‘Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ BBC 1

“I’m a traveller” says Jodie Whittaker’s newly regenerated Doctor. You and me both, love. I missed the fanfare for the new series last night as I was stuck on a train somewhere outside Bristol Parkway. Yes I know it’s 2018 and I could have watched it on my phone but the wifi was horrendous and there were no ancient alien adventurer ready to help me in my time of need as far as I could see.

But who knows what they look like theses days? Other than awesome coats in common they could look like anyone. This regenerating alien character who assumes human form is no longer the privilege of men. As the adverts cleverly said, it’s about time. So we’ll have no more creepy paternal romances with a subordinate companion figure, thank you very much. But she retains the benevolent feelings towards humanity in general and her mission is still helping people in distress – the universal fourth emergency service. And this time with the Tardis being MIA it won’t feel quite so odd if the stories end up being relentlessly earthbound, although we can but hope she and her big blue box are reunited soon.

There was much to love in this first 60 minute episode.  Jodie’s character seems to strike all the right notes; the wonder, the restlessness, the silliness and the dependability that are cornerstones of the show. I loved her costume when she finally chose it, and that it came from a charity shop junk pile. It was great watching her bodge together her own DIY sonic screwdriver. The cinematography was gorgeous and the way that Sheffield didn’t have to pretend to be London was very welcome indeed (poor Cardiff, you were cheated – South Wales deserved more than a being stand-in).  And it’ll be interesting to see how her Scooby gang, their characters and their relationships will develop over time. I predict Tosin Cole as Ryan will be a much more confident and capable young man in no time at all.  I was very disappointed that easily the brightest person we met, and the one most enthusiastic about adventures with the Doctor was killed off, but tragedy is a effective if rather blunt tool to cohere the team around.

Bradley Walsh seemed much more at home with the serious parts of the script than the attempts at humour, as if he’d left his cheeky chappie persona on the set of The Chase and resumed work as a dour policeman on Law & Order UK. This is fine, and a good reminder of the proper acting he’s capable of, but I had high hopes for him carrying the comedy here. The humour in general seemed badly timed and a bit off throughout.

Tonally it all felt a bit flat and to my mind the pacing of the whole episode wasn’t great. There’s got to be a balance between madly, breathlessly running around a spaceship occasionally pausing to yell “There’s no time to lose!” and this amble through Sheffield at night that the first episode presented us with. It’ll be good to see Jodie on an intergalactic battlefield trying to talk both sides down from the brink of war – we’ve yet to see her stretch herself or make any really inspiring dramatic speeches. The writer Chris Chibnall and director Jamie Childs seemed to have that extended episode time at the forefront of their mind, and even with a murderous alien on the rampage picking off innocent humans there was no massive sense of urgency in any of the action.  I’m extremely hopeful about this series and quite willing to watch another episode, but I hope someone rigs up a car battery quickly and gives it that electric shock it needs.

Stuck somewhere in need of entertainment? Got a better wifi connection than the average Cross Country train? Then watch the first episode of the new run now on iPlayer and let me know in the comments or on Facebook what you thought.

‘Bodyguard’ – BBC1

Jed Mercurio’s new six-part drama has been teased by pretty much all of the journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to catch previews this week. He’s riding high with the continued success of Line of Duty, the next series of which was delayed Bodyguard – a timely story about trust, fear and terrorism. As promised, the first 20 minutes were edge-of-your-seat action hero stuff, but is there enough here to maintain interest for five more episodes?

Richard Madden is David Budd (looking about 600% more macho than the late lamented Robb Stark he played on Game of Thrones), a traumatised soldier back from Afghanistan. His brave and selfless actions foil a terrorist plot to blow up a train filled with passengers, including his own children. Both terrorists are also unharmed, again thanks to him. Desperate brainwashed Nadia (we find out her name a long way into her and David’s conversation – I thought textbook negotiation tactics are to get people’s names as a priority) is talked down from pressing the button on her suicide belt by stony-faced Dave. He then embraces her to keep the army from shooting her dead. Interestingly, everyone on the train ready to pull the trigger and make a mess is female. He’s in the nurturing role, caring for his children, for poor confused Nadia and trying to keep the peace. Everyone escapes, traumatised but alive. Well of course – not even Mercurio is going to blow up his main character in the first episode. Or at least, not this time.

Continue reading “‘Bodyguard’ – BBC1”

‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1

Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are an international literary language; translated, loved and understood the world over. You know there’s going to be a big stately home, a cast of shifty upper-class characters, a few red herrings and a satisfyingly complicated conclusion. It’ll all hinge on the silver sugar tongs, a classified advert in the Times or the colour of the front door which you knew from the start but discounted as an inconsequential detail. It’s clever, gratifying and reassuring all in one shot. For a real-life example, please see me and Mr H on holiday in Turkey in 2014. We were, I’m ashamed to admit, battered out of our skulls on local raki and dealing with a day-long hangover in a hotel room easily as hot as the surface of the sun. What could be more soothing to the addled brain than finding Poirot dubbed into Turkish with English subtitles? In no small part thanks to Hercule we consoled the little grey cells that hadn’t been murdered by alcohol.

Ordeal by Innocence, the Easter Sunday BBC1 drama, is not your Turkish holiday Agatha Christie adaptation. There’s nothing soothing about this production. From the off it’s clear we’re in a nightmarish gothic horror. Producer and writer Sarah Phelps brings us a sharper, nastier, distilled version of And Then There Were None, her tremendous Christie adaptation from 2016. “Nine elaborate murders based on an extremely dodgy nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is not really terrifying enough. Let’s kick it up a notch guys!”

Continue reading “‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1”

‘Requiem’ – BBC1

Warning! Spoilers for Episode 1 lie beneath!

Even before the first shadow crosses the screen Requiem is creeping me out. It’s so obviously a Sunday night drama and should have been on over Christmas for full wintery effect. But for some unknown reason it’s on BBC1 on Friday nights in February. Never mind all that though, that’s an old-fashioned way of thinking about scheduling. Who cares what day it broadcasts when it’s all up on iPlayer to watch straight away.

I’d clocked the adverts but decided it wasn’t for me. Ghosts just don’t frighten me at all. I’d much rather Scooby don’t than Scooby Doo. The genre is so well-trodden and cliche-riddled that the only gasp you’ll get from me is a sigh as I find the remote and click the button. That whole haunted house brand has termites and it’s falling to pieces. But such a high quality cast turned my head and I watched it with a ‘may as well’ shrug as a chaser after yet another disappointing Euro drama (oh Modus, what’s happened to you?).

Requiem looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic. The opening credits are a Royal Blood album cover and the music is part classical emotions, part jarring shuddering electronics, as if the Terminator was in a string quartet. This isn’t just an interesting score; this is fundamental to the story. Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is a successful cellist, riding high with her pianist Hal (Joel Fry, wonderful in everything, recognisable from Game of Thrones where he’s got a similar complicated relationship with a powerful blonde) in hipster London, her haircut, flat and career fitting in nicely to that group of people who hate fitting in. Her lovely Mum Janice (the exceptional Joanna Scanlon, last seen as fearless matriarch Viv Deering in No Offence) is sad they’re spending more time apart, but delighted for her success. Matilda seems restless, her one-night stands interrupted by nightmares of an imprisoned girl.

Continue reading “‘Requiem’ – BBC1”

‘McMafia’ – BBC1

Having heard a few conflicting reports about the Beeb’s new gangster drama McMafia I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was one of those shows where I think I’ll give it 10 minutes and if it’s rubbish I’ll turn it off. Especially given as it was on New Years Day and I knew it was set in the world of international finance, I wondered if my hungover brain would be able to follow the plot. But, while I could never be described as a mathematical wizz, I’ve got some grounding in telly finance at least, having watched and enjoyed Billions on Sky1. If I could hang on in there for Wall Street insider trading, how much more difficult could the European version be? The spreadsheets in the credits are anything but enticing, but, thankfully, James Norton is.

Turns out, it was fine. We’re introduced to Norton as Alex Godman, a City fund manager raised in England but part of a rich and influential Russian family. His super-wealthy parents escaped the current Russian regime, and it seems like his Dad is an oligarch at odds with Putin (although the President is no mentioned by name). Going back would be impossible, and probably extremely dangerous, so Dad is severely depressed and pines for Moscow while his glamorous Mum worries about his state of mind.

Continue reading “‘McMafia’ – BBC1”

‘Armchair Detectives’ – BBC1

Guys, there’s been a murder! But fear not; it’s mid-afternoon on BBC1 so there’s no blood, no swearing and no one speaking Danish. Armchair Detectives is 100% safe for the squeamish. It’s a very unusual format, a quiz show Cluedo with Susan Calman as presenter and lead investigator. 15 members of the public sit jury-style as the studio audience from which three are picked each day to have their turn as the titular detectives. They are invited up to the drawing-room style stage to sit in fancy leather armchairs and work out whodunnit. The only person who doesn’t get to sit is Susan, despite having a chair placed behind her, which seems unfair given her legs must have taken a battering in the run-up to Strictly Come Dancing.

The contestants are all chatty and intelligent, and are probably the last people you want to watch Prime Suspect with as they’ll have smugly figured it all out at least 20 minutes before the credits roll.  And they’ll smile and say “aha!” and make you feel like a berk. Our first team of three include a librarian who loves the Lord Peter Wimsey books, a crime writer, and one is actually called Wisdom. I expect great things.

Continue reading “‘Armchair Detectives’ – BBC1”

‘The Bug Grub Couple’

Even the most ardent carnivore must admit that now, in 2017 our desire for big fat burgers and crispy chicken is not sustainable. We don’t have the farmland, the water, or the grain to feed all these animals. Now meat consumption is increasing rapidly in Asia and India we really have a problem. A protein innovation is required and fast. So, inspired by South East Asia (and I’m sure many other countries too) how about insects?

Meet Sarah and Andy. She’s an entomologist and he’s a chef. They met and fell in love while working in a restaurant and never expected their career paths to cross. Together they run a farm in St Davids, Pembrokeshire and, alongside the beef herd, their main concern is their busy farm cafe. It’s a real one-off. Welcome to Grub Kitchen. Fancy a pan-fried locust or a bug burger? This is the place for you. The locusts look like how you’d expect but the bug burger looks quite normal and insect decorations have to be added to make it look special. One customer calls it a “suspiciously tasty veggie burger”, but there’s no hint of suspicion here. This couple are evangelical about their bugs and the new way of eating we should all be embracing to give poor old planet Earth a break.

Continue reading “‘The Bug Grub Couple’”