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Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman) has been a loyal member of the UCOS team since it started over twelve years ago, so it was a shock to his team-mates and viewers alike when he became implicated in the murder of a policeman. The first part of the story masterfully placed all the plot pieces on the table, enabling this week's episode be a thrilling, witty and exciting final episode for Standing.
Opening with a funeral scene, the episode immediately foreshadows the death of a loved character. Most of the episode is a flashback to the week prior to the funeral; making the audience aware of a death was a brilliantly dramatic framing sequence, which added an element of seriousness to the smallest of moments. Standing is forced to go on the run, leaving the team to solve the case and clear his name. As the story developed, it became clear that he wouldn't be the only one in the firing line should the case go wrong. The episode provided several exhilarating moments as the cold case began to have very modern consequences.
It was great to see Strickland (Anthony Calf) becoming directly involved in the storyline. After being in the programme for eleven years, he is the last remaining link to the old cast, so it was fitting that he should be the most faithful to Standing. We even got a glimpse of future series regular Ted Case (Larry Lamb), who was able to assist the team in clearing Standing's name. Case wasn't on screen for long, but he already appears to be a suitable addition to the team.
As with last week's episode, writer Julian Simpson neatly blended electrifying drama with sharp comedic moments. For example, whilst escaping evil assassins through a garden Standing criticised Danny (Nicholas Lyndhurst) for awkwardly parking around the back of his house; the reply of 'all the spaces at the front were taken by people trying to kill you' was the perfect way to lighten the mood of an otherwise tense occasion. Lyndhurst finally got to show his fine comedy timing with hilariously droll delivery, which suits New Tricks perfectly.
Simpson's neat script managed to provide all the lead characters with a plotline that kept the audience interested in their narrative thread. Departure episodes for major characters can often leave others on the sidelines, but, although this was unquestionably Standing's episode, everyone had something to do. Even Steve (Denis Lawson) got to do more than simply ask "is that a fact?" every scene.
With the rest of the original cast gone, Dennis Waterman was the last man standing and was provided with a fitting final story. His character has -last series excluded- been totally consistent throughout the programme, so it was only right that the storyline involved Standing being drawn too close to the blurred lines of police corruption. Waterman played the scenes of aged regret with aplomb.
Whilst this isn't the place for a rant, the upturn in quality for the first two episodes of this series has made me more annoyed about last series. The producers and executives took a brilliant concept (old cops solving old crimes, with a bit of humour thrown in) and destroyed it. Ratings collapsed and the programme was axed. Now, with the same cast as before, they've produced two startlingly good episodes with pathos and comedy. It seems that the writers/producers of the last series thought they could churn out anything and viewers would stay. These episodes have shown what the cast can do when provided with a quality script and production tone.
The dreadful last series may have killed New Tricks, but, with ratings already starting to regrow and unanimous critical praise for the series so far, it appears to be going out on a spectacular high.