Well that wasn’t as completely terrible as it might have been.
Seriously, I came into this BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime very much fearing the worst and almost didn’t bother watching at all, so sure was I that I would hate every aspect of it. My hackles had been principally raised by the casting of Little Britain star David Walliams in the lead role of Tommy Beresford which seemed to suggest that the new show would continue the approach of recent productions which have tended to lampoon Christie, the genre and the period. Among the worst such recent offenders were early episodes of ITV’s Marple, then starring the late Geraldine McEwan, which played out more like a cartoon that invited us to laugh derisively at the story rather than appreciatively with it. Indeed, Walliams had been a minor guest star in one of those episodes, 2004’s “The Body in the Library”. Read the rest of this entry »
I hadn’t realised until I saw the publicity for series 2 that the original run of Line of Duty that aired last July had been the most watched original new drama on BBC2 for ten years: I suspect this achievement was subsequently eclipsed by the even bigger success of The Fall, but that merely serves to put it into even more impressive company as far as I’m concerned.
It’s a quick return for writer/creator Jed Mercurio’s police drama, but it immediately seems a very different beast. The first season was essentially a head-to-head confrontation between Tony Gates – a wildly successful, popular and charismatic Detective Chief Inspector played by Lennie James – and AC-12 anti-corruption officer DS Steve Arnott who was out to prove Gates complicit in ilegal activity and bring him down with the help of DC Kate Fleming. The structure of the original six-parter was evenly split between the characters of Gates and Arnott, with the audience invited to make up their own minds as to which – if either – was on the side of the angels. Gates, after all, brought down the bad guys while Arnott was using the absurdly Kafka-esque police procedures and health and safety regulations to entangle him over seemingly petty transgressions.
While the character of Gates does not return for season 2 for reasons obvious to anyone who saw the first series, Arnott (Martin Compston) and Fleming (Vicky McClure) are back along with their boss Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and new recruit DC Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine from Call the Midwife, An Adventure in Space and Time and Doctor Who episode “Hide”) and this time the target of their investigation is DI Lindsay Denton played by Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes, Spooks). Unlike the first season, in this story Denton is no obvious hero and indeed is a complete enigma to us: this time we are firmly in Arnott and company’s shoes in trying to figure out just what is going on and who exactly is responsible. That makes this Line of Duty in many ways a more traditional and conventional type of crime thriller, but at least that means it has also dropped its slightly tiresome soapbox preaching about the unfair burdens of paperwork and overbearing scrutiny that the police toil under. Anything that it might have lost is more than made up by the shock-upon-shock developments of season 2, which instantly grip us by the throat and refuse to let go. Read the rest of this entry »
Cutting straight to the chase, An Adventure in Space and Time is without doubt one of the best dramas that’s been made this year.
Of course I’m biased, being a long-time fan of Doctor Who to which this biographical docu-drama is an emphatic and unashamed love letter (as it is also to the iconic BBC Television Centre building, so beautifully used as a location throughout.) The 80 minutes tell the story of how the world’s longest-running science fiction programme was created by the BBC in 1963, and of its first three years which starred William Hartnell in the title role. However you don’t have to be a ‘Whovian’ to appreciate just how good this drama is, just as I didn’t need to be a fan of a certain long-running soap to be wowed by the similar The Road to Coronation Street in 2010, which I still rate as one of the best things the BBC made that year.
To true Who fans, all the characters involved and a lot of the events of An Adventure in Space and Time will be as well known as one’s own family myths and legends, and writer (and life-long fan) Mark Gatiss tells them all with a lightness and deftness of touch which keeps everything both breezy and entertaining while at the same time also utterly true and reverential to the documented facts – a very hard high-wire act to pull off as successfully as he does here. For example, scenes showing Hartnell fretting about mapping out what each button on the Tardis console does – and refusing to follow the instructions of a director where it contradicts what he’s mapped out – are very much part of established Who lore and yet are included here as important character traits rather than being shoe-horned in to flatter the Who cognoscenti. Read the rest of this entry »
I was going to keep this one relatively short, since I didn’t think that I had a lot to say about the latest instalment of Doctor Who other than that this was one of the best and strongest episodes to date of an otherwise uneven series 7. But it turns out that there’s a lot to say about excellence after all.
Here was a story that was finally let off the leash and allowed to be proper scary in just the way that the previous episode, “Cold War”, didn’t quite have the heart to follow through. I was amazed by the lengths this one went to and what it ended up getting away with: if this were indeed back in the 1970s and Mary Whitehouse was still with us, she would surely have been apoplectic at how much the show must have traumatised the little kids on Saturday night. Or the big kids, come to that – this was seriously frightening stuff. And it felt great to have Doctor Who back to its full-blooded, no-holds-barred best.
In a nutshell it was a haunted house story with a ghost and a hideous monster lurking in the shadows, being investigated by slightly eccentric paranormal researcher Alec Palmer and his assistant (not companion – this is 1974) Emma Grayling, an empathic psychic. Her talents prove vital to solving the mystery of Caliburn House, but of course it’s the Doctor who provides the brain power in figuring out what’s going on in the first place and what must be done about it – which takes us out of gothic supernatural horror and into a quite wonderfully clever and original science fiction story about time travel. This in turns allows some important character moments between the Doctor and his companion (not assistant – this is 2013) in which Clara gets insight into the Doctor’s world view, and we in turn get insight into the mystery of The Impossible Girl and why she fascinates the Doctor so – although why the Tardis is apparently not also a fan of hers is a whole different juicy strand to things. Read the rest of this entry »