Why are TV’s intelligent female detectives almost always odd?

"Women characters can be clever without having some kind of deep imperfection," says Alison Graham

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One day I will retire, move to the country and spend my days drinking tins of ready-mixed gin and tonic through straws while sitting in my dressing gown, crying whenever I come across an episode of Homes Under The Hammer that I’ve seen before. That’s a lot of tears.

But, years and years later, there will be a call from the editor of Radio Times, Tom Hiddleston, who I’ll have heard arrives shirtless at the office every day (it’s a fantasy, bear with me). Alison, he will beg, sobbing and distraught, please come out of retirement, there’s a new series of Silent Witness that no one was expecting because it was axed by the BBC in 2040.

Only you can review it because only you remember it, Tom will plead. Everyone else is dead and none of the current RT staff remember television because they all watch TV shows via holograms and pixie dust and no one has an actual telly any more. Can I return to work for one last job?

So, dear reader, I will put down that giant bar of Galaxy my old RT pals bought me as a leaving present and lay aside the life-size model of Aidan Turner I’m making out of elastic bands, and I will come out of retirement to bestow my skills.

Soon it will become clear to my new RT colleagues that I’m odd – and not just because I can remember everything about Silent Witness and I’m stupendously clever. I have A Quirk. Something Wrong With Me That Isn’t Named.

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Marcella is lured back to work after a seven-year career break (that’s an awfully long career break, don’t you think?) because a serial killer she’d once failed to catch appears to be killing again.

Quite apart from the fact that this is an ancient plot device, used most recently in last autumn’s From Darkness with Anne-Marie Duff on BBC1, it’s the whole weird-woman thing that bothers me because Marcella has some kind of condition (we don’t know what, yet) that leads her to lose great chunks of time.

She can’t remember, for instance, how she ended up in a bath with a bloody head at the start of the first episode. But why can’t she just BE, like DCI Cassie Stuart, Nicola Walker’s character in last year’s Unforgotten? She was refreshingly normal and she was still an excellent character in a smashing drama. Marcella’s screenwriter is Hans Rosenfeldt, the man who created The Bridge, the Swedish/Danish crime hit. His heroine there, detective Saga Noren, was odd. She was – though this was never spelt out – somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

But Saga was a proper character, her condition didn’t define her and our affection for her was swift and sure and grew over three series so she was more than just Damaged Woman Cop. Unlike Marcella, who is very annoying and whose flaw is the most interesting thing about her. No wonder all her new colleagues resent her.

But women characters can be clever without having some kind of deep imperfection. They can be interesting, too. So what’s everyone afraid of?

Marcella begins tonight at 9pm on ITV

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