Arsher Ali

Line of Duty S3 E1 (BBC2)

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This week saw the return of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, the gripping drama featuring the work of police anti-corruption officers.

lineofduty3If I’m honest, I rated the first run as merely ‘okay’ as it felt to me to be a little too obsessed with overtly mocking the politically correct health and safety regulations that police officers in general have to work under. The point of the story in that first season is that one can either follow the rules but achieve little of note, or be a successful law enforcer with the best arrest and conviction record in the Force in which case one’s career will be wrecked for the perceived cutting of corners. Most searingly of all, the lesson was that no one could do both at the same time but had to choose which side of the fence they came down on.

After this somewhat over-worthy first run (which featured Lennie James as the stand-out turn playing the detective chief inspector under suspicion), the second series spectacularly exploded into brilliance with the tale of the unit’s investigation of DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) after a convey transporting a protected witness was ambushed and Denton left as the only survivor. Was she complicit in the crime or framed? This uncertainty drove six episodes of truly stunning drama in which any health and safety swipes were introduced as natural background details rather than as the central part of the series’ raison d’etre.

After that brilliant series it’s hardly surprising that it’s taken Mercurio two years to come up with a third season. I had fears that the follow-up was never going to equal the superb second series, but if anything the first episode of series 3 could actually prove to be Live of Duty’s finest hour. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S9E4 “Before the Flood”

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There be spoilers here.

dr-who-flood-1“Before the Flood” is the clearest evidence yet of a new approach to Doctor Who being steered by showrunner Steven Moffat, and in particular a rather radical new way of handling two parters. Traditionally such stories are essentially one continuous narrative told with a cliffhanger at the midpoint after which the second part of the story resumes much as it did in the first half. However, that’s not satisfyingly innovative enough for Moffat, and he evidently has a different plan in mind for this year’s stories more along the lines of how he constructed “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” in 2010.

While there is obviously strong continuity in terms of plot and characters between “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood”, at times they seem like they’re telling two different stories which just happen to overlap to create an overall third tale. Where the first story was very much a tense and claustrophobic base-under-siege horror story that included a mystery and a meditation on life after death, “Before the Flood” has a very different feel with an eerie 1980s ghost town and a timey-wimey science fiction temporal paradox to get one’s head around. The danger is that opening out the narrative like this might dissipate some of the earlier tension successfully generated from being trapped in the undersea base, but the good news is that this didn’t happen at all – for me at least – and the story remains commendably gripping for almost all if its running time. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S9E3 “Under the Lake”

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There be spoilers here.

lake-1The problem with starting a season off with a huge blockbuster like “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witches Familiar” is that anything that comes after it is liable to look rather pale by comparison. No matter how good it is, it will simply come across as second best and a bit of a dip after the highs of the season opener.

That can especially be the case when after the startling originality and vaulting ambition of the first two-parter, you instead take a step back as it were and have a story that is altogether more from the mainstream and whose primary ambition is just to thrill and scare you and most of simply to entertain the viewers – even if it means to do so by borrowing some of the show’s most familiar tropes as a warm and reassuring security blanket in the process. Read the rest of this entry »