Television

Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (1973) [DVD]

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Sometimes when you’re writing about an episode of long-running TV show, there’s a lot to include: maybe it’s a particularly excellent example of the show in question, or perhaps it does something new and original. Or possibly it’s a particularly poor example of the series in question which gets the blood boiling. But by and large, and almost by definition, most instalments of a show are actually bound to be more or less average: solid, predictable, quite entertaining but nothing to get all that excited about.

When it comes to Doctor Who, the 1973 story “Planet of the Daleks” is one of those that is largely and literally unremarkable – and therefore hard to say all that much about. In fact if you look in Doctor Who Magazine’s 2013 reader poll of the first 50 years of stories, then you’ll find it almost precisely at the midway point of the 241 entries included in the survey. Read the rest of this entry »

Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators (BBC One)

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If you didn’t already know that BBC Daytime’s new afternoon series Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators was from the same production team behind Father Brown, WPC 56 and The Coroner, then it really shouldn’t take you very long to make the connection. The similarity in writing and production house style are a giveaway on their own, and if you don’t get it from that then the delightful-as-ever musical cues by Debbie Wiseman stamp an indelible hallmark on the entire affair.

The new series features comedy actor Mark Benton as former detective turned private eye Frank Hathaway, whose ramshackle business is about to go under. The situation forces him to take on former hairdresser Luella Shakespeare (ex-EastEnders star Jo Joyner) as his partner when she offers to invest her life savings in the firm. Despite her previous occupation, she turns out to have some impressive skills of her own – in many ways more so than Hathaway, who is so slovenly that he makes Columbo look like a fashion model. Read the rest of this entry »

PD James: Death of an Expert Witness (1983), Shroud for a Nightingale (1984), Cover Her Face (1985), The Black Tower (1985) [Network DVD]

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When Britain’s ITV commercial channel was first set up, it consisted of a network of individual regional franchises that between them covered the entire country. Each produced their own output, contributing to the content pool available for national schedules. Pretty soon a number of these franchises became first among nominal equals – Manchester’s Granada and London’s Thames and LWT became powerhouse drama and light entertainment producers, with Yorkshire and ATV (later Central) among those succeeding at a slightly lower level. Scotland’s STV naturally maintained a ferociously independent output of its own, frequently eschewing programmes from other regions altogether in preference to its own. However a number of the more provincial out-of-the-way companies suffered from a lack of access to big budget and talent, and therefore largely stuck to local news aimed at their immediate market. The Norwich-based Anglia Television was one such, and for years its only significant weekly contribution to the wider network output was Sale of the Century hosted by Nicholas Parsons, a sort-of predecessor to The Price is Right. The start of the show was heralded by the station’s quaint ident, a revolving silver desk ornament from a jumble sale depicting a mounted knight flying the Anglia standard.

Anglia was also behind the long-running Tales of the Unexpected anthology show; and another very smart thing Anglia did in the 1980s was to pick up the rights to adapt PD James’ successful series of detective novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh. Both shows became popular staples of ITV’s drama output for the rest of the decade. Ultimately Anglia made ten Dalgliesh adaptations, all of them starring Roy Marsden who had already risen to fame as the lead in the short-lived but hugely popular spy series The Sandbaggers. In this case Marsden was one of those bits of inspired casting which proved utterly perfect – so much so that when the BBC revived Dalgliesh for two further outings in 2003 with Martin Shaw in the role, it never felt quite right. Read the rest of this entry »

McMafia S1 E1-5 (BBC One)

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After the overload of confectionery sweetness of light entertainment and festive specials over Christmas, the television networks have decided to serve up something more substantial for the New Year with a veritable glut of prestige drama series on offer. ITV has old favourites Vera and Endeavour back on our screens, together with the new offering Girlfriends from the prolific and ever-reliable Kay Mellor.

Yesterday we looked at the high concept offering Hard Sun. Meanwhile, over on Sunday nights BBC One has inserted a bold, uncompromisingly gritty drama about international crime rings. Based on a novel by Misha Glenny and adapted by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, McMafia is the story of successful banker Alex Godman. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard Sun S1 E1-3 (BBC One)

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Hard Sun is one of those complicated ‘high concept’ affairs, which should make it a much harder sell than most of the prime time drama fare currently on show on TV.

It’s created and written by Neil Cross, who brought us the similarly ‘heightened/hyper reality’ drama Luther. Both series feature situations that are amped up to the point where you know the whole thing is too over-the-top to be true, but it’s both ludicrous and ludicrously entertaining even as you delight in pointing out all the myriad plot oversights. Read the rest of this entry »

Spiral S6 E1-8 (BBC Four)

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It’s been almost seven years since I last tried unsuccessfully to dip into French police procedural Spiral. I did a review at the time and was upbraided for trying to get into the show at the start of the third series instead of starting at the beginning – which is a fair point, even if I’d been acting on advice from another fan of the show who said that the start of series three would be an ideal point to jump on board. Either way, the series didn’t take and I haven’t tried again since; but a paucity of TV options at the start of January made me decide to give the latest run a go. Read the rest of this entry »

Twin Peaks: The Return (DVD) [2017]

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Undoubtedly one of the television highlights of 2017, the return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has also been one of the most divisive. It’s appeared on both ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ lists of the year in roughly equal measure, and it’s easy to see why.

Attempts to recap this mini-series in any detail is doomed to failure; there are single scenes that would defy any worthwhile coherent synopsis in the space of one post, so I’ll keep things simple: the new series (written by Lynch with original collaborator Mark Frost) starts off at pretty much exactly the same point that the original run left off in 1991. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) remains trapped in the supernatural realm known as the Black Lodge with its impressive red drapes and white-and-black zigzag flooring, while his evil doppelgänger is loose in the real world. Cooper does eventually manage to escape, but his mind is shattered in the process. He finds himself living a life as a downtrodden insurance agent in Las Vegas married to Janey-E (Naomi Watts). Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S6 (BBC One) [2018]

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It’s that time of year again! The end of the Christmas and New Year holiday season means that Father Brown is back in business once more, with a new series in the daytime schedules on BBC One.

Last year’s run proved quite contentious, as a quick look back at the comments on our series five review will confirm. Many fans were deeply disappointed by the departure of two of the series regulars, Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and Sid Carter (Alex Price) and found it hard to warm to newcomer Bunty (Emer Kenny). Read the rest of this entry »

The Orville S1 E1-3 (Fox)

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I have to confess that The Orville has left me somewhat confused. As a drama, it’s got too many silly gags in it to be taken seriously. But the jokes are too few in number and not nearly funny enough to qualify the show as a sitcom. It has an earnestness that suggests it wants to be a proper grown-up show, but an insecurity that suggests it feels it can only get away with the attempt if it also laughs at itself. The end result is a show that feels like it wants to be more homage than spoof, only to find itself more of a pastiche than satire.

Created by and starring Seth MacFarlane (famous for Family Guy, American Dad! and Ted), the show is set onboard a 25th-century space exploration ship named the Orville. MacFarlane plays Captain Ed Mercer, whose first officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) is also his ex-wife whom he divorced after he found her having an affair with an alien. Much of the early ‘humour’ in the series comes from Mercer’s continual sniping and point-scoring about their acrimonious split, while of course it’s clear to everyone that the two are still somewhat in love. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: Shada (1979) [DVD]

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Christmas Day was a very Doctor Who affair this year. Not only was there the official Christmas special in which Peter Capaldi handed over the reins to Jodie Whittaker, I also spent the afternoon watching the latest Blu-ray release direct from 1979 – “a little later than planned” as the introduction wittily explains.

The six-part serial “Shada” has legendary status among Doctor Who fans. Intended as the final story to season 17 of the classic series, it’s the only one in the 54 years of the show’s history to fail to make it to air. Of course there have been all manner of story ideas that even made it as far as being commissioned as scripts, but none have actually started filming only to be abandoned midway through.

That’s what happened to “Shada”. Industrial action saw the plug pulled after initial location filming in Cambridge and the completion of the first of three recording blocks back at BBC Television Centre. All the extant footage was carefully stored away, but with series stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward departing the show the following year there was no opportunity to go back and remount the production in order to complete the missing scenes. The existing material has been released in various forms over the years, including a VHS version with linking narration covering the missing scenes supplied by Baker. There was an animated version rewritten to star the Seventh Doctor (Paul McGann) and more recently a novelization of Douglas Adams’ scripts by Gareth Roberts. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time (2017)

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Contains spoilers for the 2017 Christmas special

The Twelfth Doctor has left the building. And in a passing of the flame ceremony not seen since New Years Day 2010, we also say farewell to much of the creative talent that had been driving Doctor Who forward for the last seven years, including series star Peter Capaldi, regular contributor Mark Gatiss, composer Murray Gold (or so it’s rumoured) and last but by no means least showrunner and main writer Steven Moffat.

They sign off with “Twice Upon A Time”, which is a love letter from them to the series itself. As well as characteristically outstanding direction from Rachel Talalay, it features performances of the highest order from Capaldi and Gatiss, from Pearl Mackie as companion Bill Potts, and especially from David Bradley as the First Doctor who was originally played by William Hartnell and who briefly returns here in archive footage from 1966. It’s also an example of Moffat’s writing at its highest quality, providing a thoughtful character-driven drama that delivers a perfect Christmas message while signing off an era of the show and clearing the decks for what’s to follow in Autumn 2018. Read the rest of this entry »

Vintage crime round-up: Scotland Yard (1953-1961), Crown Court (1972-3)

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Earlier this year I wrote about a series called Colonel March of Scotland Yard which was effectively a 1950s version of The X-Files starring Boris Karloff. I found it on Amazon Prime but it’s subsequently been on local cable station London Live, and then had a full transmission on the really rather terrific classic TV and film archive channel Talking Pictures.

The same channel followed that up with a daily run of the similarly-named but otherwise quite different Scotland Yard. This consists of a series of almost documentary-style dramatic recreations of cases ostensibly from the records of London’s police force. The whole set is also available on DVD from Network. Read the rest of this entry »

Armchair Detectives S1 (BBC One)

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Susan Calman’s star is very much in the ascendency. As well as her popular stint on Strictly Come Dancing, she’s also been hosting Armchair Detectives – a daytime quiz show in which contestants watch a mini-crime drama set in the fictional Scottish town of Mortcliff and attempt to figure out whodunnit. Read the rest of this entry »