A bit on the late side this one, but it has been quite a week. I was buoyed by the return of Inspector George Gently, however, and wanted to go through it because the opening episode to this seventh series was very good and marked a bit of turning a point for the series. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I’m aware that not everyone does. What I particularly like about it is the way it mixes police procedural with period detail with a strong sense of social justice. And it was no difference in this episode.
This new quartet of stories are set at the end of the 1960s, when the decade of cultural change and tumult was changing into something new, and about to enter the dark ages of industrial strife. In Inspector George Gently’s 1960s, Newcastle is a resolutely working class town – a place of industry. We’ve seen strikes and upheaval in the past, but for this opening story we were concentrating on women. Not only the role of women within the force but also how the police deals with women, and the rape of women.
The was the underlying theme, but the story out front was a story of murder and police wrongdoing. A young woman had been murdered on the same night Bacchus and new(ish) woman on the team, WPC Rachel Coles(Lisa McGrillis), were staking out a brothel, in a new type of crackdown – they were targeting the punters rather than the sex workers inside. When one such punter sidled up to the door, Bacchus and Coles got out of the car and confronted him. When he flashed his police ID, Bacchus’s face dropped and he ushered Coles back to their car. She was outraged that they didn’t pursue the matter, but Bacchus told her to drop the subject in no uncertain terms. Why? We were about to find out as he drove round to his new love interest’s house – it was the wife of the policeman who was entering the brothel. Oh John, another fine affair of the heart you’ve got yourself mixed up in.
The next day a sex worker called Tina, mascara smeared across her tear-stained face, was in the interview room, there to report a triple rape. Bacchus led the interview with Coles at his side. He was dismissive of Tina’s claims, arrogant and looked around at the other male constable in the room, batting insensitive, sexist jokes back and forth. “Have you or have you been, literally, asking for it?” and “How can you be raped when you were getting paid for it?” were some of the choice lines they came out with. Coles left the room in a fury; Tina felt defeated.
And then the walking moral compass himself, Gently, strode into the room, addressed Tina in a polite, formal manner and Bacchus, like a child whose fun had been spoiled by a strict father, let out a whelp of disappointment that his sport was over. Gently was out to improve the way the force handled rape allegations and the victims of rape, especially after Coles had found some facts and figures that had beggared belief and Tina’s allegations was a good place to start.
And so it continued with all the strands coming together nicely. The policeman Bacchus and Coles had stopped outside the brothel – and the man whose wife Bacchus was having an affair with – was revealed to be a violent man, who paid women for rough sex often beating them up to within an inch of their life in the process. Tina, the gutsy sex worker, helped Gently and Bacchus chase down the serial murderer by courageously volunteering herself as bait, while all the while Bacchus was beginning to understand that violence against women – or at least joking about it – was a very serious business indeed.
There were some lovely scenes (when I say lovely, I mean well-shot and choreographed). The final chase through the gas lamp-lit brick backstreets of Newcastle was edgy and atmospheric, and the introduction of the strange bus station manager as red herring was an interesting (and a tragi-comic) diversion. One of the main criticisms of IGG (I’ll call it that from now on in) is that its pace is too ploddy, but the introduction of Coles, who’s opinionated and passionate, has not only given the dynamic of the investigating force new impetus but also the show, too. The pace is quicker, smoother and more engaging.
But at the heart of IGG is the relationship between Gently and Bacchus. It’s very reminiscent Morse and Lewis’s – the wizened, seen-it-all cop and the puppy-like nature of the young understudy. It has been one of TV’s most interesting and likeable cop pairings for half a decade, and in tonight’s episode there was an added dimension to their almost father-and-son relationship. Gently, suffering from blurred vision and fatigue, grudgingly went to hospital for tests. Was it brain cancer? (It was revealed at the end it was multiple sclerosis.) Whatever it was Gently was being his usual carry-on-at-all-costs self, unable to show emotion, especially towards Bacchus whose relationship with the married woman, Gemma, he didn’t take kindly to. As much as I loathed Bacchus’s haranguing of Tina the sex worker earlier in the episode, I felt sorry for him as Gently laid into him because of his affair. Whenever Bacchus has delusions of grandeur or thinks he has done good work, Gently is always there to bring him down a peg or two. There were signs that he was starting to fight back, but these two can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other. It still intrigues and is very watchable.
A really good start to the series.
For our interview with Martin Shaw, go here