Television

Doctor Who S11 E5: “The Tsuranga Conundrum” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

At the end of last week’s episode I suggested that it had felt like it marked the end of the first four-part phase of Chris Chibnall’s project to re-energise Doctor Who. It implied in turn that this week would be the start of the next phase, with things starting to settle down to what passes as ‘normal’ in this extraordinary show after the necessary transition period establishing a new Doctor, new companions, and a new production team.

And broadly speaking the peculiarly named “The Tsuranga Conundrum” does indeed feature what passes for an ordinary day in the life of the Tardis crew. We find them in the middle of dumpster diving on a planetary scale (for what exactly I’m still none too sure) with dialogue letting us know that some time has passed since Graham, Ryan and Yas (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill) actively decided to join the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) on her travels. They have clearly bonded as a team over a number of off-screen adventures and have the familiarity of a group of people who have got to know one another much better in the interim. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E4: “Arachnids in the UK” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Doctor Who is usually thought of as a science fiction series, and sometimes as a family or even (incorrectly) a children’s programme, but at heart it’s actually an anthology show capable of covering any and indeed every genre in existence from week to week. I’ve said before that my personal preference is when the show sets out to be scary in a good old “watch while hiding from behind the sofa” fashion – Yetis in the Underground, mannequins coming to life in shop windows, and the glorious Gothic horror period when Tom Baker faced mummies, werewolves, vampires, a Frankenstein’s monster and the Loch Ness Monster. So on that basis you’re probably expecting me to declare the latest episode “Arachnids in the UK” as being far and away the best episode of season 11 to date, right?

Yeah. Well. Okay, you got me. That’s exactly what I do think. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E3: “Rosa” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Before we get to the subject of this week’s latest episode of Doctor Who, indulge me for a moment in a little preamble.

Back in the 1930s, Lord Reith’s founding principals for the British Broadcasting Corporation were that it should seek to inform, educate, and entertain. This ethos was still very much in place in 1963 and therefore deeply instilled in the original Doctor Who production team. Amid the action and adventure, and the science fiction and fantasy, the programme also sought to teach children about Romans and Aztecs, about who Marco Polo was and what happened at the Battle of Culloden.

Sadly the popularity of Daleks and Cybermen meant that historicals soon fell out of favour, but they were still sufficiently part of the programme’s DNA that when Russell T Davies rebooted the show in 2005 it included episodes in which the Doctor and his companion met real life figures from the past such as Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Madame de Pompadour, William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie but these were usually played for larger-than-life comedy. Steven Moffat included encounters with Winston Churchill and Vincent van Gogh, but after that the sub-genre faded away again with the exception of the out-of-context comedy appearance by Egyptian queen Nefertiti in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” – which was, perhaps significantly, penned by Chris Chibnall. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E2: “The Ghost Monument” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Normally when a new Doctor (and production team) takes over, you have to wait for the second episode for things to settle down in order to get a clear picture of where the show is truly headed under its new management. But this time it seems we’ll have to wait a little longer, until episode 3 at least, because “The Ghost Monument” gives us little in the way of pointers to the long-term future.

That’s possibly because the story picks up to the split second where “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” left off, and as such feels like a direct continuation. There’s still a sense of everything being on the throes of post-regenerative trauma, with all the various bits still fizzing through the air and looking feverishly for their correct place in the order of things. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E1: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (BBC One)

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Trying very hard to avoid any spoilers

Things have been quiet of late at Taking The Short View Towers, but it was inevitable that the return of Doctor Who to our screens would be a wake-up call rallying us back into service. And so off we go into the autumn with a new season of Time Lord related reviews.

It’s certainly good to see the show back – about time, you could say – but you’ll quickly find that nothing is exactly like it was before. If the prospect of a new actor playing the title role isn’t enough, then hold on to your floppy hat and long scarf because this is where everything changes. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 12 [Blu-ray]

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The history of classic Doctor Who on DVD goes back to a time before I even had a DVD player. The first story released on the medium was 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” in November 1999. After that, there was a new serial available every two or three months as regular as clockwork. Picking up the latest release became part of the turn of the wheel of time, as reliably comforting as spring following winter.

Alas all good things eventually come to an end. The final regular release was “Terror of the Zygons” in September 2013, at which point all the existing stories had been faithfully issued. There was an epilogue when “The Underwater Menace” was released in October 2015 after the retrieval of previously lost material; another rediscovered serial (“The Enemy of the World”) previously issued in bare bones fashion as part of the regular DVD run earned itself a special edition in March 2018 (one can only hope that the same thing will eventually happen to “The Web of Fear”.) Read the rest of this entry »

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 »