“Run long and hard enough, and perhaps while you’re running you might actually come up with a plan. But nothing mattered if you were already dead.”
So Chasing Shadows is another one of the relentless stream of Murder Mysteries which are currently capturing the public imagination or at least their viewing figures, which amounts to the same thing, at least in the minds of programme commissioners. It features River Song and that guy from The Widower (OK, Alex Kingston and Reece Shearsmith – but isn’t it much more fun to refer to them this way?) as, respectively, a kind and empathetic social worker and a socially awkward, results-driven police officer working together for Missing Persons. Off-Radar is the second half of the four-episode series (the first two episodes made a discrete story, Only Connect, of which I only managed to see the last half of episode two), in which a successful lawyer disappears and suspicion falls upon institutionalised serial killer Leonard Vance. The main question driving this episode is where did he hide the body? which is a nice change from the usual hey, who killed this guy? apart from the fact that it lacks all narrative suspense. Because, let’s face it, we’re not terribly interested, when we watch these things, in the random ravings of a killer. No, we want to know who dun it, preferably after a plot so twisted it puts the Minotaur’s labyrinth to shame.
Nor are we terribly interested in the Socially Awkward Person Who Learns To Open Up plotline (although Shearsmith painting model aeroplanes with his neighbour’s daughter was quite sweet) because we’ve all seen it done better elsewhere. Sherlock is the most obvious analogue – remember when Sherlock rescued John from the bonfire in The Empty Hearse and the nation shed a collective tear? – but the presence of Paul Ritter as Leonard Vance also conjures up somewhat unfortunate associations with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; unfortunate, that is, because it points up just how superficial Chasing Shadows’ character development and story arc for Shearsmith actually is. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if there was a semi-adequate mystery plot to distract us. But there isn’t.
River Song makes an OK-ish social worker, and her attempts to “manage” Shearsmith’s character are occasionally amusing. And the plot looks set to make an interesting twist in the last fifteen minutes. But, really, the best thing I can say about Chasing Shadows is that watching it is better than watching Classic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on Challenge. Which is not exactly setting the bar very high.