New Tricks: The Crazy Gang


Au revoir

And so it ended, with neither a bang nor a whimper. New Tricks came to an end after twelve series, condemned by the BBC for a dip in ratings that followed the departures of Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong, and probably prematurely, given that the series has clawed back a couple of million viewers this series and was still the most watched programme last Tuesday night.

Attention was paid to the series’ termination in no less than the Guardian this morning, though since the piece was by Stuart Heritage, with whom I have issues, it was full of condescension, metropolitan superiority and the kind of snidery that Heritage thinks raises laughs.

Some people just seem to have an issue with certain series’ being popular.

The finale had two stories to tell. One was the cold case: mental health campaigner Greg Collins, knifed to death on Millennium Eve, his case coming to UCOS after his daughter Rose found ominous words in the final page of the Journal that spoke of a forthcoming meeting with someone with whom he had been disagreeing.

The nature of the death suggest a crime of passion, and attention naturally turned to widow Vicky, to whom Greg had been unfaithful, especially after investigation turned up Toni, a woman with her own mental issues, who had been sectioned for many years.

I won’t spell out the twists and turns, but whilst the team were correct in their eventual theory that Toni, not Vicky, was Rose’s mum, Greg wasn’t the father, but the grandfather: Toni was his daughter by an earlier relationship. But the expected outcome that it had been the damaged Toni who had killed Greg, in her illness, did not materialise. In a scene of abiding emotion, Vicky, who had kept Rose from Toni in the belief that Rose was not safe, accepted from the calm Toni that she had mastered herself, that she had healed herself. Vicky, who had hated and withheld for fifteen years, sobbed at the mistake she had made  and the relationship she should never have tried to prevent.

How it might fall out now that everyone knew the truth was not the subject of the episode: the audience were left to contemplate that, but the emotions were both raw and complex.

And the murderer fell where those of us who share the same political tendencies as I secretly hoped it might, with Meera Syal as Baroness Shamira, the campaiigner who sold out to found a charity supported financially by the manufacturers of the dangerous drug Greg was opposing. All smarts suits and Westminster smoothness, despite her Lancashire accent, the Baroness expected to avoid all problems whilst going on about ‘the greater good’.

She even called in our dear friend, Assistant Commissioner Kline, to help smooth the way, but in the end Sasha pressured her into a confession that not only brought closure to Rose and her two mothers, but which neatly upended the headlong rush to disaster UCOS was undergoing.

For, twenty minutes in, Kline appears, announcing an Enquiry into the balls-up of the Hemway case of last week and the instant suspension of Steve, Danny and Ted. Except that the boys refuse to quit the investigation. Despite knowing their jobs are at stake, the Crazy Gang decides to go out in a blaze of glory, sticking to their principles to the last. Even Sasha ends up tacitly approving.

Unfortunately, it’s only too clear that the boys are still on the case so AC Kline steps in to disband UCOS completely. Never mind that it’s actually a powergrab on her part, seizing UCOS’s budget, and Sasha can still take the promotion to the Honour Killing Unit, the whole thing stinks.

But the gang produce the rabbit out of the hat one last time, and the fact that it was the Baroness – Kline’s close friend – leaves the necessary amount of wiggle-room for restitution. Kline moves on, Strickland moves up, UCOS is reinstated. Only…

The seeming end of UCOS has altered everybody’s plans. Danny had, heartbreakingly, turned down following Fiona to Aberdeen because of a final, residual sense of duty to his wife: the marriage is over, but Holly will never see her mother again and, whatever his own wishes, he is all she has. Not that that prevents him from taking on an investigative job that, being desk-bound, can be done anywhere, even Aberdeen.

Steve’s discovered his son is in Australia, so he’s heading out there, intent on becoming a P.I. and doing some bonding. And Ted has capitulated to Pat’s desire to travel: they’re off to the Amazon.

Even Sasha’s moving up: now that AC Kline has had her smooth arse elevated, DCI – I’m sorry, soon to be Detective Superintendent – Miller can take the Honour Killings post after all.

And so it ends. UCOS continues, unbowed, but it’s four members of staff all have new roads to travel, new destinies to pursue, and we get the decided feeling that things are going to go alright for them. Back at the ranch, a new, no doubt high-flying female DCI will recruit three cantankerous old buggers who used to be cops, and old cases will continue to be dug out and culprits brought to justice. We’ll just never see it or them.

I feel very much like I did when Last of the Summer Wine was choked off, a light entertainment that amused regularly, and sometimes did more than that, ended because of disdain and sneers from those who were not its audience anyway. What will replace it? You can bet that the gap this leaves will remain unclosed, that whatever next appears will be considerably more edgy, trendy, dark and cool.

Nothing wrong with that, but yet again the idea of television as a broad medium, with something for potentially everybody will get kicked in the balls.

So, thanks to those who have been following this series of blogs, thanks to Amanda, James, Alun and Dennis for starting it off, and Tamzin, Denis, Nicholas and Larry for being there at the end. More people swill miss you than the BBC could ever possibly imagine.

 

New Tricks: Life Expectancy


New Tricks 4

Ted Case

At last, a flicker, a story that didn’t end with a simple win, or a a cut-and-dried solution. Indeed, in a sense, you could say that the story did not have an ending at all, not in this life-cycle, to adapt the wording chosen by guest star David Haig, in his final moments.

There was an odd sense of deja vu about the start, as for a second successive week, the ‘boys’ turned up to meet Sasha at the site of some diggings, but the circumstances were very different. The scene was a graveyard that had been affected by a sudden sinkhole, exposing the grave of Gwen Morris, who had died of cancer in 2008. The reason for UCOS’s presence was that it had also exposed a murder weapon – a phrenology bust – used to kill Douglas Hempsey, an alternate medicine practitioner who had been treating her.

Prime suspect had always been Alison Morris, a freelance journalist on scientific issues, who had loudly blamed Hempsey for persuading her mother to cease chemotherapy that could have preserved her life. But Alison had a water-tight alibi.

This was an intriguingly structured investigation from the start, with the usual dissension between Steve and Danny over which subject to pursue, and with very little by way of clues to let the seasoned watcher anticipate who the eventual murderer would prove to be.

And, this being the penultimate episode, it was time to start dropping in little hints as to the possible fate of UCOS this time next Tuesday evening.

On the one side, there was Fiona, offered a Head of Services post that represented a golden chance for her, except that it was in Aberdeen.

On the other, in marched Assistant Commissioner Cynthia Kline to offer Sasha a promotion, to head a Task Force dealing with Honour Killings, and an uplift to Detective Superintendent. All very nice, if a bit steely, and with the underlying assumption that of course Sasha couldn’t refuse, giving AC Kline another elevated female Senior Officer owing her something.

Steve was the aggravated one, fearing getting a bad boss in as replacement, Ted was all encouragement and belief that Sasha should take thre plunge, despite her fears over her own lack of experience, whilst Danny was warning her against the game player AC.

This was generally allowed to rumble quietly in the background of an investigation that was struggling to make its mark. As well as the pale and nervous Alison, there was Hempsey’s ex-friend and business partner, Evan, who’d turned their alternative medicine practice/supply into a very nice little earner, and there was David Hempsey (Haig), who’d been an early part of the business along with his wife Rebecca, but who, after Rebecca’s death, had gotten into cryo-preservation.

As the scientific Hempsey Haig was all quiet smiles, sweet reasonableness, in deep regret for his loss and full of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Rebecca’s favourite music. You wanted to suspect him, but couldn’t see where he could possibly fit in, especially after Steve’s bull-at-a-gate tactics browbeat Alison into confessing to Hempsey’s murder.

But it was far too soon for a conclusion, and we’d already been set-up to understand that it was a legal disaster: with Sasha not about, Alison panicked and insisted on leaving her questioning, but collapsed into confession when formally arrested by Ted. Except that neither he, Steve, nor Danny are serving Police Officers and have no rights to arrest. The confession was illegal, was promptly withdrawn the moment the Solicitor got there, and the next morning Alison slit her wrists.

Thankfully, the team had gone to visit her and saved her life, but the cock-up was now beginning to spiral. Needless to say, Kline was happy to protect Sasha and ensure none of this farrago touched her.

But by now, little pieces were finally coming together. You see, Gwen Morris and Douglas Hempsey had both died in the same week but, in a superbly held-back piece of information, we learned that Rebecca Hempsey had also died the same week. And was frozen in cryo in California.

The moment Fiona came up with evidence that Rebecca had been subtly poisoned, the case came together. David had poisoned his wife when she refused to end her affair with Douglas: indeed, he killed her when he found she and Douglas had signed up to cryo together. As for Douglas, Alison Morris had indeed fractured his skull with the bust, but it was David who had finished the job with a monkey wrench, ensuring the body could not be accepted for cryo. Rebecca might wake up in some distant future when her bodily ills could be cured, but it would not be to Douglas.

Instead, it would be to David, killing himself before UCOS’s unwilling eyes once it was clear he had been exposed. To David, it wasn’t so much dying as de-animation, the end of a cycle that had disappointed him so much, the inner confidence of a life hereafter, in which Rebecca would love him again, if only because there would be no-one else for her to wake up to.

In some tiny part of me, I had an inkling of what was in his heart, though not what was in his head.

But though Kline tried to smooth it over a a success for UCOS, for which difficulties Sasha would be insulated, it was a different matter when Sasha refused the promotion, went against Kline’s wishes. That wuill carry over into next week’s final episode.

As for Danny, I know of plenty of long-term New Tricks fans who see him as the spoiler who ruined their programme. Needless to say, I don’t agree, though there are times when, especially in questioning, he’s unnecessarilly supercilious. But in his relationship with Fiona this season, we’ve seen a different side of him, a loving, devoted, very rooted side that, delivered with his characteristic dryness, has been marvelous to follow.

And in perhaps a foreshadow of next week, Danny came through: if Fiona takes this chance, as she so very much deserves, he will go with her, to Aberdeen and god know’s what, because she is simply that important to him and ego will not stand in his way.

A quiet, complex episode, with conundrums at the heart of it. Unorthodoxy looks to have invited serious problems, all aimed at forcing Sasha to do AC Kline’s bidding. But it’s that numinous moment, of the killer happy to die in pursuit of the ultimate romantic longing, that is to be taken away.

New Tricks: Lottery Curse


Sasha Miller

A gently downbeat episode as we close in on the end, with not a lot of depth to comment about, and refreshingly free of the soap opera interludes that have passed for personal life sub-plots this series.

Lottery Curse started in situ with the team called out to a house where a body had been discovered under the patio, which was rapidly proved to be Cheryl Sheekey (what an odd surname to choose), Lottery winner in 1997 and disappeared, suspected murdered in 1998.

UCOS  set out to unravel a pleasantly convoluted back story involving the other members of the four-person Pub Quiz Team/Lottery Syndicate who’d scored £900K each and who’d set out to use their winnings in the differing ways that seemed best to them.

Cheryl had been the original Spend, Spend, Spend girl. Chris, the team leader, had bought a Garden Centre, with his wife Liz, who Cheryl had had forced off the team. Her childhood mate, Eleanor, had opened an Animal Welfare Shelter, and her besotted husband, Terry, had turned to drugs to cope with the strain of their suddenly public life.

Indeed Terry had been, and still remained chief suspect, though the case had ended up being dropped due to lack of evidence, especially after Cheryl’s car had been found abandoned at Dover, her passport gone.

Though he ended up back at the forefront of the investigation, Terry came over throughout as someone who’d just loved his wife too much. He’d spent seventeen years apparently convinced she was still alive, and undertaking missing persons searches trying to locate, which was an awfully big act to have carried out for someone seeking to establish plausible deniability.

But as the pieces were shuffled about, suspected affairs turned into scams by the money-greedy Cheryl, and when push came to shove, Eleanor tried too hard to frame Terry and undid herself in the process.

As I said, pleasingly low key and mostly unemotional. In the only subplot, the boys set Sasha up to get her end away with a handsome forensic scientist, colleague to Fiona, but that was at least handled with minimal fuss.

An easy way to spend an hour, but ultimately forgettable. Only two more.

New Tricks: The Russian Cousin


Danny Griffin

It’s looking increasingly clear that, having decided that this will be the final series, the BBC has told the team behind New Tricks to forget all about this ambitious stuff and settle for going out in a blaze of carpet slippers. There are few things more annoying in any form of the arts than to watch potential being deliberately ignored.

‘The Russian Cousin’ was slightly better than it might have been in taking, as one of its underlying stories, the issue of a very decent, very brave man, dying of cancer, deserving of both respect and sympathy, victim of a crime that had robbed both himself and the daughters on whom he doted, of financial security, of hope, and revealing him to be the murderer in the latest cold case.

Having him played by Dean Andrews, Ray Carling in Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, was an astute piece of casting, designed to bring the audience alongside for the whole episode and even through the revelation that he was the killer of private investigator Mike Hooper. Even at the end, the viewer was led to accept Barry Warnock as a good man, who would be spared prosecution for his crime because his cancer was so far advanced that he could not be tried before his impending death.

Where the episode fell short on what could have been an excellent episode was in loading the scales too heavily on Barry’s side. In order not to threaten the audience’s respect for the man, his victim, Hooper, was retrospectively revealed as an out-and-out bastard, crooked, double-dealing, cheating his own client.

The Russian Cousin of the title was a very rare and valuable stamp, of which only twelve were known to exist. Warnock had inherited it from his Grandfather, and kept in with a box of the old man’s letters, diaries and memorabilia. At first he pretended not to know the worth of the stamp but later it transpired he did indeed know it was a ‘nest egg’.

The box was stolen by some no-mark toerag in a spate of burglaries and sold to a pawnbroker in ignorance. Later, it had come on the market in mysterious, ooh, alright, dodgy circumstances and been bought by an Internet billionaire in full knowledge that it was stolen and complete confidence that the Police would never find anything that small, no matter how many Search Warrants they obtained.

But the ultimate point was that, after Warnock had hired Hooper to find the missing stamp, it was Hooper who bought it from the pawnbroker and masterminded the sale to private collectors. It was his working pattern, he had done the same with the red herring suspect who’d stolen £30,000 off his girlfriend and vanished: Hooper found him and demanded money to keep quiet.

In making Hooper an utter shitbag who’d double-crossed a decent man with a terminal condition, the episode played it safe and easy, and missed its chance to navigate deeper waters. If Hooper had been someone equally decent as the unfortunate Warnock, the episode would have been far better, grappling with the moral ambiguity, but it wouldn’t have been so easy to write. Last year’s New Tricks was in the frame of mind to tackle things like that.

Otherwise, the soap opera elements of the series bimbled along. Ted was resisting going to the Doctors for a health test in connection with Life Insurance renewal, which concerned Danny greatly: Ted’s family was genetically prone to a rare heart condition and he was resisting the risk of learning he had it. But he didn’t.

As for Steve’s money issues, this week he tried renting his flat out as a Shortstay, £300.00 for 48 hours to a pair of Italian ladies who turned out to be scam artists planning to strip the place. But a nosy neighbour tipped Steve off, so no harm was done there either. Typical.

So, with only three episodes of its life left, New Tricks has eschewed the possibilities it showed and reverted very thoroughly to being Insubstantial Airfill. Which was what I originally praised it for being: decent, inoffensive, modestly entertaining. Once upon a time, that would have been sufficient to see things through, but after seeing what the programme could be, when it put its mind to it, all it can be now is disappointing.

Insubstantial Airfill – A Deeper Moment


A couple of weeks back, I wrote about my enthusiasm for the BBC’s long-running comedy/drama Police cold-case series, New Tricks, which I described as Insubstantial Airfill. That designation should now be waived, at least once, in respect of episode 3, broadcast last night under the title ‘Deep Swimming’.

The cold case crime to be investigated was the accidental death, in 1982, of a political activist, blown up by a malfunctioning home-made bomb at a peaceful protest: Winston Lovatt left behind a wife (Alison) and a six-year old daughter (Bryony). In the modern day, Bryony has just won a well-publicised Sex Discrimination case, after which she receives an anonymous letter stating that her father – who she had publically acknowledged was a terrorist – was instead murdered.

The back-story was set in the era of Greenham Common, and fittingly, the latter-day ‘witnesses’ that UCOS had to question (with an underlying distaste that didn’t lie sufficiently under the surface – and which in the case of Jerry Standing hovered about six feet in the air) were all women – splendid performances all round, especially from Charlotte Cornwell as Alison, and Katya Wyeth as Mary Griffiths, a former Angry Brigade member.

I suppose I should have seen it coming, but then when a programme is Insubstantial Airfill, you come to expect that it won’t include genuinely serious issues, but the twist in the tale was the revelation that Winston Lovatt was not a political activist, but instead a Policeman: a Special Branch operative who had gone undercover, under deep cover, to investigate political ‘subversives’, and who had married and fathered a child in his false indentity, stolen from the grave of a young boy dead at the age of 8.

Sensibly, from the moment this came into play, the inter-cast jokeiness was almost completely banished. The creators too the story very seriously from this point, focussing on the moral complexities and the horrific effects on the innocent people drawn into this deeply buried lie. This was all the more effective for not being spelt out in the script any more than was absolutely necessary, but instead being left to the actresses themselves to show the reader the depth of their feelings in their faces: the hurt, the confusion, the anger, the vestiges of love, the complete undermining of trust. In this respect, the much less well-known Patricia Potter, better associated with rife Insubstantial Airfill Holby City, outshone everyone as Bryony, with a performance of great delicacy with many levels.

Whereas the first two episodes ultimately identified their murderers as obscure, unimportant characters who the audience were led to believe were extremely peripheral, the twist to ‘Deep Swimming’ was that Winston Lovatt wasn’t even dead. or rather he was, but Ben Harker of Special Branch was still very much alive to confront a family he hadn’t seen in three decades, and especially a daughter he said he loved, and who rejected his very existence as a father.

A very deep, moving and excellent episode, that handled its change of pace with aplomb, confidence and maturity, and filled itself with Substance.

It’s only Insubstantial Airfill – but I like it.


The original cast

It’s closing in on five years since I last had a television set, and I can’t say that I miss it. Indeed, I’ve forgotten the whole experience of having 24/7 television available, channels and channels filling with airwaves at every conceivable moment. Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

I haven’t given up on watching television though, it just means that what I watch is what I want to watch, given the extra lengths I have to go to even see it: iPlayers, catch-up TV, DVD boxsets and such like. Programmes such as Dr Who (roll on Saturday), Sherlock, The Killing, The Bridge. And, naturally, The Big Bang Theory.

What I watch is by choice, and not by habit, or lazy inclination, a surrendering to that vast amorphous mass of programming that, in all its disparate forms, can be lumped together as Insubstantial Airfill. You know the kind of programmes I’m referring to: games shows and reality series, pointless documentaries, uninspired sitcoms and phone-it-in dramas that amuse or mildly thrill for an hour then are gone, and all the audience does is change channels looking for something slightly different but equally anaesthetic.

But what is life without a little inconsistency? Do I contradict myself? Why then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

Though I’ve never quite understood why, I do find myself happy to watch the long-running BBC1 comedy-drama series, New Tricks, series 11 of which began on Monday night. It’s a typically formulaic piece of work, mixing the inherently serious subject of police procedural work and the detection of crimes – usually murder – that have disrupted and damaged lives at the deepest levels, with the comic eccentricity of characters who are improbably set, and even more improbably highly efficient at resolving these issues and bringing about closure. All overlaid, naturally, with the soap opera aspect of these eccentrics’ ecentricities overflowing into their personal lives, week-in, week-out.

The concept of the series was built around the fictional Metropolitan Police Unsolved Crimes and Open Cases Squad (UCOS), a ‘cold-case’ unit created in the one-off pilot as a cynical publicity stunt designed to ward off complaints without ever being intended to be taken seriously. It’s first commander was DCI Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), a work-obsessed career policewoman whose high-flying career had just been derailed by a high-profile operation that had got a dog killed: UCOS was a hole in which to bury Sandra, as was evidenced by her staff. UCOS’s budget extended not to serving officers but to civilian consultants, i.e., three ex-coppers, who had left the Force under different circumstances.

The idea was that these three old coppers, with their old-fashioned approaches to detection, would be thrown up against the new-fangled technologies of DNA and the like, which they would distrust, and which they would disparage grumpily whilst producing results that derived more from old-style coppering built on newly-determined evidence.

The trio consisted of ex-Detective Superintendent Jack Halford (James Bolam), ex-Detective Inspector Brian “Memory” Lane (Alun Armstrong) and ex-Detective Sergeant Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman). Halford, who was Pullman’s former mentor and her unofficial second-in-command, had retired after his wife had been knocked down and killed. His was a more or less straight role, an old-fashioned copper with a loathing for crime, and a voice of sanity and calm. Lane was a recovering alcholic with a degree of OCD, a photographic memory for cases and criminals and a long-suffering wife: he had left the force when still drinking, after a suspect he’d brought in died in custody, an incident for which he believed he had been scapegoated. And Standing was the Jack-the-Lad, maintaining (and occasionally re-seducing) three ex-wives and a flash car, who was on chummy terms with most East End lags, the only straight copper in a unit more or less bought out by a villain, who’d ended up being forced to resign over graft allegations.

New Tricks found a modest but substantial audience to begin with but, as series followed series, it began to grow in popularity. Series 3 ended on a cliffhanger, with Halford having found out that his wife’s death was not an accident but murder, having been run down on the orders of a villain annoyed at being investigated: Halford planned to run the man down in retaliation, forcing Pullman and his two colleagues to drive into his path, causing a horrendous collision. Audiences shot up for series 4, when the aftermath was revealed, and the programme would on a number of occasions actually top the weekly viewing chart for BBC programmes.

As New Tricks gained in popularity, UCOS began to gain in respect. Supporting characters would be added to the squad for longer periods, usually younger coppers to contrast with the aged trio. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Robert Strickland (Anthony Calf) became an increasingly supportive character, ever conscious of political and public factors but allowing these to influence the team less and less. The longest running supporting character was Esther Lane, Brian’s much put-upon wife, played, ironically, by Susan Jameson, James Bolam’s wife.

I’ll be honest, little or nothing changed. Brian might suffer a relapse into drinking, but a few episodes later it would be conquered. Sandra was perennially poor at relationships, forever hopeful but doomed to betrayal and self-reliance. The cases usually involved murders, though the sources were well-varied. The team would start by summarising the old evidence for the viewer’s benefit, move on to reinterviewing witnesses, roughly 73% of whom being hostile to the death being brought back up. Stones would be turned over, and we would follow what crawled out. Usually, the script would offer up a potential villain, only for it to come out, in the last ten minutes, that somebody else was responsible, usually someone you’d disregarded early on.

It was part of the game to identify the real villain, not by the ancient and honourable tradition of deciphering clues, but by using the show’s ambience to lead you into recognising which seemingly innocent character would be unveiled as having a previously unsuspected motive for violent death.

New Tricks was never a particularly serious show, though it dealt with serious stories and when it chose to do so, it could operate on that serious level to great effect, and very movingly. It tried to incorporate a degree of cop show action, though this grew increasingly implausible given that the cast were getting visibly older all the time and that Redman, whilst still an attractive woman, had filled out since her younger days and made an implausible athlete (especially in heels). In fact, the show might have worked just as easily on Radio, had we had such a thing as a thriving radio drama audience any more: it was very dialogue heavy.

Eventually, the cast got bored. Bolam was the first to leave, saying the show had gotten ‘stale’. Jack Halford bowed out in the opening episode of series 9, distracted from the case under review, detached, and eventually disclosing only to Brian Lane, on condition of secrecy, that he had inoperable cancer, and was disappearing to a south of France village of sentimental importance, to die unbothered. Daringly, the series left it for three episodes before replacing him with ex-Detective Inspector Steve McAndrew (Denis Lawson), a Scot who assists UCOS on a case with Glasgow elements, and is invited to join the team.

But both Armstrong and Redman were now unhappy with the show and expressed their wish to leave. There was an amusing twist to the final episode of series 9, in which neither appeared (nor were credited) and which took place in Glasgow, with Gerry and Steve detached to advise the Glasgow police on setting up their own UCOS. For a moment, it looked like a radical change might be in the offing, but that wasn’t so.

Series 10 began with everyone in place, but the first four episodes were built around a running story that, despite clearing Brian Lane’s name over his dismissal from the Police, led to his sacking from UCOS. He was immediately replaced by ex-Detective Chief Inspector Dan Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst), a significantly younger man than the rest of the team, though a choice made on the recommendation of Brian. And Sandra, having built UCOS up to a fine, well-respected unit, which she was loath to abandon, nevertheless saw a new future for herself, moving upwards again at long last, joining an international unit dealing with crimes of greater subtance.

That left the show’s newest member, newly promoted DCI Sasha Miller (Tamzin Oughthwaite), in her first command, only two episodes to establish herself as the new team-leader.

So, series 11 continues the show with only one of its four original stars still remaining. How successful is it with such sweeping changes to its core cast?

Firstly, the newbies aren’t quite changes to the status quo. Each of the replacements has been chosen to maintain continuity of balance within the ensemble. Steve McAndrew has replaced Jack Halford: whilst he’s younger, more physically active, and capable of getting more emotionally involved than his predecessor, he’s still the straight man of the team, the least burdened with overt eccentricities. Lawson plays his character gently, and whilst he lacks the seniority, his steadiness leaves him on course to be the first lieutenant, especially as he’s no longer competing with Halford for Sandra Pullman’s opinion.

Danny Griffin has replaced Brian Lane as the team eccentric, the man most likely to know something obscure and not apparently relevant. Lyndhurst has chosen to play Griffin in contrast to Alun Armstrong’s volatile, exciteable Lane: Griffin is very internalised, unexciteable, but decidedly capable of sarkiness. I’ve not followed Lyndhurst’s career closely but this strikes me as the most mature role he’s played.

And where Brian had Esther, Danny has Holly, his CP daughter, played by CP Actress Storme Toolis, who was a scene-stealing, irresistable blast in her every scene in series 10. She’s supposed to be off to University in episode 2, and the absence of her name in the credits suggests she may have been written out, which would be appalling. Both actress and character are simply too good to ignore.

And as for Tamzin Oughthwaite, as Sasha Miller, she’s dropped into place with incredible ease, already looking like a fixture with years behind her. In part this is because her role strays the least from her predecessor: attractive blonde, strong commander, a slightly less dominant waspishness. It’s on the personal front that Sasha strays further from Sandra. Sandra was unmarried, without children, lacking judgement in men. Sasha, nearly a decade younger, begins as married, contentedly, to a fellow Senior Officer, with two children, conveniently of University age and off-scene, only to find her husband cheating on her before her first episode’s over, ending the marriage.

As yet, this has not developed very far, though the scuttlebutt about series 11 is that, for a few episodes at least, her ex-husband temporarliy replaces Strickland as being responsible for UCOS.

The opening episode was a typically New Tricks experience, though it saved its twists until the very end, with the true villain being pulled from very far out of left field, having made only a brief appearance, nowhere near the frame. It was a slightly odd choice, though beautifully conveyed by the actor, who wasn’t really a murderer as such. And there was a nice, if unrealistic twist to the outcome, which hovered on the border between sentimentality and lack of reality without quite falling.

So an almost complete transplant of the cast has been carried out in respect to New Tricks, without serious damage to its gentle straddle of comedy and drama.Feet are still maintained in both camps and there’s still the likelihood of a certain revivification by phasing out a cast too comfortable in, and defined by their roles. New options are available for exploration, and if the BBC can take advantage of this without straying too violently for the programme’s comfortable core, there’s every prospect of a season 12, this time next year.

It’s still Insubstantial Airfill, but I unaccountably like it, and am happy to continue doing so.