TV on DVD 07/06/10 – Touching Evil, Life on Mars, Last Chance to See… it’s BritTV week!

Robson Green and Nicola Walker

Touching Evil: The Complete Collection (Acorn) – Debuting in 1999, the British crime series Touching Evil established a grimmer, darker kind of mystery show, a modern urban noir set in an almost airless world of gloomy offices bereft of overhead lighting and viewed through a haze of dust and smoke. Robson Green stars as Dave Creegan, the haunted, tightly wrapped lead investigator in London’s Organized and Serial Crime Unit. The scar on his forehead is a constant reminder of his near death experience and the toll of the job: no one gets out of this unscathed. His partner Susan Taylor (Nicola Walker) finds the line between her personal life and her cases blur, and junior squad member Mark Rivers (Shaun Dingwell) goes through a tormenting trial by fire—and trial under fire—to prove his courage and his competence to the unit and to himself. By the third series, Creegan returns from a nervous breakdown more unstable than ever yet almost pathologically driven to return to the career that cost him his family, his sanity, and at one point his life.

Created by Paul Abbot (State of Play), it’s the flip side of British TV’s other great cop show, “Prime Suspect,” but like that beloved series it hums with incisive writing, sharply etched characters, and dramatic intensity. It’s as much about how the torment, second guessing, and guilt hounds and destroys the investigators as it is about tracking serial killers. Police stories have rarely been more frank or uncompromising. Eight feature-length episodes on three discs in a box set. No supplements.

Life on Mars: The Complete Collection (UK) (Acorn) – “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?” Don’t confuse the terrific through the looking glass British cop show with the ham-handed overkill of the American TV series remake. I disliked the try-so-hard-it-hurts American revision of Life on Mars. No, that’s not quite right. I hated the American version, with its pious commentary and exasperatingly preachy hero. The original, however, is superb. John Simm stars as the 21st century Manchester DCI (that’s Detective Chief Inspector to us yanks), the newest member to a rough and tumble 1973 detective squad with a hard-drinking boss (Philip Glenister) who isn’t particularly worried about the civil rights of his suspects but is dead serious about protecting the people of his working class jurisdiction by any and all means at his disposal.

In the first season, Tyler is convinced he’s there for reason, and maybe if he finds that reason and fulfills his destiny, he can get back, but there are no answers in those eight episodes, only moral quandaries, quantum conundrums and revelations about the dad that abandoned him when he was four… in 1973 Manchester.. In the second and final series (also a mere eight episodes), the answers start coming and when he thinks he’s found a way to get back home, he’s ready to risk everything. The writing is superb, the setting perfect working-class industrial grunge, the characters are right out of badass seventies cop shows and the performances refreshingly free of self-conscious affectation or cliché (unlike the American incarnation). The strong, satisfying conclusion ties up the mysteries with a most unexpected journey that leaves the show with enough enigma to reverberate long after it ends. All 16 episodes on eight discs in a box set of two tightly-packed standard cases, plus commentary on all the first series episodes, two documentaries and a collection of featurettes and other supplements.

Last Chance to See (BFS) – Stephen Fry takes up the odyssey begun twenty years ago by his friend and colleague Douglas Adams, who twenty years ago went in search of some of the most endangered species on the planet with zoologist Mark Carwardine. Fry is an engaging host and narrator while Carwardine serves as tour guide in this entertaining but sobering mix of nature documentary and adventure travel series: the creatures that they search for (among them the Amazonian Manatee, the Northern White Rhino and the Komodo Dragon) are becoming increasingly rare in the wild.. Six episodes on two discs on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Margot (BFS) – Anne-Marie Duff plays prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn in the second act of her career, when she was teamed with young Russian ballet phenom Rudolph Nureyev (Michiel Huisman), a dancer half her age, and rose to even greater international acclaim in the early 1960s. There’s a degree of melodrama in her complicated private life (affairs and betrayals abound) but the cast (which includes Lindsay Duncan and Derek Jacobi) is superb and the performance recreations are gorgeous. Also includes the 1960 performance film “The Royal Ballet,” a theatrical feature directed by Paul Czinner presenting filmed excerpts from three ballets performed by the Royal Ballet featuring Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes.

Also new this week: Return To Lonesome Dove (Vivendi), Dragnet 1968: Season Two (Shout! Factory), ER: The Complete Thirteenth Season (Warner), Doc Martin: Series 4 (Acorn) and Have Gun-Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume Two (Paramount).

For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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