“How does this end Simon?”
In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture with a rare return to weekly instalments. And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.
But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging.
Not even the presence of a veritable treasure trove of theatrical luminaries – Victoria Hamilton, Adam James, Thusitha Jayasundera, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Siân Brooke to name but a few – could rescue the show from the dullness of retreading old ground and a wearying sense of not giving a shit about anyone here, particularly in the interminable longueurs of the final episode.
Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
The Doctor Falls
The Eaters of Light
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land
Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…
Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.
Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!
I was late to my appointment with Doctor Foster, only getting round to watching episode 1 on Monday but I loved it so much (how could I not when the opening subtitle is “belt buckle being undone” and Bertie Carvel soon strips to his boxers) that I mainlined the next three so that I could watch the finale with the rest of the world. Written by noted playwright Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock, Love Love Love amongst many others), it’s a fierce revenge drama anchored by a cracking performance from Suranne Jones as the titular medic with the errant husband.
From the moment she discovers a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf, the scene is set for an almighty showdown but Bartlett’s skill is in stretching that moment tantalisingly over the entire series. Secret after secret tumbles out of the closet as she pulls at the thread but almost as destructive as his conduct (and Carvel is brilliantly craven as the slippery Simon) is the behaviour it unleashes in Gemma, her forthright determination cutting swathes through her employment prospects, her friends and neighbours and even her relationship with their 11-year-old son Tom.
And in the magisterial final part, Bartlett reconfirms his reputation as a writer utterly unafraid of peeling back façades to reveal the nastiness beneath (see Contractions, Bull) with a remarkable amount of sourness permeating the majority of the episode. Gemma’s slow-burning revenge finally takes flight as truth bomb after truth bomb is dropped at a brilliantly awkward dinner party – Jones relishing the matter-of-factness about the whole affair and Bruce Goodison’s direction hitting every beat of excruciating discomfort.
The fallout is significant and crucially, takes no prisoners. The way in which Gemma’s public perception is revealed is chillingly done, Victoria Hamilton as neighbour Anna excelling with her own explosive truths, and the story swerves into Medea territory, brutally, effectively so (all the more interesting given Bartlett’s less-than-stellar recasting of Euripides back in 2012) as Tom Taylor’s Tom comes into his own, the often neglected child’s point of view a scathingly refreshing contribution in relation to both parents.
The scant relief of the ending is thus much-welcomed and a pointer to the everyday reality of such situations as opposed to out-and-out drama forthe sake of it. Some quality drama right there with the BBC doing what it does best.