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Monday, 3 February 2014

DCI Banks returns: What did we make of Episode 1?

Tonight saw the welcome return of Stephen Tompkinson's DCI Banks. This crime drama has been a favourite of mine from the start and tonight's opener showed great promise. This third series sees the return from maternity leave of DS Annie Cabbot, (Andrea Lowe). The opening scene which sees Banks and Annie reunite hints nicely at those buried feelings the two share. The will they won't they from the first series returns quickly with wonderfully awkward glances at one another as Banks hosts a barbecue for his colleagues.  Having hinted at feelings for one another in the last series, we are reminded of the possible romantic relationship between Banks (Stephen Tomkinson).

It isn't all plain sailing for the reunited pair as returning is DI Helen Morton (Caroline Catz). For viewers with short memories Helen is the disarmingly blunt and often socially inept detective who joined Banks’ team when Annie left for maternity. It could be said Catz is playing a less troubled version of Saga Noren from BBC Four show The Bridge. The theme of the series this year is women.  Banks now has two women in his life and this first episode sees him struggle to juggle the opposing views of these two strong willed independent women. This new and interesting dynamic makes for some uncomfortable and gripping scenes, where you can see Banks torn between his job as lead investigator and his role as the potential man in Annie's world. too. Later episodes will see the introduction of his rebellious teenage daughter which calls into questions Banks' ability to be a good father.

The first episode (each of the three stories are split into two halves) sees a man and a woman claiming to be social workers come to Katy Heath’s house and tell her that they need to take her teenage son Kyle.  Katy, slightly scared and drugged up complies.  But when they fail to return her son and are unknown by social services, Banks is quickly drawn into a full-scale search for the missing boy. DCI Banks is a gritty crime drama. It's not for Death in Paradise fans who like to bathe in sunshine whilst sipping a warm cup of cocoa. The setting is dark and bleak and the story feels the same.

Although the reasons for Kyle's abduction is unclear to both Banks and the audience we do see the teen at several points with his captors seemingly going along without much complaint. Remember blunt and socially inept Helen? Well she is assigned the job of liaising with distraught young mother Katy. Perhaps not one of Banks' smartest moves as the two quickly come to blows when the mother's story starts to unravel.   A memorable scene sees Helen forced to inform Katy about the police finding a body of a small boy (not her son), it's noteworthy because it sees Helen working outside of her comfort zone. The circumstances force her into becoming the touchy feely policewoman who she despises. Helen could easily be a character that the audience struggles to warm to but there's something about Catz in the role that never makes you question her motives. She's a believable person.  Annie on the other hand has been sidelined. Banks appears to be scared to involve her so soon after her return to work.  And even though she complains he stays strong in his resolve to lessen her involvement. Tompkinson (who also produces the series), said that although there is rivalry between the two female colleagues it was important that it never boiled over.  "It never descends into a cat fight, because it was important for us that the audience don't fall out of favour with any of the characters. We're working as a team."

The episode sets up what I hope will be a good finale to this story. If I were to pick faults it's perhaps a fair comment to say we don't see enough of DCI Banks. The opener focuses heavily on Annie's return and how Helen copes with a tough case, leaving the man in their lives with very little to do. Stephen Tomkinson has been great playing this tortured soul character and I hope you get more of him in the coming episodes.  The show is based on books by Peter Robinson, and as an avid reader of the books I am pleased to say future episodes feature some of Robinson's best stories.

Read our chat with Stephen Tompkinson

Contributed by Gary Redrup

DCI Banks Continues Monday's at 9.00pm on ITV.


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