Reece Shearsmith

Doctor Who S9E9 “Sleep No More”

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Contains spoilers to keep you awake.

sleep-1Whatever else you might say about Mark Gatiss, you really have to admire his range and diversity when it comes to the stories that he’s written for Doctor Who across the years. From Victorian ghost stories guest starring Charles Dickens to haunted dolls houses on a modern council estate, subservient Daleks making tea for Winston Churchill to murderous BBC continuity announcers in the 1950s, not to mention reviving the Ice Warriors to a soundtrack of 80s pop classics and the real-life origins drama An Adventure in Space and Time. His most recent story contributions have been his most out-and-out comedic, although the gothic black comedy The Crimson Horror and the bright and the breezy historical romp Robots of Sherwood could hardly have been more poles apart.

Just when you think you’ve got a grip on what he’s going to do next, Gatiss tends to want to spin off in a whole new direction – and that’s exactly what he does with this week’s season nine entry. You might not think it would be possible to create a brand new story that is simultaneously equidistant from every single one of his previous seven contributions, but that’s precisely what he does with the highly experimental “Sleep No More” as he conjures up a pure science fiction horror story that’s singularly and surprisingly lacking in laughs despite guest starring his old League of Gentleman pal Reece Shearsmith in a leading role.

The one thing that is always consistent with Gatiss’ contributions is that he delivers an incredibly rich script packed full of ideas – some of them borrowed but equally as many of them fresh and original. There’s usually so much going on that the stories threaten to spin out of control, fizzing so violently that they fly apart or spontaneously implode and combust. As a result the stories rarely all manage to work completely for everyone, but they’re never dull. For the reviewer, however, there’s a risk that any analysis of a Gatiss story will end up becoming a checklist of influences and concepts in play rather than a proper look at the story as a whole. Apologies in advance if that turns out to be the case here. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Shadows S1 E1-2 “Only Connect” (ITV)

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Contains some mild spoilers for the first two-part story.

ITV’s new crime drama Chasing Shadows is an oddly bloodless affair, resembling nothing so much as a piece of low-cost flat pack furniture where the individual components parts are familiar from other efforts and promise a decent end result, but which instead turns out to be so bland and anonymous that it fades into the background never to be thought of again, merely serving its purpose and filling some space for as long as it lasts.

The very set-up of the show sounds almost comedically clichéd: a mismatched pair of investigators, bucking against authority and improbably tasked with hunting down serial killers while working out of the civilian Missing Persons Unit rather than the Met’s murder squad. Given that one of the investigators is brilliant but anti-social to the point of breathtaking rudeness it seems that the particular immediate template for the show is most likely the Nordic Noir series The Bridge in which one of the cops was strongly implied to be high on the spectrum of Asperger’s or autism. This is similarly the case with Chasing Shadows complete with added traits of OCD and Tourette’s for haphazard good measure, although whereas Saga Noren’s character was used as a darkly satirical commentary to subvert gender and national stereotypes, here there is a complete absence of any equivalent intriguing subtext.

Perhaps to avoid encouraging comparisons with The Bridge, Chasing Shadows has reversed the genders of the two leading characters so that the male role of DS Sean Stone is the one who is emotionally closed down, brusque and unfeeling with a blinkered focus on facts and data and on getting the job done – a dull stereotype, despite some very accomplished and intelligent playing by The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith. Meanwhile the female character of Ruth Hattersley (Alex Kingston) becomes the warm, emotionally accessible, nurturing and motherly role balancing work with home life, so that the whole thing ends up producing a set-up that sends us instead all the way back to the cop show gender clichés of the 1970s and completely misses the point of modern convention-challenging shows like The Bridge. Read the rest of this entry »

Inside Number 9 (BBC2)

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I have to confess that I have something of an up-and-down relationship with the work of comedy writer/performers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, who were one half of The League of Gentlemen along with Mark Gatiss and writer Jeremy Dyson.

I didn’t take to the League at all when it first aired, and while I eventually did come around to it I was never as caught up in its cast of recurring characters and their famous catchphrases as everyone else seemed to be. However, I did completely adore Shearsmith and Pemberton’s follow-up project Psychoville perhaps largely because it used classic Gothic and Noir film references as its basis (an episode that riffed off Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and which also reunited the pair with guest star Gatiss was a particular highlight.) That show wasn’t such a big hit with audiences or critics, however, and it ended in 2011 after two series and one Christmas special. Since then, it’s been more than two years since the duo last collaborated in writing for television: Shearsmith has been developing his stage and screen acting career including a brief turn as Patrick Troughton in Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time while Pemberton has become a familiar face to viewers with long-running roles in Whitechapel and Benidorm.

Finally they’re reunited as writers and main stars of Inside Number 9, an anthology series of self-contained half-hour stories that you could inaccurately summarise as a comedic Tales of the Unexpected, each week’s events loosely linked by the fact that the setting in each case has the same house number (nine, obviously. In the first instalment, “Sardines”, this is an old rambling house in the suburbs; in the second entitled “A Quiet Night In”, the number nine is an ultra-modern millionaire’s house. Read the rest of this entry »