Last Night's TV - DCI Banks: Aftermath, ITV1; The Classroom Experiment, BBC2
Another routine investigation
Tuesday 28 September 2010
Stephen Tompkinson used to be all over our television screens like static electricity. For two or three years, it seemed as though we could hardly switch on without finding Tompkinson emoting in a drama, narrating a documentary, or voicing a commercial. But every dog has its day. After Tompkinson, it was Robson Green who popped up everywhere, and after Green it was Martin Clunes. Favoured women go through this ubiquitous phase too. For a while, it was similarly difficult to avoid Sarah Lancashire, then Caroline Quentin.
It's normally ITV that confers this treasured actor/actress status, and Tompkinson seems to be getting another burst. If you stayed up late enough last night there was another chance to see Stephen Tompkinson's Australian Balloon Adventure. "Rain stops Stephen from flying over Canberra and he has to take a tricky flight to 10,000 feet," went the synopsis in the Radio Times, which was a little disorienting for those who not two hours earlier had begun to believe in Stephen as a taciturn detective, leading the investigation into some particularly grisly killings, nowhere near Canberra and certainly not from 10,000ft, in DCI Banks: Aftermath.
It is fanciful of me to assume the role of a detective myself in considering the quality of DCI Banks: Aftermath, but please indulge me, because you don't spend 20 years as a TV critic without becoming a forensic specialist in the police procedural. This two-parter carried many of the scene-of-primetime hallmarks familiar to us grizzled veterans. These included the fractious relationship between the copper and his uniformed boss, his messy private life, his personal torment, and of course the attractive female junior. Much like the women who read the news, female police officers on television are never the physiological equivalents of their male counterparts. When did you ever see a TV policewoman with a double chin or pitted skin? They all look like models.
This is especially so of lovely DS Annie Cabbot (Andrea Lowe), who works for the professional standards department, policing the police themselves, and is assigned to find out whether PC Janet Taylor (Sian Breckin) went overboard in beating up a serial killer called Marcus Payne (Samuel Roukin). Not unreasonably, Banks (Tompkinson) finds this distraction wholly unwelcome, though there is consolation when he and DS Cabbot overcome their mutual enmity and cosy up together. Indeed, they are closing in on a snog, almost certainly to be followed by a good deal more, when both their phones ring, a classic case of what we in police-procedural forensics know as coppus interruptus. This is the near-certainty that just as our crime-buster is about to enjoy himself in bed, if only by getting his head down for some quality kip, his phone or bleeper will ruin everything.
Still, on the basis that every police procedural is required by editing-suite law to feature such clichés, I shouldn't be too hard on DCI Banks: Aftermath. It is stylishly shot, and has more than enough plot idiosyncrasies to distinguish it from stuff we've seen a thousand times before. Intriguingly, it began with Payne being caught, in the basement that he had converted into a torture chamber. Only as the thing unfolded did we make certain relevant discoveries – for instance, that he had been having an affair with the nervy Irish artist in the house opposite.
There were, I should add, some implausibilities along the way. Whether these were true to Peter Robinson's original novel or introduced by Robert Murphy, the dramatist, I don't know, but a detective superintendent pal of mine assures me that under no circumstances would the chief investigating officer ever turn up alone in a hospital room to question a significant witness (in this instance Payne's long-suffering wife). There remains a world of difference between the modus operandi of TV cops and real cops, and for dramatically expedient reasons, of course, because who would want to watch even Morse or Jane Tennison hunched over paperwork for hours on end? But I still kind of wish that television would treat us more respectfully, and it could start by offering us police procedurals that aren't about serial killers. I think we're mature enough to get excited by plots that don't involve rape, torture and murder.
Anyway, except for the unfortunate detail that the psychopath in DCI Banks: Aftermath was a secondary school teacher, let me now change the subject completely, and turn to The Classroom Experiment, which concludes this evening. It was conducted over the course of a term in a Hertfordshire school, focusing on a class of 12- and 13-year-olds, who were guinea-pigs for the methods of an education adviser called Dylan Wiliam, a softly spoken but slightly alarming-looking fellow with a shaven head, an earring, and slugs for eyebrows.
Dr Wiliam believes that the centuries-old practice of children putting their hands up to answer questions is wrong, because it encourages a kind of classroom apartheid, whereby only the brighter kids get involved, while the others get bored and demotivated. He favours a random selection process, offering children nowhere to hide. He also thinks that every school day should start with exercise.
I could see the logic of these ideas, and had the bright idea myself of watching with my own 12-year-old, Jacob, to see what he made of it all. I am truly sorry to report that after 20 minutes, Jacob got bored and wandered off to watch something more interesting.
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