DEBORAH ROSS: The plot of Strike left me completely cold


Sunday & Monday, BBC1


All Creatures Great And Small

Tuesday, Channel 5


J.K.Rowling’s private investigator, Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke), is back, and he is a great detective, although not so great that he can detect that Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger), his assistant, is in love with him. She’s also a great detective, we’re led to believe, but also not so great that she can detect he is in love with her. It does make you wonder if, in reality, either could solve a mystery to save their lives, given neither can see what’s plainly right in front of them. It’s like Moonlighting all over again.

Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger in Strike. Thankfully, they have actual sexual chemistry

Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger in Strike. Thankfully, they have actual sexual chemistry

This is the fourth series of Strike and it opened on Robin’s wedding day. God damn it, she’s only about to go ahead and marry her boyfriend from the previous three series, Awful Matthew (Kerr Logan), although why she can’t detect that he is awful – he blocked your phone, you know that! – is another mystery. Cormoran stumbles up at the wedding and says to her: ‘I want you back. Come back… to work.’ Fool.

She goes on (awful) honeymoon with Awful Matthew, and then we spool forward a year and return to Soho, with Strike limping around gloomily in that dark, heavy coat – I think if he opted for a lighter wool it would truly be a weight off his shoulders. But he does have a new girlfriend, Lorelei (Natalie Gumede), who seems great, but he can’t tell her he loves her, and I think we know why. Probably, if Strike and Robin could bill for each time they exchanged a longing look they’d be rich enough to pack up and retire.

But for now they’re back… at work. And mostly it’s adultery work, until a chap called Billy (Joseph Quinn), who is in quite a state, trucks up at their office claiming that when he was six, 20 years ago, he witnessed a young girl being strangled on the eye of the chalk white horse at Uffington, and then she was buried behind his father’s cottage. The cottage is on the estate of a Conservative minister, Jasper Chiswell, played by Robert Glenister in a wig that is almost a character in its own right – played by The Wig – and he (and The Wig) also want Strike’s services as he’s being blackmailed by Billy’s brother Jimmy (Nick Blood) and Geraint Winn (Robert Pugh), the husband of a Labour MP, although he won’t say what he is being blackmailed about. Or it’s something like that.

Then Winn’s daughter comes into it and Chiswell’s son, Awful Freddie… it’s exhaustingly convoluted. As well as hard to believe. Don’t want to give too much away but I ask you: if you were going to bury human bones at the bottom of your garden, wouldn’t you make sure you buried them, you know, quite deep? Also, why would a Conservative minister have his parliamentary office along the corridor from a Left-wing MP? Wouldn’t he have it, you know, in his ministry?

The plot left me cold, completely, but there is certainly some joy to be found in the secondary characters, like Lorelei, although she’s underwritten at present – more Lorelei! – and Chiswell’s horrid wife, played with gusto by Sophie Winkleman (Big Sooooooooze from Peep Show!). But what keeps you going, to the extent you keep going, are Burke and Grainger who, at least, and thankfully, have actual sexual chemistry. Quite like Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd before them.

As Channel 5’s most popular shows are the two observational series The Yorkshire Vet (hello Peter, hello Julian) and Our Yorkshire Farm (oh my Christ, all those children), it makes sense to combine Yorkshire and vets and farms with a reboot of All Creatures Great And Small. Doesn’t it? Some are saying what’s the point? Just show the original series again. But, come on, Poldark? That reboot was terrific, and also how many Jane Eyres have there been on TV? How many Pride & Prejudices? Plus, the show is irresistible. Always has been, always will be.

Nicholas Ralph in All Creatures Great And Small. Stunning locations. Barmy local folk. Lovely vintage cars. Funny moments

Nicholas Ralph in All Creatures Great And Small. Stunning locations. Barmy local folk. Lovely vintage cars. Funny moments

It is, of course, based on the memoirs of vet James Herriot, famously played by Christopher Timothy in the original adaptation, but this time out it’s Nicholas Ralph who arrives in Darrowby in 1937, and he’s from Glasgow, with a soft Scottish accent that’s enough to mark him out. (‘Are ya foreign, lad?’) He’s arrived for an interview as assistant to the town’s established vet, Siegfried Farnon, played by Samuel West, whom you’d think couldn’t make the part his own after Robert Hardy but he does. Farnon is eccentric and prefers first-hand observations to interviews, so off they go on a round of calls. Herriot drains the pus from a horse’s hoof only to be kicked into the mud (twice) for his trouble.

Anyway, you know the drill. Stunning locations. Barmy local folk. Lovely vintage cars. Funny moments, like that mix-up over cats. And, at the end of this first episode, the difficult birth of a calf – by the way, new welfare laws mean you can’t stick any old arm up a cow these days, so it was a prosthetic rear – who was last seen taking its first steps on its unsteady little legs. Irresistible, like I said.