Cast: DCI Idris Elba John Luther, Ruth Wilson Alice Morgan, Indira Varma Zoe Luther, Warren Brown DS Justin Ripley, Steven Mackintosh DCI Rian Reed, Saskia Reeves Det Supt Rose Teller, Paul McGann Mark North
When the Beeb went to novelist Neil Cross to commission a new police drama they apparently asked for an 'iconic character', like ITV's Morse. Cross dreamed up a detective who symbolised the maverick as out-of-control avenger in Luther.
Detective chief inspector John Luther is a marauding, passionate and at times furious cop with a volcanic temper. He dominates investigations, occasionally terrifies suspects' wives and fills the screen with his intensity. Fortunately, Idris Elba was on hand to play him, and this year picked a deserved Crime Writers' Association Dagger for his performance.
He is almost consumed by his horror at the psychos and mad folk he confronts – and there are some pretty crazed baddies in the two series here. During the first series he is also in the torment of being separated from his wife, Zoe, who has moved onto someone less obsessive and grim in Mark North.
While the series cannot be faulted for its bold storytelling, it is not remotely believable, and as the DVD extra here, Luther – The World of a True Maverick, makes clear, it is not meant to be realistic. As Ruth Wilson says, this is 'not realism. The characters are theatrical. It's very extreme.'
Alice the psycho ally
So Luther is a law breaker and near genius whose hunches are spot on and who thinks nothing of planting evidence to flush out an evil doer. His chief ally is eerie Alice the psychopath, and Ruth Wilson even wonders if her character is real, or part of Luther's imagination.
Neil Cross created a 'how-catch-'em' rather than a whodunit, and in Luther he wanted to fuse the eccentric brilliance of Sherlock Holmes with the 'moral danger' of Philip Marlowe. All of the characters operate in their own heightened world.
Killer in a punch mask
This boxset follows Luther's progression from his return from a breakdown and the separation with Zoe, through to her murder and into the second series, which veers into horror territory in episodes such as the series opener in which Luther hunts a crazed killer in a punch mask, which is full of creaking staircases, creaking doors and nasty murders.
Luther is a long way from Morse, and could never have the mainstream appeal of John Thaw's hero. He's unhinged, unbelievable, but – in Idris Elba's hands – Luther is an indelible presence.
• The Luther boxset was supplied by BBCShop.com