Rebus: Why I dreaded new BBC Scotland series - but I actually love it, as 'terrifically morose' Richard Rankin shines

Rebus airs on BBC’s iPlayer from the early hours of Friday morning - and it overcame my initial reservations and more

To be perfectly honest, I was looking forward to the new Rebus like I would root canal treatment.

Which is funny, to me anyway, because I once shared a dentist with Ken Stott, the last actor to impersonate the crime-buster.

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I can’t remember how we got onto the subject when interviewing Stott. But the conversation wound its way through the Edinburgh New Town of our respective youths, including the Madame Doubtfire second-hand clothes emporium in a basement of South East Circus Place and how the proprietress – one of the great capital characters – sat outside in all weathers sucking on a clay pipe and mildly terrorised passing children.

Richard Rankin as RebusRichard Rankin as Rebus
Richard Rankin as Rebus

Then Stott said: “Round the corner in Great King Street – that was my dentist.” Me: “Mine too.” Stott: “What was his name again? Aye, Mr Brown.” A theatrical pause, then: “Liked pulling teeth.”

I wasn’t looking forward to the new Rebus because I thought it would rumble along these streets or others like them. Over-familiar, over-filmed locations, lending the impression that the third go at transferring Ian Rankin’s ‘tec from page to small screen, in what is an overcrowded genre, had been shot from the top deck of a sightseeing bus.

I mean, the drama is obviously Edinburgh-set – that’s definitely the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly Hall where, out front, the first un-Christian act is committed. But it doesn’t make the city the star in the way that other shows filmed in the capital can do, e.g. One Day.

This may be unfair, but I’m wondering if the team behind the Netflix adaptation of David Nicholls’ fine romance were relative strangers, professionally, to the city and fell in love with the classical splendour. Perhaps screenwriter Gregory Burke, from just across the Forth in Rosyth, adopted a more dispassionate, no-nonsense approach, telling a crew for whom Edinburgh was weel-kent: “Right, we know what we want here, let’s crack on.” In any case Burke’s story spends a good bit of time in his native Fife, on a housing scheme fast becoming overrun with drugs gangs.

Another reason to anticipate being underwhelmed is the title music. Though there are distant echoes of Taggart, it sounds like a lot of TV themes in what is far from a golden age for them – a bit dirty and bluesy, a bit Peaky Blinders.

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But that’s quickly forgotten by Burke’s nifty positioning of his younger Rebus – younger than Stott made him appear, anyway – not in a time before the books, but the Edinburgh milieu of right now.

The star, as I say, is not the city, but Richard Rankin. As our hero he’s in just about every scene, and showing just about every bit of him as well, with a bare bum shot adding further weight to the theory that these days it’s more often the guys who strip for the cameras.

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Rankin is terrific. Terrifically morose and misanthropic, that is. By the way, Stott, a Hearts fan, was made to play Rebus as a follower of Hibernian. I reckon he’d have willingly flashed his backside to avoid that fate. Rankin’s man says: “I’m a polisman, ex-Army, a quiet Jambo.” There’s veracity for you. A copper simply has to be Heart of Midlothian.

Rebus leads off my TV week in tomorrow’s Scotsman.



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