Television Review

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The Independent Culture
A little way into this week's episode of Resort to Murder (BBC1), Joshua Penny finds himself standing on a canal towpath as a narrowboat garlanded with skulls drifts out of the mist. Its crew of Goths includes Tracey, who holds the key to the murder of Joshua's father. He calls out to her but she merely stares back mutely as her chthonian barque drifts by. In any respectable drama - one with even a vestigial sense of embarrassment - this would be a dream sequence, but in Resort to Murder it's impossible to tell. How would you know when a dream sequence began? It's the most woozily disconnected thriller to grace the screen for many years.

The spooky barge wasn't a dream, naturally, and nor was Tracey's subsequent murder, which took place after a flurried chase through the dripping, subterranean passages into which she had foolishly ventured. The poor girl ended up being dumped in an aquarium, blood fanning from her slashed neck like a chiffon scarf as manta rays flapped past in aqueous slow-motion. If we are to believe the dialogue that followed, this is the sort of thing that passes as an accident at the Brighton Sea Life Centre. What did they imagine had happened? That she slipped and cut herself on a razor clam? Then again, cause and effect are not important here, despite the lip-service paid to the connective tissue of detection. It may be the result of the substantial editing that took place before the series was deemed broadcastable, but strange ripples and surges remain in the emotional tone of the thing, apparently the backwash from plotlines that have long since disappeared. Ben Chaplin does his best with the character Joshua - less a psychology than a set of baffled actions - but his startled bemusement can't help but look like a comment on the series.

Some of the urgency had leaked from The Black Bag's report (C4) on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, following Wednesday's announcement of an indefinite stay of execution. Before that news you would have watched knowing he was scheduled to die in a week's time. Now he only has to wait to see whether he will be allowed a retrial. If the dread had dissipated, though, much of the outrage remained. The prosecution case, at least in this version of it, made even Resort to Murder look coherent.

It wasn't difficult to see why Jamal had been arrested for the murder of a policeman. Had they conducted a secret ballot on who serving officers would like to have been the culprit, Jamal would certainly have been up there amongst the finalists, along with Ice-T (onlie begetter of "Cop Killer") and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Jamal had been under FBI surveillence for years because of his links to the Black Panther movement, and as a radio reporter he had specialised in investigating allegations of brutality by the local force. So when he was found wounded next to the body of a dead officer, it's understandable, at least in human terms, that they didn't pause to think twice.

But it was worrying that the judge who presided over the case didn't feel the need either. There was no forensic evidence to show that Jamal had fired his gun, and no explanation of the fact that the calibres of murder weapon and murder bullet were completely different. A police statement about a "confession" in intensive care was only made two-and-a-half months after the events and was contradicted by the doctor who had attended Jamal. A witness statement corroborating one of the lines of defence had had the address cut out of it, so the defence couldn't call the woman to testify. There were some odd gaps in the defence too - why was there no reference to Jamal's brother, whose arrest sparked off the confrontation and who must have seen everything? - but you wouldn't have hung a cat on the state's evidence.

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