Who Is Van Der Valk? Meet Masterpiece's Newest Detective

Credit: Courtesy of © Company Pictures and all3media international

After the final season of Poldark last year, Masterpiece's fall season again kicks off with a reboot of a 1970s era series. Based on the Nicolas Freeling novels, Van Der Valk is a mystery series set in present-day Amsterdam, following the adventures of Dutch Detective Commissaris Piet Van der Valk. The new series, starring Marc Warren (Beecham House), begins a three-episode run on Sunday, Sept. 13, and airs through to the end of the month.

PBS viewers have almost certainly heard of Van Der Valk. The series was one of the more popular mysteries produced by Thames Television, and the theme song at the time became a Top of the Pops hit. It shot actor Barry Foster, who played the titular detective, to fame. But it also has sort of an awkward history. The original program, which ran two seasons from 1972-1973, starred Foster alongside Michael Latimer as his secondary, Inspecteur Johnny Kroon, and Susan Travers as his glamorous wife, Arlette. The mysteries followed the novels in starting with Piet and Arlette happy at home until duty called, and a new case was afoot.

But it was only booked for the two runs of episodes, about six or seven installments apiece. When the show proved so popular, Thames wanted to revive it, but only Foster was willing to return, forcing the show to recast just about everyone else for a single run of 12 episodes in 1977. The show then disappeared for nearly 20 years, before it was revived once more, in 1991. Once again, Foster was the only original actor to return to the series, causing the show to recast just about the entire thing from top to bottom for the final two, much shorter, seasons.

Considering this on-again-off-again, one might argue this is technically Van Der Valk's fourth revival in forty years. It's also the show's first run on Masterpiece; though the Van Der Valk series has been available on DVD via Acorn since the 1990s revival, it never aired on PBS' flagship program until now.

Much has changed in the new version. Foster passed in 2002, so there's zero continuity with any of the previous series. There's also an effort to diversify the force Van Der Valk serves on instead of an endless sea of white male detectives. Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Doolittle) plays his new assistant, Job Cloovers. Emma Fielding (Unforgotten) is Van Der Valk's boss, Julia Dahlman, and Maimie McCoy (The Musketeers) plays Lucienne Hassell, Van der Valk's invaluable partner. But perhaps the most significant change is the absence of Arlette. The new Van Der Valk is not married. In the first scene of the new series, he's out on a date that goes about as badly as one could imagine.

But even so, this is not a prequel or an attempt at reintroducing the character. As the preview reveals, Van Der Valk is quite a famous name and face in Amsterdam's underworld, spearheading a takedown of a giant organized crime ring just before the series opens. Whether or not that's a technical tieback to the show's earlier versions remains to be seen as the season plays out, or if the new mysteries follow the books at all. Either way, there's a new detective in the Masterpiece lineup, and he's not taking guff from anyone.