If there is one thing we have learned over four series, it is that Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope (the sublime Brenda Blethyn) doesn’t really ‘do’ change – and she’s seeing a fair bit of that, even thus far into the fifth. She has a notoriously short temper, and it does take new personnel a while to understand her and take evasive action in the face of her, er, forthright manner.
Remember how she used to take her former right-hand man DS Joe Ashworth (the gorgeous David Leon) to task? Eventually, though, she came to see him, wife Celine and their brood as a sort of surrogate family. There were those of us who thought she might even have been a little in love with him (sorry, old girl, but sadly you are strolling on, and don’t look anything like Detective Stella Gibson from ‘The Fall’).
Well, she’s unlikely to develop a crush on her new young deputy, DS Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty, who played Ruth Jones’s sexy suitor in the first series of Stella). Truth be told, he seems a bit of an uppity character, and apparently thinks that after a more action-packed time serving in the drugs squad, he’s been stuck in a backwater.
Healy is a man in a hurry, and if last week’s episode was any indication there could be quite a culture clash ahead, because he already seems to find Vera’s rather workmanlike approach wearing – and his timekeeping’s not all that good either.
This week’s case meant he also needed something of a history lesson (despite his assertion that he was shouting ‘Maggie, Maggie Maggie – out, out, out!’ in his pram). Mining in the UK seems like prehistory to most of the country (as was made obvious in the opening scene of a rather clunky TV news bulletin exposition over a car chase with joyriders).
However, the bitterness is still palpable in Vera-land, where two generations were thrown out of work in some areas. There’s no love for the police either, as Vera warns her young staff.
The remains of a the body of a mixed-race young woman are discovered along with a ‘Coal not dole’ badge, a stolen company credit card, and her camera. She is Carrie Telling, who was reported missing in 1984.
We love Vera’s get-up at the grave site – she looks like Darth Vader in oilskins – which is apt, as the dead girl’s father (a very affecting performance by George Costigan) nurses an abiding hatred of the police over the clashes with the striking miners. Indeed, Vera admits that even her father refused to speak to her for a week because of her part in arresting demonstrators.
Telling’s mate, Stan (Philip Martin Brown) seems to know a little more about what was going on in the Telling household than he lets on – how frequent a visitor had Carrie been to Stan’s family home?
The police find that although Carrie had been thought to have disappeared while on a trip to London with her unidentified friend Claire, she is later suspected of being on her way to a local abortion clinic. Was she pregnant, or was she on her way to visit another friend, Terry Mantten, in a young offenders’ institution in Carlisle?
We get an interesting snapshot of young Vera when she goes to interview her old CID boss at the time, Warrick (played by Sharpe’s old sidekick Daragh O’Malley) – now retired but working as a university lecturer. He had left the force under a cloud of suspicion of sexual harassment – but Vera seems not to have paid much heed to rumours of his proclivities, or of corruption, saying he’d been an encouragement to her – she doesn’t expand on it to Healy. Oh well, different times… when Warrick comes to her office for an evening interview, she’s even quite flirtatious with him.
But time changes us all, and another suspect – a bit of a chancer when he had a crush on Carrie – is now a local MP, Michael Tennant (Martin Marquez) – so perhaps he hasn’t changed so much after all.
Carrie’s estranged mother (Angela Bruce) blames herself because she was having an affair at night school, something that she says broke her daughter’s heart and caused her to leave home.
When their favourite suspect for the crime – a friend and neighbour of Carrie’s and a man with a history of violence against women – is knifed to death, Vera and Healy find that he had been bribed just beforehand – and discover exactly how deep the anger ran between the factions involved in the pits dispute.
In fact, the solution lies in the complex web of deceit spun by Warrick, who was combining undercover policing with getting his leg over. When Carrie photographed him in uniform, he killed her to keep his secrets. It’s the second time this week (after DCI Banks) that we’ve been treated to this undercover nookie plot – and New Tricks did it a year ago. How much longer before it turns up in Endeavour?
We’ve learned a bit more about Healy’s chequered past, like the fact that he was under investigation for 18 months after a shooting, and it’s left its mark on him – perhaps his cockiness is over-compensation for doubts about his ability. Will Vera now warm to him? Perhaps so, and maybe the two will become more dependent on each other, rather than on booze and pills.