In the last ever episode of New Tricks, the UCOS team find themselves under fire for the mishandling of the Henway case. Threatened with closure, they attempt to win through by investigating the murder of a political activist fifteen years ago.
UCOS’s attention is drawn to the case when the victim’s personal journal resurfaces along with the cryptic final message: ‘They want to silence me.’ However, before the team can properly investigate, Steve, Danny and Ted are suspended from duty as an inquiry in to their conduct is launched.
Never ones to obey the rules, they attempt to carry on the case regardless – a decision which provokes Cynthia Kline (Geraldine Somerville returning for another fabulous guest spot) into closing down the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad for good. From this point on the episode becomes divided between solving the murder and saving UCOS. As such it lends the episode an additional tension and, as the final episode, viewers are in no way assured a happy ending.
The eventual twists in the storyline are fairly easy to spot but New Tricks has never been about hugely complicated plots and more about the camaraderie between the main cast. Much has been made about the gradual change in line-up the programme underwent over its last few seasons, but in this final run it seems as if the new team has finally hit its stride.
Larry Lamb has been a brilliant replacement for Dennis Waterman and works well with Denis Lawson and Nicholas Lyndhurst. As such it’s with a faint sense of disappointment that we must bid farewell to them at this stage.
It’s a strong storyline that holds this episode together and retains much of the fun that has made Season 12 a much more enjoyable season than last year’s lacklustre effort.
Denis Lawson’s Steve McAndrew continues to be the most enjoyable member of UCOS Team B, (Sandra, Jack, Brian and Gerry making up Team A), and this is due in no small part to Lawson’s skill as an actor.
The final scenes of the episode show what New Tricks was really about – forget the cases and the occasional forays into actual policing – this was a show about three retired old men and their ‘guv’nor’ having a blast and enjoying the hell out of life. It’s a shame to see the programme end after 12 steady years and I have to wonder if the BBC’s knee-jerk decision to cancel it was symptomatic of a lack of respect for the consistent work achieved during its run.
At its height, New Tricks was a behemoth for BBC One, often bringing in the sorts of ratings that other dramas can merely dream of getting. It’s easy, but no less accurate, to pinpoint this success on the electric chemistry between the original cast. Before we say goodbye to UCOS for the last time, it’s perhaps prudent to look back at the show’s beginnings.
New Tricks exploded on to BBC One in March 2003 with a single pilot episode attracting a healthy 6.69 million viewers. Here, we were introduced to the line-up that would remain for much of the programme’s duration: Alun Armstrong’s intense and fiercely loyal Brian Lane, James Bolam’s sombre Jack Halford, Dennis Waterman’s laddish Gerry Standing and Amanda Redman’s determined Sandra Pullman all won over viewers hearts and catapulted the show into being one of the highest watched shows on television, much to the bemusement of many critics.
One of the enduring storylines of New Tricks began in the closing episode of the third season when Jack discovered Ricky Hanson (David Troughton) was responsible for the untimely death of his wife. Jack’s desire for revenge would fuel the next couple of seasons and established a more serious and personal side to the show.
As time went on and New Tricks continued to dominate in the ratings, the programme faced its first real challenge when James Bolam decided to leave and Jack was written out in the first episode of the ninth season. Three episodes later saw Denis Lawson’s first appearance and the introduction of Steve McAndrew as a replacement member. This initial cast change seemed to sit well with viewers and New Tricks trundled along regularly attracting an audience of over 8 million each week.
Season 10 saw further challenges for the show as first Alun Armstrong and then Amanda Redman departed and were replaced in turn by Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Outhwaite. A surprise appearance from James Bolam’s Jack Halford lent Amanda Redman’s final episode a sorrowful goodbye and left Dennis Waterman as the last man standing – no pun intended!
Looking back, it was perhaps a mistake that Waterman held on until the final season. Had Waterman left with Armstrong and Redman it could have allowed for a creative renaissance and ensured the new team hit its stride much earlier.
Whilst the new line-up never quite measured up to the original, it wasn’t until Season 11 that a downward trend in the ratings truly threatened the programme’s survival. A dull, tired and badly conceived season put the final nail in New Tricks’ coffin and left Season 12 with no option but to try to end on a high.
Thankfully, Season 12 managed this with aplomb and allowed the team to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.
Altogether now: ‘It’s alright, it’s okay, doesn’t really matter if you’re old and grey…’
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 6 October 2015 on BBC One.
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