Luther fails to convince as crime drama, but as a horror show it's surprisingly fun

DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) with new sidekick DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) in the horrifically good BBC drama series Luther
DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) with new sidekick DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) in the horrifically good BBC drama series Luther
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I have a theory about Luther (BBC1, Tuesday-Friday, 9pm). It’s supposed to be a cop drama, right? John Luther takes on the criminals of London – playing by his own rules, but essentially a good guy.

Meanwhile, whoever happens to be his boss this series fumes at Luther’s maverick, loose cannon nature, while secretly marvelling at the way he gets the job done.

However, I see Luther more as a horror anthology. The murders are always imaginatively grisly – this week saw a man turned into a human pin cushion.

The killers are almost always psychotic, and use some sort of horror gimmick as part of their MO – whether it’s a clown mask and LED lights sewn into a hood, or a Mr Punch mask and a knowledge of the Spring-heeled Jack myths of old London town.

Then there’s the locations – dingy old terraced houses in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory, dank London back streets, even the police station seems so dimly-lit the officers must be constantly down the opticians getting their eyesight checked.

All of this makes Luther less of a cop and more Van Helsing, eternally cursed to use his knowledge of these supernaturally evil murderers to end their devilish killing sprees, struggling all the while with his own demons. He even has a familiar – the wittily psycho Alice, who follows him around providing insights into the chaos.

As a cop show, Luther doesn’t make a great deal of sense. This week’s new series shoehorns two plots into one, making both seem rushed.

But as a psychological horror, revelling in the outlandishly grisly, the dark and depraved, it’s surprisingly fun, and Idris Elba, as Luther, has created an iconic anti-hero.

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