Friday, July 21

The biggest mystery of all

Detective caper fan, Andrew Kidd, wonders what the BBC is up to with Lynley

Over the past five years someone at the BBC has seen something that has passed me by. Year after year I've wondered why the BBC continued to recommission The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (BBC1, 8pm). Don't get me wrong, I love the Inspector Lynley series... the original books that is. It's just the TV version which doesn't work. So would anything change, in this, the first episode of the fifth series? I hoped so, but frankly no. Sharon Small remains by far the best thing about the show as DC Barbara Havers. Awkward, ongoing problems with authority and a tendency to follow her own path are compensated for an uncanny intuition as to who the real villians are. ('Your funny facts aren't facts,' says her new [misgiuded] boss). Although Small captures all of these characteristics beautifully, the script still fails to give her to proper role Elizabeth George provides in the books. Now before anyone thinks I've lapsed into 'It's not as good as the book' mode, the show's major weakness continues to have nothing to do with the writing. Nathaniel Parker (Lord Asherton aka DCI Thomas Lynley) just cannot act. More specifically he can't use his facial muscles. Parker is a firm follower of the Sir Roger Moore school of acting: movement is a bad thing. Spitting Image used to do a brilliant Moore, with the puppet only able to move an eyebrow. If it ever came back Parker would be Moore's seamless replacement. Every year when a new series of Lynley comes on I really want it to work. And every year I'm disappointed that it fails to do so.

The casting of Liza Tarbuck as the DCI in charge of the case (Lynley is suspended) promised a welcome change of focus, but as much as I like Tarbuck, she seemed to spend more time being a bolshy version of herself rather than stretching her acting abilities. (Someone bring back Linda Green.) As with the previous episodes, cramming the plots into 90minutes doesn't work, especially when the script necessarily tries to bring Lynley's personal life into it.

I really wanted to enjoy this but it dragged. And, with about half an hour to go I needed to check the timing of another programme (which requires using Ceefax on BBC2 as my BBC1 signal isn't the best) and I ended up watching Rick Stein’s French Odyssey (BBC2, 8.30pm) for a quarter of an hour, rather than labour through the Lynley denouement. Enough said I think. I love detective stories and really want TV versions to work. Sadly Lynley has once again joined the feeble efforts of ITV's Rebus as a huge letdown.Is there still time to ditch Parker, the director and the writers (Peter Jukes on this occasion) and spread one story over a few episodes (think Prime Suspect)? I fear not. Shame.

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