Sunday, 12 April 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 11th April 2015.

Code Of A Killer: Monday, STV

A Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones: Friday, STV

Thunderbirds Are Go!: Saturday, STV

Paul Whitelaw

You've got to hand it to ITV. Reducing a remarkable true story to the level of a particularly plodding episode of DCI Banks takes a special kind of incompetence, hence why I'm almost in awe of vexing two-parter Code Of A Killer.

The world-changing discovery of DNA fingerprinting and its first use in a criminal investigation is a fascinating subject ripe for dramatisation. Yet in the workmanlike hands of writer Michael Crompton, it hits every standard beat with thudding predictability.

Fine actors both, even John Simm and David Threlfall can't save it. Simm plays pioneering geneticist Alec Jeffreys. With his Open University beard and turtle neck, he's depicted, as scientists always are on screen, as brilliant yet scatty; a dishevelled genius whose dedication to his work caused him to neglect his long-suffering wife. Fortunately, she's also on hand to provide subtext-free support during times of need. Behind every great man stands a feminine plank of exposition.

Meanwhile, Threlfall is saddled with a thankless role and unflattering hair-do as Detective David Baker, the quietly dedicated copper who enlisted Jeffreys' help in catching a suspected serial killer. A detective unencumbered with gimmicky tics or baggage should be refreshing, but Baker is a downbeat cipher. I accept that in reality policemen such as Baker are ostensibly unremarkable professionals, but a better writer could've brought him more effectively to life.

Buoyed only by an engaged performance from Simm, Code Of A Killer could be dismissed as merely disappointing were it not for the troubling issue of its tragic real-life origins. Episode one confronted us with two harrowing scenes of parents being informed of their daughters' brutal fates. Reliving their trauma in such a half-hearted context felt awfully tasteless.

ITV landed on safer ground with A Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones, their latest addition to the cosy celebrity travelogue pandemic. With his familiar chinny grin and chuckling bonhomie, Griff marshalled this formulaic enterprise with the utmost professionalism. That technically counts as praise if you're easily pleased by gently informative, competently shot tapestries of avuncular 1980s comedians in foreign climes.

The only bum notes were his awkward handling of the, to say the least, sensitive legacy of French imperialist rule in Africa – admittedly this was hardly the forum for incisive political analysis – and his quasi-ironic complaints about being ripped off by local traders. Why, in Marrakesh alone he must've withdrawn a whopping £40 from the production budget. Our hearts bled, Griff.

Don't let nostalgia cloud your memory: the original Thunderbirds series was boring. Only a knee-jerk purist would object to ITV's CGI revival, Thunderbirds Are Go!, on principle. Taken on its own amiable terms, this handsomely animated update ramps up the best elements of the original without sacrificing their charm. It's fun and respectful without being hamstrung by the past, which is all we should really ask for.

Aside from Brains, Lady Penelope and Parker – the latter still voiced by octogenarian David Graham in h'all 'is posh cockernee glory - the International Rescue team are as blandly interchangeable as ever, but one doesn't look to Thunderbirds for rich characterisation. Though slightly too relentless at times, the gung-ho pace and innocent sense of adventure compensates for its 1-D protagonists.

It's unfortunate, then, that ITV in their wisdom have opted to show the rest of the series at 8am on Saturday mornings. The fools, they could've had a weekend teatime hit on their hands.

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