DCI Banks: Innocent Graves (2012)
Why is it, I wonder, that the dead bodies in this series must always turn up somewhere dramatic. This time we’re up on the moors again or is it one of these “wildness” parks — I couldn’t quite make up my mind. Ellie Clayton has been running for her life through the darkness and is found sprawled between some impressive rocks which may be close to a Stonehenge type recreation or some graves — at my age, I get very confused. Wherever it is, she couldn’t have chosen a better place unless a television location expert had been helping her. It should be said at the outset that this is not an adaptation of the book. Not only has the site of the murder been transposed from a cemetery (not creepy enough) to the moors (just missing a hound with Baskerville on the name tag), and all the major characters have been changed.
So in this version of the story, we get to focus on DC Ken Blackstone (Jack Deam). He’s been on a bad run with the Crown Prosecution Service finding the cases he’s worked on not strong enough for the maximum charges he was looking for. This really pisses him off and leaves him even more determined to “get” the right result in the next case he works on. This next victim is a sixteen-year old who regularly attended a theatre workshop with her friend Becca (Sophie Skelton). The man running this workshop was Owen Pierce (James Callis) and when he’s interviewed in his home by Blackstone and DS Winsome Jackman (Lorraine Burroughs), Blackstone does an illegal search and finds potentially incriminating evidence. The police officers then leave the house and find different evidence outside as a pretext for an arrest warrant which includes the right of search. The discovery of the leather jacket with the victim’s blood on it therefore looks legitimate. Except, during the trial, the fact of the unlawful search is established and a mistrial is declared.
This is another of these cases where DCI Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) is relying on his intuition that he has the right man. The fact his DC has messed up the case doesn’t change his view. DI Helen Morton (Caroline Catz) was always sceptical, thinking the evidence circumstantial. She was interested in Tyler Judd (Chris Overton), an older ex-member of the theatre group. And then there are questions about the victim’s father Daniel Clayton (Tim Dutton). Was his relationship with his daughter appropriate? Why has his wife left him and why has his business partner, Simon Harris (Derek Riddell) frozen him out of their business?
When Becca is killed in the same place and more forensic evidence is found implicating Owen Pierce, it looks as if the Banks instinct has been right all along except, driven by guilt, Ken Blackstone has been following Pierce, hoping to catch him in the act. This produces the magnificent irony that the police officer who broke all the rules of evidence in the hope of convicting the wrong man, proves to be his alibi for the second murder. Now forced to confront the reality that he’s been obsessively chasing the wrong man, Banks begins to listen to Helen Morton and, for once acting like a team, all four officers finally arrive at the right answer.
Frankly, I thought the whole thing woefully contrived as our attention is sequentially directed hither and thither. When we get into a subplot to lure Pierce into writing revealing letters for publication in the local newspapers, the level of contrivance goes off the Richter scale. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, the melodrama at the end is ghastly beyond belief. Frankly, none of the police team come out of it looking good. Banks has to grovel in apology to the first victim’s family. He promised them swift justice and then presided over a mistrial. He then continues to pursue the wrong man and ends up grovelling in apology to him and having to arrange for psychological counselling for the man as he’s left to survive in the community with his reputation shredded by wrongful accusations (the damages payable by the police will be record-breaking). Helen Morton was sceptical but did nothing to follow up on that scepticism until the trial collapses. Then she picks up speed but is still wary of taking on the obsessional Banks. He needs someone strong enough to tell him when he’s wrong. Ken Blackstone is shown as a man not interested in following the rules. If he’d been honest from the start, Pierce would never have been arrested and so damaged. The fact he then lies about taking leave to follow the man around simply confirms him as out of control. He’s just lucky evidence of Pierce’s innocence emerges. Otherwise he would almost certainly have been dismissed from the force. As it is, he’s hanging by a thread. Winsome Jackman knew Blackstone was bending the rules and kept quiet. At least she did not commit perjury to try covering up for him. If this was even remotely realistic, the team would be broken up and the surviving officers would be given different duties. As it is, Innocent Graves (2012) maintains the bottom-trawling standard set by the other episodes without any redeeming features.