TV COLUMN: From Darkness, Unforgotten, Strictly Come Dancing, Gogglebox

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Reheating the porridge pot. Trying to do something new with yet another police ‘cold-case’ drama is like trying to reheat a three-day-old rice pudding. If you don’t add something new, all you get is stodge.

Well, if you don’t like your cold rice puddings, then you’re out of luck, we’ve got a double helping of cold-cases at the moment.

The Beeb’s offering is From Darkness (BBC1). Rather than trying to spice the format up a bit, the Beeb has gone for a liberal sprinkling of clichés. It’s every cold case drama you’ve ever seen.

Ex-PC Claire looks eternally worried. She looked worried on her Scottish island long before she even knew anything was wrong in her old Manchester, the city with a corpse with her old number on it. The ‘ex-policewoman with a secret’ cliché: tick.

To cheer herself up she swims in the freezing North Sea or runs places in preparation for some imaginary triathlon she never actually enters. Claire looks unnaturally unhealthy. The retrieved skeleton looks in better shape.

Her former DI colleague John is unhappy. We know he’s unhappy – cut to long-shot of John-no-mates drinking alone in a pub – as his hair has fallen out since the happier days when the younger and healthier looking Claire used to put a smile on his face. The ‘grumpy policeman’ cliché: tick. And the ‘old workplace affair’ cliché: tick.

Back on the Scottish island, Claire’s new life partner, Norrie, is also unhappy. He stares grimly at the sea waiting for Claire to come back, like some inverted Flying Dutchman. The ‘desperately trying to understand new partner’ cliché: tick.

The only smiling face is that of the 16-year-old corpse, which despite having been disturbed from its kip under a building site, does at least have a full grinning set of teeth.

With far more promise is Unforgotten (ITV). The key to a cold-case drama is the plausibility with which the past and the present are connected.

This first episode set about bringing the found body closer and closer to the present. Presuming a 1920s body, the trail of forensic breadcrumbs aged the remains through the 1940s, 50s, 60s until it found a date in the 1970s and a victim’s name.

It brought the victim into the past proximity of a whole host of characters we had been following in parallel lines. Clever writing. Something new added to the rice pudding. Worth the re-heat.

Unforgotten’s writing is supported by a great cast and it’s the first ITV police drama in a while to live up to the channel’s notable heritage in the genre. It’s also refreshing to have something of quality put on mid-week, rather than having everything stacked up against each other at the weekend.

Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) is back. Having just gotten over Great British Bake Off, audiences are being hit by the second BBC reality TV juggernaut in a week.

A bit of baking I can handle. But Strictly? I just don’t get it. It’s like not getting the joke everyone else is laughing at. I stand to be persuaded, but really – and putting on my tin-hat, flak jacket and retreating to the safety of an air-raid shelter – I think it’s awful! And on Saturday evening, nine million viewers disagreed with me.

I don’t always think to turn to Gogglebox (Channel 4) for resolving the great issues of the day. But out of both the mouths of babes, and junk-food eating TV addicts, you sometimes get a nugget of truth.

This week the show provided a refreshing perspective on the Trident debate: “Why do we need new nuclear weapons? We haven’t used the old ones yet?” It’s a fair point - even if the ‘yet’ is a tad disconcerting.