Well, this a bit awkward. A fortnight ago, in my last TV column, I confidently asserted that, despite the involvement of Jed Mercurio, Bloodlands (BBC1) was nothing like the programme it was being compared to in all the advance publicity. Two episodes, several twists and at least one bent copper later, my ringing conclusion ‘Just don’t expect Line of Duty’ feels somewhere between premature and spectacularly wrong.
Luckily, this is not a mistake anybody could make about Bloodlands’ Sunday night crime rival, McDonald & Dodds, which has been building up a solid following on ITV. The central idea it depends on is, like that of many a cop show before it, two mismatched detectives. Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia) is an ambitious officer of colour recently moved from south London to Bath — a city whose gentility is constantly emphasised amid all the murders. There, she’s paired with underling DS Dodds (Jason Watkins), who may or may not have a first name, but is certainly equipped with a full range of middle-aged male signifiers: among them specs on a chain, a deep interest in the history of railways and the inability to understand any word coined after about 1980. (On Sunday, he duly thought a barista was a lawyer.) As a rule, Dodds spends most of each episode blinking around in benevolent perplexity, until to general surprise — every week — he proves to have a mind like a steel trap, turning McDonald’s exasperation with that regrettable middle-aged maleness to admiration for his crime-solving skills. (Think New Tricks with only one old bloke.)
In the latest instalment, all of this was applied to the killing of Dominque Aubert, the hunky French star of the Bath Eagles rugby team, whose body was found on the railway tracks outside Brunel’s Box tunnel. Shortly before that, he’d been at a nearby party with a group of Glaswegian women having a girls’ weekend away — as a result of which none of them could remember what happened.
None of them, that is, except their least glamorous member Doreen (Sharon Rooney), who’d taken lots of photos on her phone that appeared to incriminate her prettier, blonder and more flirtatious best friend Angela (Joy McAvoy). Not that the friendship seemed entirely mutual. As the women impressively stuck to their original weekend plan of drinking at all times — and even made the murder part of their inter-group joshing — Angela continued to boss Doreen around with lordly aplomb. It also became clear that there was more to Angela and Dominique’s relationship than a chance meeting the night before. But of course she wasn’t the only character with a secret to hide…
More unexpectedly, a key component of the plot was, as Dodds pointed out in one of his steel-trap moments, that Dominique’s body had been found on the morning of Brunel’s birthday: the only dawn of the year when the sun shines directly through the Box tunnel. In fact, a quick and slightly disappointing Google suggests that this is more legend than truth, but it was one we were clearly meant to accept at face value. A more damaging mistake, though, was the episode’s title.
Usually in crime shows it’s the criminal who makes one fatal error. Yet, by opting to call this one ‘We Need to Talk about Doreen’, the makers not only made what by my reckoning is officially the gazillionth not-really-punning reference of the past 20-odd years to We Need to Talk about Kevin, the novel about a murderer of that name by our own Lionel Shriver. They also rather gave the game away.
Fortunately, this mystifying blunder apart, McDonald & Dodds once again succeeded in its by no means ignoble aim of making two hours of television pass in an undemandingly enjoyable way. Just don’t expect Line of Duty.
Still with ITV, the new series of DNA Journey — following a two-part Ant and Dec special in 2019 — is essentially the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? with added banter and less history. In it two celebrity friends are driven about the country to meet local historians who reveal what some of the celebs’ ancestors got up to.
For the first episode, the friends were Andrew Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp whose bantz often reached the genuinely witty, with Flintoff in particular confirming what a funny, likeable and accomplished broadcaster he’s become. Adding to the jollity were the historians, all of whom clearly relished their chance to be on telly. They passed on their findings — a convicted criminal here, a war hero there — with a game-show flourish and, in one case, even whispered the word ‘Psst!’ from a doorway as the two leads passed by. There was also a nice cameo from Redknapp’s dad Harry who didn’t seem especially startled to hear that he was descended from a fraudster.