Ben Miller

Doctor Who S8 E3 “Robot of Sherwood” (BBC One)

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Contains some spoilers for the aired episode.

Apologies, I’m a little tardy with my thoughts on this week’s episode of Doctor Who. And while I’d like to say this is down to having been really busy and not having had the time to put pen-to-paper/fingers-to-keyboard, the truth is more along the lines that I’ve been stuck for words and unsure exactly what to say about “Robot of Sherwood.”

arrowThe thing is, these sort of out-of-character, over-the-top, thigh-slapping high camp ‘romps’ injected into runs of otherwise series dramas make my teeth itch. You may have noticed this from my reviews in the past, where I took against stories such as “The Curse of the Black Spot” and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” for example. And while you might think that my delight in 2012’s “The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss (who also wrote this week’s story) is therefore an anachronism, the fact is that story was a deliciously black comedy of the darkest hue in which everything was still taken with deadly seriousness despite the laughs that ensued.

It’s not that I think Doctor Who shouldn’t be funny – of course it should. And nor do I object to the show’s unique diversity which enables it to go in quick succession from all-out science fiction action thriller to historical pastiche comedy to chilling ghost story (as apparently next week’s “Listen” will be). I don’t even mind when they do one just for the kids as “Dinosaurs” very much was – it’s a family show after all, and I don’t begrudge the fact that there will be some stories that just aren’t really aimed at me and that I’m not going to like so much. It’s just that this leaves me a little stuck when it comes to attempting to write a fair and balanced review of an episode that, at the end of the day, simply didn’t really click with me. Read the rest of this entry »

Primeval S1 (UKTV Watch)

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Back in 2007, ITV found itself facing the BBC’s Saturday evening family juggernaut Doctor Who in the TV schedules and needed to deploy an emergency riposte to the revived sci-fi classic. Its answer was Primeval, a show that I admit I never really took to and only watched on an infrequent basis at the time and didn’t much take to when I did. Since the six-part first series is currently being repeated on a daily basis on UKTV channel Watch, I decided to give it a second chance and see if I could put my finger on exactly why the show didn’t work for me.

To distinguish itself against Doctor Who – which is a show about people travelling through time – Primeval has the past travelling to the modern day instead through little rips in space-time (dubbed anomalies). This allows for a monster of the week, typically a dinosaur such as a Scutosaurus, Gorgonopsid, Mosasaur, Hesperornis or a Pteranodon (the latter being something akin to what I was taught to call a pterodactyl as a school kid, but all the names have changed since then!)

It was always clear that he show was also trying to win popularity from fans of then in-vogue documentary series like Walking With Dinosaurs with their ground-breaking CGI special effects. Given how vital the FX are to the show’s entire premise, you’d think that these would be pretty poor and turn out to be the reason for why the series was never the success that ITV needed it to be. In fact, the FX sequences were impressive for the time and still hold up well today, and are streets ahead of a lot of equivalent CGI work in rivals shows – including Doctor Who itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Death in Paradise E1 (BBC1)

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Cosy murder mystery seeks exotic new setting, and ends up with an ‘Englishman out of his comfort zone in the laid-back heat of the Caribbean’ concept. I have to say, the basic premise of this new BBC series didn’t exactly sound very appealing to me.

With the Englishman portrayed as an uptight professional who can’t cope without his IT support and internet connection, unhappy with goats wondering through the office and unwilling to take off his suit and tie even in hundred degree conditions, it’s like a throwback to 1950s clichés. At least the show has the good grace to make it clear that the character in question, DI Richard Poole, was reviled as anal and uptight even by his colleagues in London who wanted shot of him, but it still feels like a lazy caricature of both English and Caribbean stereotypes. That’s despite the casting of Ben Miller in the main role, who is probably the only actor alive who can take this sort of pompous and arrogant part and still round it out and make it human and interesting enough for us to have a little glimmering of liking for.

The series seems to have the most amazing cast signed up: I suspect that they approached the actors in question and say “fancy two weeks on an idyllic Caribbean paradise island? Just for the cost of a couple of days shooting?” and were amazed by the number of takers. In the first episode there’s Hugo Speer, Rupert Graves, Don Warrington, Sean Maquire, Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules and Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow. Next week it looks like we have Frances Barber, Robert Pugh, Survivors’ Paterson Joseph, Hustle’s Matt Di Angelo and Munroe’s Luke Allen-Gale popping in for their summer hols. The free vacation idea would also explain why Miller himself signed up to do what is in essence a reprise of his role from Primeval.

And yet the strangest thing is that underneath all this candy floss is a rather decent (and very quaintly old fashioned) locked room murder mystery that’s actually very smartly written. It’s the kind of murder-mystery show that plays spectacularly fair with the audience and shows us absolutely everything we need to solve the crime, but then also deflects our suspicion by some artful false direction – not least in the identity of the murderer …

(look away now if you don’t want too many hints about the whodunnit)

… who here is the most interesting and rounded character and the most appealing, likeable and talented of the younger members of the cast. You don’t guess their identity because it simply never occurs to you that it must be them doing it because they’re too nice, rather than because the plot is too convoluted or too many facts are withheld to make the deduction impossible.

(you can look back now if you want to!)

This rather strong and decent solid core in the middle of what I’d taken to be a bit of post-summer vicarious TV travel porn was a bit of a surprise; I’m interested to see whether this is accidental or not and whether it is maintained in the second episode, or whether the candy floss takes over from here on. At least it’s not one of those interminably grim police procedurals with Trevor Eve shouting psychotically at everyone in sight that I’m so heartily sick of these days.

I guess that means I’m in for a second episode at least, despite my reservations about the Mid-Caribbean Summer Murders premise as a whole.