The Chief - The Complete Third Series DVD review
|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
Martin Shaw finds coppering in the sticks is no Sunday picnic...
You don't have to be familiar with the first two series of this early-90s police drama to enjoy the many charms of this, the third. The Chief would subsequently survive a further two seasons and, while five years on ITV is no guarantee of quality, this was warranted if the quality of this instalment is anything to go by.
Anchored by a steely yet likable lead performance from Martin Shaw as Chief Constable of Eastlands police Alan Cade, the show's combustible mix of personal, political, and policing issues -- together with some disarmingly topical themes -- add up to an engrossing six-parter.
The opening two episodes dramatise the changeover from The Chief of the first two series --John Stafford (Tim Piggot-Smith), leaving to investigate shady shenanigans by fellow policemen in London -- to the newly appointed Cade. This gives the uninitiated a welcome crash-course in the programme's set-up and character relationships. There's able deputy Anne Stewart (Karen Archer), constantly out to prove herself in a male-dominated environment and over-looked in favour of Cade for the top-job; a host of political hacks battling over local vs. national/supra-national policing styles and whether there's enough bobbies on the beat (sound familiar?); and, of course, there's Cade himself. The latter is ultimately a noble character who states that "any copper who brings the force into disrepute, offends me personally," but he's no saint. He willingly puts informers and police officers' lives in danger, such is his conviction he knows best.
Real peril seemingly rears its head every week in the fictional county of Eastland. Cade is warned by his predecessor that "Eastland is medieval - you're Met, a street cop, you won't like our speed," but it's clear the producers don't much like it either. The crimes Cade encounters -- rogue gunmen, terrorist hijackings, drug-gang killings -- aren't exactly the missing whistle incident from Father Ted. It has to be noted that these big set-pieces aren't handled with consummate skill, either.
Constrained by budget, they are at times laughably presented. This is most notable in the opening episode's tale of a deranged territorial army grunt who dons a gas mask and rifle before reeking chaos in a village. We watch much of the action from behind his mask and -- maybe it's just years of computer-game playing behind me, looking back to the year Doom was released -- but the first-person stuff just isn't convincing. In fact, it's laughably bad, right down to the accompanying Psycho-esque riff.
Which isn't to say the sight of a gunman killing a lolly-pop man and farmer in provincial England isn't affecting, particularly following the cases of Derek Bird and Raoul Moat. Much of the show's appeal comes from its unnerving resonance, whether it's police tactics being examined following an Ian Tomlinson-style death, or criticism of appalling safety-standards aboard manned oil-rigs. There might be mobiles the size of bricks and laughably bad fashion choices, but this is not the distant past, and many of the debates it raises are all too recognisable.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, though, politics is what the show does best. There's somehow more tension in the shady deals done in the silhouette of smoky rooms -- all Pinteresque pauses and unspoken nods to hang people out to dry -- than any grandiose helicopter stealing.
It's by no means just the politicians who are corrupt though -- and the criminals all have complex motives. As such, our allegiances as viewers are sorely tested by the moral conundrums put on screen: whether its "terrorists" (the very definition is disputed by all involved, eight years before 9/11) with apparently worthy motives, an NHS doctor disrupting a visit by the Queen to highlight abuses in the private-sector, or simply a fisherman who agrees to traffic Colombian drugs because he's struggling to make ends meet. What's more, when a rogue Met detective justifies his rough-house tactics by citing a 30% drop in crime, you can almost hear The Daily Mail leader-writer clapping with approval. It's left to the Chief himself to remind us where we stand. "Too many policeman think their job is to cut crime," he says, "It's to uphold the law."
In the end, for all its ambiguity, the title-sequence before every episode serves as a reminder that the police are ostensibly the good guys, holding the line against scum and villainy. It's all smashed glass, stern stares, and whirring blue sirens, whilst the accompanying theme evokes military drums. Their methods may be questioned, but never their motives. Likewise, this show may not be expertly shot nor blessed with zingy dialogue, but its efforts are never futile. And, with numerous plot lines stretching into series four, there's plenty more motive to involve yourselves with The Chief.
The Chief - The Complete Third Series is released on 18th of April 2011
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