New Tricks has no business using a rape storyline – it’s the last resort of a dying drama

"Rape stories in dramas are justified only in the most select of circumstances; a rape story has to mean something profound," says TV editor Alison Graham

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There’s a heart-sinking moment in this week’s New Tricks, when a woman witness asks to speak “to a female officer”. Uh-oh, you’ll be thinking, here it comes.

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Yes, it’s a wholly specious, completely incongruous rape storyline, presumably because all other plot avenues are blocked by the heavy-handed interplay between the Tricksters (which is what New Tricks has always been about, surely?) or the sheer exhaustion of a series that is in its death throes and will be laid to rest for good in a mere six weeks’ time.

Rape stories in dramas are justified only in the most select of circumstances; a rape story has to mean something profound, something that takes us to new levels of understanding. It isn’t a hand grenade to be thrown into a moth-ridden cop show that’s run out of ideas. Writer Sally Wainwright used rape with devastating brilliance in Happy Valley, where we saw nothing of the act, but the fall-out was incendiary and heart-rending; it was a proper, assiduously mapped-out story.

We don’t actually see the commission of the crime in New Tricks either, thank heavens, but we hear an account of an historic assault from the victim. In fairness, the actress burdened with this hellish plot-backpack makes a good job of her speech. Sadly for her the “female officer” who listens to her is Detective Chief Inspector Sasha Miller (Tamzin Outhwaite), a stranger to empathy. Sasha listens while attempting to appear concerned but ends up looking as if she’s reading a bus timetable on a wet night. “You’ll get nothing from her, love,” I yearned to say as the victim’s pain spread across the interview room table between them, like an ink blot.

 

But New Tricks is such a flat, stale show that it has no business dabbling in anything important, not any more. It certainly has no business using a rape storyline purely to drive a plot that touches the very edges of believability, before jumping over the side. At the very least, the juxtaposition of the Tricksters joshing over an icon apparently filled with the mystical ashes of new member Ted Case’s dad’s ashes and something horrible that destroys real lives, is queasy.

Remember the ghastly, albeit unseen, sexual assault on Anna in Downton Abbey, something that interposed itself into a piece of soapy historical fluff like a punch to the head? I suppose you could say, at the very least, that this had consequences, though it was almost universally reviled as an unwelcome intrusion of violence. Meanwhile The Fall made rape and serial killing look as lovely as a perfume ad.

There are no consequences in New Tricks. The woman tells her story, the episode is dusted off, and ends with a spectacularly lame piece of practical jokery. 

I realise, of course, that New Tricks must be a rapacious beast, but it’s a knockabout cop show that bears no relation to reality. Dennis Waterman, who left at the start of the final series, told RT recently about how much he and his old muckers in the original cast had so much fun, and how “strangers would come up to me to say how obvious it was that we [the original cast] loved working together”. Well, good for you. Frankly, I don’t care if you left each other freshly baked jam tarts every morning or conversely pushed each other down open manholes, I’m interested in the acting, not the actors’ circle of friendship. But this grab at gravitas should never have seen the light of day in a worn-out show. 

Alison Graham is TV editor of Radio Times

New Tricks continues on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9:00pm 

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