Doc On The Box – Unforgotten Series One

A skeleton found in the cellar of a building prompts investigation from DCI Stuart and her colleague into the murder of a young man that could potentially span back thousands of years.

Well, that’s what the IMDB says about episode one. In fact the body belongs to Jimmy Sullivan, a young black man who went missing in London decades previous to the discovery. DCI Cassie Stuart and DS Sunil “Sunny” Khan investigate the cold case, helped no end by a diary found with the body.

The body contains a list of names of people who were involved in Jimmy’s life and possibly in his death. But as the past begins to reawaken, the danger from the past might return as well.

Yes, this is an old show, from 2015, but I’ve just watched it on Britbox UK and thought I’d give some thoughts on it. One particular reason is to ask you, dear reader, is if I should carry on watching the next three series? Because I’m a bit divided on this.

The cast is astounding. Led by the wonderful Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Baskar, the suspects and those surrounding them are populated by a plethora of the UK’s acting talent – Trevor Eve, Tom Courtney, Ruth Sheen, David Troughton, Bernard Hill, Hannah Gordon, Peter Egan, Gemma Jones… and the stories of the characters that are triggered by the discovery of Jimmy’s body carry enough weight to draw excellent performances out the entire cast. The stories are absorbing and generally held my interest throughout.

But… you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you? The show is presented as a murder mystery, hence me writing about it here, and as a murder mystery, it’s about as complex as trying to find some hay in a haystack. The problem is that the “suspects” stories diverge quickly into their own strands and only one story continues to have Jimmy’s presence in it. There is something in the revelation of the killer that is supposed to be a twist, but it’s about as twisty as a ruler. As soon as one particular word is mentioned, they might well have tattooed the word “KILLER” on that character’s forehead. And I should say that it seemed later in the story that the use of that plot point actually doesn’t work by itself, so they had to paper over some cracks to explain why things had been quiet for the past years. I’m genuinely curious – was anyone watching really surprised by the killer’s identity? Were we supposed to be?

I could have done with some more time establishing why Cassie was so obsessed with past murders. I thought at one point that her dad, Peter Egan, was a ghost, which would have given some motivation, but alas no. Well, not alas, that’s a crap twist, but some sort of justification would have been nice. Also, Sanjeev Bhaskar seemed mostly there to react to Nicola Walker, which seemed a bit of a waste of his character. I guess the characters will be expanded upon in the upcoming series… well, I hope so anyway.

So, dear reader, should I watch more? As strong as the performances were, and as interesting as the stories were (not withstanding enough epilogues to rival The Return Of The King), I’m in it for the mystery. Do things improve, or should I look elsewhere?

15 comments

  1. Don’t recall season 2 particularly. Season 3 is poor, especially in its resolution. That’s really poor actually. S4 is better than S3 as drama and as a mystery but again not perhaps what you are looking for.

    I found it okay as a drama.

    So uncertainty on S2, thumbs down on the rest.

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  2. We only watched the first two seasons because, although we really got absorbed with the first and felt the divergent storylines supported the whole well, season two started to slip a bit too much and the characters didn’t engage me the way the first season did.
    The second seemed to drift even further away from being a mystery and it started to become clear that we were going to be led the way so many so-called “mystery” series go these days, focusing more on the the investigators and their private lives than the mystery itself. I don’t mind some insight into the detectives lives but, hey, let’s face it, we never saw Columbo and spouse fighting over who was going to take out the bin and that didn’t hurt the show one bit.

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    • Well, Columbo and Mrs Columbo did get divorced – sort of. There’s a short-lived Mrs Columbo series that soon got renamed as a) it was apparently rubbish and b) the producers never had the rights to the Columbo name in the first place.

      Thanks for the info – I think I’m going to have to look elsewhere. That’s some time saved…

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      • I actually watched MRS COLUMBO when it was new – and no, it wasn’t much good. Universal definitely had the rights to the name but the ratings were lousy and they just kept trying to revamp it before finally giving up.

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  3. It is really a disguised anthology show, the cold case a way to explore the lives of the various characters. Which I liked a lot (this first season had the best plot and characters in my view). Later series focus a bit more on our two cop heroes … which is to say, as a character drama you should stick with it. But as a mystery show, you may want to stick with Poirot, Marple and Morse on BritBox 😁

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    • That’s the conclusion I was coming to. As a mystery, this is obvious, but as a character piece, there are odd bits too. For example, the character with a racist past – there is a revelation that she was the instigator, not the follower, that never gets mentioned again. Similarly, the very odd and nasty behaviour of one of the suspects children in the final episode seemed to come out of nowhere.

      Focussing on the cops might be better – I never got a feeling as to why Nicola Walker’s character was so obsessed. I seriously believed for two episodes that her father was a ghost and his murder was unsolved too…

      I’m not after a fairly clued murder mystery, by the way, although that’s always nice. I’ve no quibbles with a TV show pulling a motive out of nowhere – but it has to be a surprise, not a three hour trawl to discover everything that I’d guessed was the truth.

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  4. Hmm, glad you made me think about this more. Because I don’t always mind the focus on the detectives and their lives. Even in as light a show as the one about the cops brought out retirement to solve cold cases, I cared more about them than their cases and how their lives developed.
    But as I think about Unforgotten, (and I think we watched through season 3, actually) it was that I stopped caring about the characters who ran through the threads surrounding the “mystery.” First season, I was all in, really wanting certain people to be okay at the end but as the seasons ran on, there were more and more characters that all I could think was “well, I really don’t care what happens to that person.”
    I never watch mysteries just for the mystery because I don’t try to solve “whodunnit” anyway. (Maybe why I seem to be one of the few who like Innes). And, oh my god, we’ve been rewatching some Miss Marple and they are such a slog! I don’t like them anymore at all and wonder why I once did.

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    • I don’t necessarily watch to solve, but I do watch to be surprised. I don’t want to be able to guess who did it, I want the writer to trick me.

      The Joan Hicksom Marples still work for me – the production values and the general performances stand out – but yes, they can be slow. Probably too faithful to the source material

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      • The Hickson are faithful and the production values wonderful. Unfortunately—and, yes, I know I’ll be cast out into the wilderness with nothing but romances to read for saying this—I just really dislike Hickson in the role. She not only is not what I envision when I read Marple but makes my teeth ache. I can’t be the only one. Can I?

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      • Tough question and I don’t think I have a good answer. No, McEwan doesn’t fit my image but the candy floss lightness of some of those episodes are fun to watch. I just have to avoid thinking of them as Christie. I think Julia McKenzie might almost come closest. She’s twinkly where twinkly works but can be dead serious as well. Since Christie herself thought Hickson would some day be the perfect Marple, I should defer.
        Now, for a Marple that is as far away from Christie as New York is from Dover, one can’t do better than Margaret Rutherford’s hefty, brawling take on the character!

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      • McKenzie isn’t bad, but she’s still too active for my tastes. I prefe tradition in the core characters, even when the plots are jiggled about with. See Malkovich’s Poirot – or rather don’t – for example.

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      • I have avoided the Malkovich Poirot—just reading about it made me a bit queasy. Haven’t watched the Branagh yet, either. I think it’s the moustache…
        I think it’s why I get on well with Death in Paradise. Since I have no expectations of what the people should be like, I don’t mind when they change.
        I’m hoping someone reviews the new Britbox version of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans before I break down and watch it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll look forward to it. And BritBox in the US is finally going to run the latest season (or maybe there’s another by now but the latest we’ve had) of Death in Paradise so I’ve that to look forward to.

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