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”

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2

“You haven’t lost your faith in people, have you?”

The problem with using superlatives is that it is so easy to get carried away. And having declared the second series of Unforgotten to be sure of being one of the best pieces of television we’ll see this year, I’m now having to add The Moorside to that same category. The first episode blew me away and the second, directed by Paul Whittington and written by Neil McKay, confirmed the show as a devastating tour de force.

Occupying the slightly hazy ground of docudrama, where real-life events are augmented with highly researched dramatised scenes, The Moorside nevertheless smacks of the ring of truth from start to finish. The second instalment picks up with Shannon Matthews having been found by the police and whilst the community who came together so dramatically to search for her celebrate, questions about Karen Matthews’ involvement in the disappearance of her daughter hang ominously in the air. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2”

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1

“Anyone tells you you’re not a good mother, you can tell them to shove it up their arse”

Coming from the same creative team as the extraordinary Appropriate Adult, it is no surprise that the first episode of new BBC two-parter The Moorside was a superlative hour of TV, leaving me eagerly awaiting the second instalment next week (just like the good old days, none of your stripping a show across consecutive days here). And as they did by looking at the deeds of Fred and Rosemary West through the experience of the social worker drafted in to assist him, the 2008 case of missing Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews is retold here largely through the eyes of Julie Bushby, a friend of Shannon’s mother, who was instrumental in leading the community effort to find the young girl. 

Where Appropriate Adult excelled was in its first-rate casting, securing the services of Emily Watson, Dominic West and a truly fearsome Monica Dolan to lend the work real gravitas. And if The Moorside doesn’t necessarily have an Oscar nominee in its company, it has a no less sensational trio at its core (all with sterling theatrical credits too). Sheridan Smith is the highest profile as Julie Bushby but Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones’ Yara Greyjoy) more than matches her with a frankly terrifying performance of blankness curdling into disturbing strangeness as Shannon’s mother Karen. And following on from her recent high profile turn in Sherlock, Siân Brooke also excels as her increasingly sceptical friend Natalie. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 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”

Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre

“Governments fall, wars break out – there’ll be nothing left of this country”

Recent Croatian history forms the fascinating backdrop to Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, a multi-generational family drama that stretches across nearly 70 years and endless drama, both political and personal. From the 1945 establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that replaced the monarchy and promised a bright future, to its collapse in 1990 presaging both independence and the bitterly fought Balkan conflicts of that decade, and then on again to a 2011 that heralds another form of confederacy as Croatia enters into EU accession talks. Štivičić’s focus remains on a single household throughout but it can’t help but be influenced by the turbulence of the times.

That household is the Zagreb home of the Kos family, a plush place passed into their hands during the nationalisation of property at the end of the Second World War. So the residence that Monika previously served in becomes the house her daughter Rose moves into with her daughter Masha. Masha grows up to be a forthright wife and mother of two and as the clan gathers to celebrate the wedding of one of those daughters Lucia, years of frustrations and secrets and history and lies begin to uncoil as past events catch up with present actions. Štivičić takes her time to set up the play in a languorous first half but the pay off is intensely wielded after the interval. Continue reading “Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre”