Amongst a great deal of DVD watching over the past 6 months, about which I shall be writing here, were a considerable number of episodes of Taggart. My intention was to start at the beginning and watch every episode in order.

In fact this is a complex business, due to the fact that the DVDs on which Taggart are available are issued by at least two separate companies; I did not realise this until too late and my original plan was therefore marred. It also needs to be said that the quality of the DVDs is astonishingly low: not only are there no extras and no subtitles (which I like as my hearing is far from perfect), but the actual manufacture of the DVDs is defective so that they are prone to freezing and the sound quality is poor (which exacerbates the problem caused by the lack of subtitles).

Nonetheless I do at least now have a full episode guide which is as follows…

P. “Killer” 6–20 September 1983 First appearance of DCI Jim Taggart and DS Peter Livingstone
Series 1:
1. “Dead Ringer” 2–16 July 1985 
2. “Murder In Season” 23 July – 6 August 1985 
Series 2:
3. “Knife Edge” 24 February – 10 March 1986 
4. “Death Call” 2–16 September 1986 
Series 3:
5. “The Killing Philosophy” 15–29 April 1987 First appearance of DS Michael Jardine
6. “Funeral Rites” 9–23 September 1987 
7. “Cold Blood” 31 December 1987 Feature length Christmas Special
Series 4:
8. “Dead Giveaway” 7–21 September 1988 
9. “Root Of Evil” 28 September – 12 October 1988 
10. “Double Jeopardy” 30 December 1988 Feature length Christmas Special
Series 5:
11. “Flesh And Blood” 5–19 September 1989 
12. “Love Knot” 1 January 1990 Feature length New Year Special
13. “Hostile Witness” 22 February – 8 March 1990 
Series 6:
14. “Evil Eye” 4–18 September 1990 
15. “Death Comes Softly” 3 December 1990 First appearance of WPC Jackie Reid
16. “Rogues Gallery” 31 December 1990 Feature length Christmas Special
Series 7:
17. “Violent Delights” 1 January 1992 Feature length New Year Special
18. “Nest Of Vipers” 9–23 January 1992 
19. “Double Exposure” 30 January – 13 February 1992 
Series 8:
20. “The Hit Man” 17 September – 1 October 1992 
21. “Ring Of Deceit” 8–22 October 1992 
22. “Fatal Inheritance” 1 January 1993 Feature length New Year Special
Series 9:
23. “Death Benefits” 16 February 1993 
24. “Gingerbread” 20 April 1993 
25. “Death Without Dishonour” 11 May 1993 
Series 10:
26. “Instrument Of Justice” 30 September 1993 
27. “Forbidden Fruit” 1 January 1994 Last appearance of DS Peter Livingstone
28. “Secrets” 6 October 1994 
Series 11:
29. “Hellfire” 27 October 1994 
30. “Prayer For The Dead” 11 January 1995 Last appearance of DCI Jim Taggart
31. “Black Orchid” 25 February 1995 First appearance of DC Stuart Fraser
Series 12:
32. “Legends” 2 November 1995 
33. “Devil’s Advocate” 4 January 1996 
34. “Angel Eyes” 21 March 1996 
Series 13:
35. “Dead Man’s Chest” 19 September 1996 
36. “Apocalypse” 16 January 1997 
Series 14:
37. “Babushka” 4 September 1997 
38. “Berserker” 1 January 1998 
39. “Out Of Bounds” 1 March 1998 
40. “Dead Reckoning” 15 July 1998 
Series 15:
41. “A Few Bad Men” 8 October 1998 First appearance of DI Robbie Ross
42. “Long Time Dead” 1 November 1998 Feature length Special
Series 16:
43. “Bloodlines” 16 January 1999 
44. “A Fistful Of Chips” 7 September 1999 
45. “Fearful Lightning” 21 October 1999 
46. “For Their Sins” 21 November 1999 
Series 17:
47. “Ghost Rider” 16 February 2000 
48. “Skin Deep” 14 September 2000 
49. “Wavelength” 21 September 2000 
50. “Football Crazy” 1 December 2000 
51. “Falling In Love” 10 January 2001 
Series 18:
52. “Death Trap” 14 January 2002 First appearance of DCI Matthew Burke and last appearance of DCI Mike Jardine

The series of course has continued on from 2002 until the present but I have no interest in the Burke era : although I continue to watch every new episode as and when it appears, the show now is but a very pale gleam in terms of comparison with its years of pomp. I own every episode up to Death Without Dishonour with the exception of Death Comes Softly (which for some reason is on a wholly separate DVD) and Ring of Deceit (which for some reason is on the 4th collection rather than the third where it ought to be) – it can be seen that viewing the episodes in order is no easy business!

My problem now is that because I watched the episodes fairly close together, and with my critical mind not in full working order (to say the least), my memory of specific episodes is rather shaky. What I can say for definite is that this way of watching is absolutely fascinating. Taggart took a considerable time to evolve into the series that is became, and the very earliest episodes seem to hold little hint of what is to come. I can see no reason for this in terms of personnel as the writers/directors/producers remain fairly constant, so can only conclude that the evolution was an organic one which came from growing confidence and experiment. The pilot episode and its immediate successors are visually dark, grainy and realist. They bear no resemblance at all to the playfulness, elan, anti-realism which would become the series unique hall-mark. I can identify the episode by which this has become definitely established – it is Evil Eye (the first of the sixth season and 15th in total) in which we find the appearance of the wonderful nodding plastic flower heads. This is not to say that this springs completely unsuspected from the ground – there has been a gradual progress towards more baroque and sprawling plot-lines and more expansive visual techniques.

The biggest surprise to me however in starting from the beginning was observing how much the character of Taggart himself changes from its original conception in Killer. In particular he is something of a philanderer and in one early episode – which one I cannot  recall now  –  actually has a one-night stand. His marriage is somewhat on the rocks and he is a more driven, haunted figure – he also drinks even more ; in fact he is much more your stereotypical hard policeman and therefore much less interesting. However all this is gone by the time of Root of Evil – the one which opens in the Glasgow Garden Festival with Jim mournfully squiring Jean and Aunt Hetty around; obviously by this time the whole hard man persona is being played at least partially for laughs and we have the wonderful McManus whom we know and remember. In fact Root of Evil is an excellent episode as a whole with the use of the Lizzie Borden play and the loan-sharking matriarch being both strong pointers as to the way ahead and delightful in themselves.

The early episodes are also noteworthy for the presence of the original Taggart side-kick Peter Livingstone (Neil Duncan). He was obviously intended to be a foil to the original hard-man conception and in fact Jardine (who first appears in episode 6) was far more suitable as a sidekick for the developed Taggart character.

I do not wish to imply that any of these episodes are bad or uninteresting. The plotting is often splendid and it is fascinating to watch the series and the characters grow and expand in both narrative and visual terms. But it is still true that the real glories were not arrived at for some little time. Further, and hopefully more detailed, reviews will follow as I get around to watching more episodes.