George Gently: The Burning Man, BBC1

by | Jul 17, 2008 | All

Did we like it?
A welcome return for this superior detective drama that employs its 60s setting to jettison all of that tiresome forensic hogwash that clogs up the theatrics and psychology of the bastard-offspring of Sherlock Holmes in favour of a twisting plot.

What was good about it?
• The partnership of George Gently (Martin Shaw) and his impetuous deputy John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). The combination of superb acting on both parts, along with the simmering father-son relationship and great dialogue results in their scenes purposefully driving the plot forward, economically setting up characters or even offering light relief, such as the epilogue in which they go fishing.
• Gently has this marvellously impassive habit of refusing to answer questions from his suspects, ignoring them his inexorable line of interrogation. But this isn’t without its faults such as when he crushes Wanda’s insolence with a graphic description of her lover’s incineration, and then repenting with platonic comfort when she gets upset.
• With Bacchus, every time he opens his mouth you feel it will either be a spark of inspiration towards solving the case, or a moronic platitude or action born of his callow enthusiasm. And what makes this such a joy is that Gently shares your anticipation, either offering stoical approval or exasperated chastisement, such as Bacchus’s endorsement of Empton’s brutality towards a witness.
• The two leads were complemented by Robert Glenisters sinister Empton of Special Branch, who was the hidden catalyst for the three murders as well as acting as Satanic temptation to break the will of the impressionable Bacchus to lure him to Special Branch in London, and a probable life as a corrupt cop, fighting against the more beatific beliefs of Gently.
• A convoluted but coherent plot that, although it relied on a universal contagion of mendacity in 1964 Northumberland, never reached outside the strict confines to pull in some absurd get-out-of-jail-free twist that was so liberally sprinkled on to the Doctor Who finale.
• And 1964 Northumberland was gouged deep into the fabric illustrated by RAF commanders resigning because of a theft that wasn’t possibly their fault, but that because “it was the right thing to do”; everybody smoking, which seems such a novelty these days that we barely got annoyed about how it resumed its usual role of a device to help pace dialogue more dramatically; and the rather incompetent manner in which the armed police surrounded the bar as turncoat Irish terrorist Doyle held the flighty Wanda hostage.

What was bad about it?
• While it not doubt increased the tension, the fact that everyone except Gently and Bacchus relentlessly lied got a little boring.
• The readiness with which Wanda offered her favours to the impassive Gently was a little out of place in 1964. As, even allowing for Martin Shaw’s brooding good-looks, we have never experienced such a brazen advance in our lives.

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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