‘Law & Order: UK’: Series 5 Episode 1 review

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‘This is the NHS,’ a podgy pathologist points out to Detective Sergeants Brooks and Devlin at the beginning of the episode, ‘not CSI.’ – and, despite the haste at which the case is opened, solved and closed, along with the occasionally insane leaps of dramatic logic, there’s no mistaking the warmer, more down-to-earth British cousin of the long-running, long-faced American franchise for anything more transatlantic.

Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and Devlin (Jamie Bamber) are investigating a suspicious death on a Paddington casualty ward, where they look at each other in confusion at the fusillade of medical jargon being fired at them; then find a suspect, bring him in, and discover he’s neither who he says he is nor necessarily the only guilty party – all before the first ad break. Then, it’s time to deliver the case to the Criminal Prosecution Service, in which we find a new yet familiar face.

Thanks to the magic of a Time Lord body clock – or perhaps a picture in his attic of Bradley Walsh, who despite being nine years younger looks a decade older – Peter Davison is as evergreen and effervescent as ever as Henry Sharpe, the head of the CPS; and the former Fifth Doctor star retains the amiable, slightly fuzzy charm that he has brought to almost every role he has played.

‘It’s not like our friend Naylor has a foot to stand on,’ he wryly remarks to his colleagues about a criminal chiropodist before rolling his eyes at the lack of response. In this opening instalment of the latest series, he hasn’t much to do besides dispense fatherly advice and dry witticisms, but it seems he fits in neatly with Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) and the other new arrival in the CPS, Dominic Rowan as tough, dour, smiling-makes-me-less-of-a-man prosecutor Jake Thorne.

It’s only when he appears with these younger members of his team that Davison finally looks anything approaching his age; and while seeing him alongside Agyeman – onetime companion of David Tennant’s Doctor – might bring a muted fanboy glow to devotees of Doctor Who, it also highlights the fact that Alesha has little to do except sit in a swivel chair in front of a computer screen and nod thoughtfully as plot points zip past her like a crash team careering through a casualty ward.

Despite this breathless approach storytelling – like previous episodes of Law & Order: UK, there’s a nagging sense that enough ideas for two separate, hour-long serials have been conflated into a single, sixty minute story – and a sense that a lot of the dramatic potential has been compromised by the demands of a format which necessitates a courtroom climax, the tale of medical malpractice and criminal culpability unfolds pretty well, even though the script swings alarmingly from ‘clean bill of health’ to ‘do not resuscitate’ and back again.

For every ‘Judging by the handwriting, I’d say half the doctors are serial killers anyway’, there’s a ‘You killed my daughter, you… murderer!’; and while some of a plethora of pop culture references work well enough (‘Dr Grant is going for the Shaggy defence: ‘It Wasn’t Me’.’) others fall as flat as the line on a deceased patient’s electrocardiogram: ‘I think we ought to arrange an interview with Deep Throat… not the porn film!’ Groan. Still, at least nobody points out that uncovering a crazy chiropractor is an amazing feat.

Airs at 9pm on Sunday 10th July 2011 on ITV1.

> Buy the Series 1-4 boxset on Amazon.