TV Review: Spooks – Code 9

Spooks – Code 9 is a spin-off that spins off too far, nowhere near deserving of the Spooks name

“Don’t make me look like a dickhead”

An absolutely baffling one this. Spooks – Code 9 was commissioned by the Beeb as a spin-off of the Spooks franchise that was aimed at the 16-24 demographic. Conventional wisdom dictates that a spin-off has at least some connection to its parent but for some reason, the decision was made to completely sever this new show, with no crossover with Spooks whatsoever.

Not only that, it is also set in an entirely different universe as this series is set in a UK that is reeling from a nuclear attack during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics Games. With London irradiated and most of its staff killed, MI5 has had to evacuate Thames House and set up regional field offices. Because the only way to justify setting a show in Leeds is to make London radioactive…(and even then they can’t keep away for the finale). Continue reading “TV Review: Spooks – Code 9”

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: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead

“That’s like practically incest”

Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Happy actually takes the form of a sequel of sorts to his earlier work Reasons to be Pretty, seen at the Almeida in 2011. Reflecting that continuity, director Michael Attenborough returns along with Soutra Gilmour as designer, reprising what looks like the same shipping container and rather oddly, just one of the original quartet of actors. Tom Burke is back as lead character Greg but the luminous lights of Siân Brooke, Kieran Bew and Billie Piper are replaced by Lauren O’Neil, Warren Brown and Robyn Addison.

You don’t need to have seen Reasons to be Pretty to see Reasons to be Happy but it certainly helps as the play picks up three years later on as their tangled inter-relationships have reconfigured into a new and different mess. Greg and Steph are no longer together but a spark still remains between them as evidenced by the blazing row that opens the show, as it did in Pretty. But she’s married to someone else and he’s having it off with her best friend Carly, who is the ex-wife of his best friend Kent who is in turn keen on getting back with the mother of his child. Continue reading “Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead”

TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 1)

“What do we do with something like this?”

It doesn’t quite seem right, calling this a new series of Luther when it is just two episodes, but the return of Idris Elba’s maverick DCI is something to be celebrated nonetheless. Neil Cross’ two-parter finds John Luther on a leave of absence from the Met (as opposed to having jacked it all in as we might have thought), sequestered in a coastal cottage hideaway and still reckoning with the loss of his cop partner DS Ripley after the events of the last series. Almost straightaway though, the show runs into the problems that mark the whole episode.

the first ever episode way back when). They’re both new to the franchise (though weirdly not unfamiliar to Luther) but as there’s so little time, we have to assume an instant familiarity with them, and with the circumstances of Alice’s death and a new serial killer who is eating his way through East London.  Continue reading “TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 1)”

TV Review: Luther, Series 3

 “You assert this fabulous moral conscience John, this adherence to unwritten law”

Despite finding Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice Morgan one of the greatest things on TV, it was with a slightly heavy heart that I heard she would be returning to Luther for its third series. The way in which she was crowbarred into the second was no great success and I feared that familiarity might breed yet more contempt, but my faith in writer/creator Neil Cross was strong enough to see me through, along with the news that favourite-in-these-parts Elliot Cowan would be part of the guest cast. 

The 4 part series essentially took the form of two 2-parters – the first making literal the horror trope of there being something under the bed and the second exploring vigilante justice, along with a series-long story which saw Internal Affairs turn the heat on Luther himself, trying to get to the bottom of just why so many of the people around him ended up dead. This latter strand didn’t really work for me, rehashing Dermot Crowley’s Schenk’s original role in the show, and adding a note of false jeopardy that never felt like it was going to go anywhere substantive. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther, Series 3”

DVD Review: Luther Series 2

“They’ve set up a new unit”

Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.

For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore. Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 2”

DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2

“Fools tell the truth”

Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.

I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”