TV Preview: Endeavour | The Ice Cream Girls | Doctor Who

TRY AS I might, I’ve never quite managed to adjust to the meandering tempo of ITV detective dramas.

The peerless Cracker aside, they’ve never captured my interest. Even the much-loved Inspector Morse, which continues in perpetuity via afternoon repeats, failed to grab me. An indisputably classy production, it’s something I always admired from afar, but never fell in love with as so many others did. Call me a blundering philistine – you wouldn’t be the first – but I just can’t engage with melancholy detectives solving crimes slowly.

So it’s hardly surprising that I was underwhelmed by Endeavour, the 1960s-set prequel in which the precocious Constable Morse first makes his mark on the death-caked streets of Oxford. Again, there are aspects of it I admire, from Shaun Evans’ subtle, well-observed evocation of John Thaw’s distinctive speech patterns, to the understated chemistry he shares with the great Roger Allam as his pipe-smoking boss. Indeed, any drama which unites Allam and that other fine character actor, Anton Lesser, must have something going for it.

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But the interminably convoluted storyline, involving the mysterious death of a young woman and the murder of a doctor in a public lavatory, is, while mildly diverting, hardly the stuff of great drama.

Recently promoted, with his deductive genius and antisocial quirks already in bloom, Morse uses the case to prove his abilities to Lesser’s sceptical commanding officer. I actually find this aspect of Endeavour, the character-driven plight of an alienated young man, more interesting than the cases themselves. I appreciate, however, that without a prior attachment to the character of Morse, I can’t respond to him warmly as a dedicated fan might. There’s nothing more frustrating for a critic than reacting to something with indifference, but Endeavour doesn’t excite me in either direction.

Following a successful pilot last year, this inaugural series will almost certainly do well. It’s not for me, but it’s there if you want it.

What is it with ITV and murder mysteries? They’re like the broadcasting equivalent of the serial killer-obsessed David from Psychoville, forever offering up stabbed and strangled corpses for our morbid delectation. They’re at it again with The Ice Cream Girls, a drab thriller which, á la Broadchurch, takes place in yet another picturesque coastal community. But whereas Broadchurch compels with its addictive central mystery, The Ice Cream Girls is just another middling ITV potboiler.

A po-faced saga of guilt and retribution (coming soon to ITV: Lynda La Plante’s Guilt & Retribution), it begins with Serena, a successful middle-class woman, moving her family back into the house she grew up in, so as to care for her sick mother. Haunted by a terrible incident from her past – “It was 17 years ago!” bleats her sister, helpfully – she’s terrified of the police, as well as the prospect of her husband and daughter discovering her secret. “I think this move might be a good thing for me!” beams the former, betraying a tragic ignorance of ironic foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, another woman, Poppy, is released from prison – after 17 years – and returns to the same town. Her life in tatters, she’s determined to track down Serena. So what’s their connection? Told via conveniently prominent newspaper cuttings and intermittent flashbacks to the 1990s, the story introduces a slimy schoolteacher played by Martin Compston (see interview, page 6) and his inappropriate relationship with the doe-eyed young Serena. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well.

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The pedestrian nature of The Ice Cream Girls is enlivened somewhat by an arrestingly unsettling performance from Compston, and Jodhi May playing the vulnerable Poppy as the physical manifestation of a repressed scream. Their combined screen presence holds the attention, even while the story trundles along familiar lines.

Last glimpsed in 1974 adventure The Monsters of Peladon, classic Doctor Who baddies The Ice Warriors make an effective comeback in Mark Gatiss’ Cold War. Guest-starring a curiously misused David Warner as – wait for it – an Ultravox-obsessed scientist (the episode is set in 1983), it finds the Doctor and Clara landing inside a nuclear-armed Soviet submarine harbouring something potentially far more dangerous in its belly.

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Making good use of its claustrophobic setting, it’s an Alien-esque thriller which also recalls the base-under-siege yarns of the Patrick Troughton era. Of course, Alien was itself influenced by the classic 1950s sci-fi film The Thing From Another World, which in turn inspired classic-era Doctor Who stories such as The Seeds of Doom. 
Gatiss, who is famously a Doctor Who uber-fan and horror aficionado, is clearly having fun with this never-ending feedback loop in a terrific – and somewhat surprising – addition to the canon.

Talented chap though he is, the former League of Gentleman star and Sherlock co-creator is hardly one of the most inspired authors of 21st century Doctor Who. But Cold War is undoubtedly his most consistently enjoyable effort since The Unquiet Dead back in 2005. And the fact that the imposing appearance of The Ice Warriors has barely been altered since they were first seen in 1967 (their leader played by Bernard Bresslaw, fact-fans) is testament to one of the most memorable designs in Doctor Who’s history.