Lewis Review: The Great and the Good

This city, it’s members only.”

Inspector Lewis

I want to think about place today. More specifically, about what kind of effect real places have on fictional narratives; what goes on when we read about, or see, a place we know in a work of fiction.

What’s brought this on? you may ask. Well, last night I was watching a rerun of Lewis, a Murder Mystery set in Oxford, where I lived for three years, and it was a strangely bittersweet experience, watching all the buildings I knew floating around behind Lewis and Hathaway. (I never did manage to catch them filming, to my disappointment.)

As it happened, The Great and the Good was an episode which felt specifically rooted in the idea of what place means, or, rather, what Oxford means. The rape of a schoolgirl leads Our Heroes to investigate a series of murders tied to the upper echelons of Oxford society, where favours are traded above the reach of the law and public figures wear two faces. The “chippy copper act”, as Superintendent Innocent points out, has no place in this city, although the show goes to great lengths to disagree.

Now, this might be a fairly run-of-the-mill truth-to-power narrative, if it weren’t grounded so deeply in this city, this specific place. What does it mean to tell this kind of story in Oxford, instead of Midsomer or London or any other fictional/generic setting? Most obviously, it’s about the disconnect between Oxford as ancient university town – hidebound, genteel, exclusive – and Oxford as modern, a site for the gritty and mundane business of murder and policing. Our Heroes act as stand-ins for “normality”, shining the bright light of the modern world into the dusty closets of the dreaming spires, into murky old boys’ clubs and gangs of dodgy academics. In a way, it’s almost voyeuristic: “what’s going on in here, then? What are all those nutty geniuses actually doing?”

What’s interesting about The Great and the Good, though, is that it’s a narrative about wanting to belong to this world, and not quite being able to access it; a story not about contempt as much as it is about aspiration. IT manager Oswald Cooper wants so desperately to belong to the upper circle to which his friends belong that he’ll commit fraud for them; that he’ll make that upper circle, that gathering of the great and the good, a fraud in itself, a lie, because in stooping to fraud these men are neither great nor good. The great and the good are, therefore, what we make them; they are great and good because we want them to be, because we allow them to be by making up stories about them, putting them on pedestals, kowtowing to them as Innocent does or relentlessly believing in the myth of their goodness as Lord Adebayou’s secretary Phoebe does. And they become not-great and not-good when we open up other narratives, as Oswald does when he gives the police evidence of his own fraud.

What does this have to do with Oxford, though, with my sense of strange nostalgia? Well, perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that Lewis‘ Oxford has never felt like my Oxford; it’s always felt like an Alternative Oxford, an AU Oxford if you like, a strange semifictional construct of streets that I know and stories I don’t. And perhaps it’s also something to do with Innocent’s line, which the show so vehemently disagrees with: “The chippy copper act has no place in this city.” Except it does, because Lewis and Hathaway fight to make themselves a place in it. Oxford itself, I want to say, is what we make of it. If we tell stories about dreaming spires and ivory towers then we get a city of dreaming spires and ivory towers. And if we tell stories about a complex city where spires dream and criminals stalk and the great and the good are not all they seem then we get a city where all of these things happen, where the law can work because it has something rational to work on.

Is this, then, what happens when home becomes fictional, why the experience of reading/seeing home in a story is at once so exciting and so strange? Because the home we read about or see is never really home, because the stories we all have about home are so different to the ones being told to us. Because home is what we make of it; and what “home” means is never, or hardly ever, what the story means.

Or maybe not. Because meaning is also what we make of it.

Silent Witness: Falling Angels Pt 1

“Everybody argues, don’t they? It’s what they do.”

Silent Witness

Domestic violence, murderers on the Underground and weirdly intense love affairs, not to mention a level of gore that makes lunch deeply inadvisable, make Falling Angels pretty standard fare for Silent Witness. Admittedly, I did find the actual events of this episode a little hard to establish, partly because I was concentrating on the aforementioned lunch: after a bizzarely impressionistic opening scene that only makes sense once the credits have rolled (never a good sign), a vicar is murdered ‘orribly and the detective investigating her death is determined to pin it on her husband. At oblique angles to this main plot, there’s this desperately odd thing going on between a homeless man and a businesswoman, which is extraordinarily well-acted but nevertheless puzzling because they only just met and now he’s watching her at work and being all intense and weird and she doesn’t seem to mind and WHAT IS HAPPENING? Plus, one of the detectives asks Nikki to investigate his father’s murder, but there’s something shifty going on there as well.

I suspect this confusion is partly a result of the two-episode format which Silent Witness handles better than Lewis or Endeavour, both of which have also been cut down from two-hour episodes: typically, confusion proliferates in the first half to be solved in the second, as opposed to simply splitting the story in half at the requisite point. It’s an effective structure, but very disorienting.

 I also like that Silent Witness shifts its focus from the mechanics of the Murder Mystery towards the emotional conflicts involved in a murder, both within the team that investigates the murders and out into the worlds of those directly affected by it. Most murders, after all, are relatively easy to solve, and many look the same; but no two people are the same, and it’s the story around the murder that’s interesting to watch. Or something.

Anyway. I’d like to see what the writers can make of the rather claustrophobic confusion that reigns in this episode. Judging by the teaser, it should be interesting.

Posh People: Inside Tatler Ep. 1

“Introductions are hard to come by when your natural state is shyness.”

Steve Martin

Before you ask how I manage to spend so much of my time watching low-grade “documentaries” and reality TV, the answer is that I have no idea. Possibly because there is nothing that I actually want to watch on iPlayer (apart from The Apprentice, and even that is wearing thin). Possibly because watching unrelatable people make fools of themselves is the best antidote for stress. Who knows. I certainly don’t.

Anyway. Inside Tatler is rather interesting, if only for its insights into how magazines work. How Tatler works, at any rate. It’s a sort of fly-on-the-wall piece following the staff of Tatler as they work on England’s oldest and poshest magazine. It’s also narrated by Laurence Fox off Lewis, so, you know, that’s something.

Of course, the editors of the programme have included strictly the most ridiculously posh things that happen at the magazine. Because if we only saw magazine people going about their normal writing and researching business we’d be bored? Well, I wouldn’t, because I find magazine production fascinating, but I understand that mine is probably a minority view. Anyway, the BBC have made Inside Tatler something of a parade of the bizarre, the silly and the novel. So Tatler‘s style editor goes on a trip to Poundland – “Ohmygod, this place is so great”, she says, exactly as you’d imagine someone saying that – new employee Matthew fails at two assignments on gatecrashing parties and researching the Bullingdon Club (on the latter: “if even the tailor won’t talk about it, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on”. Well, Matthew, we all know what’s going on. It’s not a secret), and Laurence Fox mixes up hunting with horse racing.

It’s all a bit “them-and-us”, a bit voyeuristic, perhaps. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, or offensive in any way; just a little biased, and not very worthy of the title “documentary”.

But if it was, chances are I wouldn’t be watching it. So what can you do.

Lewis: Entry Wounds Pt 1

“It’s Oxford, isn’t it? No shortage of people who like ill-informed rants.”


Oh, didn’t you know? Lewis is back in Oxford.

Well, actually. He’s recruited from a rather cliched Old Detective’s Retirement of DIY and wistful staring out of windows back to a stretched Oxfordshire Police where Hathaway, newly promoted to Detective Inspector, is busy making himself unpopular with the sergeants and investigating the murder of the owner of a shooting range –

 – Look, you do know that those are the university offices and not the police station, right? Good. Just checking.

Anyway. Lewis is back. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

Maybe that’s slightly unfair. I do still have a soft spot for Lewis, as a Murder Mystery with an air of intelligence (even if that air is, after all, only an effect generated by the presence of the city of Oxford), and I’ve always liked the dynamic between the introspective, Oxford-educated Hathaway and his more streetwise superior: not more or less intelligent, rather a different kind of intelligence. Of course, that dynamic gets upset somewhat in this new series, which is…interesting, I think, as neither is quite clear on who is leading the investigation (Lewis being only a kind of helper, whose close relationship with Hathaway somewhat annoys his new sergeant). There’s an interesting disjunct in their teamwork which we haven’t seen before, a disjunct encapsulated by a little vignette in which Lewis assures a suspect that “Nobody’s accusing you” (always a dangerous thing to say in a Murder Mystery) only for Hathaway to wander over and arrest said suspect.

I’m not really a fan, though, of ITV’s decision (not a new one, incidentally – they did this last series as well) to reformat the storylines as two one-hour episodes instead of one two-hour episode. I understand that it’s more viewer-friendly, but they are simply not the same thing. The new arrangement effectively reduces the complexity of possible plots, simply because no viewer, however avid, can remember every twist and turn in the first episode long enough for the second episode to make full and perfect sense. If I can’t remember the character’s names three hours after I’ve watched the first part, I sure as hell am not going to remember them for a week.

Also, can we stop pretending that Oxford undergraduates wear gowns to classes? They don’t. Because that would be stupid.

I’m fairly interested in seeing where this new series goes, though. Will Hathaway ever get on with his sergeant? Will Lewis be able to deal with the fact that he’s basically a member of UCOS now? Who murdered that brain surgeon? And how many shots of the Radcliffe Camera can the director get into the next episode?

Scott and Bailey: Ep. 2

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I would like to make up for my recent deplorable absence (I’m blaming one headache and one case of Late-Night Facebooking, respectively) by writing about – wait for it – a Brand New Murder Mystery! *gasp*

By “brand new”, I should point out, I mean “brand new to this blog”, not “brand new ever”, because as far as I can tell Scott and Bailey has been around for a while. Four seasons, to be exact.

Scott and Bailey are best friend detectives who work in the same police office land and solve crimes (surprisingly). In this particular episode, they’re investigating the decades-old murder of a woman whose body, preserved from decay by the hi-tech method of chest freezing, has just been found in a gravel pit. The original investigation was, as Bailey remarks succinctly, “shit”. Unfortunately, it was conducted by the father of one of her team, which means there is Tension (especially as Bailey has recently been promoted to Sergeant). It’s like New Tricks but in every way better and more convincing.

For a start, Scott and Bailey is very…procedure-based. It actually kind of reminds me of The Bill in that respect: there’s a lot of focus on work done in the station rather than on the more traditional Murder Mystery fare of talking to suspects and trying to trip them up using only a rapier wit and ze leetle grey cells. Scary Team Leader Woman Gill (who is maddeningly familiar as the Mad Career Scientist Woman from The Hounds of Baskerville) holds meetings with her colleagues. She discusses strategy, delegates tasks, crowdsources solutions. All of this happens onscreen: it sounds dull, but it’s actually refreshingly realistic. This feels a lot more police-y, somehow, than any of the work which UCOS does. People write interview plans and drink tea outside and discuss cases in the bathrooms. There’s almost no focus on the suspects, and the team works together to get a result. It’s far more egalitarian than a lot of Murder Mysteries, with their master-apprentice type vibe. (Lewis, I’m looking at you, I’m afraid.)

In the interests of complete fairness, it’s not as intricately plotted as Lewis, and Scott and Bailey as characters have little of the charisma that marks out most of the great heroes of Murder Mystery-land. But perhaps this is the point. They’re not heroes, and they’re not necessarily geniuses; they’re professional women who are good at their job, and good at working with other people. Perhaps we need more fictional characters like that.

Lewis: Wild Justice

“God made the country, and man made the town.”


I worked out about halfway through this episode that, in fact, I’d already seen it at least once. But I couldn’t quite remember who the murderer was, so it was all right.


(Also Hathaway, who is clever and reminds me a bit of Captain Carrot from Discworld-land. But mostly Oxford.)

In this particular two-hour outing, Lewis and sidekick Hathaway investigate the death of a bishop attending an ecumenical conference at St Gerard’s, an extremely Catholic college. They discover that there’s a whole lot of tension going on there as annual elections for the college headship are coming up, with the progressive academics trying to oust the faintly misogynistic friars who have run the college for time out of mind. (I personally am on the side of the academics, if only because allowing a college full of undergraduates free access to alcohol on a trust payment system is sadly misguided and doomed to fail.)

So this was a good episode, as Lewis episodes go. The best ones have a gently intellectual undercurrent going on, a Grand Theme which links the murders; this time around, it was Revenge Tragedy, which was particularly interesting for me, firstly because literature, and secondly because this was around the time I was reading Titus Andronicus. So that was a nice little link, if it made the episode a bit gory. (Squeamishness warning: someone gets starved to death. Ugh. *shudder*)

There were some good performances from the supporting cast, too: Scorcha Cusack as Professor Pinnock was possibly the best Oxford professor anywhere, intellectual and scatty and feminist, and Amelia Bullmore’s emotional performance as Caroline Hope was extremely convincing. Hathaway was laconic and melancholic, as he always is, and considered leaving the police force, as he always does, and Lewis was…well, Lewis.

The whole caboodle was nicely finished off with the addition of a monk on a motorbike, an Italian Catholic who for some reason reminded me very strongly of the Queen, and the cloisters from the Harry Potter films. And if that all sounds a bit surreal, wel, the Intellectual Murder Mystery is, by definition, an inherently surreal genre. Which is what, of course, makes it such fun to watch.

Death in Paradise: Ep. 1

“There’s just two kinds of people:
The god-fearing and the godless,
The cowards and the faithless.”

Noah and the Whale


So this is what the iPlayer description thingy for the first episode of series 3 of Death in Paradise reads:

A university reunion party that DI Richard Poole is attending is brought to an abrupt halt when one of the group is murdered with an ice pick.

What it fails to mention, however (and this is where the spoilers kick in), is that the murderee is, in fact, DI Richard Poole himself. In the first five minutes.

I quite honestly was not expecting this. Because – this is Death in Paradise, right? Nothing this traumatic ever happens in Death in Paradise. People leave. They shout. They hit other people. But they never, ever get murdered. Not people we care about, anyway.

So I found myself in the strange position for most of the episode convinced that Richard Poole had not in fact been murdered and was about to walk into the room and go “BAZINGA!” or something equally eccentric.

This impression wasn’t helped by the tone of the episode. Death in Paradise just cannot handle emotional loss. It can’t. That jangly, happy theme tune? Entirely inappropriate when the MAIN CHARACTER has just DIED. New Klutzy Detective who falls out of windows while trying to uncover a murderer? Ditto. I repeat, the MAIN CHARACTER of this show has just DIED. DIED. And, apparently, his colleagues and alleged friends are able to continue basically as normal while investigating HIS ACTUAL MURDER.

Some friends.

And no, a few pained looks from Camille do not count as convincing grief.

Because my brain essentially shut down at “murder of main character to which no-one is going to react appropriately”, I don’t really feel best placed to comment on the rest of the episode. There was a New Klutzy Detective, who was, you know, New and Klutzy (basically the same character as Richard but without the tea obsession). Harry the Lizard made an appearance. (I quite like the lizard, you know.) There was a far-fetched story about swapped identities and people being kicked out of Cambridge. (For future reference, the phrase is “sent down”. Not “kicked out”. Haven’t you ever seen Lewis, Mr Scriptwriter?) It was pretty much business as usual in Soapland.

Oh, apart from MAIN CHARACTER DIED AND NO-ONE REACTED. Did I mention that already?

Silent Witness: Coup de Grace Part 1

“You have to do whatever you can’t not do.”

Cloud Atlas

Where do they get these titles from? What does Coup de Grace even refer to?

In what I think is the third episode of the current (on iPlayer) series of Silent Witness, Nikki serves as expert witness at the retrial of a convicted murderer, and her evidence gets him off the charge. But the ensuing investigation into exactly who did commit the murders casts doubt upon her judgement, and soon Problems look to be Arising, as they so often do.

I will say this for the first part of Coup de Grace, it kept me guessing. Usually when Murder Mysteries are this obvious about a suspect, it turns out to be a Red Herring, and so that’s what you expect. But the trailer for the next episode, as well as the very cliffhanger-y cliffhanger at the end of this episode, looks like that isn’t going to happen. I’m not going to say this is very groundbreaking, because it isn’t. But – interesting, perhaps, is a good word.

Actually, Silent Witness recently has been more about character than about creating any great level of suspense in its audience. Not even character. Drama and Excitement is more like it. Stand-offs and hostages and guns. All a bit dramatic for a forensic team, but there you are. The point is that it’s all getting a bit formulaic: the suspect with a War Story wandering round with a perpetually Distressed Face; the demanding and draconian detective leader who Isn’t A Bit Like Us and who Doesn’t Understand Science (or, apparently, Justice); the slimy lawyer with a Hidden Agenda. Oh, and apparently only one kind of drug exists in Silent Witness-land.

This would all be fine if the Murder Mystery was compelling enough, but it just isn’t. There is no mystery. And if there is we aren’t encouraged to care about it.

So I would like to ask the ITV Murder Mystery people, very nicely, whether we can’t have Lewis back, please.

Lewis: Generation of Vipers

“To him who is pitiless the deeds of pity are ever strange and beyond reckoning.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Why is it that I always seem to end up reviewing repeats and re-runs of stuff at the moment? Is there really so little on television?

The answer, sadly, appears to be “Yes”.

So, without further ado, an old episode of Lewis, everyone’s favourite Oxford Murder Mystery show.

Unless, of course, that title is taken by Inspector Morse.

In Generation of Vipers, an academic is murdered after posting a video on a dating website. This, of course, allows us, the lucky audience, to see Lewis being introduced to “the world of Internet trolling,” as the laconic Sergeant Hathaway puts it. Ordinary policing doesn’t transfer to Internet-land very well, what with anonymous postings and whatnot, but plucky Inspector Lewis chooses to ignore this and Get On With His Job, not very efficiently, as it turns out.

To be honest, I found this episode a little convoluted. It’s never a good thing when you finish a Murder Mystery and think “why did they murder her again?” And it’s even worse when you realise that, after two hours of sleuthing, you can’t actually be bothered to remember.

In summary: Generation of Vipers was forgettable at best. But still more interesting than the best episode of Death in Paradise.

Endeavour: Girl

“Of writing many books there is no end.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Endeavour has been On the Radar, as it were, for a while, and since The Syndicate is now finished (it transpires, unfortunately, that I’ve missed the last episode on iPlayer) it seemed like a good time to start.

According to ITV Player this is series 2, which doesn’t seem quite right on the basis that Endeavour hasn’t been running long enough, but then who am I to argue with the Internet? Anyway, Endeavour follows a young Inspector Morse (except, obviously, he’s not Inspector yet) through the murderous streets of Oxford on his first cases. In Girl (which is an awful name, in my opinion) a secretarial student is found dead of a heart attack at the beginning of a trail of madness, drugs and post-office robbery, leading up to a virtuoso conclusion in which young Morse essentially shows off his impression of Sherlock.

Talking of Sherlock (an activity I never can resist), I was quite amused to see Morse reading a book entitled Moriarty’s Police Law at the beginning of the episode. Oh, the irony.

Obviously, Endeavour has quite a different feel from Lewis, its sort-of-sequel (I never did watch any Morse). For one thing, there’s no Sergeant Hathaway moping around making laconic comments, which is a pity. Neither is there that feeling of Oxford as a hide-bound institution fighting the modern world with all its might, mainly, I suspect, because Endeavour is set sometime in the 1960s, when the Oxford mindset was less old-fashioned. Possibly. That might just be made up. But that was certainly the general impression I got.

Generally, though, I think I quite like it. It’s clever and riddly and faintly menacing. Just one thing, though: Morse’s Sherlock impression got a bit Death in Paradise-y at the end. “Let me tell you a story,” says the detective, pretending to know things he can’t possibly know and declaiming at all and sundry. It’s annoying and completely unrealistic and, frankly, unconvincing from an acting point of view. But it was outweighed by the cleverness of the solution, so I’ll forgive it just this once.