TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker more than lives up to expectations as Doctor Who in Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – plus Bradley Walsh may well make you cry

“Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman”

“Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”. From the mouth of the Sixth Doctor himself, the very nature of Doctor Who (both the programme and the Time Lord) has always been its infinite variety. So it’s about bloody time that we now have the first female in the role – the excellent Jodie Whittaker – as new show-runner Chris Chibnall makes his definitive mark on the BBC serial.

And on the evidence of this first episode (and, let’s face it, to anyone with common sense), the Doctor’s gender is of little consequence. The ability to act as if you have two hearts knows no bounds, who knew, and the hints of Whittaker’s Doctor that were allowed to peek through the regenerative funk suggest we’re in for something of a real treat with an effervescent sense of personality shining through. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange

Frankenstein gets taken around the block one more time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – Sun readers need not apply

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?”

It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no-one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.

Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange”

Cast of Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Press announced

An ensemble cast of some of Britain’s hottest talent will portray the determined and passionate characters behind the daily news at two fictional, competing newspapers in Mike Bartlett’s (Doctor Foster, King Charles III) drama series, Press, on BBC One.
Charlotte Riley (King Charles III, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) will play the News Editor of fictional broadsheet, The Herald and Ben Chaplin (Apple Tree Yard, The Thin Red Line) will play the Editor of fictional tabloid newspaper, The Post, while Priyanga Burford (London Spy, King Charles III) will play The Herald’s Editor. Paapa Essiedu (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC’s Hamlet) will play The Post’s newest reporter and Shane Zaza (Happy Valley, The Da Vinci Code) its News Editor; while Ellie Kendrick (Game Of Thrones, The Diary Of Anne Frank) will be a junior reporter; Al Weaver (Grantchester, The Hollow Crown) an investigative journalist and Brendan Cowell (Young Vic’s Yerma, Game Of Thrones) the Deputy Editor at The Herald.
They will be joined by David Suchet (Poirot) who will play the Chairman & CEO of Worldwide News, owner of The Post.
Press will be directed by Tom Vaughan (Victoria, Doctor Foster) and produced by Paul Gilbert (Humans).
Set in the fast-paced and challenging environment of the British newspaper industry, Press immerse viewers in the personal lives and the constant professional dilemmas facing its characters. The series follow their lives as they attempt to balance work and play, ambition and integrity, amid the never-ending pressure of the 24-hour global news cycle and an industry in turmoil.
Press is a Lookout Point, BBC Studios, Deep Indigo production, co-produced with Masterpiece, for BBC One. Executive Producers are Faith Penhale and Mike Bartlett for Lookout Point, Bethan Jones for BBC Studios, Nigel Stafford-Clark for Deep Indigo, Mona Qureshi for BBC One and Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece. International Distribution will be handled by BBC Worldwide.
Press begins filming in London in October and will broadcast on BBC One in 2018.

Review: Road, Royal Court

“We all felt special but safe at the same time”

As somebody who grew up on the outskirts of a depressed Lancashire town in the 1980s, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Royal Court’s revival of Jim Cartwright’s seminal debut play Road. I was only seven when the play was written (1986) and truth be told, we were far enough out of town to be on the right side of the road but still, there was a definite sense of intrigue to my anticipation.

Safe to say, the play did not reveal any biographical insight into the early life of Clowns (or anyone he went to school tbqh) but nor did it emerge as a revival with much to say to Britain today. This portrait of a society scarred by Thatcherite intervention remains very much that, contemporary allusions to a society once again divided and depressed remain unexplored, frustratingly so. Continue reading “Review: Road, Royal Court”

TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2

“You are a curiosity”

American versions of Shakespeare (whether his plays or the man himself) are always worth looking up, even if only for a chuckle and new TNT TV series Will is certainly no exception. There’s some weight behind it – it was created by Craig Pearce, the longtime writing partner of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and has Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directing and executive producing and in the role of the Bard himself, there’s a potentially star-making role for British newcomer Laurie Davidson.

I watched the first two episodes and they sure make an arresting introduction. You feel Luhrmann’s influence almost immediately as this is no antiquated version of a sedate Elizabethan London, but rather it is one shot through with bright colours and a punk-filled attitude. Literally so, as they have conceived the burgeoning theatre scene of the time as being akin to the contemporary(ish) world of punk rock – theatres filled with patrons in leather and mohicans, the soundtrack filled with the Clash and drunken singalongs to Lou Reed.  Continue reading “TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2”

Casting for Royal Court’s Road announced

“Why’s the world so tough? It’s like walking through meat in high heels.”

Michelle Fairley, Mark Hadfield, Faye Marsay, Mike Noble, Dan Parr, Lemn Sissay, June Watson, Liz White and Shane Zaza have been cast in Jim Cartwright’s game-changing play Road which originally opened at the Royal Court in 1986. Road is a seminal play gives expression to the inhabitants of an unnamed northern road in Eighties Britain and most importantly for me, it is on the list.

It is directed in a new production by Royal Court Associate Director John Tiffany, with design by Chloe Lamford, lighting by Lee Curran, sound by Gareth Fry and movement by Jonathan Watkins. Continue reading “Casting for Royal Court’s Road announced”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:1

“If we drill down into the numbers, you’ve got a solid popularity arc here”

On the seventh day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a Hollywood makeover courtesy of Netflix

In what could be seen as a rather ironic move, Black Mirror found itself the subject of a bidding war, the result of which was its third series of 12 episodes, later split into 2 series of 6, was commissioned by Netflix and shown exclusively there, Channel 4 losing out and protesting about such behaviour until they did the exact same thing to the BBC with the Great British Bake-Off that is… 

There’s no defined order to the six episodes, that’s the nature of an anthology series, but there’s no mistaking the order Netflix want you to watch them in, leading with Nosedive, the episode featuring a Hollywood star in Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Joe Wright, it also deviates a little from standard practice by having a teleplay written by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones from an idea by Charlie Brooker, rather than Brooker himself like the majority of the other episodes. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:1”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”