George Gently Series I is a made-for-British television police set in Northumberland of the 1960s. Based on the novels by Alan Hunter, Series I includes three episodes.
Gently Go Man, the first episode in this series is the weakest. Following the murder of his wife by gangster Joe Webster (Philip Davis), Detective Gently (Martin Shaw) finds himself contemplating retirement. There seems little left to live for, except revenge, and then he learns that Webster has disappeared. Leads point to Northumberland, and so he travels north to investigate the murder of a young man who was part of a local motorcycle gang. His arrival upsets local Detective Sergeant Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). Although no longer in charge of the investigation, the ambitious Bacchus hopes to impress Gently and rope him in to helping him with a transfer to London. Gently decides to remain in Northumberland and keep Bacchus with him.
The second episode The Burning Man was more interesting, and begins with two men burning a body. Gently and Bacchus then investigate the crime which involves the IRA. A very unpleasant Special Branch detective arrives and Bacchus, who’s susceptible to flattery, thinks befriending the Special Branch detective may help him get that transfer to London. With his loyalties divided, Bacchus heads into trouble.
In the third episode, Bomber’s Moon, Gunter Schmeikel (Wolf Kahler), a WWII German bomber, now an affluent businessman is murdered. While his nasty son, Wilhelm (Christian Oliver) is the prime suspect, Gently isn’t so sure that it’s a case of patricide, and he suspects one of the locals may be responsible. In this episode Bacchus makes an idiot out of himself and Gently ends up rescuing him.
I can’t recall a police procedural in which I’ve seen the shaping of a detective in quite the same way. Gently, who has seen too many policemen become sloppy or corrupted, tries to help make Bacchus a better policeman. Bacchus is impetuous, jumps to conclusions, takes shortcuts, and isn’t above copping a guilty party and then ‘finding’ the evidence to prove his conclusion. Gently’s methods are much more careful, methodical and he frequently uses Irishman, China to help him with the footwork.
One of the weaknesses of this series is that it takes a long time to warm up to its characters. All in all, not a wonderful series, but it became better as the episodes continued. It’s imperative with a series detective that we ‘care’ on some level about the character we are invited to return to watch. We should theoretically have some interest in the adventures (and lives) of the character(s)–otherwise boredom or general disinterest may discourage us from picking up the next book or DVD in the series. Typically with a series detective, the crime is a part of the story, but the other part of the story is the subject’s life (I’m thinking here about that marvelous British detective series Prime Suspect which featured Helen Mirren as Detective. Jane Tennison). Yes, she solved crimes, but she also fell into bed with men, had a drinking problem, and faced a bleak retirement. Sometimes her private struggles were more interesting than the crimes she was solving. And although The George Gently series improved with each episode, so far the series lacks this sort of audience involvement. There seems little chemistry between Gently and his sidekick Bacchus, and Bacchus is not a particularly interesting (or nice) character. In his efforts to impress Gently, the weasly Bacchus uses entrapment, for example, to gain information.
Women sense Gently’s loneliness and throw themselves at him, but he doesn’t succumb. And Bacchus’s home life remains a big blank. We know he married the boss’s daughter, and we know there is now a baby on the way, but his home life is off-screen with just the occasional hint dropped along the way. The way it stands, George could go back to London, or he could retire, and I don’t care too much either way. I’ll watch series II if and when it is released on DVD, and hope for these two characters to warm up a bit. I think the series has the potential to be better, and let’s hope the characters become a little more interesting.