The fourth season of A Touch of Frost brings us five more feature-length mysteries starring the brusque, workaholic Detective Inspector Jack Frost (David Jason). Often slightly at odds with his superiors, and with a hard-edged, aggressive style of dealing with suspects, Frost nonetheless cares deeply about his work, and he'll doggedly pursue a case in search of justice even when others would give up on it. He also possesses an ample supply of human frailties; Jason's portrayal of the detective as being essentially an ordinary person, not a "supercop," is probably one of the reasons A Touch of Frost has been so successful with audiences over its seven-year run.
The five episodes here all come from the show's 1996 season, and they cover a wide range of plots and crimes. Each is entirely self-contained, with no particular ongoing story threads being developed over the course of the season. In particular, Frost's relationship with Shirley Fisher seems to have been dropped like a hot rock; there's no appearance of her character here at all.
The season opens with "Paying the Price," in which Frost is called in to give 24-hour support in a kidnapping case. He and the other members of his team attempt to stay undercover, but as the situation grows more desperate for the kidnapped victim, it looks increasingly like the kidnapper is deliberately challenging the police. "Unknown Soldiers" has Frost poking his nose into some suspicious goings-on at a local army base that may relate to other cases he's investigating; he doesn't have jurisdiction there, but when has that ever stopped him? In the next episode, sex and death get tangled together, as "Fun Times for Swingers" has Frost investigating the death of a woman and the possibly related death of a gigolo. "The Things We Do For Love" returns to slightly more traditional territory when Frost is put on a murder case that seems to have an obvious suspect (whom we all know can't really be the murderer). The season ends with "Deep Waters," in which Frost has a hunch that a nasty knife attack may be connected with other assaults.
As the capsule summaries indicate, the plots are reasonably varied, which does a lot to keep the series fresh and interesting. The stories are usually put together well, with a variety of clues and suspicious characters for the audience to consider along with Frost. The one failing I find in the shows is that at 100 minutes each, they're a bit too long, and often sag slightly in the middle, when the story has been set up adequately but it's not yet time to move into the concluding series of events. Viewers who are fond of the characters may not mind the slightly loose construction, but as a casual viewer who's more interested in the plots than the characters, I found myself wishing that they were more tightly constructed.
A Touch of Frost is a three-disc set, nicely packaged in a double-wide plastic keepcase. Disc 1 has one episode, and the other two discs have two episodes each. All five 100-minute episodes from the fourth (1996) season are included.
The five episodes of A Touch of Frost presented here appear in what I believe is their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. While the prints are in good condition, with flaws and dirt not in evidence, the overall image quality is disappointing. Heavy pixellation is evident throughout the episodes, with the edges of objects often looking jagged rather than smooth; anything other than a tight close-up usually has a blurry, pixellated appearance. Compression isn't to blame here, as the five episodes are spread out with plenty of room on three DVDs, so I think we're just looking at a poorly done transfer. Apart from this, the image does look satisfactory: colors and contrast are handled quite well. Viewers with smaller televisions will find this transfer more passable, but at least even on a widescreen TV it squeaks by as being watchable.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for the episodes handles the demands of the show competently. Dialogue is generally clear and natural-sounding, even when voices are raised. The volume does fluctuate at times, though, with occasional drops in volume during dialogue scenes.
There's only one special feature on the set, but it's one that's sure to please fans of A Touch of Frost. "The Things We Do for Love" features a full-length audio commentary from David Jason (Frost) along with David Stewart Davis, a writer and the editor of Sherlock Magazine. While I was a little dubious at first about the merits of having Davis participate in the commentary, since he wasn't actually involved with the show, it turns out to have been a splendid idea. Jason provides all of the commentary and discussion, and Davis provides useful prompts to keep the commentary rolling whenever a bit of silence starts to settle in. The result is a quite informative track. It doesn't focus on the specific episode; instead, Jason discusses his thoughts on the show, how he got involved with it, his ideas on the character and general style of the show, and so on, using various elements of the on-screen action as examples of what he's talking about.
If you enjoyed earlier seasons of A Touch of Frost (like Season 3), you'll undoubtedly find Season 4 to your liking as well. The five episodes presented here offer a reasonable variety of detective stories, with a fairly unique protagonist in Detective Inspector Frost. I wouldn't put A Touch of Frost at the top of my list of recommended British mystery shows, but it's not bad, and I'll give it a "recommended" if you like the genre.