Alan Waldman :
Britain’s ‘DCI Banks’ is a smart, engaging cop series set in the North of England

Stephen Tompkinson leads a solid cast in this well-written skein.

dci banks

Stephen Tomkinson and Andrea Lowe in DCI Banks.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | November 1, 2014

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

In the 2010-2014 British crime drama series DCI Banks, tenacious Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) unravels disturbing murder and other serious crime mysteries aided by his feisty, ambitious young assistant, DS Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe) and other police.

To date, 20 episodes (10 two-parters) have been shot. Two of the four seasons are on Netflix and several episodes recently aired on 166 PBS stations and can probably still be seen at their website for free. PBS aired the two-parters as 90-minute single episodes.

Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed

The series deals with murder, rape, arson, art forgery, a runaway teen daughter, police corruption, money laundering, extortion, drug dealing, child abduction and more. The first episode, “Aftermath,” drew 6.55 million viewers, twice becoming the fifth-most-watched program on the commercial ITV network that week. Describing Banks, Tompkinson said, “He is heavily reliant on his team and is a great, almost patrician leader.”

In that first episode, an officer is killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call, and his partner subdues the killer, who ends up in a coma. When DCI Banks investigates the grisly scene, he discovers it’s the home of a murderer and serial rapist — with four victims of open cases buried in the cellar. Banks is haunted by the desire to find the fifth — who may still be alive.

DS Annie Cabbot is investigating for Professional Standards the apparently extreme assault on the killer/rapist, who has died from his injuries. Banks suspects the killer’s wife Lucy is complicit in the murders, while Cabbot seeks to prove that the second officer used excessive force. After Lucy’s true identity is revealed, that complicates the case, but does not deter Banks from his goal.

The series is based on the novels of Canadian writer Peter Robinson. The TV series had five writers, with 12 episodes penned by Robert Murphy, who won “Best International Series” for Cape Wrath, created the excellent Murder City series and wrote an episode of the great Scottish series Rebus.

Stephen Tompkinson was award-nominated for the two fun series Ballykissangel and Wild at Heart, was voted 1994’s “Best TV Comedy Actor” for Drop the Dead Donkey and appeared in some of my favorite Brit TV shows: Father Ted, Chancer, The Vicar of Dibley, New Tricks, Dalziel and Pascoe, Prime Suspect, and Agatha Christie’s Marple.

Andrea Lowe’s 45 credits include several others of my UK TV faves: Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, Silent Witness, Murphy’s Law, The Tudors, and Murder City.

Caroline Catz (DI Helen Morton) is beloved and best-known as female lead Louisa in Doc Martin, but she also had an important role in The Vice.

DCI Banks has also aired in Estonia, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland and Australia. My latest (greatest) wife and I found it to be good, dramatic, intelligent TV fare.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]

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