David Tennant

Watching the detectives: Line of Duty; Follow the Money; The Team; Broadchurch; Vera

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Without question we’re living in the middle of a crime spree. Television crime, that is. While the streets have arguably never been safer in real life, the small screen is delivering a never-ending stream of criminal activity right into our living rooms – and it seems we just can’t get enough of it.

Here’s a look at five detective shows that are currently back on the evening schedules. Spoiler alert: they’re all really worth watching, providing that you can stomach the glut of nefarious deeds on display! Read the rest of this entry »

Broadchurch S2 E1 (ITV)

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The biggest surprise at the conclusion of the first series of Broadchurch had been the appearance of the caption after the end titles boldly declaring that “Broadchurch will return”. Why such a surprise? The eight-part story surrounding the death of young Danny Latimer in a small south west coastal resort town had been such a perfect gem of a production that you couldn’t help but wonder just what on earth they could possibly do to extend the show that wouldn’t also end up wrecking the reputaion of the original in the process.

It was with this trepidation in mind that eighteen months later I sat down to watch the first episode of the second season – and happily, any fears or concerns that I had about whether Broadchurch could possibly return as strong as it went out were pretty much swept aside in the first ten minutes. In a ghostly echo of the way that the first series had kicked off, it opened with an overview of our sprawling main cast of characters as they started to converge on one particular destination in town. But there were no cheery nods and waved greetings this time; it was a far more sombre affair as they all headed to the local court to see the murderer of Danny Latimer formally enter his plea. Once this was done then everyone would be able to start to move on, recover and heal from the vicious wounds inflicted on the community by the original killing and the investigation that had followed.

The way the moment was built up, you just knew there was a sting coming. It wasn’t very hard to see what it had to be, either. But even so, the moment when it actually came was still enough to make you gasp and it actually felt like you’d been slapped round the face without warning. Any show that can achieve something of that impact before the first commercial break clearly knows what it’s doing, and there was no question that the showrunner and series creator Chris Chibnall was in assured form as he set about following the implications as they rippled through the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Regeneration Game

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After a busy week packed with reviews, I’m taking a short break from all that and offer instead this feature story about a vital aspect of the Doctor Who television series – specifically, the single inspired concept that has allowed the show to continue for 50 years and could easily see it extend for another 50 years, or indeed more…

line-upThe Doctor Who TV series has just celebrated its 50th birthday and 800th episode, something that the production team that launched it back in 1963 could never have believed for one minute was possible as they struggled to survive beyond the original 13-week run that the BBC had commissioned.What’s amazing is how much of the show’s essential DNA is in place even in those early days: the concept of the mysterious alien stranger and the time machine with its iconic police box exterior with its ‘bigger on the inside than on the outside’ properties are familiar to us now but were then genius inspirations of the highest order. And then at Christmas the Daleks arrived which propelled the show to extraordinary early heights of popularity.

The only remaining crucial item missing from the show’s bible by the end of 1963 was the concept of regeneration. That would come later. But when, exactly, did the process of regeneration actually become a core part – perhaps the most crucial part – of the show’s format in terms of its longevity? Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers

The problem with creating a 50th anniversary special for Doctor Who is finding a story that not only has space for all 13 incarnations of the titular character, but one that actually warrants multi-Doctor involvement. It’s not like the Doctor should be going around and dropping in on himself every other week for tea and scones.

In current Who lore, there’s pretty much only one thing big enough to justify the Doctor calling up his own selves as reinforcements. The Time War was a rather brilliant concept introduced by showrunner Russell T Davies in 2005 so that he could sweep away the clutter of too much complex backstory continuity and free the show up for its reboot for a brand new audience complete with a new, dark and angst-ridden central protagonist unlike any Doctor previously seen in the classic era. It did its job superbly – but also became such a huge part of the show’s mythos that it was impossible not to prod and poke it further over the years. Even though RTD’s successor Steven Moffat has been less inclined to utilise it since he took over, the spectre of the Time War has continued to loom over the show and the character with an ever-increasing weight. And that’s because there was an unforeseen problem.

Put simply: the Time War ended when the Doctor annihilated two whole civilisations. That’s bad enough, even if one of them is the Daleks; but when the Doctor is responsible for the genocide of his own people it leaves a stain on our supposedly heroic character that becomes increasingly untenable. The pivotal moment is when you frame the emotionally loaded but entirely warranted question, “How many children did you kill?” as indeed the 50th anniversary special does. Once asked it cannot be taken back, and you soon realise that this act cannot be allowed to stand. No matter how much you try and rationalise it or quarantine off the guilt of the heinous atrocity onto one disowned incarnation of the Doctor, no matter how much the Doctor suffers with the burden of his actions, it will never be enough: a Doctor who did this can no longer be our or anybody’s hero. And that is a big problem for the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor (Online)

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With the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who just two days away, here’s a few words about a new online/red button minisode that’s been doing the rounds for the last week or so.

It’s a wonderful high-quality eight-and-a-half minute self-contained story that is nonetheless essential viewing before Saturday’s feature-length birthday special. As with so many Steven Moffat-penned stories it starts in mid-action with a spaceship in the process of catastrophically crashing onto the barren planet below. A mysterious stranger in an incongruous blue police box arrives to save the sole remaining crew member, but it doesn’t go as well as he’d been hoping. And come to that, it’s not the person you were expecting to show up even knowing that Saturday’s story features not one but three Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt.)

Unfortunately a week into the release, the official BBC page for viewing the minisode makes it impossible to view the clip without getting a massive spoiler image before you even start, which is a shame because one of the genuine highlights of my viewing year has been the sense of utter shock I got at the totally unexpected reveal as it cut to the new arrival as he said “… but maybe not the Doctor you were expecting” – which indeed I hadn’t, and the wonderful surprise nearly sent me tumbling from my chair. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to the page with your eyes closed and have someone click the ‘Play’ button for you if you can. And do it now, without delay. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars (2009) [DVD]

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For no particular reason, this week I had the urge to revisit a four-year-old feature episode of Doctor Who from the end of the David Tennant era – perhaps it’s spurred by the idea that we will be seeing the actor back in the role in just a few day’s time .

I haven’t rewatched “The Waters of Mars” since its original transmission in November 2009. It was one of a number of hour-long episodes broadcast that year to bridge the gap caused by the programme’s regular production taking a long hiatus before Matt Smith took over the role. Whereas the other specials had all been tied to special occasions (Christmas, New Year, Easter) “The Waters of Mars” found itself rather awkwardly dropped into a random weekend in November (charitably you could speculate that they wanted to mark the 46th anniversary of the show with something new, but really it seems they just ran out of scheduling options.) Even more oddly it clearly has several of the trappings of a Christmas outing – more than “The End of Time” did, which finally filled the December 25 spot a few weeks later – indicating how fluid and messy the whole behind-the-scenes production of the specials ended up being in 2009.

As a result it was easy at the time to overlook “The Waters of Mars” as just a warm-up act for the much-anticipated final story and regeneration which captured all the attention coming just a few weeks later, followed by the massive hype and expectation surrounding the arrival of a new lead actor in the role in the spring. All of which may explain why I never got around to rewatching “The Waters of Mars” since it aired, despite the fact that even at the time it had been “the best of the 2009 specials” – not that this was frankly a ringing endorsement, the specials proving rather a disappointing finish to Tennant’s time in the role and only proving that the ongoing serial nature of the show and a regular companion are vital ingredients to the mix without which things can easily drift. Read the rest of this entry »

The Quatermass Experiment (1953/2005)

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While I’m delighted to see all the attention being given to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I’m somewhat saddened to see a lack of any mention at all for another significant anniversary in the annals of television science fiction: July 18 saw the 60th anniversary of the 1953 début of one Bernard Quatermass, arguably the Doctor’s spiritual father.

Quatermass was a phenomenon in the 1950s, the first science-fiction/horror show to really go mainstream in British television and literally clear the streets when it was on. There were three six-part serials beginning with The Quatermass Experiment in 1953 then followed by Quatermass II in 1955 and Quatermass and the Pit at the end of 1958. The lead character was always the same, a leading British rocket scientist played initially by Reginald Tate but who sadly passed away before the sequel in which John Robinson was hastily cast; Andre Morell took over for the third story, and Sir John Mills subsequently played Quatermass in a 1979 big-budget production for ITV, the last new story to be filmed. All three of the original serials were also made into films – indeed, 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment (as it was retitled) was the first horror outing for the small Hammer Film Productions and which persuaded them that the genre might be a good one to exploit more fully in future…

The film version is good (despite a miscast American actor Brian Donlevy starring as Quatermass) and has stood for a long time as the definitive record of the original story since the telecast has been mostly lost. Off-air recordings of the first two episodes do survive and were released on DVD by the BBC in 2005, but they are in a pretty poor condition: watchable for the connoisseur, but not broadcastable. Nonetheless they’re fascinating for a true fan of this sort of thing such as myself. The story revolves around the return of a rocket presumed lost which crash-lands near London; three crewmen were on board but only one is recovered, and he’s acting very strangely. In the end it’s clear he’s undergoing a violent metamorphosis and Quatermass is in a race against time to save the planet. Read the rest of this entry »

Earthflight (BBC1)

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Earthflight is hardly a new programme, having originally been shown on BBC1 over a year ago, but given that it’s currently in the middle of a rerun on the channel on Sundays I thought I was worth a quick mention nonetheless.

On one level this isn’t going to surprise anyone with even a passing familiarity to the BBC’s prodigious and indeed prestigious wildlife output, being the same reliable high-quality blend of fascinating nature facts and eye-popping photography. Along with Pixar animations, BBC wildlife programmes are surely what high-definition media was made for and Earthflight certainly doesn’t let the side down.

Elsewhere, a couple of things give this series a bit of an unusual twist from the usual BBC fare. One is that it has a particularly effective structure to it, being based on the migratory flights of birds with each of the six episodes featuring a different species of avian aviators on a different continent photographed using new techniques including cameras actually attached to the birds themselves to give a unique insight into what it’s like to fly and soar high in the sky. While the birds are central to the show, the series also takes time to stop off and look at the wildlife and geography at the different places that the birds stop off and stay during their epic journey, meaning there are plenty of other animals (either prey, or preying) sharing the screen to ensure it doesn’t get too narrow-focused. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: Regeneration (DVD)

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No, not a discussion of the upcoming departure of Matt Smith from the title role of Doctor Who and who may or may not replace him. Instead, this is the latest offering from the BBC marking the 50th anniversary of the show, and is a deluxe gift boxset containing a handsome coffee table tome about the series and its stars together with six DVDs comprising episodes featuring every one of the 11 actors to have played the role to date.

It does so by collecting together all the stories in which a Doctor regenerates, which is a nice thematic way of showcasing the series’ continuity and well as its longevity, as the concept of the Doctor’s ability to change into a new form is key to the show’s ongoing success. It also connects Matt Smith directly all the way back through Tom Baker to the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, who initially created the iconic role in November 1963.

It’s a beautifully designed product, using symbology from the language of Gallifrey (the Doctor’s home world) as a motif which is carried through to the discs themselves and on to the gorgeous on-screen menus as well. The book has some wonderful photography, treated to an epic black-and-white digital finish with some effective use of stylistic spot colour accents. It’s beautifully typeset and the text itself is well-written and interesting – although it contains nothing itself that will surprise hard core fans, of course. Read the rest of this entry »

Broadchurch E8 (ITV)

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Contains spoilers: if you haven’t seen the final episode, do not read on!

I can’t remember the last time that ITV went to town hyping the last episode of a drama series quite as much as it did with Broadchurch in the days leading up to Monday night’s conclusion to the eight-part series.

In many ways, all the build-up and hype were the show’s biggest enemies in the end, reducing the story of “Who killed Danny Latimer?” down to the same level of whodunnit parlour game as “Who shot JR?” or “Who killed Laura Palmer?”. In fact the show had never been intended a simple matter of guessing who the guilty party was: instead it was meant as a deep and emotional study on the effects of a terrible crime on a small close-knit community. A Fatal Attraction-style shock/twist ending was never really on the cards and just like Forbrydelsen before it, Broadchurch was determined not to go down that road no matter who it left feeling dissatisfied. Read the rest of this entry »

ReTake: Broadchurch E1-7 (ITV)

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ReTakes are second looks at things that have previously been reviewed on this site, with the intention of updating previous takes on the subject.

When I first reviewed Chris Chibnall’s story of a community struggling to come to terms with the murder of a local 11-year-old boy and the search for his murderer, I said that I didn’t understand the fuss and adoration that the series appeared to be getting from all quarters. While good, it didn’t seem to me to be that special, I wrote.

I largely feel the same way, to be honest, but want to add that the most recent half of the series has been a lot stronger and more gripping than the first half and that I’m certainly very pleased to have watched it from the start. I certainly wouldn’t dream of missing this Monday’s extended final episode in which all is (hopefully) revealed.

A lot of the things that niggled at me in the opening episodes have been attended to in what is clearly a meticulous and intelligently thought-out overarching plan. For example, the clichéd angst-ridden nominal star of the show – DI Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant – has been transformed by later events surrounding his health and revelations regarding a previous botched investigation elsewhere. And the co-star – DS Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman – has developed wonderfully. I originally criticised a scene in which she struggled to give a morning assignments briefing to the murder team, but in episode 7 there’s a reprise of that and her no-nonsense, hard-hitting professionalism is an effective demonstration of how hardened she’s been made by the events in the meantime.

So, fair play Mr Chibnall – you knew what you were doing, and you executed it brilliantly.

The last hurdle will be delivering an effective, satisfying climax and resolution to the story. This is easier said than done: even the superlative Forbrydelsen managed to not quite deliver the knock-out punch at the very end of its original 20-episode run. Will Broadchurch? I worry that, like its Danish antecedent, it might have shot its bolt too early: two moments in episode 7 – the appearance of the man that Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) said she saw on the beach with Danny’s body; and the final words that Ellie says to Susan – point unequivocally to one suspect, and it’s someone who has topped most internet polls since almost the very first week of the show.

If it really does turn out that the solution is that ‘easy’ and obvious right from the start then it’s going to take some of the power out of the entire series. Even a late swerve from the ‘obvious’ suspect to the idea that he was merely covering up for someone else in his family would be a touch anti-climactic at this stage, and yet it seems that structurally at least the show has left itself no other path to go down in its final minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s what happens, and how well it can pull off the big reveal by which it will surely be judged down the line.

The final episode of Broadchuch is at 9-10.05pm on Monday April 22 on ITV. It will be available via ITV Player for a week afterwards. The series is released on DVD on May 20, 2013.

Broadchurch (ITV) and Mayday (BBC)

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It’s funny how sometimes two shows (or two films, or two books) with almost identical ideas show up at virtually the same time. On the screen, we’ve had two volcano movies, two meteor films, two Capote biopics and two Snow White reboots show up at the box office within a few weeks of each other; and now we’ve had the TV equivalent, with two shows about shocking crimes being done to local children in small idyllic English communities airing within hours of one another.

Of the two, I think it’s fair to say that BBC’s Mayday had been widely derided, whereas ITV’s Broadchurch would be up for sainthood were it a person, such has been the adulatory response to it. I’m going to slightly take issue with that, but I’ll start by saying that the two shows are strong dramas, well made with excellent casts, and that both are certainly well worth watching.

So why didn’t Mayday go down that well while Broadchurch has been such a hit? It may be because the former is not the show that people thought they were getting from the trailers, whereas the latter emphatically nails it, delivering to and exceeding viewers’ expectations. Because the truth is that despite their similar-sounding premises, these are two surprisingly different shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: “The Next Doctor” (DVD)

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I can tell that it’s getting close to Christmas, because I’m suddenly getting unexpected urges to watch festive films and old Christmas special editions of favourite TV programmes – such as Doctor Who. For some reason the desire to rewatch the series’ 2008 holiday outing “The Next Doctor” popped into my head this weekend.

I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of this instalment at the time and I don’t think I’ve seen it again in the intervening four years since its original transmission. On the whole I recalled I didn’t much like it and would class it as the weakest of the seven Christmas specials that have aired to date since the show returned from hiatus in 2005.

I think one of the reasons why I didn’t like it was because at the time it felt a very cynical offering. It aired after David Tennant had announced he was leaving but before Matt Smith was unveiled as his replacement, and so this special – from the title right through the first half hour of the story – is consciously exploiting the explosion of interest in who would be the next Doctor. David Morrissey had even been widely tipped as a genuine successor and so the Christmas special appeared a quite stunningly blatant exercise in fanboi cockteasing. I didn’t take that sort of bait-and-switch well at the time, as you can probably tell.

The thing is, four years later it’s possible to divorce the hour-long special from the production circumstances that surrounded its original airing and see the story clearly on its own merits. And surprisingly, the things that work the best about “The Next Doctor” are precisely the scenes involving Morrissey, and especially his interplay with Tennant with whom he’d co-starred a few years earlier in the oddball drama-musical Blackpool to great effect. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sarah Jane Adventures S5 E1/2 – “Sky”

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The Sarah Jane Adventures is back this week on the Children’s BBC channel, and is well worth catching up with on the BBC iPlayer if you’re not around for the 5.15pm airing on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

Although unashamedly – indeed, proudly – a programme for children, there’s few made-for-kids drama series around these days with the style, verve and sheer class of this Doctor Who spin-off, and plenty for adults to love as well.

The fact that it’s primarily for the kids actually makes this show the truer heir and keeper of the faith to the original series of Doctor Who: Nu-Who is all grown up now, with proper emotions and drama and timey-wimey complex epics; Torchwood on the other hand always wanted to be different and grown up, then went high concept and all mini-series on us as it decamped to the States.

The Sarah Jane Adventures on the other hand is just a perfect little bubble containing the spirit of 26 years of the original show, allowing it to live on through the character of Sarah Jane Smith. It’s no coincidence, I can’t help but think, that this season-opener is partly set in a nuclear power station, which is where her final story as a regular companion to Tom Baker was set back in 1976: it’s just one of those knowing, touching nods the series gives to older fans without doing anything to interrupt the fun of things for the primary audience of children. Its lack of ‘side’ or ‘edge’ or guile is what makes this show such a pure pleasure.

In previous years we’ve seen the Doctor guest star in both his David Tennant and Matt Smith guises, and featured guest turns from the Brigadier and Jo Grant (or Jo Jones as she now is) all of which have been a pure delight for long time nostalgic fans of its parent show in both modern and classic forms.

Unfortunately this will be the last (truncated) series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, following the tragically untimely demise of the series star, the irreplaceable Elisabeth Sladen, in February this year. It’s very bitter sweet to watch her in this, knowing now that she was very ill and close to passing away as happened.

You’d never know it from what’s on the screen: she is as wonderful, energetic and full of life as ever, effortlessly holding the show together with her presence and personality not to mention her acting talent which shines through. She’s running around with her teenage co-stars just the way she always did – just the way we’ll always remember her. It makes it easy to forget that Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us; and then, when you do remember, it hits hard all over again and it’s impossible not to have the tears well up just as they did when the shocking news broke earlier this year.

But the good news is that she got to leave us this show – the five seasons of Sarah Jane Smith that put her in a category of her own, the only Classic companion to get her own successful spin-off show and become a star in her own right. And most deservedly so. That the show continues to be just as good and strong to the very end is so very important, too.

Enjoy these last few episodes; and then if you haven’t seen the preceding ones, go out and get the box set, and raise a glass to the memory of the wonderful Sarah Jane and the lovely Lis Sladen, without whom all our lives would have been so much the poorer.