Pat Stacey: Ruth Wilson is every bit as important to Luther as Idris Elba
New Year's Day TV review: Luther *** Doctor Who *****
Order has been restored. In as sure a sign as any that the festive cheer has well and truly dissipated, Luther is back for a fifth mini-season, stripped across four consecutive nights.
Big, badass DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), Hackney’s finest, has returned to his bonkers, bananas beat for the first time in three years, swaggering around a dark, scary London seemingly populated exclusively by cops, gangsters and raving psychopaths.
I love Luther’s swagger: head down, shoulders forward, arms thrust into pockets, legs walking in opposite directions, like they’re desperately trying to escape one another’s company. Luther’s walk deserves a BAFTA of its own.
Luther’s overcoat is back too, and as over-tight as ever. Maybe even more so. Has it been to the dry cleaners a few too many times since Luther first barged into viewers’ consciousness all the way back in 2010?
This would certainly account for the fact that it’s never buttoned up, no matter how cold the weather.
Then again, Luther’s overcoat wouldn’t look the same buttoned-up. It wouldn’t be able to flap photogenically in the breeze.
It’s not really an overcoat at all, you see; it’s a cape. Because Luther has transcended being a mere telly cop. He’s now a superhero, able to withstand the kind of punishment that would kill most men — even men of his massive, seam-splitting size.
Within the first 20 minutes of the New Year’s Day opening episode (the only one I’d seen at the time of writing), Luther managed to survive being tied to a chair and tasered three times by crime boss George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide) — who, you might remember, Luther chained to a radiator in the last season — and his minions, then had to race against time to remove a bomb tied around the neck of an informer before it blew the poor fella’s head off.
And this was all before we got to the real meat of the story: a psychopath with a clown mask and LED lights sewn into his hood, who’s murdering people in a variety of gruesome ways. He slits the throat of a lone passenger aboard a bus (a nerve-wracking standout scene that’s likely to put you off taking the night bus forever), rips the eyes and tongue from another victim, and turns a third into a human pin cushion by hammering nails into their body.
Luther has always gone in for extremes, and these were exceptionally grisly, graphic scenes, but Neil Cross appears to be trying to head off familiar accusations of misogyny by making two of the three victims men. Expect a few complaints, nonetheless.
The key to the mystery is an icy psychiatrist (Hermione Norris) with cheekbones as sharp as stilettos who, in a late twist, is revealed to be tied to the killer in an unexpected way.
In truth, for all the gore and deranged plots turns, this was a comparatively muted return for Luther. But a welcome last-minute appearance by Luther’s nemesis/companion, the super-smart psycho Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), who’s the Hannibal Lecter to his Clarice Starling, should mean things pick up pretty quickly. Wilson is every bit as important to the series as Elba, and she was sorely missed last time around.
Jodie Whittaker has been excellent in Doctor Who, yet her first season lacked a truly strong, memorable villain. The slightly extended New Year’s Day special delivered one: a lone Dalek, separated from its protective, weaponised metal shell and squishily attaching itself, Alien-style, to a young woman whose motor skills it needed to build a new one.
This was exhilarating stuff, fast-moving, action-packed, witty (there were some clever swipes at Brexit) and satisfyingly creepy.
Showrunner/writer Chris Chibnall also came up with an excellent framing story, stretching back to the Daleks’ arrival on earth in the 9th century. Sadly, there won’t be a new series until 2020.