Waking the Dead: Series 5 Review

The Series

Does Waking the Dead even pretend to exist in the real world any more? There's a moment in the second part of the episode Undertow where Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Boyd (Trevor Eve) assaults a suspect, Steven Hunt (Stephen Moyer), by filling a sink with water, bodily hauling him to it and holding his head under. This is not a spur of the moment act of aggression: he purposefully turns the tap on before approaching Hunt, and waits till he knows the sink is full to overflowing before attacking. It's only the intervention of his colleague, criminal profiler Dr. Grace Foley (Sue Johnston), and a fellow police officer, that prevents him from actually drowning the poor fellow. "Why didn't you just hit him?" Grace inquires later. "You know, slap him around a bit like you normally do? [...] We're talking about a very disturbed man [...] He knows he's in control - you gave him back the power."

Good grief! Rather than being horrified by the sight of her colleague assaulting a defenceless man, Grace's only concern is about what it may have unlocked in the victim's mind. When Boyd dares her to deny that, in his shoes, she would have done the same, she replies that she wouldn't have taken the risk. It's not that she considers it morally wrong to effectively beat a confession out of a suspect, she doesn't think it's worth the risk. Predictably, neither she nor the other officer involved report Boyd for his behaviour. Nor, for that matter, does Hunt. (Surely such an attack would, at the very least, have severely discredited Boyd's case against him, if not resulted in him being kicked out of the police force.) It's some indication of how warped this series' moral universe has become that such an incident is never referred to again and passed off as par for the course, just another of Boyd's little temper tantrums.

And tantrum follows tantrum follows tantrum. Every time Boyd rants and raves, his colleagues peer out from behind their screens, raising their eyebrows at one another and waiting for the storm to die down. Why no-one lodges a complaint about his volatile temper and bully-boy tactics is beyond me. The writers, I suspect, would counter that it wouldn't make for have as enjoyable viewing if Boyd was a mild-mannered, gracious boss, considerate of others' feelings and never one to intimidate a suspect. On some level, at least, I agree with them. Boyd certainly makes for compelling viewing and Trevor Eve has the character down to a T, but, five years down the line, it's beginning to get a bit long in the tooth. Each successive series has rendered the character more and more of a caricature, as if the writers feel the need to top each explosion with one of greater magnitude.

In earlier years, Boyd's irascibility was countered somewhat by the ensemble feeling of the show, the impression given being that the rest of the team helped make up for his personality shortcomings. With the loss of Claire Goose and Holly Aird since the end of the previous series, however, things have begun to fall apart somewhat. Although new recruits are brought in to replace the departed characters, they never really gel with the rest of the team and remain very much outsiders, the lion's share of the character-driven moments falling to Boyd, Grace and, in the final episode DI Spencer Jordan (Wil Johnson), the third and final character to have been there from the beginning. Of the new arrivals, Esther Hall, in the role of forensic scientist Dr. Felix Gibson, is the most convincing, and proves to be quite a calming influence, but I spent the duration of her time on screen suspecting that her lines had actually been written for Holly Aird, and she always remains very much an outsider to the group (it's not entirely surprising that the character lasted only a single series and had disappeared without so much of a mention by the start of Series 6). The remaining newcomer, DC Stella Goodman, is even less interesting, although on the surface gets considerably more to do, clashing with both Boyd and Spence, and revealing a shocking secret in the final episode. The problem, however, is that the actress playing her, Félicité du Jeu, is not particularly good. She's not a native English speaker and tends to stumble over her lines, and more often than not the character comes across as an uppity brat - who, like Boyd, at one point assaults a member of the public who has been brought in for questioning and then justifies her actions by claiming that he was "a little shit". Her predecessor, Mel, was able to prove her value as a member of the team by using her brain rather than resorting to strong-arming suspects.

That's not to say that the series is a complete let-down by any means. Indeed, after a somewhat shaky start, it hits its stride mid-season with Straw Dog, by far the best episode of this line-up. Most of the episodes in Series 5 revolve, to some degree, around cases previously investigated by one or other of the main characters, a gimmick that isn't always entirely successful but works extremely well in this instance. The central mystery is engaging in its own right, but the episode serves first and foremost to provide insight into the character of Grace, detailing her first case and her relationship with a charming but ultimately worthless detective. Provided you can overlook the fact that the flashbacks depict a woman far too young for a mere 25 years to have passed, this proves to be a gripping and unexpectedly emotional character journey for someone who, like all of the characters in this series, is usually very much a closed book. As a whole, the second half is of a higher standard than the first half, with the final episode evoking a commendable degree of tension (although it does rather meanly set up a cliffhanger, involving the fate of one of the team, that would later be brushed under the carpet, an oversight made all the more irritating because viewers had to wait 18 months for it).

Waking the Dead's fifth series is, on the whole, not up to the standard established by its predecessors, although it does offer some real gems of entertainment at various points throughout its 12-episode run. Like Boyd, the programme may not live in the real world and may at times baffle with its seemingly nonsensical twists and tangents, but, when it's firing on all cylinders, the journey, however convoluted, is always an engaging one.

DVD Presentation

Little remains to be said which wasn't already said in my reviews of the previous DVD releases of Waking the Dead. The 12 episodes come on six single-layer DVDs (one two-part storyline per disc) and are without extras of any kind. The transfers are anamorphic, presented in a 1.78:1 ratio, and generally look quite pleasing to the eye, albeit with some artefacting in scenes with low lighting. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio mix, meanwhile, is perfectly serviceable and completely unremarkable. The optional subtitles are legible and accurate.

7 out of 10
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