Something quite beautiful has just come to an end. Written by Mackenzie Crook, who also plays one of the main characters (Andy), Detectorists is a gentle comedy following the lives of two best friends who share the same hobby: metal detecting. Over the course of three perfect series, Detectorists explores their lives and those of their friends and enemies, including other members of their metal detecting club. As always with our Six Degrees articles, before we look at the themes of Detectorists and make some comparisons with Doctor Who, let’s take a look at some superficial connections that might interest fans of either or both series: the actors who crossed over between them.
Toby Jones (Lance) played the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice. Rachel Stirling (Becky) played Ada in The Crimson Horror and her real life mother Diana Rigg plays her mother in Detectorists and also did the same thing in The Crimson Horror, Mrs Gillyflower. Gerard Horan (Terry) played Clark (Father of Mine) in Human Nature. Lucy Benjamin (Maggie) played the child version of Nyssa in Mawdryn Undead, believe it or not. Other actors with minor roles in Detectorists include Rachel Bell (Priscilla P in The Happiness Patrol) and Kevin Eldon (Antimony in Death Comes to Time).
If you have not seen all three series of Detectorists and have any intention of watching them, stop reading now, because there are spoilers ahead. Really, just go and buy them. You will be treating yourself to 19 of the best episodes of television ever made. Come back and read the rest of this article afterwards.
At its heart, Detectorists is about friendship. While Andy and Lance go through struggles in their personal lives, the one constant is their time together, enjoying the simple pleasure of their shared hobby in the beautiful English countryside. It shows us how you don’t have to change the world or be someone “important” for your life to have meaning: family and friendships are what matters. Andy is constantly set up as somebody who is failing in life, never able to settle to a career. His jobs mirror his hobby, always sweeping some object over the ground, whether it be a mop or a strimmer or a weed killer spray that he has left the weed killer out of. When he eventually gets a job in his longed-for field of archaeology, it is just a sham. His marriage is constantly placed under strain: by the flirtation of a younger woman in the first series, his fear of a big life change in the second, and his lack of job success in the third, but he loves his wife and that is what matters. Lance on the other hand is settled in his job but his personal life is a mess. His ex-wife is making use of him, and then when another woman is on the scene he has commitment issues. A long-lost daughter turns up and turns his life upside down. The three series give us three aspects of life: relationships, marriage/commitment, and finally finding a place in the world where you belong.
The metal detecting hobby is in one respect about the path to success, never giving up, and the commitment and time that takes, but on the other hand it is also a parable of how the journey is more important than the destination. There is a joy in insignificant finds, and for Terry an unearthed button can be an emotional moment. There are also rivalries and careful reading between the lines will reveal the root cause of those rivalries. Their resolution is joyful.
So, like Doctor Who, Detectorists explores what we might loosely classify as the meaning of life through the lens of a specific genre. Both series explore what matters. And both series come to the same conclusion: friendship. Time and time again the Doctor is shown to be a flawed character who relies on the company of friends to make him so much better than he ever could be on his own. Detectorists shows the friendship between Andy and Lance as a lifeline to them both in times of trouble, but also their wider friendships are of great significance, particularly with the other metal detecting club members. And they all have their own paths to follow. There is one gloriously subtle thread running through Detectorists that puts it ahead of the game in terms of anything else on television: a lesbian relationship that is completely underplayed and just there. Never shouted about, never made a thing of, just incidental and fully accepted and normalised, just as it should be. The final episode gives us the defining moment in that plot strand and it just happens quietly in the background, another beautiful dramatic beat among many. I defy anyone not to get emotional at that moment. Nothing else on television has ever shown such a level of maturity. Doctor Who might get there one day. It’s heading in the right direction. RP
The view from across the pond:
It’s a particularly cold weekend in March of 2017. My wife has gone to see family for the weekend, overseas. I have to bring the kids to their weekend obligation and won’t have them back until Sunday. My friends are busy. I’ve just completed the latest game I’ve been playing and I’m not sure what to do for the next couple days. I come home from dropping the kids off, open the mailbox and see a package sent from England. Roger has sent me a little unexpected surprise: Season 1 of Detectorists. Six 30-minute episodes; well, doesn’t sound like something I’d go searching the lonely earth for, but why not? I’ll watch one episode and put something else on…
Three hours later, I have finished the first season and am dying to re-watch it with my wife. I want more! How could there only be 6 episodes? It’s mellow. It’s sweet. It’s about friendship and relationships and life. It’s funny. And it’s poignant. The opening music is a regular on my Amazon Echo and it’s pretty damned poignant too. One can only hope to have someone that will go to such lengths for each of us. (You’ll have to listen to know what I mean!)
When my wife returned, we sat to watch it the very next weekend. After episode one she said, “is that all there is?” I was surprised, I thought she’d like it more. Then she said, “Put the next one on”. It seems she was just expecting another show like all the others, and this is definitely not like any other show I’ve ever seen. A few hours later, after we finished season 1, she asked if there was more, and I tracked it down along with a Christmas Special. Eventually season 3 came and finalized this marvelous series. We are both still pining for more, but a good series knows how to go out on a high note and this is no exception.
There are a lot of great shows out there. If you want action and mystery, this isn’t the show for you. But if you want a gentle, relaxing show that makes you laugh and appreciate life, something to unwind with and characters to spend time with, you’d be hard pressed to find anything else like this. Mackenzie Crook gave us a real treat when he made this one, and Roger did shared that treat with us, for which we are still grateful! Seriously, seek it out and give it a shot.
It’s waiting for you… ML