DVD review: THE CHINESE DETECTIVE (1981-82)

Although awesomely prolific in the crime and mystery genre, Ian Kennedy Martin will probably be best remembered as the creator of The Sweeney, even though he didn’t write a single episode of the actual series leaving immediately after setting up the template in the feature-length pilot, Regan. More recently one could still see its influence in the ‘Gene Hunt’ character from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Robbed of the post-modern and fantasy trappings surrounding him, Hunt is very much recognisable as a pastiche of the kind of tough coppers played by Patrick Mower, Lewis Collins and Dennis Waterman in 1970s shows like Target, The Professionals and most potent of all, The Sweeney.

Martin however went on to create several other shows with which he was much more intimately involved including the long running feminist procedural Juliet Bravo and perhaps most interesting of all, The Chinese Detective.

Originally shown on BBC1 from 1981 to 1982, this drama with a difference stars David Yip as John Ho, a callow police officer trying to redeem the reputation of his wrongly imprisoned father. In addition he also has to survive the machinations of his openly hostile superiors. Yip plays a perpetual outsider and the series is at its best in depicting his attempts to circumvent the established confraternities within the criminal and more polite societies. While this looks superficially like police procedural along the lines of his hugely popular The Sweeney, as written (almost entirely) by Martin this is a series with a much softer interior and a social conscience too but which also eschews the exotic trappings usually associated with depictions of crime and the orient for something much more plausible and down-to-earth.

The first series concludes with an emotional climax in which Ho exposes police corruption and tracks down those responsible for framing his father. For the second series, which looks a little more polished and has less of the rough-hew Sweeney look, the perpetual conflict with his splenetic boss, superbly played by Derek Martin, is also eventually settled when they are both pitted against the chicanery of Special Branch and the secret state. If Yip is a little tentative in a role that is long on forbearance and a little short of charisma, the show still offers a pleasing, if perhaps inevitably less dynamic, contrast to the somewhat routine thick ear offered by other crime shows of the day.

For a really detailed episode guide, see Matthew Lee’s guide to the show over at Action TV.

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