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DVD Review: The Last Detective: Complete Series

If there wasn't any truth to an expression it probably wouldn't ever have been said, so although you can't take a saying like "nice guys finish last" as gospel, you can be sure there has to be some truth to it. One only needs look at the way the world conducts business to realize how a saying like that could have come about. In everything from running for political office to office politics if you're not prepared to be a little underhanded or dirty, your chances of finishing on top of the heap are reduced substantially.

There are some professions where even the very notion of niceness having a part to play in getting the job done seems too ridiculous to contemplate. Take being a police officer, can you imagine politely asking someone in the midst of robbing the corner store to please drop their weapon, put their hands down, and give themselves up? Sure a police officer is polite to the general public, but when it comes to dealing with criminals, well that's another story. All of which could explain why Detective Constable (DC) "Dangerous" Davies of the British television series The Last Detective remains firmly planted at the bottom when it comes to his job and his personal life.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of watching DC "Dangerous" Davies in action, the good people at Acorn Media are going to be releasing The Last Detective: Complete Collection on January 20th/09. The nine DVD set not only contains all seventeen episodes of the television series, it also includes the 1981 Granada TV movie Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective as a bonus feature, which offers a different take on the story told television series' first episode.
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Everybody knows and likes DC "Dangerous" Davies (Peter Davison) except for perhaps his colleagues who think he's a bit of a joke. The word on the street is that if you're going to get nabbed, "Dangerous" is the one you want to get picked up by, as he's always polite and never out of line. As one bloke says to him, "Always a pleasure to be picked up by you "Dangerous", you never go in for any of that rough stuff or racial epithets like some others". Unfortunately that high opinion isn't shared by his north London police station's Inspector: "You're the last detective I'll ever think of for a job, unless it's shit, the stuff that no one else wants, then you'll be the first I'll think of".

In episode after episode we see that DC Davies is the one who gets to deal with the little old ladies who believe their neighbour has cut up his wife and is throwing him out in the garbage, and all the other calls that his fellow officers thinks are beneath them. He's the one who gets called to the scene when a petty thief is threatening to kill himself with a home made bomb made from an alarm clock and sausages, or to deal with anyone whose being particularly bothersome.

Yet what's probably most aggravating about "Dangerous" is his unerring ability to make the rest of his colleagues look bad. A case that's been unsolved by his, younger, higher in the ranks, fellow detectives, gets handed to him because the victim is being a bother in the episode "Tricia". Through perseverance, dogged determination, and a willingness to spend time listening to the victim, Davies figures it out. What makes matters worse, is that the answers weren't that hard to come by, if only the detectives investigating the case in the first place had bothered to do their job properly. Nobody likes a loser, especially when he wins and makes you look bad doing so.

For the viewer the great thing about DC Davies is how human he is. How often do you see on a cop show the officer kicking the door in fallinf on his face on top of the door and then being stepped on by the other officers running into the apartment? It's not that DC Davies is literally a door mat, he wouldn't be the sympathetic character he is if he was, but he just can't bring himself to be rude. Sometimes you have the distinct impression he wants to be, the way his shoulders stiffen when his back is to someone, and the deep breath he takes before turning around. Yet, by the time he's facing the camera again, his smile is hitched firmly in place and he's ready to give who ever his total attention.
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Peter Davison does a wonderful job portraying DC Davies as we see all sides of his character. The frustration he feels at the way he's treated, at the crap jobs he's given to do, war with his desire to do his job to the best of his capabilities and his very real belief that he is supposed to be helping people. He is a genuinely decent man and the compassion he feels for the people he deals with is honest. On the other hand, in spite of what anybody he works with might think, he's not a pushover and has no sympathy for the real villains of the world. He might have a kind word and smile for the winos, the petty thieves, and other basically harmless types, but those who do genuine harm will find out that "Dangerous" isn't necessarily just a sarcastic nickname.

As he receives little or no help from his fellow officers, Davies is forced to call upon the services of his friend Mod (Sean Hughes) for advice and the occasional helping hand. Mod seems to change jobs like some people do shirts, as at one point he's a dog walker, another teaching English to Japanese au-pair girls, and in one instance doing a door to door survey of the sexual habits of the local senior citizens. However, in spite of his peculiarities he's a good friend to Davies, and one of the few people he can count on. Hughes has a lot of fun playing Mod and its obvious that both he and Davison have a great time doing their scenes together.

In fact the quality of the acting through out the entire series is spot on (look for guest appearances from various familiar faces including Roger Daltry of the Who) from the actors in the continuing roles of Davies' ex-wife and colleagues to those who only show up for a single episode. What I especially appreciated were those characters who you think you have figured out and either over the course of an episode, or the series, they surprise you by the way they change and how well the actors are able to make those transitions work.

As the show The Last Detective is fairly recent, the picture and sound quality are of very good quality. While the special features are limited to an interview with actor Peter Davison, and some on screen reading material about the author of the books the series is based on, the inclusion of the the 1981 television movie Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective is a real treat. With Bernard Cribbins playing Davies we get a different view of the character, and I found it only increased my enjoyment of the series as a whole rather than forcing me to choose which of the two I preferred. It was like seeing a photograph of the same scene from a different angle with each one offering an equally fascinating perspective.

DC "Dangerous" Davies is not your typical television police officer and The Last Detective is definitely not your typical television cop show. However if you like intelligent television that's a little off the wall, and mysteries that are sometimes not what they seem to be, than you are sure to enjoy The Last Detective: The Complete Series.

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