MPI // 1994 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // September 29th, 2004
"We all come out of this a lot less human than what we went in." -- D.I. Frost
Season Three of the beloved British mystery series based on the novels by R.D. Wingfield brings us four more mysteries featuring Detective Inspector "Jack" Frost (David Jason). Those who are familiar with the series will be delighted to know that Frost retains his signature untidy charm, his passion for justice, his irreverent sense of humor, and his detestation of Superintendent Mullett (Bruce Alexander), who is often too busy looking at the public relations angle of a case and not its heart. A Touch of Frost: Season Three continues its tradition of strongly plotted police procedural mysteries with solid acting and a memorable, engaging lead character.
Season Three features four episodes of roughly 100 minutes each, on three discs.
* "Appropriate Adults"
An eight-year-old girl goes missing, and Billy Conrad, a local young man with Down's syndrome, is the last to have been seen with her. High-handed Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Hawkes (Matthew Marsh) is happy to believe in Conrad's guilt and leans on him hard for a confession, but Frost becomes increasingly concerned that other angles are going unexplored because of this single-minded persecution. Since Mullett is absorbed in the upcoming snooker tournament, where he hopes to finally snag the trophy from a rival squad, Frost is left to himself to pursue witnesses who may bring another suspect to light.
This episode's strength is also what makes it so depressing that it's
difficult to watch: its unflinching depiction of society's treatment of the
mentally challenged. The police seem ill equipped to cope with a suspect who is
physiologically an adult male but whose mental age is closer to the young girl
he is accused of killing, and locals are all too ready to demonize him as a
monster. This character's plight is heartbreaking, especially in a sequence that
cuts between shots of him sitting petrified in his jail cell and the police
officers laughing it up at the snooker game. Hard-hitting and grim, this episode
shows human nature at its worst.
When animal rights protestors clash with security forces at a fox hunt, a young man ends up dead. He is no random casualty of mob violence, however, but the victim of deliberate murder. When a prominent animal rights activist turns up dead, Frost is forced to confront the local aristocrats on their home turf, an experience that does nothing to enhance his joie de vivre. Already at the breaking point from the emotional stress of his work, he is all too ready to lash out at well-meaning young Detective Inspector Clive Barnard (Matt Bardock), who is assisting him with the case.
The best Frost entry I've seen so far, hands down, "Quarry"
provides a perfect balance of all the elements that make the show work: humor,
gritty drama, and bittersweet glimpses into Frost's personal life. The solutions
to the killings are genuinely surprising, and Frost's climactic struggle with a
murderer is a tense, exciting scene; we don't often see him in such physical
confrontations. The character of Barnard offers a sensitive counterpoint to
Frost's bluster, and he and Frost have a revelatory confrontation of their own.
In addition, Frost must face romantic interest from an unexpected quarter, which
leads him to take a surprising step. "Quarry" is A Touch of
Frost at its best.
* "Dead Man One"
Frost is delighted when a corpse is discovered in a local river, since it gives him an excuse to blow off the meeting Shirley Fisher (Lindy Whiteford) has arranged to appraise Frost's house. He is happy to relegate the prospect of selling his house (and the question of his future living arrangements, which may or may not include Shirley) to the back burner while he looks into the background of the dead man, whose identity doesn't jibe with his driver's license. Simultaneously, an investigation begins into the mysterious collapse of a young soccer player, a local celebrity whose cockiness has inspired resentment in more than one of his teammates.
Two strong puzzles anchor this solid entry in the series. There's an
intriguing subplot involving the shady activities of some of the soccer players,
which becomes unexpectedly heart-wrenching. Frost also begins to confront his
own future when he starts to feel a certain solidarity with the unclaimed
drowned man, and this leads him to make himself more forthcoming in his
on-again, off-again relationship with Shirley, lending a current of tenderness
to this episode.
A holdup at a glass factory leaves an employee dead and launches Frost on an increasingly complicated investigation in which everyone -- both suspects and the factory owner's family -- seems to have hidden relationships and other secrets to hide. Frost is teamed once more with Detective Sergeant Maureen Lawson (Sally Dexter), whose involvement with a woman she meets in the line of work leads to disaster. At the same time, his own personal life is disrupted once more when Shirley needs his support during a family tragedy.
Season Three closes on a solid but bleak note with this episode, in which
all the plot threads delineate the often disastrous intersection of the private
and the professional. Jason turns in a powerful performance in some of his most
highly wrought scenes yet, and Dexter's return is welcome, but this episode's
overall pessimistic tone isn't quite redeemed by the strong resolution of the
Season Three of A Touch of Frost continues the successful formula established in previous seasons and reunites us with the disorganized, irascible Frost, one of the most unlikely yet endearing champions of justice to anchor a mystery series. Stationed in the drab (fictitious) English town of Denton, Frost constantly sacrifices all other considerations to his pursuit of perpetrators and his passion to see justice done. His single-mindedness doesn't make him a comfortable friend or coworker in many cases, but it makes him an endlessly interesting character to spend time with. The world in which Frost lives -- a world we recognize as our own -- is not a happy or a just one, but it's reassuring to see a good (if flawed) man working to make it better.
The emotional bleakness of Frost's work comes to the fore in this season, particularly in "Quarry," an altogether outstanding episode that features a moving monologue early on in which Frost reflects on how the job has affected him. His intolerance for the minutiae of police work notwithstanding, Frost is passionate in his desire to right the world's wrongs, and as the wrongs keep piling up it makes perfect sense that we would see him become overwhelmed. When he takes these feelings out on the blameless Barnard, we have seen it coming and we sympathize, but we also realize that this form of expression is hardly productive. When Barnard reminds him, "You're not the only copper with a soul," it's a wake-up call for Frost. It's not surprising that in the next episode Frost seems to place a higher value on human companionship than he has heretofore. Sobered at the presence of a corpse whom no one comes forth to claim, he begins to reflect on his own lack of companionable ties, and this seems to mark a turning point in his relationship with Shirley Fisher. Seeing a more romantic side of our favorite curmudgeon is a welcome part of this season. Nevertheless, the series' emphasis on realism, with all its complications and error, means that we can't be any too certain that Frost's personal life will be stable for very long, and the final episode of this season delves into the heart of the issues that complicate Frost's intimate relationships. Likewise, this season shows us the erstwhile capable D.S. Lawson embarking on an ill-advised relationship, which has wide-ranging consequences. Although I don't think Lawson is as much to blame for the outcome of this relationship as she, and even Frost, seem to believe, the sobering outcome of her lapse in judgment reminds us that the world is not a forgiving place.
The demerits I noted in the DVD release of Season Two are still present here: uneven volume levels, a lack of extras, and a lack of scene selection menus or even a printed list of chapters for each episode. Visual transfer seems roughly the same: adequate for a TV show that employs a flat, dim palette, with some minor but discernible dirt and slight occasional haze. Audio varies from robust and resonant in the opening credit music to flat and difficult to hear in some outdoor scenes. The scores I've given the technical elements in this set shouldn't be taken as indicative of a falling off in quality from Season Two; rather, with hindsight I think I was a trifle overgenerous in scoring Season Two, and the scores for Season Three can easily be applied to that set as well.
Viewers unfamiliar with Frost and his world may find it preferable to start with Season One or Two so that they will have the back story that gives this season's depiction of Frost's personal life its full impact. However, in all other respects I can recommend this set to anyone who likes the police procedural mystery form and has a secret longing for a little less political correctness in their protagonists. As with the previous season, the lack of extras, the so-so visual quality, and the high asking price combine to make this set less appealing than its contents warrant, but the series itself remains a solid investment.
Detective Inspector Frost is free to continue his valiant efforts to make the world more just. However, MPI remains under the strictest probation for its offhand DVD treatment of this series.
Review content copyright © 2004 Amanda DeWees; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Review of Season Two