Why you should be watching ITV’s Professor T
Ivan Radford | On 18, Jul 2021
Professor T premieres on ITV at 9pm on Sunday 18th July, with episodes arriving weekly and available on ITV Hub after broadcast. All six episodes are already available on BritBox UK.
“I have a theory.” “Anything you’d care to share with us?” “No.” That’s Professor T (Ben Miller) providing his unique brand of help to the police in ITV’s new detective drama. The series, based on the Belgian series of the same name, follows the Cambridge University professor, who teaches criminology, suffers with OCD and has a knack for cracking the most confounding cases. Used by the police as a consultant, he’s an eccentric outsider who brings his own perspective to a crime scene and has his own dark secrets lingering in his past – in other words, so far, so ITV crime drama.
But Professor T manages the double trick of not only standing out among the crowded crime procedural track, but also standing alongside the original in its own right. It’s a remake that takes all the best bits of the source material – the general direction of the series, and a selection of cases that can translate to the UK – but with its own dialogue and style that helps establish a distinct sense of tone.
That’s partly thanks to Ben Miller, who steps into the shoes of the professor with an understated flair. From being the strait man in sketch duo Armstrong & Miller and the Johnny English franchise to playing the lead in Death in Paradise’s first two seasons, he’s perfectly cast here, able to be offbeat yet serious at all times. That’s particularly key when it comes to the show’s portrayal of OCD, which veers into colourful territory but is grounded by his sincere, heartfelt presence. Miller has experienced OCD himself and at no point does this performance feel like a thoughtless caricature, and at no point does Professor T’s OCD define him.
That’s because – like the original – the show is not only busy solving cases but also building character, the professor included. A childhood trauma is slowly unpacked throughout the first season with a poignant note of tragedy, and that also feeds into his delightfully unusual and spiky relationship with his overbearing mother – played with flamboyant relish by Frances de la Tour.
That nuance extends to everyone in the cast too, with an equal amount of attention given to DI Lisa Donckers. The one who brings in the professor in the first place – to solve an attack on his university campus, where she was one of his students – she’s invested in each case with a dedication that matches his detachment. Played by Emma Naomi with a superb balance of earnestness and determination, she’s arguably the protagonist of the whole series, as she’s the one official doing the investigating. Their dynamic is, as you’d expect, highly entertaining, whether it’s his blunt remarks – often played for gentle laughs, but without making the professor the butt of the joke – or her calling him out on them.
Donckers’ relationship with fellow cop Dan Winters (Barney White) is also a source of flirtatious excitement and emotion, as they navigate the balance between business and pleasure – a balancing act that allows White to bring a surprising amount of vulnerability to the table. Their boss Chief Inspector Christina Brand (Juliet Aubrey), meanwhile, has her own romantic past with Professor T, which brings out a whole new side to the professor, and gives Aubrey more material to sink her teeth into than your average police chief.
The result is an ensemble drama as much as it is a detective show, and Professor T is all the better for it, as that focus on character keeps things compelling no matter what the case at hand is. Taking us from kidnapping and hostage negotiations to family feuds and assassination attempts, it’s an impressively varied bunch for a six-part season, and director Dries Vos zips through the twisting plots at a quick pace, while keeping the mood light enough to allow for some fantastical daydream sequences that manage to give us a sense of the professor’s worldview – where a more conventional series would just have their detective staring melodramatically into space – without losing a sense of subtlety.
From the deceptively catchy theme tune (reworked playfully throughout the show’s soundtrack) to the gorgeous use of Cambridge University as a location, what might seem like a conventional crime drama on the surface emerges as a more intriguing and surprising puzzle box that rewards piecing together – whether you’ve seen the original or not. With episodes arriving weekly on ITV and the whole box set available on BritBox, get ready to swot up – this confident remake is top of the class telly.
Professor T is available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.