Last Night's TV: Midnight Man, ITV1
Inside the Medieval Mind, BBC4

Time was when every TV crime-solver had some easily identifiable little eccentricity. There was Ironside (stuck in a wheelchair), McCloud (really a cowboy), Kojak (bald, sucked lollipops, kept saying, "Who loves ya, baby?"). But with the rise of maverick cops and team-based crime dramas (Waking the Dead, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order...), the quirks got ironed out. Cracker (overweight, gambling addiction) was a late addition to the genre.

There are signs of a mild resurgence, though, but now, in keeping with the mood of the times, the quirks are psychological, neurotic. So, in recent years, we've had Monk, whose quirk is obsessive-compulsive disorder. And now, in Midnight Man, we get Max Raban, played by James Nesbitt. Max is an investigative journalist; literally, a muckraker, who, since he was disgraced (he named a source, who then killed herself), makes a living from scrabbling through people's rubbish, searching for carelessly discarded receipts from paedophile porn sites and so forth. But he also has a big quirk. As one of his contacts, the only newspaperman who will condescend to talk to him, helpfully asked him, "What about your phobia? Be realistic, Max, disliking daylight is a slight handicap in any career, even journalism." There's quite a bit of this sort of helpfulness around. Raban's estranged wife, for example, tackled him about his condition. "It's called phengophobia, or have you forgotten?" Forgotten? I'm flattered you think I might ever have known.

As quirks go, this one feels strained and, so far, superfluous to plot requirements. To be fair, though, it's quite nicely executed. On the one occasion in the first episode when Max actually did venture out by day, bundled up in shabby hat and rather effeminate shades, the camera caught him paralysed in a shaft of light. This lacked the force of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in which vampires, on the odd occasions that they were forced into the sun, would scurry into the shade, smouldering around the edges), but it did the job.

Max had been tossed the bone, by his editor pal, of a trawl through the bins of a politician's mistress. Among the rubbish, he found a discarded pregnancy-testing kit, and a mysterious piece of paper in Latin, with a reference to a headless man. Intuitively, he tied the latter into the discovery of a headless corpse in London, a hunch amply confirmed when mysterious men in leather jackets, toting guns, started shadowing him. Despite everybody else's advice, he kept looking, and ended up at a right-wing think tank, Defence Concern, run by a slippery-looking Rupert Graves and his lovely, devoted assistant, Catherine McCormack. From here on, everything ran pretty much according to the book: Max got warned off by heavies, everybody told him he was wasting his time, the security services and the Americans were vaguely implicated in some over-arching conspiracy, and the devoted assistant, despite her initial dismissals, began to suspect he was on to something. We even got an old friend: the scene where she downloads information from a computer against the clock, as the baddie heads back towards his desk (cf Mission: Impossible and the recent Iron Man).

Right at the end, things perked up with the arrival of Reece Dinsdale, cold-eyed and charmless, as the man behind all the gruesomeness: a government security man who reckons that a few headless corpses are a small price to pay to keep the public safe from terror. He made a call on his mobile, and next thing you knew, Max's missus was being shot through the head. You had to say that this was keeping the public safe as we usually understand it.

It is, you'll gather, nonsense knocked off from any number of conspiracy dramas, from Bird of Prey and Edge of Darkness in the Eighties to State of Play in this decade. But it does have the huge advantage of Nesbitt, a terrific and mostly misused actor, whose downbeat, sarcastic charm makes Max's neurosis far more plausible and more palatable than it might be.

Inside the Medieval Mind rolled to an end last night, with Professor Robert Bartlett musing, at what these days counts as extreme length, on the grotesque inequalities and cruelties of medieval society, illustrated with lots of shots of fire, blood and threateningly coiled ropes, in blurry close-up. The illustrative imagery was often gorgeous, but unimaginative. The Black Death and Edward II's poker up the bum both got illustrated by clouds of blood floating in water, and the overall impression was that the big difference between the Middle Ages and the modern world is that they weren't very good at focusing their cameras.

The other thing I didn't like about this series was the readings from medieval texts. For some reason, these were done by the most flat-toned, dreary actors they could employ, when everybody knows that back then people spoke like Charlton Heston. But overall, Bartlett has been – or, rather, has been allowed to be – a tremendously thoughtful, provocative and entertaining guide to the period, and this has been one of the most enjoyably intelligent things I can remember in, gosh, years. It's like we've emerged from the Dark Ages.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?