Running between 1995 and 1998, McCallum was a series that seemed to tap into various television drama trends of the period. Like Cracker it had an unorthodox lead, who (similar to Tony Clark in Between the Lines) was something of a hit with the ladies. And like both those series, McCallum had an uncompromising, naturalistic feel.
Iain McCallum (John Hannah) is a brilliant forensic pathologist, albeit one with an independent streak. It probably won’t come as a great shock to learn that he tends to butt heads with some of his colleagues on the police-force, especially the brusque DI Bracken (Gerard Murphy). McCallum goes his own way and more often than not solves the crime all by himself (with the police trailing in his wake).
If this is something of a cliché, then so is the fact that McCallum often gets personally involved. The pilot episode The Key to My Heart provides us with an excellent example of this. After enjoying a night of wild passion with Claire Best (Cathryn Harrison), a police officer working with him on his latest case, McCallum is shocked the next day to be called to the scene of her murder.
With this sort of plot-twist you can either throw your hands up and decide that it’s all too unbelievable, or just decide to go with the flow. As McCallum continues to keep quiet about his intimate link to the victim, Bracken starts to sniff around. There’s a nice feeling of tension as McCallum becomes more and more frantic as Bracken starts to apply the pressure.
Despite having a long-term girlfriend, Joanna Sparks (Suzanne Hamilton), McCallum seems to be a man who finds it impossible to resist any female that crosses his path. When he meets up with Joanna the day after his liaison with Claire, he’s not able to bring himself to admit that he’s slept with her (whilst anxious to learn if Joanna has been with anyone during his absence). Hamilton, who’d starred alongside John Hurt in 1984 and had been a regular in the 1993/94 series of Casualty, does her best, but unfortunately it’s rather a nothing role.
The morgue is packed with a number of characters, like Bobby Sykes (Richard O’Callaghan), Fuzzy Brightons (the always watchable James Saxon), head pathologist Sir Paddy Penfold (Richard Moore) and Dr. Angela Maloney (Zara Turner). Angela, as an obvious romantic interest for our lead, quickly becomes the second most important character in the series. City of the Dead, the first episode of series two sees her cause the death of an elderly man after she knocks him over in her car. But as might be expected, nothing’s ever quite as straightforward as it seems …..
The first episode of series one, Sacrifice, sees Sir Paddy start to feel the strain (he’s turning up late for autopsies and when he does arrive he tends to make a hash of things). Given there was no hint of this in The Key to My Heart, it feels like a rather sudden plot-twist that comes out of nowhere.
Sir Paddy’s unreliability does allow for some decent character development for the other members of the team though. It had been established in the pilot that Angela had only recently moved to London and was feeling somewhat swamped by her responsibilities. She’s not an inexperienced pathologist, but Bobby is on hand to dish out some nuggets of wisdom (he tells her to hold her scalpel like a tulip).
These pleasantries are put on hold when McCallum and Angela are called to investigate the death of a local baker. No prizes for guessing that he and his family are known to McCallum. Jane Lapotaire adds a touch of class as the baker’s widow whilst Angela begins a relationship with a philandering Doctor (you just know this is going to end badly).
As the series wears on, McCallum begins to get a little frayed around the edges – this isn’t too surprising as he’s often placed right in the thick of the action. In Dead but Still Breathing, he finds himself the target of a deranged killer whilst in Dead Man’s Fingers, McCallum is shocked to discover that a murdered woman claimed her unborn baby was his.
The final episode, Beyond Good and Evil, was rather unexpected. Both McCallum and Angela had left, leaving a new man, Dan Gallagher (Nathaniel Parker), in charge. Gallagher, just like McCallum before him, doesn’t have a quiet life (he’s being stalked by a deranged serial-killer). Again, suspension of disbelief is required, but it proved to be a gripping finale to the series. I’m not sure whether there was any intention to carry on with Parker, but maybe it was felt that the series had run its course. I think it was the right decision.
McCallum is a nine disc set (original transmission dates in brackets) –
Disc One – The Key To My Heart (pilot, 28th December 1995)
Disc Two – Sacrifice (13th January 1997)
Disc Three – Touch (27th January 1997)
Disc Four – Dead but Still Breathing (10th February 1997)
Disc Five – City of the Dead (6th January 1998)
Disc Six – Harvest (13th January 1998)
Disc Seven – Dead Man’s Fingers (3rd February 1998)
Disc Eight – Running on Empty (17th February 1998)
Disc Nine – Beyond Good and Evil (7th December 1998)
The pilot runs for 75 minutes whilst the remainder are all 100 minutes approx. Notwithstanding some gripes about the plotting, McCallum is an excellent series which still holds up well, some twenty years on. With a strong cast of regulars and a number of twisty, atmospheric tales, it’s well worth a look.
McCallum was released by Simply Media on the 5th of September 2016. RRP £49.99.