We often recall television programmes of long ago with great affection, only to be rather disappointed when we see them today, in an age when production values tend to be so much higher,and even very good shows are apt to look very dated. There's still, in my opinion, a great deal of nostalgic pleasure to be had from watching the best shows of the past, but I have to admit that sometimes they don't stand up to searching comparison with today's television.
I wondered if this would be the case with the shows in the Classic Taggart DVD set which I was delighted to receive as a present recently. I decided to start out by watching a story written by the show's creator, Glenn Chandler, which dates back to 1992. Nest of Vipers made a great impression on me when I first saw it - the storyline is creepy and complex,and you can never be sure where it is going. But would it stand the test of time?
The answer was a triumphant yes. Even now, the pace, complexity and sheer fascination of the story is as good as anything you will find on television today. In the course of the past year, I've watched plenty of enjoyable crime dramas, with cop shows ranging from Lewis, Endeavour, Vera, Shetland, and DCI Banks among the best. It remains to be seen if they will last as well as Nest of Vipers, but suffice to say that I've not seen anything better in the past year, even though this time I could remember some, at least, of the plot twists.
The success of the story owes a huge amount to Chandler's brilliant script, and also to Mark McManus's superb performance as Taggart. In this story, he becomes emotionally involved with a woman whose daughter has been missing for four years. When two skulls are discovered, reconstruction work suggests that the daughter has been found at last. But who was the other victim? And what is the link between the discovery of the skulls and the sinister killing - by means of snake venom - of people connected with a company involved in scientific research?
Dougray Scott, no less, made a great impression in this show, which was a stepping stone to a highly successful career. The cast as a whole was excellent. I admired again the skill with which Chandler scattered his red herrings, and how cleverly he built suspense and mystery. All in all, Nest of Vipers is a superb piece of television, and along with several other early Taggarts, one of the best crime shows I've ever seen.