Judge John Deed: Complete Series 3 & 4 Review
I've written about Martin Shaw before and, well, have not always been complimentary about him. Not his acting, not his bubble perm and certainly not his choice of parts. The Professionals is an honourable exception. Indeed, I blame Martin Shaw for the years during which The Professionals was entirely absent from the screen. And all because everyone preferred Lewis Collins. Although I actually have no proof that was the reason for Shaw's dislike of The Professionals but, let's be honest, everyone did!
However, the years passed and I was feeling slightly more generous to Martin Shaw. During those same years I began to enjoy the books of Phil Rickman, which are set in the bleak border country between England and Wales and which feature the very human character of Merrily Watkins. A female vicar, Deliverance Consultant (a very modern term for exorcist) and mother to a teenage daughter with a leaning towards paganism and somewhat reluctant girlfriend to a Nick Drake obsessed folk musician, she would have been perfect for a supernatural-themed Sunday night drama. The novels would have worked perfectly well on television, with it being only a matter of time before the BBC picked it up. Only a Phil Rickman fansite then reported, under the headline, Dog-Collar Deed Sentences Satan, "To all the hundreds of readers who've written to ask why Merrily Watkins isn't on TV, here's one answer from the BBC. It seems some of the Corporation's drama people were very interested last year in adapting the Merrily novels. And then along came actor Martin Shaw, alias Judge John Deed, with a brilliant idea for a new series in which he plays a Jesuit priest persuaded to become an exorcist. As a BBC insider points out, 'Martin has a lot of clout at the Beeb.' So bye bye Merrily." Now that just seems like taking the piss!
However, that's nothing as to Judge John Deed. What irks this viewer most about Shaw is his hypocrisy as regards the quality of what he chooses to appear in. Much as I love them, I will also acknowledge The Professionals as being a cheerful but churlish cop show in which no effort was spared on the actual writing of an episode if Bodie and Doyle could give the bastards a good going over while driving a Ford Capri very fast. If they simply ran the bastards over with said Capris then all the better, particularly if they were a bit foreign-looking. But never once did it claim accuracy as a selling point. Judge John Deed, on the other hand, was devised as a means to criticise, through fiction, an out-of-touch judiciary. Only that it isn't just unrealistic, it's as much fantasy as The Lord Of The Rings. If a medical drama were to take as many liberties with medical and nursing procedures as does Judge John Deed with the law, we'd have shamans, medicine men and faith dealers casting out demons, kicking the crutches out from under the infirm and encouraging the use of leeches in all but the most serious operations. When actual high court judges warn juries against being unduly influenced by the show, you suspect that something might be amiss. But when the BBC would later ban an episode over its ham-fisted and ill-thought-out treatment of the MMR controversy, complete with research from a fictional Dr Westwake, who doesn't sound at all like the real-life Dr Wakefield, it might be so much that Judge John Deed is misguided but more that it's a dreadful show that finally serves Shaw yet another dish of prize turkey.
The main problem is Deed himself. We're led to believe that Deed is a maverick judge but where that once implied a senior official of the courts calling for the legalisation of prostitution, petitioning parliament for the return of hanging and being photographed alongside a topless Linzi Drew, here it's 'working class' John Deed not simply seeking a verdict but a solution. Maverick...working class...it's as though Citizen Smith had risen to the bar and further still to the wearing of horsehair. Unfortunately, though, Deed is as much outside the establishment as the Dukes of Edinburgh and York. Not only is his ex-wife Georgina Channing (Caroline Langrishe) is a barrister, his daughter is also in the law, his best friend is a police commissioner and his ex-father-in-law is Sir Joseph Channing, himself played by Sir Donald Sinden. He has also spent most of the six series so far trying to romance Jo Mills QC (Jenny Seagrove) while his ex-wife is the fiancée of the Home Secretary, Neil Haughton MP. So much a part of the establishment is Deed that I suspect even his pants are wood-panelled and that he has had blind tooled green leather writing pads surgically grafted onto his knees and elbows.
The implication is that these stalwarts of the establish thwart and hamper our swashbuckling hero as he sets about righting wrongs, often stepping out of his legal robes and into civvies and employing some underhand means to attain a solution. In the two series included in this five-disc set, Deed tackles the dangers from mobile phone masts (Health Hazard and Economic Imperative), an MP arrested for murder (Conspiracy) just as he begins investigating deaths in the arms industry and political corruption after the Presider, Sir Monty Everard (Simon Ward), who is senior to Deed as has been appointed to impose some control over the maverick judge, hands down a non-custodial sentence to a rich benefactor (Judicial Review). In the fourth series and over six episodes, Deed sits on the trial of a man accused of armed robbery some sixteen years previously (Lost And Found), mulls over the value of a jury-less trial when three members of a notorious gang are brought before the courts (Above The Law) and wonders if there's value in a man accused of killing a paedophile in prison defending himself on the grounds of preventing future instances of sexual abuse (In Defence Of Others). Deed hears the trial of a waste company accused of mismanagement of their disposal plants after an abnormally high number of birth defects are discovered in the surrounding area (Defence Of The Realm and Separation Of Power...why do so many of these episodes sound like the titles of Steven Seagal films) while, in the final episode, he lands himself a high-profile case concerning the on-screen death of a popular television star. All the while, the establishment attempts to derail Deed's own efforts to dispense justice, even to placing child pornography onto his computer, of bringing Jo Mills before a disciplinary committee and of throwing Deed out of the courts to wile away his days lecturing in a university. The final straw seems to be his sleeping with a claimant. And in spite of the stiff competition from what goes on in the courtroom, it is Deed's bedroom shenanigans that are the comedic highlight of this series, particularly when he goes to see a sex therapist, Rachel Crawcheck (Amita Dhiri) and, before he can say, "I am an actor, you know!", sleeps with her too.
The main problem, though, is that everyone in the land already assumes that the judiciary are out of touch. As sure as the rain falls in Autumn, as the sun rises in the morning or that Nicholas Andrew Argyll Campbell will get the last word in on his 5 Live breakfast show no matter who the guest might be, the judiciary will let rapists walk free, will permit aggressive young teens with more ASBOs than they have teeth to attend outward bound sessions in deepest Africa and will jail seventy-year-old war veterans for refusing to pay their council tax. They will tell twelve-year-old girls that, with their wearing of lipstick and a miniskirt, they were asking to be sexually assaulted and when faced with a scruffy musician, will innocently enquire, very innocently, as to what exactly a drum'n'bass might be. Like an elderly relative who will butter their tie into their sandwich while mentally fixed on the Countdown Conundrum, it's that pleasant sense of confusion that makes them so valuable. Were it not so, the tabloid press would have to invent such outrages to fill its pages. Deed, this show claims, is a different kind of judge but where one might well believe The Shield's Vic Mackey when he says such a thing shortly before attending to a paedophile in his custody with the kind of implements that Attila The Hun might have raised an eyebrow at, it's a good deal harder to see Deed dispensing justice in such a maverick way, particularly so given how many of his family and friends are working in those exact same courts.
All of this would be forgivable if there was any sense of humour in Judge John Deed but GF Newman seems to be very much fonder of having his Deed lecture his audience about some aspect of the law, of his impeccable moral judgement or simply on the more disgraceful aspects of life. Anyone used to reading interviews with Martin Shaw, every one of which over the last thirty years has drawn attention to the gulf he imagines exists between the quality of the work he is offered and his standing as an actor, will be familiar with that particular tone but the viewing figures that Deed gets would suggest that six-and-a-half-million are drawn weekly to the almost effortless way in which he breaks the world down into good and bad. All the while one can hear a hammer pounding a slight distance away, making each point forcefully. It isn't enough that Diana Husley from the episodes Health Hazard and Economic Imperative is dying of a mobile phone mast-induced brain tumour but that she asks Jo Mills to adopt her son after her passing, something that then occupies her time outside of the courtroom in the whole of series four. Just in case we don't get the point about how wicked mobile phones are, we have a background story about a pompous businessman on trial for a hit-and-run in which he killed a young woman and her two children while talking on his phone. Just to further make the point that the establishment is a truly wicked thing, he was on the way to a reception at Downing Street at the time while, come the sentencing, the maverick Deed can only watch as Everard hands down a community sentence.
The funny thing about this is that Martin Shaw has never had a better part. He's no great shakes as an actor but Deed isn't much of a part either. However, just as Shaw has an inflated opinion of himself as an actor and no doubt believes that were it not for the blinkers worn by TV reviewers who can't let The Professionals go that a glittering acting career would have been his so Deed considers that his position as a judge was gifted to him as a means to right wrongs and to restore some common sense to the court room. He also seems to believe that women will fawn over like bees to honey, that it is he who will shake the cobwebs from the dusty corridors of the judiciary and that he has the power to send a jury back to reconsider their verdict when they return with one he doesn't like. Like Shaw's insistence on his own abilities as an actor, there is much to laugh at in Judge John Deed but neither he nor the show seem to be in on the joke.
Flat-looking and a bit fuzzy is how this viewer would best describe Judge John Deed on DVD, not unlike how a VHS recording would have softened the picture but not quite throwing away as much detail as that suggests. Everyone and everything in the picture looks as though a thick visual smear was pasted over the content somewhere in pre-production. Not that I watch Judge John Deed very much but I can't remember it ever looking quite as poor as it does here. The locations, cast and style may not do the show any favours but it really ought to look very much better than it does here, particularly as the two-episodes-per-disc release would not have pressured the discs excessively. Otherwise, there are no obvious faults but with the lack of detail in the picture so apparent, slight blemishes may well have sneaked in under the blur. As for the audio, it's a typically decent DD2.0 track, which is more than up to the task of letting Martin Shaw sound off in a court room, while there are also English subtitles throughout.
There are no extras on this DVD release.