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: Doctor Who Series 12 Episode 1

Doctor Who returns for its twelfth series with a rollicking spy caper in Spyfall and a masterful twist at the end

“Don’t be ridiculous, the Doctor is a man
‘I’ve had an upgrade'”

Just a quickie as the latest series of Doctor Who starts with a real bang, neatly killing off Stephen Fry in short order before he got too annoying, making Lenny Henry a Zuckerberg-esque tech villain and introducing Sacha Dhawan into the cast where he looks set to be a genius addition.

Borrowing liberally from a range of spy capers, I enjoyed this widescreen take on the Doctor, splashing a fair bit of the budget on some strong location work, the effects team keeping the threat of the shadowy aliens ominously vague, and the returning team settling nicely into their established dynamic. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12 Episode 1”

TV Review: Save Me (Series 1)

Over on Sky, Save Me turns out to be something rather brutally brilliant, written by and starring Lennie James, alongside an exceptional Suranne Jones

“I’ve just gone to see my dad”

Lennie James is billed as the creator of Save Me, as well as leading the cast alongside Suranne Jones, and it is a good thing he is up to the job as it has turned out to be a rather brutally brilliant series. Set in a tight-knit community in Deptford, it’s a clever take on the missing child genre that proved remarkably tense and completely gripping as it winds to a gut-punch of a conclusion.

James plays Nelson Rowe, Nelly to those that love him and it is clear that many do in this corner of South East London. He’s a total chancer, sleeping with any number of lovers, and balancing any number of side hustles in lieu of an actual job. But when the police come crashing through the door, everything changes. The daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was three has gone missing and she was on her way to see him, as her phone shows she’s been messaging with him for weeks. Continue reading “TV Review: Save Me (Series 1)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

Short Film Review #26

Rubbish

Rubbish sees Martin Freeman and James Lance reprise characters from an earlier short film Call Register, best mates Kevin and Julian. Once again tussling over a girl, in this case Anna Friel’s new neighbour Isobel, this time the scenario is around recycling in the flats where they live. Ed Roe’s film neatly punctures the hypocrisy that many of us carry about green issues, the lip service we pay and in this example, how that can rebound on us. Lance carries on his laidback swagger and Freeman is brilliant once again as the constantly over-compensating Kevin, aware he’s about to lose another girl to his handsome friend.


Elephant Palm Tree

Another film from Kara Miller and another two-hander that this time charts the quietly painful collapse of a marriage. No external factors are involved, it’s just a woman realising that the relationship to which she has devoted her life is giving her nothing back and asking for a divorce. But his (unspecified) high-flying job has kept her a very plush way of life and as they do battle over what she would walk away with, it becomes clear that whereas she’s ready to leave her man, her resolve may not be strong enough to divorce herself from this lifestyle. George Harris redeems himself a little for Frankenstein and Doña Croll is subtly affecting as the torn Martha, the difficulties of her life and decisions etched upon her face.


Project One

A rather fascinating project in which the medium  of short film is stretched to encompass the world of video games, all on the most meagre of budgets. It’s an experiment for sure, but worth a look.

I Am Bob

Donald Rice’s I am Bob is a rather amusing if slightly overlong film that plays like a homespun take on Being John Malkovich but with Bob Geldof at the heart of it. A mix-up with his chauffeur on a toilet break during a long ride up to a gig in Glasgow leaves him stranded in an isolated Lancashire pub without cash, cards or mobile. But far from being abandoned, it is hosting the 14th Long Marston Lookalike Convention and so he gets swept up in the baffling world of celebrity impersonations where David Bamber has already entered as Bob Geldof and the two have to do battle to be the most convincing Bob. It’s silly but fun and even if it stretches a little too languorously, it is always good-natured. 

Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me

“Is this the way to Macclesfield?”

Books like Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series were huge favourites of mine when I was a wee laddie, so I quite most intrigued to hear that a radio adaptation had been made of the former for Radio 4. Peter Thomson’s dramatization condenses the novel down to a highly atmospheric hour as this children’s fantasy tale winds its way around the ancient mysteries hidden on Alderley Edge. The story starts with Colin and Susan, young siblings who are sent to stay with old family friends in Cheshire whilst their parents are away, and who soon find themselves sucked into a mystical battle between the forces of good and evil who are all hunting for the Weirdstone which has gone missing and which looks strangely like the jewel at the heart of Susan’s favourite bracelet. 

Thomson has the tale narrated by an older version of Colin, a technique I’m not normally a fan of but one which works extremely well here, especially as he is played by Robert Powell whose sonorous tones are soothingly ideal for the purpose. And Jane Morgan’s production is inspired in its use of music (by Mia Soteriou) and special effects (by Wilfredo Acosta) to quickly establish the necessary atmosphere of ancient mystery and peril. She’s cast her play astutely too: Trevor Cooper’s booming guardian Gowther is brilliant, Philip Voss’ voice epitomises weary wisdom and Monica Dolan is a perfect choice for the wicked Selina Place. And with Hugo Docking and Fern Deacon full of youthful energy and wonder as Colin and Susan, it’s a rather wonderful hour of radio entertainment. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me”