This somewhat problematic two-disc Season 1 is notably short by American standards: just three 90-minute episodes, first broadcast in March 1996. The shows are oddly letterboxed but not 16:9 enhanced and, worse, have for their American release been edited due to music clearance problems, an increasingly commonplace but perhaps insurmountable issue with much BBC programming. Those with region-free players will want to know about an identical but unedited set that retails for £15.99 (about $24.67) in the United Kingdom, compared to these edited versions that carry an RSP of $34.98.
Set in Yorkshire, Dalziel and Pascoe offers viewers the usual mismatched partners routine. Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel (pronounced "Dee-AL"), played by Clarke, is the domineering working class superior who scratches his crotch for all to see, contemptuous of the educated and privileged classes, and given to making outrageously politically incorrect statements to get a rise out of suspects, or just for his own amusement.
Neophyte Peter Pascoe (Buchanan), on the other hand, is well educated, polite, reserved, and charming but inexperienced. And in this series, he also something of a blank with little to do.
Warren Clarke is best-known to American audiences for his role in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), in which he played Dim, one of Alex's (Malcolm McDowell) "droogs." Dim's scurrilous, violent behavior as a member of Alex's gang is legitimized at the end of the films when Dim unexpectedly becomes a scurrilous, violent policeman. Clarke's Dalziel is such an intimidating, glowering presence that watching Dalziel and Pascoe is almost like catching up with Dim in his late-middle age.
The other thing that particularly struck this reviewer was that, while in A Clockwork Orange Clarke, puffy and pale, looked something like a fat Mick Jagger, by the time he began Dalziel and Pascoe the actor had fleshed out, his features hardened, and now uncannily resembled a late-in-life Oliver Reed, enough to be completely convincing as Reed's younger brother. (It's unfortunate they never did play siblings or act together at all.)
Clarke is good to the point of being nearly unlikable, and so dominates the program that, at least in these three episodes, Buchanan's Pascoe is almost like a hole in the screen. Faring somewhat better is the actress playing his fiancé, Ellie (Susannah Corbett, the daughter of Harry H. Corbett of Steptoe and Son fame). Her distaste for Dalziel is more direct and open, making her an interesting character but also making him seem more like a wimp.
The three murder mysteries aren't particularly good, nor work well as introductions to the characters. The first, "A Clubbable Woman," is set largely in the sweaty halls of the Wetherton Rugby Club, a sport unfamiliar to most Americans and the long discussions about its appeal and play will leave many perplexed. "An Advancement in Learning" is somewhat better, with the pair investigating a murder at the small university where Ellie teaches. The contrast between the stuffy professors (including one played by guest star Prunella Scales, formerly of Fawlty Towers) and pretentious students with the bile-mouthed Dalziel is interesting, though in the end all come off as unappealing.
"An Autumn Shroud" is by far the least believable, at times outrageously so, and falls back on myriad mystery cliches, but ironically its story, with Dalziel stranded in a remote country home where a murder may have been committed, is the most entertaining. Francesca Annis guest stars in that.
Video & Audio
At first I thought the aspect ratio listed on the box - 14:9 - was some kind of typo. It wasn't. The show has been ever so slightly matted to about 1.56:1, though whether it was originally shown this way is unknown to this reviewer. The image is not enhanced, and the matting so slight I'm not sure what the point of it is. Fortunately, the series otherwise looks fine, with a bright and fairly detailed image throughout.
However, these shows have apparently been cut "for clearance reasons," so says the packaging. What and how much isn't detailed. The stereo audio is above average for a mid-1990s show, and English subtitles are included. There are no Extra Features.
Reliable British mystery and crime show fan Jeff Flugel assures me Dalziel and Pascoe is a good show, so perhaps it gets better along the way. I found it just okay, but liked it enough that I'd be willing to stick with it for a few more of these short seasons to see if it improves. The odd aspect ratio and the edited footage temper some of this enthusiasm, however, so mark this one down as "Rent It."