Donovan, ITV1

by | Jan 5, 2004 | All, Reviews

ITV produces two types of drama these days. First are the ones like Foyle’s War, Prime Suspect and The Last Detective, which give the impression that their makers were actually trying to create something dramatic. Second are the production-line shows, like Single, Blue Murder and Sweet Medicine, which give the impression that their makers were trying to tick every box on the Standard Drama Checklist handed down by the management. Despite a strong cast and glossy production, Donovan fell firmly into the latter category.

Having veteran stage and screen actor Tom Conti in the title role should have helped, but such was the tightness and predictability of the formula that even he couldn’t bring it to life. He wasn’t exactly playing against type either, as the slightly fragile, denim-shirted professional he’s been doing since the 1970s, and neither was Samantha Bond as the smug wife-with-rich-husband she’s been doing since the early 90s.

From there on in the characters were pure checklist ticks – good cop, bad cop, alienated teenage son, Donovan’s former underling trying to establish his authority. The dramatic tensions came straight from ITV Drama Writing For Dummies: a retired forensic scientist (yes – another forensic scientist!) Donovan versus the assistant who took his job, Donovan versus the former-colleague cop who now has to treat him as a murder suspect, the sympathetic former colleague versus the young, ruthless cop who owes Donovan no favours or respect, Donovan versus his unfaithful wife who taunts him with the sexuality she knows he can’t bear to lose.

The shame is that there was actually quite a good plot in there, with Donovan, his name daubed in blood at a murder scene and his DNA on the murder weapon, not knowing whether he’d being framed, or gone mad and killed during periods of insanity. But it was buried under the sheer weight of checklist characters, checklist development (“right, we’ve established that Donovan still hankers after his old role, now let’s…”) checklist dialogue and checklist arty camera angles.

The result was like a prime fillet steak given 204 seconds on the griddle then served up in a bun with five grammes of relish and a single slice of gherkin – quality raw material, ruined by a production process from which all traces of imagination have been systematically eliminated. That isn’t how to make great drama.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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