New Line of Duty episode one review: The old gang are back and we're all going to hell

You want to know how big and bold and borderline sadistic Line of Duty has become? Count the minutes before it lets us hear Ted Hastings utter another word. It’s 17.

Kelly Macdonald has joined Line of Duty as DCI Jo Davidson and Kate (Vicky McClure) has stopped pursuing bent coppers ... for now at least

Then, count the minutes before the first conversation between Kate Fleming and Steve Arnott, after he’s flashed the torch on his phone in a darkened street like he’s Milk Tray Man sending morse code and she’s quipped: “What kind of knobby signal was that?”

Forty-seven. Forty-seven! Jed Mercurio, you’re toying with us! You’re denying us the three reasons for being in thrall to your bent-polisman blockbuster (four, if one of them isn’t H). What’s happened to AC-12 anyway - does it even still exist?

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Well, Fleming (Vicky McClure) has jacked it in and is back chasing conventional bad yins under the command of DCI Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald, season six’s big guest star). The newly-whiskered Arnott (Martin Compston) is popping pills and on the verge of quitting after being asked to investigate officers skiving and expenses-fiddling, stuff we all do.

Martin Compston as Steve has acquired a beard but lost his job motivation

And Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), lucky not to have been sacked, is emasculated, impotent. “Keep your head down,” he’s told by a superior, further denuding him of status. Who, Ted? With that not-changed-since-the-80s hairstyle and the nose like a golden eagle’s beak? What a waste of a head.

But then … what’s Davidson doing, diverting a cops convoy racing to the hideout of a murder suspect when she thinks she spots a robbery about to happen down a side street?

Macdonald plays her as Scottish and pernickety and, well, you wonder if she can do diabolical. Ah, but Keeley Hawes did with the help of a heavy fringe and she’s the nation’s sweetheart. This is Line of Duty and all-enveloping rottenness is its game. And anyway, who has 23 locks on their front door and isn't hiding something?

In PR terms the show is bad for cops. Timing-wise, its return couldn’t be worse. For those who craved honest policing last night there was Midsomer Murders on a different channel, all neatly wrapped up before the ten o’clock news. For the rest of us there promises to be five more weeks of snaky, conniving, callous, vicious, desperate intrigue.

Ted (Adrian Dunbar) still has his eagle's beak but his wings have been clipped

Experienced watchers know that Line of Duty is Acronyms Central. I thought I was up to speed but every time someone mentioned “chiz”, which was a lot, I thought of Molesworth, this being the greatest schoolboy in fiction’s misspelled slang for swizz. But, no, “chis” stands for covert human intelligence source. As any fule kno.

So with chises falling from tall buildings and Line of Duty chiselling away at trust in our institutions, AC-12 began to stir again. Alone in their flats, Fleming and Arnott had a premonition at exactly the same moment. Somewhere else, Hastings was building up to cracking a funny. He doubted Davidson’s ESP: “With that convoy going like the clappers she’d have done well to spot a pipe band.”

Impotent no more! The old gang are back. Line of Duty is back. And we’re all going to hell.

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