Blightyvision: “The Last Detective”

Based on the novels by Leslie Thomas
Starring Peter Davison, Sean Hughes, and Emma Amos

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to see Peter Davison as King Arthur in the West End production of Spamalot a few years ago.  While I’d seen him in both “Doctor Who” and “Campion” prior to it, it never really struck me just what a range he has as an actor.  So when I asked my expat friend to suggest things to fill out my (then-new) Netflix queue and this was one of his first suggestions, I hesitated.  I like Davison and all, but yet another detective?  How different could he be from Mr. Campion?

The answer: very.

We never learn the first name of DC Davies, as everyone (including his own wife) refers to him as “Dangerous” — a nickname he earned by being anything but.  Davies is, by all appearances, a true nice-guy sort, refusing promotion even after his time in service because he wants to stay close to the people involved in the crimes he is assigned to.  Standing in the way of this is the fact that his superior has given him the title of “the last detective” … that is, Davies will only ever be assigned to cases when there’s no one else to send.

Despite this, Davies digs into the cases he is given, while occasionally veering off and handling some of his own.  While he tends to take longer about his work than most, and encounter more than his fair share of bad luck along the way, he always gets his man.  And even with his nice guy image, he’s no pushover.  Davison’s depiction of the character blends an endearing “why does this always happen to me?” mentality with an underlying strength that keeps him from ever being genuinely pitiful.

Filling out the cast on the business side of things are his superiors, DI Aspinall (Rob Spendlove) and DS Pimlott (Charles De’Ath), and WPC Kapoor (Vineeta Rishi) as his occasional assistant.  While the cast at the station is interesting enough, it’s Davies’s home life that brings the most humor — and occasionally the most drama.  Sean Hughes of “Coronation Street” plays Mod, Davies’s well-read and somewhat tweaked confidant-slash-roommate — initially the walker for the estranged Mrs. Davies’s dog.  Emma Amos as Julie Davies begins the series as irritatingly unsympathetic, but as their on-again-off-again relationship is explored more, she becomes a more rounded character and at least somewhat easier to associate with.

Witness stories throughout the series are tackled in a variety of flashbacks, initially seeming rather routine.  But later in the series, once we are accustomed to the use of this trope, it’s subverted rather cleverly: while the witness may be telling Davies one thing, we as the audience are handed the exact opposite as played out in the witness’s mind.  The series is straightforward and anything but a mindscrew, but still handles suspense and suspicion-casting in such a way that makes the endings logical without being either too guessable or too convoluted.

To give you an idea of the style of mystery this is: I recommended it to my grandmother, a reader of the likes of Elizabeth Peters and Martha Grimes.  It’s not sterile and old-fashioned, but neither is it graphic and pulse-pounding.  It has the feel of a more traditional mystery — another of those rare shows you feel like you can sit down to with family members of any age.

“The Last Detective” is available in its entirety in a handy box set.  Gotta wonder, too, if there’s any reason his wife buys into the “Dangerous” nickname … does she know something we don’t?