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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The team are rather surprised when DAC Strickland arranges to meet them
in a car park and arrives in a taxi
it turns out somebody is clearing
up loose ends from a case thirty years ago and Strickland is one of
those loose ends. He and a small group he was at Sandhurst with had
broken into the house of a journalist at the behest of MI-5; soon
afterwards the journalist was killed in a hit and run accident. At the
time the journalist had been investigating ties between a London
gangster and the IRA. Two members of the team are dead already and
Strickland and his friend Stephen Fisher believe they might be next on
the hit list. It turns out that a document that they photographed that
night had gone missing from the journalist's study; clearly whatever it
contained was worth killing for and somebody feared that those involved
in the break in might work out its significance
Strickland, Fisher and
the UCOS team will have to find out what was on that document if they
are to learn why the group is being targeted thirty years after the
initial break in.
This was a much more convoluted episode than usual; that wasn't a surprise though as anything involving Ireland in the bad old days and the security services is bound to be fairly murky especially when you have Tim McInnerny putting in his excellent trademark performance as a slightly sinister Whitehall type; it is hard to believe that he was once Blackadder's idiotic sidekick Percy! Anthony Calf also but in a good performance as Strickland; getting far more screen time than his character usually gets. There was more action than usual with shootings, explosions and even a hit man getting rundown. Just because it was more complex than usual doesn't mean there weren't any laughs; McAndrew's method of overhearing a conversation was both amusing and inventive.
If any episode was proof that Redman & Armstrong's fears that the writers had veered far from the show's original concept were well-founded, this is it. The four regulars feature almost as bit-part players with Strickland and arch-slimeball Stephen Fisher promoted to centre stage in what appears to be an old script left over from "Spooks". "New Tricks" it certainly isn't. Solving unsolved "civilian" crimes is pushed to one side to deal with the unravelling of a conspiracy involving sleeper agents and a plot to systematically wipe them out. Earlier delvings into the sinister world of security service dealings had been fairly well tackled; secret drug tests on serving soldiers in "Mad Dogs", illegal rendition in "The Truth is Out There", preventing the loss of potentially valuable scientific methods in "The Gentleman Vanishes", all these worked well within the show's remit as they were believable and could be related to everyday life. "Part of a Whole" on the other hand is so far removed from what most people would regard as normal it simply doesn't fit into what "New Tricks" was all about, i.e. retired police officers using their skills to solve seemingly insolvable crimes. If this episode was designed to teach Redman and Armstrong a lesson over their well-publicised criticisms of the direction the show was taking, it failed. If, instead, it was an example of the way the show was heading then maybe they did the right thing in leaving when they did.
I accept that New Tricks did rather lose its way in later seasons, and the loss of Alun Armstrong was a big nail in the coffin. However, the criticism in one of the reviews that this episode focuses more on Strickland than the rest of the regulars I don't accept as an issue. I am a Dr Who fan and one of the best episodes is The Weeping Angels and this is billed as a 'Dr Who Lite' episode because he doesn't feature in it much. I think it does some good for any long running series to have story lines that aren't always heavy on the main cast. That said, this is just a great episode on its own - not only do we see a bit more of Strickland, we have Tim McInnerny playing the MI5 role really well. I have seen this episode a few times now and it is a great watch.
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