DCI Banks – how good is Stephen Tompkinson as the ITV1 cop?

DC Blackstone, DS Jackman, DI Morton and DCI Banks. Pics: ITV

As the last DCI Banks story in the current series begins on ITV1, writer and blogger Pat Nurse writes about liking the drama, while being less enamoured with its star…

It  takes time to draw me into a new crime series, and so it was with ITV’s DCI Banks. Stephen Tompkinson is not my favourite actor and I’ve never felt  the urge to watch any of the other shows he’s been in. Ultimately, what led me to view the current series was the book Bad Boy by author PeterRobinson, which piqued my interest.

It was one of those two-for-one summer deals on novels at my local supermarket.I chose Val McDermid’s Trick of the Dark, which is a standalone novel away from her Wire and the Blood series, and the Inspector Banks novel without making the connection to the TV show – probably because I’d never seen any more than the previews advertising the TV series.

Caroline Catz and Stephen Tompkinson

When the current series began, I made sure to watch it and I wasn’t disappointed. It has  intrigue, mystery and suspense, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Banks is branded as a typical clichéd Yorkshireman – grumpy,  down-to-earth, loves the moors, doesn’t suffer fools and he loves jazz music. He will be a cantankerous old git when he retires. He is more than halfway there already.

Fast-paced, good plots
The show is fast-paced, with satisfying plots and characters real enough for us to picture them in a UK cop shop.

Banks is an old-style angry copper in the modern world of policing. He plays by the book but hates it and it tweaks it occasionally to progress his investigation. He is a maverick but his team follows. 

However, DCI Banks the series isn’t as edgy as the books owing to Tompkinson’s overwhelming presence. The character has become larger than Robinson’s original creation thanks the the actor’s interpretation of him. I get Annie’s attraction to him in the book but not in the TV character. Sexy and charismatic are not Tompkinson’s middle names, but maybe that’s just me.

New addition Caroline Katz as DI Helen Morton has a touch of the obsessive about her and the complexity of her character makes her more interesting than her boss or her predecessor. She doesn’t fit in, she has no people skills, no sense of humour. She either tries too hard or not at all. She seems scared of getting close to anyone as if that would somehow demean her professionalism and go against her.

Banks and Morton in Innocent Graves

Banks v Marlowe

I soon got past expecting actor Jack Deam, who plays DC Ken Blackstone, to launch into a Tourette’s-type tirade like his alter ego Marty in Shameless, and it is testament to the actor’s skills that a few scenes in, Marty went and Ken became established.

The first episode of the final two-parter – Innocent Graves – starts tonight at 9pm and I am looking forward to it. Due to reading Bad Boy and Trick of the Dark during the summer, both books came to mind as subjects to study in the adult education literature course I’m running from January next year.

I want my students to compare and contrast both Banks, on TV and in the books, and how McDermid’s crime novel differs – and not least because her main suspect and protagonist are both lesbian – and how the crime novel has changed since the days when The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler first hit the shelves in 1946. It’s certainly come a long way since the male dominated smoke-hazy, seedy black and white, femme fatale world of Philip Marlowe.

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DCI Banks series two with Stephen Tompkinson PREVIEW

DCI Alan Banks is back leading the serious crimes team. Pics: ITV1

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: starts Wednesday, 10 October, 9pm 

Story: DS Annie Cabbot is pregnant and about to go on maternity leave, and DCI Alan Banks is going to miss her badly. But then a mysterious phone message draws him to Harrogate to search for his estranged younger brother, Roy.

Banks is back for the first of six new episodes. Series one didn’t create a huge splash, but Stephen Tompkinson, who plays Banks, has a quite a following from comfy family fare such as Wild at Heart and the drama did well enough in the ratings to be quickly recommissioned.

This story, Strange Affair, begins with an appeal from the detective’s estranged brother, Roy, in a juicy mystery that offers insights into the character’s family background.

Banks is trapped in his brother’s turmoil

Caroline Catz as DCI Morton

‘I’ve got myself into a bit of trouble and need some help,’ Roy pleads. Banks, after a tense evening with his sidekick Annie Cabbot, who’s about to go on maternity leave, shoots off to find his brother. Andrea Lowe, who plays Annie, really is expecting, but has vowed to support Banks in future cases – which should entail further romantic tension.

Banks’s disappearance causes a major problem because a woman is found with a bullet in her head and he is needed as senior investigating officer. But to complicate matters, in the glove compartment of the victim’s car is a hand-drawn map to Alan’s cottage, so Banks is a key witness.

New deputy Helen Morton should make Banks look even angrier
This delicate situation is the cause of a bust-up between Annie and her replacement, Helen Morton, who is now put in charge of the case.

Caroline Catz’s introduction to the show as Helen adds a fresh spark to the drama. A mother-of-four, she’s very efficient but is chucked in at the deep end with Banks’s loyal team, who are not happy that she treats him as a witness. It’s likely that her stern approach to policing is going to wind up Banks no end.

Banks with his parents (Keith Barron and Polly Hemingway)

Keith Barron as Banks’s dad
Also in the cast are Keith Barron and Polly Hemingway as Banks’s parents, who seem to prefer the dodgy Roy to steady Alan. However, it soon turns out that Roy’s troubles are a lot closer to Banks the copper than he could ever have feared.

Average homegrown TV police procedurals rarely stretch their characters like this, and this is a strong curtain-raiser to the series. Whether fans of Peter Robinson‘s acclaimed novels will think the series does the books justice is a different matter.

Tragic cliffhanger
Tompkinson has passion – and some powerful scenes here – but he is a bit sour to capture Banks’s charisma, stoicism and occasional sexiness.

Still, his devotees will love it, and the episode finishes with a tragic jolt, setting up the next instalment nicely.

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson DCI Alan Banks, Andrea Lowe DS Annie Cabbot, Caroline Catz DCI Helen Morton, Jack Deam DC Ken Blackstone, Lorraine Burroughs DS Winsome Jackson, David Westhead Gareth Lambert, Keith Barron Alan’s dad, Polly Hemingway Ida

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DCI Banks: Playing with Fire starring Stephen Tompkinson PREVIEW

Stephen Tompkinson is back on the case as DCI Banks. Pics: (C) Left Bank/ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: Part 1 Friday, 16 September, 9pm

Story: Two bodies are found on separate canal narrowboats after a fire. Banks and Cabbot learn it was arson, but the discovery of a stash of money and a very valuable Turner painting make it hard for the detectives to work out a motive for the crime.

Do we really need another police procedural?

You know the format – Murder scene. Forensics. Where were you on the night of…? Det Insp Gruff and Det Sgt Sidekick at loggerheads. Breakthrough. Case solved.

We’ve already got Inspector George Gently, New Tricks, Scott & Bailey, Vera, Case Sensitive, Lewis and Midsomer Murders bumping into each other in the schedules. That’s without the US tsunami of CSIs, NCIS, Rizzoli & Isles, Body of Proof etc. Or Wallander (British and Swedish), or… well, you could go on. 

Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe
You’d think if a channel was going to elbow its way into this crowded crime scene with another procedural, it would come up with something breathtakingly fresh. Instead, we have DCI Banks.

Which is not bad, but it’s not dazzling either. Just more of the same.

Here it’s Stephen Tompkinson as Alan Banks, the actor seemingly cast on the basis that he is well known after the vet drama Wild at Heart, rather than for anything he brings to award-winning crime author Peter Robinson‘s often charming hero. No light and shade in Tomkinson’s Banks, however, just a lot of scowling and staring (see pics).

Love-hate – Cabbot and Banks

The chalk to his cheese – because detective and sidekick must always be ill-matched – is Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot. It is meant to be something of a love-hate relationship, but you’d need to be a top forensic specialist to detect any trace of chemistry between them for the love side of things.

Peter Robinson’s excellent novel
Watching them is quite a turn-off. She goes behind his back, he snarls at her for trying to show him up in front of colleagues. How their on-off ‘relationship’ is supposed to work is unfathomable.

But does this matter? The police procedural is now such an established template that they can be assembled with ill-fitting characters in lifeless stories and still clock up enough of an audience to be recommissioned. The first Banks series hit 6.7 million viewers, enough to bring us this new series of three two-part mysteries.

Who stares wins – Banks and Dr Aspern

The opener is called ‘Playing with Fire’, which was one of Peter Robinson’s stand-out stories. The episode opens with a man waking to find himself on fire. The blaze on a canal boat eventually leads to the discovery of two corpses.

Murder and the long-lost Turner
When a long-lost painting by Turner is uncovered, the motive for the crime becomes hard for Banks to discern. He begins to suspect the estranged family of one of the victims, Christina Aspern – particularly her father, Dr Patrick Aspern, and his weird young wife, Miranda. And this inevitably leads to conflict with Cabbot, who thinks Banks has it in for the doctor’s family.

It’s a strong story to start the series, but as usual in this format, the mechanics of whodunit override the characters. These are captivating and appealing in the novels, but flat and unbelievable on TV.

Suspicious – Miranda

It was the same with Ian Rankin’s creation John Rebus, a completely compelling maverick in the novels, who never came across in small-screen adaptations that were only really concerned with solving the crime – often the least memorable part of the books.

Detectives and sidekicks – time for a rest
This year has seen some tremendous crime dramas and thrillers, including The Shadow Line, Mad Dogs, The Field of Blood, Appropriate Adult and Page Eight, plus American shows such as Dexter, Justified and Boardwalk Empire – none of them plodding procedurals.

When the murder investigation show works, as in Prime Suspect or The Killing, it is unforgettable. But DCI Banks is a routine crime-show-by-numbers. Time for the genre to spend some time in solitary confinement.

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson DCI Alan Banks, Andrea Lowe DS Annie Cabbot, Lorraine Burroughs DS Winsome Jackman, Jack Deam DC Ken Blackstone, Colin Tierney CS Rydell, Tom Shaw DC Kevin Templeton, John Bowe Dr Patrick Aspern, Gary Cargill Jake McMahon, Marc Finn Geoff Hamilton, John Light Mark Keane, Tamzin Merchant Miranda, Jade Williams Gerry Siddons

Stephen Booth: Third Degree

Award-winning crime author Stephen Booth has written 11 mysteries involving the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry with a distinctive, sometimes menacing Peak District setting. He was a newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years before publishing the first Cooper/Fry novel, Black Dog, in 2000. crimetimepreview quizzed him about his criminal viewing activities… 

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

New Tricks. Some great character actors in that cast. Or perhaps Life on Mars, for the same reason.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Law & Order: Criminal Intent with Vincent D’Onofrio.

Top TV cop?

It’s a difficult one. But for sheer longevity without losing my interest, I would have to say Inspector Frost

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Stuart Pawson’s Inspector Charlie Priest series has been overlooked for too long.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

There are no actors who exactly fit my picture of Ben Cooper or Diane Fry. But readers often write to tell me who they visualise when they’re reading the books. Usually, their ideas are quite different from mine! But I don’t mind – in fact, I like people to interpret the characters in their own way. Any TV or film adaptation would involve someone else’s interpretation of Ben or Diane, of course. And, as long as the actors do a good job, that’s fine by me.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience?

Some of the shows which I know are complete fantasy, like CSI or Waking the Dead. I watch them the way I would a science fiction  series – with a massive suspension of disbelief! But it’s fun to go along for the ride.

Least favourite cop show/thrillers?

I was very disappointed in the Wycliffe series, based on the books by W. J. Burley. I liked the books, but on screen the central character of Wycliffe became rather unpleasant and creepy.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I’ve never seen The Sopranos, which I know puts me in a tiny minority. So it would have to be The Wire.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock. He’s a much more complex and flawed character.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Oh, definitely the Swedish version with Krister Henriksson. I really believe in him as Wallander. Kenneth Branagh has never convinced me – nor does Rolf Lassgård in the earlier Swedish version.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, as long as they’re well scripted and properly cast. There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell… and a whole lot more. Among US writers, the top man is Michael Connelly.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author

Douglas Adams. I once signed a few copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on his behalf. He was dead by then, so I didn’t think he would mind.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?


You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

Well, none of those out-of-control drunks with personality disorders, thank you very much! I’d want someone I could trust to do a really good job. Like, say… Jules Maigret. He’d be about 130 years old now, though.

Stephen’s latest Cooper and Fry mystery, The Devil’s Edge, is published in the UK on 7 April. 

Watching the new detectives this autumn

Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham’s spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks.

Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.

Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.

Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.

UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin’s brilliant character.

We’ll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne’s first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham’s site.

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