New Tricks: The Fame Game

New Tricks 3

Steve McAndrew

After the praise I lavished on the genuinely excellent two-part series opener, New Tricks seems to be going out of its way to refute my opinion that it had reached a new level and was no longer the Insubstantial Airfill that I’d categorised it as being at the start of series 11, last year.

The latest episode, The Fame Game, once again decided to sideline Tamzin Outhwaite, by confining her to a comedy relief role, a bit of filler with no relation to the plot. Sasha Miller is on a course about European Community Policing that, conveniently, happens to be taking place upstairs, allowing her to come in at regular intervals and huff and puff about the way her son Alex is using his supposed ‘Study Leave’ to do bugger all about his ‘Project’.

So once again it’s a boy’s own show, which automatically diminishes the series.

This week’s set-up once again ducked any moral grey areas and kept well away from any excessive emotional involvement. Thirteen years ago, professional look-alikes and married couple Anna and Jim Briggs jointly committed suicide by drinking champagne laced with liquid valium. But now a concealed mobile belonging to Anna has come to light, full of explicit texts indicated she was having a wild affair with an unknown male. Was it therefore suicide?

Interestingly, whilst Anna’s look-alike was the internationally renowned Cher, Jim’s speciality was fictional ex-footballer and general all-round tabloid bad boy, Mikey Bishop, which told us that Mikey, who’s turned into something of an unlikely recluse controlled by his calm, collected, tv agent wife, was going to be all over this like a cheap suit.

The major problem was that, from the moment Claire Bishop insisted that any future UCOS enquiries be directed to her because she didn’t want her husband disturbed by having the past brought up again, I worked out the solution. This was little more than a quarter hour in, which made for a very frustrating experience watching the clues slowly trickle in whilst Ted, Steve and Danny bent their joint and several heads around them the wrong way.

Not that I’d spotted any clues myself. It was just that if you’ve ever seen a reasonably sophisticated detective series on tv, the circumstances of the crime in themselves were sufficient to direct an enquiring mind to the only possible dramatic solution.

It rather spoilt the plot for me.

There were some good points in the soap opera aspect. Not so much Steve’s ongoing issues with debt and with letting his (unseen) son down but Danny’s growing relationship with Fiona (always happy to look at Tracy-Ann Oberman). The pair are increasingly staying over at each other’s homes, though Danny was still clinging to the past, to his daughter’s home and his memories, in a short-sighted and selfish fashion, only to realise in the end that the future meant more. It was deftly and drily done, but I’m a sucker for romance that demonstrates an increasing understanding between people, and this was the goods.

So: we are over the hump of the final series, six episodes down, only four to go. I’m beginning to suspect that, given the combination of the complete replacement of the cast and the decision to end the series, the BBC has decided to make this a low-key affair so that there will be no awkward demands for more. If this is to be the standard of the remaining episodes, I shalln’t be grumbling at the end.

It rather reminds me of Blake’s Seven and the Beeb’s decision to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t get any pressure to bring it back for a fifth series by producing this deliberately shitty episode to end series 4 by killing absolutely everybody off, in complete contravention of the style and trappings of the series all along (oh, how clever darling, we’ll shut it down by having the fascist bastards slaughter every last vestige of opposition…).

Hopefully, there will be better in the few last slots: the show has certainly proved itself capable of it and deserves to go out on a high.


New Tricks: Prodigal Sons

                     Never say no to a nice photo of Tamzin Outhwaite

A bit of an odd episode this. For a start, the underlying theme was associated with cricket, but we didn’t get any cliched jokes – though, of course, we weren’t on ITV, were we, where the only thing ever associated with the greatest game on Earth was rain.

The case was a nicely intricate one. The re-examination of a crap pathologists’s cases leads to UCOS being brought in to look over the death of highly skilled professional cricket, A J de Silva, whose proud father had always maintained had been murdered, not committed suicide a decade ago, just as England were celebrating the 2005 Ashes win.

It turned out that everyone had hated A.J., who was a self-centred, self-indulgent git, thus setting up motives by the score, but no evidence whatsoever of murder. What was eventually uncovered was that several of the team, including and at the direction of the captain – now a management bullshit consultant using cricketing terms – were engaged in match-fixing, and A.J.’s refusal to countenance this, his intention to go to the authorities, got him killed.

For most of the way, the procedural part of the story was going nowhere, but as usual it’s Danny Griffin who sees the vital clue, sparked off by a chance remark on a different subject.

It was a curiously uninvolving crime, for all that it hung around the edges of cricket, and it did not approach any emotional depth until the final, almost unimportant detail was explained. A.J. came as a package with his younger, much less talented brother, Sanjit, who’d acted as his minder, clearing up his messes and ensuring their doting father – doting on A.J., that is – never cottoned on.

Sanjit had been the one to find his brother dead, dead and left to be humiliated. He had changed the crime scene in order to preserve his brother’s dignity at the last, an act of love to which the appropriate blind eye was turned.

Apart from that, the episode was buttressed up with a few personal notes. Sasha, back to full fitness with surprising speed, enrols the team in a forthcoming dinner-dance with a notorious reputation for breaking up relationships. Danny and Fiona’s relationship is getting closer (I really like the dry, intelligent way it’s being presented, with a minimal overt romanticism pointing cleverly to the genuine depth between this pair) but Danny needs to explain things to his wife, Sarah, who, as we recall, is committed to a mental institution. Sarah’s approval is needed, and from the way the vital scene is omitted, I suspect it hasn’t been forthcoming, though Danny claims this is so.

Steve’s financial problems are uncovered by Danny, who organises him and sets him a budget, but whether Steve’s sticking to it…

And last, but not least, Ted turns up at the dinner-dance with his other half, Pat. Or Patrick, if we’re being formal…

A good but not great episode, and definitely an improvement on last week. It may even contain a bit of foreshadowing, as Sasha thanks Ted for staying on after Gerry, as that could have been the excuse the Met has been looking for to shut UCOS down. After all, they’re the awkward squad, and Strickland has to fight for them nearly every day.

Sounds like a plot to me.

New Tricks: The Wolf of Wallbrook

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Bit more of the one on the left, please

After the praise I’ve been heaping on New Tricks, this episode was a disappointing reversion to the staple fare of many seasons. There was a cold case to solve, which was completed successfully, some (but not many) personal issues among the cast, and that was that. Of the moral ambiguity that has been so successful in the past series or so, there was little or no trace, and what there was of it – a fundamental element in the commission of the crime – was stapled on in an utterly unconvincing manner.

Or unconvincing to me, perhaps, but then I was certainly biassed.

The cold case went back to 1989, and to the wide-boy, loadsamoney traders in the City, Thatcher-worshippers to a man and the occasional woman: selfish greedheads, ugly bastards, monsters of self-entitlement. Charlie Wheeler had apparently been very good at his trade, until he was discovered as having lost half a million pounds and nose-dived off the roof of his brokerage’s very high, penis-extension of a building. Suicide, of course.

But in an unlooked-for and certainly left-field manner, evidence appears that Charlie was pushed, which brings the case into UCOS’s purview. After which, it was the usual interviewing of people, uncovering of things not revealed at the inquest, and the gradual narrowing of suspects down to the one who appears early and who seems to be completely clear of everything until it winds up being him. That much, at least, is a New Tricks formula, though I’ve seen it handled far better, on cases where the ultimate culprit was a lot further from the frame at first.

But the people involved, and the time, could spark no sympathy from me. They were all of a type I loathe, sons of Maggie, celebrating her for the freedom she gave them to slash, burn and destroy to the exclusion of human feelings. Along the way, the alpha male of these alpha males rather pathetically gave himself away for a long ago, unreported rape, but there was something unreal about it, as if it were a gesture on the part of a scripter, far too late to be of meaning.

And a similar gesture was invested in Charlie, as if to humanise him. You see, Charlie, whose marriage was failing (and whose ex-wife, and the consequences for her, another victim, were kept well away from both investigation and story), had a Chinese waitress for a girlfriend, who was pregnant by him. And this was 1989, a year which we who lived through it still remember most vividly: Tiananman to Timisoara.

So master market reader, genius money-maker Charlie, who’d won the cutthroat battle to take-over, sits down in a side-office and watches the tanks go into Tiananman Square, watches the brutal crushing of the people off whom he’s been making all this luvvly money, and undergoes a Damascene conversion. He’s going to pull out, leave, take his money, ruin everybody else’s fun. So off the roof he goes.

And is any of this remotely convincing? Is it fuck. Is it also sickening to use such a monumental weight upon history as a clue in a TV script? Oh,  but it is.

As for the ongoing elements of the series, this episode featured the return to duty of Sasha Miller, though not until twenty minutes in, by which time I was growing very suspicious of the shift in dynamics. Even then, immobilised as she was in a wheelchair, Sasha could not make herself an active participant, a fact emphasised by having all the men always standing whenever she was in a scene, minimising her physical presence.

Even starting by politely throwing Ted Case out of her office didn’t restore Sasha to her position, nor did her invitation to Ted to stay on as part of the team, Gerry Standing’s successor, elevate her back to being boss. I’m not making any anti-feminism accusations, although they can easily be read in, we’ll see how things are next week. Though this is something not to develop, if you get my meaning.

Another element which seemed cooked up solely for the theme of this episode was Steve McAndrew’s sudden financial penury, represented in credit cards being declined and dropping two grand on a course in how to play the markets, being run by the one unsuccessful broker of the period (those who can, do, those who can’t…)

Not a bad episode as such, just a perfunctory one: insubstantial airfill, as I described the series when I first wrote about it. A produce-in-your-sleep job.

Though there one was one good moment. Steve went to pick up the ultimate culprit and found him packing rapidly. Actually, Wolf (of course he’s called wolf, these guys were wolves, get it?) has packed two bags, and the other is full of wads of twenty pound notes, crisp and clean. It’s a solution Wolf believes is infallible, like always: he turns his back, counts to five and when he looks back he can’t see the bag, nor Steve.

So Wolf starts counting, and we start anticipating the look on his face when he turns back and Steve’s still there. Only he’s not, he’s gone. And so too has the bag.

Wolf completes his packing and leaves. And he sees Steve again. And the bag. And two uniformed officers standing by a patrol car.

Nice, and neat, though given the utter implausibility of Steve actually taking the money, no matter how desperate he is, a touch banal. Unless that is an element that they do intend to develop over the remainder of the series. I could just about see that as a way towards an ultimate end, a real, dramatic end to UCOS.

Because do the BBC plan an actual ending, or is it just going to be a petering out, a leaving for a never-to-be-made series 13? Interesting question.

New Tricks: The Curate’s Egg

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 The close-out crew

I hadn’t planned on blogging the final series of New Tricks all the way through, but why not? Let’s see it to the door, so to speak.

After the high-tension opener, signing off Dennis Waterson, this episode was a lot more business as usual. Tamzin Outhwaite was missing, still confined to hospital after her bullet wound in last week’s episode (she’s in a wheelchair in the new opening credits and I seriously hope they’re not going to hobble her like that all through the series), which makes room for the formal introduction of the last player, Larry Lamb, as former DCI Ted Case, brought in as acting Head of Ucos, much to Steve McAndrew’s disgust, Steve now being senior man in the Department. And Ted immediately gets further up Steve’s nose by describing Danny as ‘the well-dressed one’.

It’s a mainly comedy episode, based around the suspicion of the new guy that always arises when a new cast member is introduced. It’s kept fairly lightweight, and it’s mainly on Steve’s side so, to balance things out, we get a side-plot in which Danny meets Fiona’s parents, disastrously.

Fiona, for those not in the know, is the forensic scientist who’s Danny’s girlfriend, a recurring character this year, and as long as she’s this well-played by Tracy-Ann Oberman (especially when she posed in that hot dress) she can recur as often as she likes.

There’s a serious point to this digression, not in terms of the episode’s plot, but in terms of the pair and their relationship. From the moment they appear, Fiona’s parents are a deadly pair, a life-sapping due who believe that the sun shines out of the arse of Crispin, Fiona’s ex-husband, a brilliant surgeon and an all-round arsehole in terms of his marriage. Danny inverts the cliche’d set-up with a deadly, withering take-down of Crispin, and by extension Fiona’s parents for how they have collaborated in her demeaning, every word a perfectly delivered stiletto that, after a well-judged pause, has 72 years plus father going for Danny’s throat and mother smacking him round the head with an inconvenient ladle. It get’s him the girl’s attention, though.

That’s perfectly in keeping with the mature phase of the story, and it resonates with the underlying theme of the main investigation. UCOS, in response to the discovery of a murder weapon in the form of a letter-opener, re-open the case of a Vicar murdered in 2006. He was white, his wife was black, their children mixed and the Parish had been pretty bloody hateful to them, including a series of vile racist hate-mail. It was a murder that had pretty much screwed up the family very badly, that pushed your sympathy with their traumas to the forefront.

Surely it had to be a race-hate crime? But even as you said that, you knew it would not be anything so simple. Steve and Danny might not have been too certain of Ted’s superstitious little ways, but by the end they had meshed well on a case that ended up being purely personal and entirely too familial for anybody’s comfort. The flaws and the secrets that had riven the family were made only worse by the revelations that flooded out when the emotional temperature was turned up just too high. The truth, you realised, would help no-one.

Having reached a successful conclusion, Steve and Danny thanked Ted warmly for what they fondly imagined was his one-off assistance, but it’s not going to be like that, is it?

I’m not sure yet what I think of Ted Case. He’s certainly not the Gerry Standing-equivalent past history had led me to believe, but he came across a little bland to start with, but then so did Nicholas Lyndhurst in his first episode. Lamb’s got a lot to do in a little time, but Sasha Miller will be back next week, and we’ll see how the new dynamics start to shape themselves for episode 4.

New Tricks: Farewell Gerry Standing

                                                                                  Last Man Standing

I really do think the BBC have made a colossal blunder in cancelling New Tricks after this series, but then their recent history has just been one colossal bollock after another. Dennis Waterman has now departed the series, the last original member of the cast, paving the way for Larry Lamb to step in as Ted Case, who we met during the course of tonight’s episode. It’s now a completely different programme, a superb example of refreshing and renewing on the run, so to speak, and it doesn’t deserve to die.

There was almost no humour in this episode, and a deadly seriousness throughout the complex story that crossed two eras in unravelling the death of a Police Inspector in 1982, and the true role Gerry Standing played in his death as opposed to the framed-up appearance that Gerry had actually killed someone.

The episode led with a funeral, with Steve McAndrew, Danny Griffin, Sasha Miller and Deputy Commissioner Strickland in attendance: in short, the whole of UCOS bar Gerry Standing. It was too obvious a signal, it couldn’t be Gerry’s funeral, it wasn’t going to be decided on a cheap death. But as the hours shortened in which UCOS could retain control of the case, and in which Gerry, with Danny in tow, raced down the vital evidence that laid everything bare, whilst the official investigators, Sasha and Steve, ran up against further, cleverly implanted, frames, the more and more it became impossible for this to be anyone else’s ceremony.

Lamb turned up as the only honest copper in a team that should have been investigating graft and corruption, to hand over the vital files that cleared Gerry, but also to provide the clue to the one piece of evidence that Gerry had been keeping back: that he had framed the dead Inspector Ackroyd as being an honest rather than bent cop, about to cough on the Chapman family.

Gerry had even warned Ackroyd, told him to get out, had believed all along that he had done so, until the body emerged. He had been responsible for Ackroyd’s death, and in the face of the danger it could bring to him and his family, Gerry stood up and made a statement.

It might be cliche, but within the parameters of the story, there was an inevitability to it all, leading at last to the turn of the key in a car’s ignition and the bomb that blew it all to blazes.

So it was Gerry’s funeral after all, except that there was something false to it. Gerry had known all along what he was doing, with his refusal to go into Witness Protection, because it would have destroyed his daughter’s life by having to drag her in with him. Strickland ended up going to Gerry’s gangster pal, Tommy Naylor, for help, but Gerry already had it sewn up (it’ll be interesting to see if Naylor ever pulls in that favour: he’s going to have to do it fast if he wants it).

Because the bomb went off and the car blew up but Gerry wasn’t in it. Can’t leave his old mates to mourn, so the funeral gets interrupted by a tweet with a photo of a red Mustang on a Brooklyn Street, with the Last Man Standing behind the wheel: no wonder his Caitlyn wasn’t looking that upset during the funeral.

So go it then, Dennis Waterman, a consummate performance to the last, and New Tricks is completely retooled and ready for a future that’s not got much left to it. No longer Insubstantial Airfill: this has now got ballast.

Insubstantial Airfill: With Regret

For one last time

A year ago, when the BBC’s long-running comedy-drama cop show, New Tricks, started its annual outing, I wrote about it under the rubric above: Insubstantial Airfill: something light, entertaining, but ultimately no more than a pleasant way of spending an hour. I was almost immediately surprised by a series of rather more serious themes and stories, that dialed back on the comedy pedal, and in several cases went into some very dark and serious places.

It was all down to the renewal aspect, with three of the four original cast members replaced, by Denis Lawson, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Oughthwaite, in order of seniority, and this year the show is losing Denniw Waterman, his character’s name of ‘Last Man’ Standing turning out to be appropriate in real life.

Waterman is appearing in only the opening two episodes of the new series, after which his replacement will come on board – and in my by now usual manner, I have no idea who that’s going to be, and am waiting to find out in the best way possible, by watching the series.

Unfortunately, now that the BBC has made New Tricks something to watch for more than just the whiling away of another hour, it’s also announced that this is to be the last series. And if this opening episode is anything to go by, that’s not just a disappointing decision but a bloody stupid one to boot.

We’re only halfway through Jerry Standing’s exit, but it’s been a complex and decidedly downbeat story so far, further evidence of the changes the new cast have brought in, because you couldn’t have managed this with the overt comedy of the originals. Summarising, a skeleton discovered in the basement of a house being firmly renovated turns out to be former DCI Martin Ackroyd, missing for thirty years. Ackroyd was briefly Jerry’s boss before disappearing, and was supposedly investigating Police corruption. Jerry clearly knows more about it than he’s telling UCOS, and from the look of him he doesn’t want it coming out

The episode bounced backwards and forwards between the present and thirty years gone, a beautifully exact recreation of the look of the early Eighties, down to the film stock, with actors who genuinely look like younger versions of their contemporary selves. Yes, there was graft, yes Jerry was in on it, but only working in secret for Ackroyd, to bring the villains down, and yes, he’s mates with a rival crook, Tommy Naylor, now a high-powered gangster.

In short, Jerry’s innocent, but it doesn’t take much in the way of framing – given his secretiveness about everything – to draw and colour in a picture that has so many guilty aspects. Indeed, the first half ends with Sasha Miller having to arrest Jerry on suspicion of murder.

It’s a sombre episode that you couldn’t have got away with if the team were still Jack Halford, Brian Lane and Sandra Pullman (each of whom get passing name-checks along the way) because you couldn’t have taken it seriously enough. This looks bad, it looks like no way out, and you can genuinely see it ending very badly indeed.

I’ll be watching every episode of this series furiously, since that’s all there’s going to be. Just as New Tricks has grown into something worth watching, it’s getting the chop. Somehow, the BBC can’t do anything right any more.

Insubstantial Airfill Reconsidered: New Tricks learns new tricks

Messrs Griffin, McAndrew, Miller and Standing, aka UCOS

Nine weeks ago, I celebrated the return for an eleventh series of the BBC comedy/drama cold-case series New Tricks. I’d describe it as a ‘guilty pleasure’ except for the fact that I don’t feel in the least bit guilty about it. But I did describe it as Insubstantial Airfill, which is a fair way of putting what the series has been for the past several years.
However, over the last couple of series, New Tricks has been shaken up by the departure of three-quarters of its cast, with James Bolam, Alun Armstrong and Amanda Redman leaving and being replaced by Denis Lawson, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Outhwaite respectively.
The latter two came on board at different times in series 10, so this has been the first time the new team has had a proper opportunity to shine, and the outcome has been surprising. I might have enjoyed New Tricks but that didn’t blind me to it being pretty formulaic, and just a bit prone to the comedy aspect. Insubstantial Airfill.
But the change of cast has refreshed the show, to the point almost of regeneration and I think this has been the strongest series I’ve seen.
What has impressed the most is how the writers and production team have suddenly found themselves able to deal with much darker and more complex themes without at any time appearing superficial. Though the light-hearted element remains, it has been muted to a degree as a response to the more serious cases that have been explored.
The series finale this week was a perfect example of the new standards. The team were investigating the 1983 death of sixteen year old Amy Taskerland, on the night of the school disco at a private school, found with a broken neck after falling down a set of stone steps. The death turned out to be an accident, a shoving match between best friends when the dead girl was in a confused and frightened state, but the outcome was not the point of the story, as with so much of the series, but rather the catalyst for uncovering a very dark seam of recent British history.
The case had been re-opened after the accidental uncovering of a ‘time-capsule’ buried in 1983, to which Amy had contributed a mix-tape (i.e. cassette, for our younger readers) that was found to include a terrified message from her, forecasting her death and referring to fear of ‘Alec’, a name that baffled everyone, there being no Alec known to anyone who was around her.
On the way to the almost anti-climactic ending, it was revealed that Amy had been having sex with her teacher, now the School’s headmaster, whose engagement had been broken off that same night, and who had been anxious to keep the tape covered up. This was deep water in itself, but only a red herring ultimately.
Whilst it was being investigated, we were introduced, as if a background element, to Amy’s father, a former Civil Servant, played with customary brilliance by Jack Sheppard. Mr Taskerland was emotionally distant, somewhat vague, paranoid about dirt and disease, and curiously disinterested in the loss of his only child, which had been followed within the year by divorce initiated by his late wife.
A curious, but seemingly irrelevant sub-theory was introduced by Danny Griffin. This as bee Nicholas Lyndhurst’s series in spades: the dry, reserved polymath has figured prominently in several episodes and was central to this and its predecessor last week. Here he theorises that Amy may have been reading from a speech by the Queen that gave the episode its title.
The problem was that the speech was never delivered, that its existence was Top Secret and it was only de-classified eighteen months earlier: it was the Speech the Queen would have read to the Country in the vent of Nuclear War.
The impossibility of Amy having ever known of this speech, not to mention the security aspects, meant this thread was officially disregarded, but Danny’s persistence with it, as the Teacher theory unravelled into a dead end, took the programme into its bleak final third.
I know there are some who think Nicholas Lyndhurst has spoiled New Tricks and whilst I completely disagree, it was very clear last night that he was the star: the case also revolved around Wham!’s ‘Club Tropicana’, it’s length and release date, which Danny determined with the help of Ethan, Sasha’s first post-Divorce boyfriend, not to mention a brilliantly timed shot of the gang, playing basketball hoops in the school courtyard, first up, ending with Danny flinging a gloriously casual one-handed shot over his shoulder and into the basket from what looked like fifteen yards!
Instincts, intuition, experience from the Diplomatic Protection Squad and detective skills lead Danny, and us, to the chilling truth. In 1983, with Thatcher in Downing Street, Reagan in the White House and Russia still very pre-Gorbachev, the Doomsday Clock was set at three minutes to midnight.
There were plans, highly secret plans, for the event of nuclear war: speeches, propaganda that openly lied to the public about ‘survivability’ that were no more than a deliberate deception intended to get the greatest number to barricade themselves in their homes – oversized coffins – in order to die neatly, division of the country into police-controlled statelets, and underground bunkers to be stocked by people who would outlast nuclear winter before emerging to ‘rebuild’ the country.
Amy’s father was one of those men. She’d accidentally seen the secret Speech, found the committee acronym –  A.L.E.C. – understood the horror that her father would go away and leave her and her mother to die horribly, to be vapourised.
All the more potent for being delivered in Danny’s dry, unemotional tones (he is so much a contrast to Brian Lane, being as far underplayed by Lyndhurst as Lane was overplayed by Armstrong), this exposure moved from the abandoned bunker itself to a confrontation with Taskerland over the crucial night.
Einstein was quoted: “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought but I can tell you how the Fourth World War will be fought: with sticks and stones.” Sheppard rose to the occasion magnificently. Outwardly, the story was simple and callous: a Nato exercise had spooked the Russians, their finger was trembling on the button, Taskerland was summoned to the Bunker, leaving a screaming, distraught Amy, who understood what this meant, hysterical that he would leave them. To die.
Sheppard, however, incarnated Taskerland brilliantly. The weary protest that if he had not gone voluntarily, he would have been forced to go by armed Police was but a part of it. Taskerland had a duty, a duty to the country’s future, to trying to restore it afterwards. Sasha tried to say that his family was his future, but it was the episode’s one mistake, a repetition of the argument laid in the episode about the Special Branch operative who’d raised a family undercover. But where that argument was pretty solid and unequivocal, it was a one-dimensional response to something of far greater moral complexity.
Because, horrifying as it was, Taskerland’s duty was also right, and necessary on levels that we cannot disclaim, cold, hard, pragmatic levels that we may want to ignore, or discard, but which have to be confronted unless we collectively decide to give up. What Sheppard did was to show us what a choice of that nature had done to Taskerland, what it would do to any of us with half an imagination, half a conscience, to be forced into making that choice.
Poor Amy, who didn’t live to see that the Russians relaxed, that we didn’t all die, ended up pouring out her fears and distress to a best mate who, despite her desire to help, couldn’t understand the way Amy understood, and it ended in a fight and a fall and a death. And the residual thought remains as to what shape Amy’s life would have taken if she had lived on, with the knowledge, and the heretic thought that maybe, just maybe, it might have been better not to. Taskerland showed the danger of a life spent in that knowing.
Yet, despite this deeply serious theme, the programme also managed to maintain its original comic impulse, and indeed had more of a light-hearted element to it than the whole of the series before it collectively, without misjudging the tone. Sasha had met someone, record shop owner and vinyl enthusiast Ethan, but was finding herself too scared to go away for a weekend in Barcelona. Strickland was hanging round the team, wanting to fit in on drinks, seeking someone to share his worries about becoming a father again at 55. The team, and especially Danny, were running the rule over Ethan, who came in handy about ‘Club Tropicana’, and Gerry’s suffering the stag-do of his future son-in-law, who’s terrified of admitting that his fiancée is pregnant.
New Tricks has been confirmed for a twelfth series in 2015, though Dennis Waterman will only appear in the first two episodes before leaving. That means that the entire cast will have changed. There’s no news as yet as to who his replacement might be, though based on past performance we should probably expect him to be a bit of a jack-the-lad, a bit fly, so as to fit the jigsaw. It’s not just mischief on my part to hope for something a little more adventurous, along the lines of he being a she, maybe?
Either way, New Tricks has shown that it can handle changes of personnel without losing its touch, indeed can thrive on them to give it new scope. If this year’s standard can be kept up next year, there’s no reason why the series couldn’t be kept going far longer than would have seemed desirable, let alone likely only a short time ago.
Another series like this one and I won’t be calling it Insubstantial Airfill again.