A strangely comedic crime drama from Dennis Spooner (Doctor Who, the Avengers, The Champions and Department S) and Monty Berman (The Baron, The Saint), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) combined the elements of a mystery serial with the supernatural and wrapped it all up in a package of British humor. Shown on the BBC’s rival network, ITC, the series is a cult nostalgic 60′s hit series in the same family as the Prisoner and Department S.
However, this is one instance where I am more familiar with a reboot of a program than the original material. In 2000, Charlie Higson, a writer well known at the time for The Fast Show, a successful sketch comedy program. Cast in the starring roles was a pair of stand up comedians, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Martin Hopkirk and Jeff Randall are business partners in an ailing detective agency. A bumbling fool, Marty is blessed with the beautiful and charming fiancee Jeannie. Marty’s partner Jeff is the more reliable and mature member of the partnership, but only because Marty is such a child. When Marty is killed in the middle of a case, he oddly comes back to life in order to solve the mystery of his own death by helping the only man who can see him, his best friend and business partner, Jeff. Seeking to help Marty’s best friend get his act together, Jeannie volunteers to operate alongside Jeff while Marty keeps an eye on the pair of them, a deeply jealous apparition.
The program ran for two series and as I scoured the ‘net looking for cult programs on DVD, I spotted several positive reviews of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) as appealing to fans of Doctor Who and other such things. Featuring guest star appearances by Blake’s 7 alum Gareth Thomas and League of Gentlemen writers Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson, I knew that I had to check this out. The plotting is interesting, the comedy inspired and the visuals impressive for its time. The main cast, it must be said, is somewhat lacking in acting ability as Reeves and Mortimer made their debut outside of sketches in this series, but they are also terribly likable and charming.
The pacing and tone can a bit slow compared to more recent TV programs, but the relationships between the characters along with the unexpected regular guest star Tom Baker make this a must-see program for readers of this blog.
Episode One: Part One (featuring future Doctor Who star David Tennant)
Possessing abilities to influence the physical world of the living, Marty is limited by specific rules that are conveyed in forced rhyme. A hopeless case as a ghost, Jeff is appointed a teacher named Wyvern, a totally bizarre spirit played by former Doctor Who, Tom Baker. The teaching sequences are presented in a wonderfully imaginative computer generated environment of constantly shifting backgrounds, giving the afterlife a kind of texture while allowing it to remain ethereal and otherworldly.
Tom Baker as Wyvern
Marty’s attempts at becoming a bona-fide ghost are mostly laughable and he really is a goof, but often his true nature comes through when Jeff needs him in a pinch. Typically Jeff would be involved in a case in the ‘real world’ while Marty was ensnared in some hi-jinx in the afterlife, either chased by police or trying to pick up another ghost at the Limbo Club. This unusual twist made the program visually interesting and unique while also adding a fair bit of flavor to the program.
An unusual program for a revision, the 2000 version was something of a ratings disaster and was canceled after two years. It’s unfortunate that Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) failed to find its audience but I firmly believe that it was a case of being released ahead of its time. I found both series while honeymooning in Scotland and the DVDs are regular viewing material for myself and the missus.
Recently news has broken that the American cable channel SyFy are planning to launch their own adaptation of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) which is apparently going to be a straight drama if I understand the press so far. I’m not sure what to say other than ‘argh.’