McDonald & Dodds, review: New police drama is ITV murder by numbers – soothing and pointless

This drama feels like an old-fashioned programme in a new TV world

McDonald & Dodds trailer

The underlying joke in ITV’s new detective drama, McDonald & Dodds, is that it’s set in Bath. Beautiful, sedate, slightly racist Bath, where the people talk funny, no crimes are ever committed, and everyone is either a bumbling doofus or a scheming monster.

Robert Lindsay stars as Max Crockett, a Dyson-esque household appliance tycoon with a deep tan and a range of Panama hats. He and his pregnant new wife Mathilde (Natalie Mendoza) come home to their mansion one day to find a man shot dead in their hallway. Max’s first actions on discovering the body are to make it look like a break-in. We are meant to suspect him, but of what, exactly? There is no shortage of suspects. Like a Lear in loafers, Max has been wondering which of his daughters will inherit his fortune. There’s Megan (Rosalie Craig), Tamara (Susannah Fielding) and youngest Elenora (Ellie Kendrick), all with problems of their own. Beneath Bath’s placid surfaces is a boiling ocean of drug abuse, vagrancy and prostitution.

McDonald and Dodds are the odd-couple detectives charged with solving the crime. Emblematic of Bath’s hapless cast is DS Dodds (Jason Watkins), a local detective in a grey coat, tie and V-neck jumper, more suited to solving an easy Sudoku than a murder, who spots peregrine falcons when he ought to be looking for clues. His “kooky tic” is endlessly putting his glasses on and off the top of the head, an infuriating affectation that comes at the expense of more meaningful character development. His new partner is DCI McDonald (Tala Gouveia), sent down from that London to shake things up and add a smattering of ethnic diversity. Where he is slow, she is fast; where he is gentle, she is punchy. They don’t have much chemistry, and the dynamic is predictable, down to the cracks appearing in her facade, and Dodds’ slow-and-steady approach paying dividends in the end.

Like Dodds himself, McDonald & Dodds feels like an old-fashioned programme in a new TV world. Its defenders will point out that it is a gentle couple of hours, aimed at an ITV Sunday night crowd who simply want a buffer between the Gu pot and the Monday meeting. That’s not much of an excuse. It feels underwritten but also overdone. The endless lingering shots of Georgian architecture, the soaring strings, the hammy declamations, the mechanical revelation of plot: it’s ITV murder by numbers, soothing and pointless. The cast do what they can with slim pickings, especially Kendrick and Fielding. Between this and her deft turn as Alan’s co-anchor in This Time with Alan Partridge, Fielding has earned a better role somewhere. But ultimately it’s not their fault that this is a throwback to a time before much choice. A second episode follows, but presumably if the ratings are right, more McDonald and Dodds are in the pipeline. Early retirement might be best.

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