The Vice: The Complete Series Review
No small investment this, neither in time nor, even in being as reasonably priced as this is, money. Although its ten discs are not that many more than the seven in a season boxset of CSI: New York or a similar show, that this is titled The Vice: The Complete Series is somewhat daunting in itself, not least its twenty-eight episodes that were originally broadcast over five seasons in a variety of episode formats. It's an all-or-nothing release, much like The Complete Morse or the 23-disc, entire Soldier Soldier sets that are occasionally advertised in newspapers and magazines but in an age where the average punter is becoming a collector of shiny discs, sating their appetite is almost as important as the one-time completist. And The Vice: The Complete Series leaves no episode unturned in its way to the shops.
The Vice: The Complete Series promises much sleaze, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation as well as drug use, gambling and, surprisingly, for a television show, it actually delivers. First broadcast in 1999 and starring Ken Stott (Messiah and, following the departure of John Hannah, Rebus) as DI Pat Chappel, The Vice follows a specialist unit within the Metropolitan Police force as they investigate all that you might expect - prostitution, gambling, pornography and murder. So far, so much like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or ITV's later Wire In The Blood, both series that tested their audience's ability to stay the course of an investigation, but like many a British show before it, The Vice is a mix of police procedural and, for want of a better word, soap.
Where Morse, for example, occasionally offered the sight of the taciturn inspector attempting to woo a female colleague, The Vice has the cops bring their work home, which, in working in a vice squad, spells out a certain end for whatever relationship they're trying to hold on to, most of which end with them, against all their efforts, alone. In Sons, for example, PC Dougie Raymond (Marc Warren) is involved in an investigation into the making of hardcore S&M movies and in bringing his work home, ties his fiancee to the end, gags her and, it is suggested, anally penetrates her. Shocked by this behaviour, she walks out the next day, leaving Raymond alone in his flat. Later in the series, Chappel gets involved with the mother of a pimp during an investigation into his murder whilst Sgt Joe Robinson (David Harewood) gets too close to an Eastern European prostitute in Betrayed.
Unlike so many other ITV shows - I'm really thinking of The Bill when I say this but it's equally applicable to any of ITV's continuing dramas - The Vice actually manages to remain on the right side of soap, keeping its characters personal lives within sight but never letting them cloud the police investigation. So although Betrayed and Lovesick do feature the breakdown of Sgt Robinson's marriage, the focus of both episodes remain the investigations into the trafficking of Eastern European prostitutes and the violent murder of a pimp. Similarly, Seasons Three and Four see Sarah Parish join the cast as Jane, an ex-prostitute who was once involved with Pat Chappel, who, as they meet again, get back together but their relationship remains in the background of the series.
Finally, and revealing a prejudice of mine, it is very well made for an ITV drama. Admittedly, they are getting much better - the recent Miss Marple adaptations starring Geraldine McEwan are very good indeed, as are Foyle's War, Boxing Day's Under The Greenwood Tree and last year's Island At War - but for too long ITV's drama department looked to be a shabby enterprise who fought for space in the schedule amongst the channel's many prime time soaps. Compared to the BBC, which has had a long run of drama successes in recent years and which I've stayed somewhat loyal to, I've passed on much of ITV's programming in recent years meaning that I and, I'm sure, many others missed The Vice during its original broadcast. DVD may well, therefore, be the best place to catch up with The Vice.
But with Ken Stott now being the nation's favourite troubled cop and with Network doing a sterling job on this DVD release, it's a grand time to visit The Vice. This is a much better series than you might expect from ITV - this is the channel of Footballer's Wives Extra Time, Holiday Showdown and Supersize Surgery and an evening news report that has disappeared into the nighttime schedule so it's worth remembering that finding a good ITV drama produces the same kind of pleasure that comes with finding an eye-wateringly tangy packet of Salt'n'Vinegar crisps - and although there's tell-tale signs of it coming off a commercial television channel, such as the breaks for advertisements that never come, it's good, sometimes excellent, drama that fully deserves a release on DVD.
You'll understand that, where I might well have offered an episode guide or another release, it's easier and less time-consuming for The Vice: The Complete Series to offer a season guide, being a breakdown of the set into the five seasons and the episodes and major events in each.
Season One: Containing three stories - Daughters, Sons and Dabbling, all of which are included in their original broadcast format of being two fifty-minute episodes each - this first season introduces the team, the various pressures they live and work under and three cases that are all too typical for a vice squad working in the capital. Daughters opens with the rape of a prostitute and a telephone call to the police, which leads to a dead prostitute and an investigation into her pimp, David Hinkley. But Hinkley's daughter, Natasha, having been handed a package by her father, is becoming increasingly suspicious of him and in a visit to a flat owned by him, hears his attempted murder of a prostitute. But her kidnapping by a rival pimp hampers Chappel's investigation. In Sons, Hutchins is working undercover at a nightclub, The Mistral Club, when she finds evidence of hardcore S&M films being produced by the club's manager, Max Wilson. Whilst there, she also sees Alex Davies within the club, who was a suspect in a police operation two years earlier that ended with the death of a rent boy who had been involved with Davies and which has haunted Chappel ever since. But when Hutchins finds that a young boy, picked up off the streets by Davies, was to feature in one of Wilson's films, Chappel finds a way to redeem himself. Finally, Dabbling sees Chappel's vice squad seconded to the drug squad to take down a drugs trafficking gang who are fronted by an escort agency. But having seen his fiancee leave him in Sons, when his interest in S&M was brought home, Raymond soon begins taking more than a professional interest in prostitution, which jeopardises the investigation.
Season Two: By now, the cast, their characters and their working methods were more familiar to the audience, which led to the producers being more adventurous in their storylines, including the death of a major character. Season opener Home Is The Place sees Chappel and Robinson travel to Sheffield to investigate why so many teenage girls from a children's home there end up in London working as child prostitutes. Following the trail back to the capital, they find that a pimp is the key to their investigation and look to find a way to bring a case against him. In Walking on Water, Chappel and Hutchins look into an illegal gambling operation at a nightclub, The Jupiter, but as their investigation draws to a close, there is a casualty close to home. In Betrayed, the third episode in the season, Chappel looks to take down a pimp who's importing girls from Eastern Europe but in playing off two witnesses, one of whom is a prostitute, against one another, he betrays an old friend. Finally, in Lovesick, the murder of a pimp, Trevor Cairns, sees Robinson, who'd been involved in a street fight with the victim, as the prime suspect. But Robinson, who's struggling to save his marriage, depends on Chappel to see him beat a charge that he's innocent of, despite his being glad of Cairns' death.
Season Three: Being the first season of, with adverts, ninety-minute stories, the third season opens with Out Of Mind and the possibility of love for Chappel when he runs into an old girlfriend, Jane (Sarah Parish) who was once a prostitute but is now out of the sex trade. Out Of Mind also features the return of DS Frank Vickers (Tim Pigott-Smith), Chappel's old boss, who Pat runs into in the basement of a brothel in Soho that he's looking to bust. But something about the basement looks out of place, moreso when Chappel opens an investigation into the death of a prostitute some years before and he suspects that Vickers, given his standing in the brothel, is somehow involved. Still on the fifth disc in the set, Into the Night follows and opens with Chappel in court for the trial of a prostitute who's suspected of murdering her pimp. The rest of the team are out on the streets carrying out surveillance on curb-crawlers, noting that a dark blue Volvo makes a frequent appearance in the area and that it belongs to Paul Weir (John Standing), the barrister who's working with Chappel in court. When he's caught with a prostitute, it threatens the court case but Chappel worries that it's Weir's mind that's at risk and that against his advice, Weir is becoming obsessed with prostitution. Chappel also has two worries closer to home - one is a relationship between Robinson and P.C. Kirsty Morgan (Rosie Marcel), a new member of the team, and Jane losing her job, after which she threatens going back to the sex trade.
The sixth disc opens with Force of Nature, which sees a squad car pick up a young woman from outside a prison, who claims that she was picked up by a gang and pimped to a group of inmates and a guard within the prison who gangraped her. As Chappel goes undercover within the prison, Hutchins, who's fisting the prison posing as his girlfriend, finds the pimps taking an interest in her under the pretence of arranging a conjugal visit with Chappel after hours. Finally, Falling sees Chappel trying to find a way to get Jane back in his life but just as he makes peace with himself and with Jane, he sees Frank Vickers taking an interest in her and, being only a short time from retirement, he feels that he has little to fear. But Vickers hasn't reckoned on someone close to him who's prepared to see him go down and wants Chappel's help to do so.
Season Four: Sticking with the format of ninety-minute-long episodes, this season opens with Trade, in which it's clear that The Vice is now enjoying a bigger budget per episode and that the debt that it owed to Seven, which had always been slight but still noticeable, is now more pronounced. Fitting this, Trade opens with the discovery of a raped and murdered street prostitute, the third in recent weeks and as the vice squad investigate, Chappel gets involved with Sandra (Emma Catherwood), a young homeless girl who's working the streets and who Chappel takes pity on. He's convinced, though, that a young City high-flyer is involved and is concerned for Sandra's safety when she begins spending time at his flat. This is followed by No Man's Land, which echoes the real-life story of Richard Desmond by having one-time porn baron Keith Beaumont (Peter Firth) turning on the charm in his bid to buy a national tabloid but Chappel is convinced that he still has a finger in vice. He sends Morgan and Hutchins in to one of Beaumont's parties undercover but where Cheryl leaves, Morgan goes too far in her playing of the role as she puts Chappel's investigation at risk. As the third and final episode in the season, One More Time sees Chappel's vice squad involved in the investigation of a paedophile ring as he goes undercover to bring in Tim Flynn (Damien Lyne), a distributor of porn movies. Hutchins, though, finds that the house in which Chappel is lodging is part of a child abuse network and that Martin (Colin Tierney) is the producer, with Flynn acting as distributor. Knowing that there are two young girls in the house, Chappel begins taking a close interest in their welfare, sensing that they're at risk.
Season Five: 2003, when this season was broadcast, saw three changes - it was broadcast in 1.78:1 Widescreen, it mostly consisted of hour-long episodes with the exception of Hooked and Ken Stott announced that he was leaving at the end of the season, after which it was cancelled. Season opener Hooked sees Chappel transferred to a desk job after what happened in One More Time and DS Vickers taking over his old seat in the vice squad. Hutchins in investigating a pornographer and goes undercover to gather evidence against him but when she goes missing and Chappel finds evidence of drug use at her flat, he ignores Vickers' orders to search for Hutchins and to bring her back. But when he finds her, who's in need of rescuing is in question.
From this point on, the remaining six episodes are, with adverts, an hour long (fifty minutes on DVD) and begin with Control, which sees Robinson back in the vice squad and looking to bring in a violent pimp but who's being protected by his girls. As the last episode on Disc 9, Gameboys sees the vice squad investigating an amusement arcade that's being used as a front for a rent boy operation. The tenth and final disc opens with Untouchable, in which Vickers goes undercover at a pole-dancing club to bring in Ted Bascombe (Nigel Terry), who's suspected of running a prostitution ring but Robinson wonders if Vickers isn't getting too close to his quarry. Outcast stars Lloyd Owen as Delaney, a member of the Serious Crime Squad who calls on the vice squad to investigate the murder of a prostitute after her body is found in a skip whilst Birdhouse sees the team carry out surveillance on a club that's a front for a people trafficking gang who are bringing girls out of Eastern Europe to work as prostitutes. Finally, Lust sees one of Robinson's team has too close a relationship with Jason Grant (Philip Glenister), a pimp who's known to the vice squad but when Vickers looks to turn that to his advantage, Robinson and Hutchins must act against him.
The Vice comes to DVD in good shape, looking largely as one might expect an ITV production to look. If not particularly detailed and with a certain softness about the characters, the blame can be laid at the door of the original production rather than it being the fault of Network DVD. Lights - streetlights and those on cars as well as natural sunlight - are often much too bright but, again, this is something that appears to afflict many recent British television shows but it's never as distractingly obvious as it was in 2005's Dr Who.
The soundtrack is very good though but isn't one that you'll really notice, more that it does its job without any flair. It's clean, though, and with a good balance, being neither too brittle nor too boomy. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles on any of the episodes, which is a pity as The Vice would have been broadcast with subtitles during its original run and, though I may be wrong, these could have easily have been brought over to DVD.
There are no extras on this DVD release.
After watching, it feels, nothing but The Vice for the last few days, I suspect that I now resemble one of those shocked-looking men wrapped in tin foil after completing the marathon and who are shaking more than anyone really should. I may be sitting stationary but I share their thousand-yard stare, being a symptom of having seen or done too much. In my case, it's far too many episodes of The Vice in what amounts to a single sitting and, coming with that, too much prostitution, paedophilia, drug abuse and human trafficking.
But is it worth it? All ten discs? Well, it's a much better show, and a more gritty one, that I'd have expected of ITV and Ken Stott proves, once again, that he's a natural for parts like this - emotionally bruised, looking as though he's sinking back into his skin away from the horrors that he's witnessed and with an expression that says retirement can't come soon enough. He's often brilliant, never less than watchable and it's noticeable that the fifth season, which sees him leave the show, really isn't as strong as the four that preceded it. Caroline Catz is the real surprise, though, with her vulnerability, which goes unexplained, being an entirely believable one. If there's the occasional moment that stretches credibility, then there are acceptably few in the twenty-nine hours of television that make up this set. And so, if you missed The Vice on television - and being a modern crime drama on ITV, I wouldn't necessarily blame you - this set is a great chance to catch up with the entire series.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:19:25