TV COLUMNS: Sherlock, Endeavour, Silent Witness, Midsomer Murders, Death In Paradise, A Spy In The Wild, Common Sense

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Judging by the explosion of detective dramas for the new year, January has to be the most dangerous month on television for being murdered in a variety of ingenious ways.

Sherlock (BBC1) is back for what could well be its last run. The Hollywood demands of Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman make filming more difficult, but what is most likely to finally kill off this previously most successful of reboots is the dire collapse in quality of the latest series.

You can’t really have too much of a good thing, but Sherlock is no longer good. Once vibrant and fresh, it’s now tired, stale and lost. Sherlock should have quit while it was ahead.

The first two episodes were riddled with some major plot holes – a critical flaw in detective fiction – all of which seemed to have no other purpose than to set up the series’ most major divergence from the original stories thus far in the unveiling of a sister for Sherlock and Mycroft.

Such glaring MacGuffins are the tell-tale clues of writing running out of steam and if the second week’s audience figures are to go by – a fall of 2 million – running out of viewers too.

No doubt millions will tune in on Sunday for the final episode, just to see the old friends off one last time, but frankly, if I came across Sherlock standing on the edge of the Richenbach Falls again, and no one was looking, I’d probably shove him off myself.

Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat have set the reboot bar incredibly high with this incarnation of Holmes and Watson, but it’s probably time to take a last bow.

Scheduled up against Sherlock was Endeavour (ITV). It’s a sneaky ploy by ITV, knowing that torn audiences will, given a head-to-head, have the easier-to-use iPlayer for its BBC option. ITV even cunningly staggered the start of Endeavour, ensuring that the ‘+1 juggle’ wasn’t possible.

Endeavour is proving to have pretty good stamina and continues to improve. Its secret is its pacing and tone. It’s not in a rush. Characters develop and deepen at a believable pace, maintaining a subtle balance between plot and drama.

Showing even better stamina is Silent Witness (BBC1). Incredibly, the forensic science crime drama has been going in various incarnations since 1996 and is currently into its twentieth series.

Having lost Amanda Burton after series 8, the drama has morphed into an ensemble cast and has broken the precarious reliance on a single star. The current cast is now strong enough to survive the departure of any one of them.

The only irritation with Silent Witness is the split, two-evening, scheduling over a Monday and Tuesday. The competition for weekday prime time slots is pretty tight and it betrays a lack of confidence from the BBC not to give Silent Witness a single two-hour go on its own. As is now the case in the digital world, the assumption is an iPlayer catch-up if you miss it.

Completing the week’s murder buffet were the quirkier offerings of Midsomer Murders (ITV) and Death In Paradise (BBC1). The prize for the ghastliest murder went to Midsomer with a hapless victim being run through and pinned to a tree with a cricket stump. The charm prize, as ever, to Paradise.

Not many wildlife documentaries manage to go viral on social media before they air, but A Spy In The Wild (BBC2) and the mourning by a troop of monkeys of a ‘dead’ animatronic baby monkey managed just that.

A Spy In The Wild is a curious twist on the wildlife doc, placing fake animals in their unnatural environment with the real things. Some of the mimics were fairly convincing. Others looked like a beginner’s attempt at taxidermy and you got a feel for how things might have looked if Dr Frankenstein had been less ambitious. Certainly, evolution has enough to out-wit the animatronic tortoise, as it got trashed as a disappointing toy by a young chimpanzee.

Proof that evolution can also go in reverse, however, was fully evident in Common Sense (BBC2), where a Gogglebox-style castt of unlikely contributors commented on the week’s news. It was wrong in more ways than this column has the energy to explain. It’s only January, but the award for the ‘worst TV of the year’ is a done deal.