Ironically, although the trendy BBC overlords would dearly love to drive a stake though the heart of this hoary old ratings titan, New Tricks sometimes trumps their contention that it is deeply unsexy TV by ingratiating itself with a plotline that’s bang up to date. And this week’s episode of the warhorse of police procedurals also snaffled what will be the best line uttered in any TV show this week, nay, the whole month.
What made it doubly subversive was that it was aimed like a dart at curmudgeonly cavemen Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), who is now a parody of his stoked-up, sexist old self.
“Is my vagina bothering you?” asks a wonderfully lubricious Greenham Common veteran played by Clare Higgins, as Gerry is totally thrown off his usual grouchy line of questioning by the lifelike wood carving of her genitals that sits on her office desk.
Higgins was one of a trio of terrific older actresses to grace this episode – Kika Markham and Charlotte (Rock Follies) Cornwell rounded out the cast as an erstwhile sisterhood of 1970s feminist protestors holding dark secrets about the death of a male comrade during a 1980s anti-capitalist march.
The women, it transpires, were duped by an undercover police officer who initiated relationships with them to infiltrate radical groups – even fathering a child with one of them (a nice return to the screen by lovely former Holby City actress Patricia Potter as a bereft daughter).
It’s a story not a million miles from last month’s headlines about a High Court judge ordering the Met to disclose the identities of the two undercover officers after several women launched a lawsuit to discover who had ruined their lives.
As is often true of this series the ‘whodunnit’ becomes secondary to the whys and hows of the cold crime – well-trodden TV tropes make it easy to spot the right suspect before the Ucos plods do. The more interesting aspect is how the plotline fits into our recent social and political history. Scriptwriter Chloe Moss handles the devastating subject matter as well as the old hands onscreen play it.
Meanwhile, talking of old hands, Gerry needs to go on some retraining before boss Sasha (Tamzin Outhwaite) brings a sexual discrimination case against him. His almost weekly tirade against feminists, vegans, peace protesters, hippies and students is getting more than wearing and Outhwaite can’t quite counter it with the gravitas that Amanda Redman’s Sandra brought to the ‘governor’ role.
Also annoying is whiny Danny (Nicholas Lyndhurst), who is still moping about his daughter going to university – she probably went to get away from suffocation by you, Daddy dearest. Surely he should have fitted in enough to confide in his colleagues by now?
Sasha’s long strop with her unfaithful ex-husband is also getting tedious. Only Steve (Denis Lawson) is keeping the force with him – but what’s the betting his problems with his teenage son will blow up again later this series?