TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: A Delicate Balance, Almeida

“The one thing sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a sister’s ingratitude”

A Delicate Balance won Edward Albee the first of his three Pulitzer Prizes and director James Macdonald has brought it to the Almeida Theatre as the fourth of his plays to be performed there. Albee is perhaps best known for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and this play shares similarities with that work in its focus on the travails of rich urban socialites, their relationships and what nastiness lurks beneath their genteel facades but A Delicate Balance pulls the focus a little wider to look at an entire dysfunctional household.

Tobias and Agnes are a couple whose very well-appointed life of cocktails and social clubs suggests a world of comfortable privilege. But from the off, it is evident all is not quite rosy as we discover they sleep in different bedrooms, Agnes’ alcoholic sister Claire is living with them and their daughter Julia is experiencing marital discord, for the fourth time though still in her 30s. Further complicating matters is the arrival of their best friends, Harry and Edna, who arrive unexpectedly, utterly traumatised by an unknown fear at their house, and having decided to move in with them. When Julia arrives back at the family home the next morning, having indeed split up from her fourth husband, to find strangers in her childhood bedroom, the battlelines are drawn as family are pitched against friends and loyalties stretched to their limits. Continue reading “Review: A Delicate Balance, Almeida”

Review: Through A Glass Darkly, Almeida

“It’s the confusion that terrifies me”

Through a Glass Darkly is a bit of a coup for the Almeida Theatre, a world premiere of this Ingmar Bergman story and directed by long-term friend of the Almeida, Michael Attenborough. It tells of a family, a couple Karin and Martin accompanied by her father and brother, holidaying on a bleak Swedish island once associated with family happiness, now revisited at the behest of Karin. Recently released from an asylum after some sort of psychiatric breakdown, she is trying to recapture the feelings of contentment she remembers from the past, but her father, brother and husband for their own various reasons seem unable to help her realise her ambition and so she decides to take control of her own destiny.

This is the only one of Bergman’s works that he permitted to be adapted for the stage and I’m pretty sure I read that Andrew Upton was doing the adaptation when this was first announced, but Jenny Worton is credited here. Not knowing the film, I can’t comment on how good an adaptation it is; structurally, it takes place over 24 hours through a series of scenes. There was something a bit too mechanical about the transitions though, not enough of a feel of the links between the scenes for my liking and so it all felt a bit disconnected, a series of tableaux rather than a well-integrated play. Continue reading “Review: Through A Glass Darkly, Almeida”