When you hear that Jed Mercurio is involved in a TV crime drama, as a viewer, you have certain expectations. Years of watching Line of Duty and newer efforts like Bodyguard, Vigil and Trigger Point have set a tone. A Mercurio-tinged series will have excitement, tense action scenes, unexpected deaths and cliff-hangers.
ITV1’s new four-parter DI Ray, running over consecutive nights this week, counts the famous screenwriter as an executive producer. Much more involved in its conception and execution is another Line of Duty face, actress and writer Maya Sondhi, who played PC Maneet Bindra in the corrupt copper thriller.
The first thing to say about DI Ray is that the familiar faces aren’t just behind the camera. The cast is a veritable Who’s Who of British TV drama – to the point where it actually becomes a little distracting. By the first ad break we’d spotted:
● Gemma Whelan (DS Sarah Collins from The Tower, Geraldine from Killing Eve, Ann Eaton from White House Farm)
● Jamie Bamber (Sam Wright from Innocent, DCI Tim Williamson from Marcella, Matthew Wild from Fearless)
● Steve Oram (Phil from Killing Eve, DC Alex Grummit from The Moorside)
● Ian Puleston-Davies (Brian from The Teacher, Frank Jackson from Tin Star, Peter Cullen from Marcella)
● Maanuv Thiara (Vihaan Mahotra from Line of Duty, DC MacBride from Landscapers)
In the central role, though, is Parminder Nagra as the eponymous Detective Inspector Rachita Ray. The former ER actress plays Ray as a tough nut, but not an insensitive one. She’s smart but not a show-off. Like so many fictional detectives with a TV series named after them, however, her hunches appear to be pretty inspired.
On her first case working for a new department investigating ‘CSHs’ – culturally-specific homicides – DI Ray is quick to spot that the newly-dead Imran isn’t the victim of an honour killing as her team rather lazily and prematurely decides. It looks like there’s much more to the case than a family name-sparing knifing.
At its core, this is a drama about racism – about the various forms of it that, in this specific case, Asian women experience in the police force can and do suffer.
It would have been very easy to make DI Ray an onslaught of broadly-drawn characters acting like bigots, but it’s cleverer than that. Ray isn’t portrayed as a victim and those around her aren’t carrying on like they’re at a National Front meeting in the 1970s. Discrimination comes in many forms, some of which can even be delivered ‘politely’.
Immediately we’re shown the successful police officer browsing the shelves after work one day and being mistaken for a shop assistant. Later, she’s given the lanyard of another Asian woman by a careless receptionist. The series pivots on her being awarded a new job by a senior police figure who declares her ‘exactly what we need’ after quizzing her about her ‘heritage’.
Where the series excels is applying its heavy themes with a light touch. There’s a story here, a real plot which is allowed to live and breathe. Themes of discrimination and multiculturalism appear almost organically throughout.
This opener was a little slow going at points – let’s be generous and say it was ‘low key’ – but we’re always prepared to allow for that in episode one. Characters established and tone set, we’ll be expecting things to pick up a little on Tuesday evening.
The final seconds of the first instalment had Ray coshed unconscious by an unknown assailant for getting too close to the truth. She came to, though. Not even a Jed Mercurio exec-produced series could kill its title character in the first hour.
Did you tune in for DI Ray episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on DI Ray episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
As is so often the case with TV crime dramas, this second episode brought with it a second corpse. Now DI Rachita Ray and her ‘culturally-specific homicide’ team are investigating the murder of Anjuli Kapoor, as well as her boyfriend Imran Aziz.
Detective Inspector Ray – played by a restrained and convincing Parminder Nagra – is certain that their deaths aren’t due to a family clash and is adamant that there’s something bigger going on. It doesn’t take her too long to realise her hunch has a grounding in reality here in Tuesday night’s instalment.
Ray continues to deal with racial and cultural issues at work and in her private life too – partly just down to being an Asian woman in a primarily white working environment, but also from being engaged to a non-Asian man as well.
The discrimination, while still subtle in nature, is becoming more and more frequent. Poor old DI Ray seems to face some sort of comment every five minutes. While the near-constant nature of the low level prejudice is employed to make a point for television, no examples feel overly contrived or particularly unrealistic, though the odd line can feel a tad overwritten.
Perhaps the best thing about the series so far is that it doesn’t take a one-dimensional look at the issues faced by second generation immigrants. During a therapy session, Rachita opens up about growing up feeling out of place. ‘I spent my whole trying to fit in. But it never worked. I’m not Indian enough for the Indians. And I’m not white, either.’
This second part’s big ‘twist’ was telegraphed more than a little, but still impactful. DI Ray and her sergeant ended up at a freight yard looking for a consignment of what they thought would be heroin or cocaine. It turned out to be people trafficking operation that they uncovered.
It’s a scene we’ve seen before as TV viewers, but it still packs a punch. A container door is forced open and police enter, torchlight flicking about. We expect to see boxes or large packages, but instead it’s feet, legs, arms and heads of sprawled-out dead and unconscious people.
It’s a sobering scene. The thought of it in itself is an upsetting one. What’s worse is that we all know that it happens in real life. Not just the conditions and exploitation of human trafficking and modern slavery, but the very real danger of death in transit. The truly abhorrent Essex lorry deaths, where the bodies of 39 Vietnamese people were discovered onboard an articulated refrigerator lorry in Grays, was only two and a half years ago.
So it turns out that a larger criminal operation has been uncovered, one which means that Imran and Anjuli’s murders aren’t some honour killing family spat – they’re part of something much bigger, murkier and non-‘culturally specific’. Just as Ray suspected. Or, to quote her at the end of this episode… ‘Honour killing my arse.’
Before we go, we’d just like to register our formal suspicions over Rach’s boyfriend. DI Ray comes from people involved with Line of Duty, so there has to be a dodgy copper somewhere. And Jamie Bamber is too big a name to just have play the love interest, surely? Plus how did the assailant get in and out of Rach’s flat so easily…?
DCI Martyn Hunter is involved. We’re certain of it.
Did you tune in for DI Ray episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Spoilers for DI Ray episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
So we were right. DCI Martyn Hunter is a bad egg. We’re not going to gloat about smelling it early, given it was revealed quite matter-of-factly at the end of this third episode and not strung out until Thursday night’s final episode. It was all a little obvious anyway, wasn’t it?
What was a lot less obvious was how the big reveal would go down. Okay, so by gaslighting, manipulating – oh, and nearly drowning – his fiancée, Martyn was betraying her quite terribly already. But before he got a chance to let her know of his treachery, Rach had already slept with her colleague, the loveable PS Tony Khatri. It’s not really comparable, but we’re glad she got in at least something of a pre-emptive strike to hurt her vile other half.
Perhaps their dalliance was what encouraged Jamie Bamber’s character to order the hit and have Rach and Tony gunned down at the end of this third episode (we’re assuming DI Ray survives… as for PS Khatri? We’re not so sure). More likely it was to help clear up the mess left by the team’s discovery of his criminal enterprise’s involvement in a major international human trafficking operation.
It’s a shame because the slightly unexpected hooking-up of Rach and Tony was quite sweet. Their bonding over a bevvy and pub dance was a fun scene and a rare glimpse of what Parminder Nagra’s Rach looks like when she smiles. The fact that those smiles were brought on by her connecting with her family heritage are perhaps quite revealing.
Thursday night’s fourth and final part doesn’t look set to feature much smiling, though. Ray is going to wake up on her doorstep, realising she was the victim of a failed gangland assassination. Next to her will be the shot-up body of her new lover and underling. Soon she’ll realise that the hit was ordered by her colleague and fiancé who’s a bent copper/big-time gangster responsible for lots of murders. A man who also semi-drowned her a few nights previous. All that on top of a red wine hangover… Ouch.
Not only would we like to see Bamber’s DCI Hunter get his comeuppance, there’s another character who needs a little straightening out before the final credits roll on the last part of DI Ray – DCI Kerry Henderson, played by Gemma Whelan. Incompetent, abrasive, rude and with a real and needless issue with Rachita, Henderson has to go. Here’s hoping she gets what’s coming.
Three quarters of the way in and we’re enjoying this four-parter. Barring an anti-climatic or lazy final part, we think that ITV can call writer Maya Sondhi’s crime drama something of a success. Let’s not judge it quite yet, though. Only we have seen anti-climatic and lazy final hours of drama that have almost ruined an entire series before.
We’re fairly certain we’ll be in for a thrilling and thought-provoking send-off from what we’ve seen so far. Sondhi and Nagra make a pretty good team.
Did you tune in for DI Ray episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Spoilers for DI Ray episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
There was a very grown-up conclusion to this week’s crime drama on ITV. DI Ray didn’t serve up any silly twists – apart from the rather glaringly obvious ‘DCI Martyn Hunter is on it’ – or unexpected explosions. Instead, it confidently strode through its climax without resorting to cheap tricks. Quite the rarity for police thrillers on the third channel.
Bearded gangland enforcer Marcus Tranter was behind all the killings, none of them – as DI Rachita Ray suspected – were ‘culturally specific homicides’. Martyn was corrupt, we found out, because he was being blackmailed by unseen big bosses. Everything got tied up in a neat little bow, though not before putting Rachita quite severely through the wringer. Betrayed by her fiancé, let down by her boss, a dead colleague and several assaults later and it was a tough, tough case…
The final scene offered a nice roundness to the thing with Rach beleaguered by the racial politics of her job and walking out, ceremoniously taking off her lanyard and placing it on the reception desk. An echo from Monday’s night’s opening episode.
Of course, the murder, corruption and people trafficking was just one side of the overall story here. In terms of that side of the plot, there was very little we’ve not all seen before in countless similar ITV police dramas. There were murders, uncooperative bosses, unimaginative colleagues lacking in insight, lying witnesses, bent coppers and conspiracies aching to be unravelled by an unrelenting lead investigator and their team. That’s not all DI Ray will be remembered for, though. This four-parter was full of effective storytelling that more than held our attention. And it did so while exploring themes of race, discrimination, positive action, unconscious bias and ethnic identity.
Not every facet of Maya Sondhi’s script worked and those thought-provoking scenarios sometimes felt a little unnaturally crowbarred into the piece. Generally, though, DI Ray took a frank, honest and open look at the issues it wanted to delve into.
It worked, in large part, because of its lead actress. As DI Rachita Ray, Parminder Nagra brings a knowing, stoic and almost world-weariness. Anyone who remembers her from ER will know that Nagra does grumpy, hard-working professional pretty well – and it works perfectly here.
As for the supporting cast, we got exactly what we might expect from Jamie Bamber as the smarmy bad guy and Ian Puleston-Davies as the pompous, slightly racist police chief. Slightly underutilised was Game of Thrones’ Gemma Whelan and very underutilised was Killing Eve’s Steve Oram. Although missing from this final part, Maanuv Thiara’s performance as the chipper PS Tony Khatri was a treat.
DI Ray broke no new ground in any majorly outstanding way. But what earth it settled on, it built something quite intriguing. It seems unlikely that ITV will revisit it, but we enjoyed the tour while it lasted.
Did you catch DI Ray on ITV? Was it a ray of light or was it a DI Nay from you? Have your say in the comments section below…