are wonderfully funny, that doesn’t for one moment obscure the fact that this is an episode filled with a tremendous amount of pain, and it’s that same pain we know from throughout the series, namely that Kirsty is Hodge’s daughter, and that she not only doesn’t know he’s her father but she must never know. Hodge wants to be a Dad, but cannot be in the way he wants, and, as the episode demonstrates, is far too wound up about being a Dad to be relaxed enough to be a good one.
In series 2, we had Jeanetta’s ex-husband, Greg Scarry, a very successful businessman, as the Hodge-that-might. Rich, handsome, a magnet for women. Hodge saw him as a rival, especially as he was making a play for Laura, but mostly as the image of a real Dad for Kirsty, even though she was none of his.
Now enter Declan, to be a new and even more serious rival. Not over Jeanetta, who’s clearly very comfortable with him (and Carolyn Pickles brings a very ready smile and an overall more relaxed and cheerful aspect to the role), but over Kirsty, who is also clearly very comfortable with him. Because Declan has an overwhewlming advantage above and beyond his craggy handsomeness, his wealth and his horse. Paradoxically, by not being Kirsty’s father or having any pretentions to be, he can play the part of a father with relaxed ease and comfort. No wonder Hodge hurts all over inside from the moment he meets him.
That’s all I’ll say for now. That alone would be enough to sustain a seven-part series without all the other subplots bubbling away in the background, but I’d better mention Mel. Mel, a very obviously Geordie girl, appears out of nowhere in the TA. Whilst trying to get her cigarette lit, she inadvertently directs Jeanetta’s car too far back and into a hole. She turns a palette into an escape ramp but doesn’t get all the nails out. She doesn’t tighten the nuts properly when she changes the wheel so the car has to be towed away… Oh, and when Jeanetta is gazing fondly at the departing Hodge, she makes a misassumption, and says, “Got a cracking arse, hasn’t he?”
We’ll get to know more about Mel over the next six weeks. Welcome back Roker Bridge.