009 Police Procedural – Old
This quarter I discovered DI Gwen Danbury, written by Sue Rodwell, the original series from 1994, An Odd Body. This series was a bit iffy at the start: I didn’t (and still don’t) approve of the too-cheerful, too-flippant classical music used between scenes—it really set the wrong tone. After I got past that, though, I really warmed to this series. Parts of it are undeniably a little twee, but DI Danbury (played by the wonderful Annette Badland) and her mother Joan (played by Gudrun Ure) are fantastic roles, and it is really incredibly refreshing for a larger, middle-aged woman and her sexagenarian mother to be the leads in a series of any kind (even if it’s just on radio). The hint of a romance with Gwen’s subordinate Sergeant Henry Jacobs (the excellently understated John Duttine) was never overpowering. Once the jokes about Gwen being tubby and still living with her mother were got out of the way, we could enjoy some excellent stories with excellent characters. Gwen’s father was a policeman, so her mother is a natural (if sometimes obtrusive) ally in her investigations. The performances from the leads are just fantastic. I did keep forgetting this was 1994 until they kept mentioning WPCs. Having heard all five stories in the first series, I do believe the first mystery was the best, an investigation of a body discovered in the woods, which is eventually traced to a woman who went missing in 1968. The twists and turns in this story were particularly good.
The second story, “A Slim Chance,” was notable for its character building of Gwen and Joan. The third story, “A Sheltered Life,” was an interesting one which somewhat plumbed the darker depths that this series was capable of. A family friend of the Danburys is convinced her elderly father, who was in a home, didn’t commit suicide. While Gwen is wrapped up in work politics—her team is embroiled in a sting to incriminate a local ne’er-do-well whose illegal operations have never been proven, and Sgt Henry Jacobs is framed for beating up someone key to the sting operation—Joan takes it upon herself to go undercover. Gwen is just as steely as her mother in his episode by talking to the local ne’er-do-well into getting Sgt Jacobs off the hook. There’s a dramatic finale to this series in “Hostages”—a man is holding a pregnant housewife hostage, and when Gwen eventually goes in as an exchange hospital, Joan follows her in. It’s a situation that is both uncomfortably comic and very serious, as Joan is as good at talking down the killer as Gwen is—and may have revealed some uncomfortable truths about Gwen’s father in the process (it’s left ambiguous). What’s also ambiguous is how Henry feels about Gwen. Joan wants to play matchmaker, but things are unconfirmed by the end of the episode. An Odd Body was directed by Glyn Dearman.