‘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.

A view from The Bridge

Spoiler alert: Contains plot details for Series 4 of The Bridge

Writers Hans Rosenfeldt and Camilla Ahlgren promised great things with the final series of this international Scandi hit and viewers arrived back on the iconic Øresund Bridge with high hopes for our heroes Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) and Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt). Were they the awesome crime-fighting duo we’d seen at the end of series 3? Were they working together to solve the disappearance of Henrik’s daughters? Well, yes and no.

The series begins with Saga behind bars serving time for her wicked mother’s murder, patiently awaiting a re-trial. We know she didn’t do it, but how on earth can a cop with such limited social skills survive the system unscathed? Devoted Henrik who is trying hard to turn his life around is a frequent visitor. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder – their relationship seems much stronger than ever before. And a good job too, as there are some incredible storms to weather in this series – new highs and desperately tragic lows that are quite alien to Saga’s usual even keel. There’s heartbreak for all here, especially Saga as she finally has to confront her dreadful abusive childhood, and how it’s shaped her adult life. Saga in therapy is powerhouse acting from Sofia Helin, pushing at the limited scope in her character’s movements and facial expressions. I’ve not seen more entertaining and revealing therapy sessions since The Sopranos.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 7

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 7. Catch up with all the reviews here. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Happily we still have a Henrik this week. Our brave and stupid Dane gets off with a serious pain in the leg and a severe tongue lashing from boss Lillian about his ridiculous risk-taking. As predicted the GoPro killer (what is his/ her official nickname?) didn’t want to shoot Henrik as death to them is the easy way out. He wants his victims to suffer.

The Case

Chris flees from crazy Frank locking him up in the old factory. Frank looks like his hobby is well-planned. He’s got history in kidnapping kids.

Decapitation and firing squad are the methods left unchecked on the team’s control room list. So that’s equal parts terrifying and spectacular.

Mysterious dead Douglas was a Private Investigator who Niels says he hired after his wife’s death to hurry the investigation along. Saga uncovers private police documents in his office that show the mole in the team is working hard on leaking sensitive information all over the place.

Saga is on to Anna, Astrid and Frank thanks to Chris’ confession about killing Dan in the Village of the Damned. Frank seems so reasonable but there’s a monster is hiding just under the surface of respectability. In this episode Frank’s answer to everything is violence. The tension is unbearable as Frank locks the front door and goes to find Astrid toting a shotgun. (“For fucks’ sake! We demand a happy ending!” is written in my notes at this point.) Why did the sniper not take the clear shot he had at Frank’s squishy little head? And how come they can organise a whole SWAT team for a cold case with little to no notice? Those questions aside, good work team!

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 4

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 4. Catch up with all the reviews here. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Well colour me confused. What are they playing at? The halfway point maybe not the best spot to introduce a whole new cohort of an already large cast. This is daunting even for seasoned viewers. If you watched the whole episode without pausing to wonder who someone was, who they were related to, and how they were linked to the case then you’re doing far better than me.

The Case

Taariq needs penge, and quickly. You’ve got to admire his audacity in trying to blackmail a murder suspectstealing his wallet and car. Someone told me Taariq was going to get a severe new haircut and I did wonder in a world as dark as The Bridge, does that mean he’ll lose his head? Of course the answer is yes. As Taariq finally realises there’s no way out Henrik and Saga are called to the scene of his armed stand-off. Saga’s compulsive twitching as she attempts to defuse the situation is unbearable. Taariq can’t handle the truth, and unfortunately for him, Saga can’t hide it. A final violent act is preferable to a future in jail or being deported to a repressive regime. Henrik and even Saga seem heartbroken at his death.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 3

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 3. Catch up with episode 1  and episode 2. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Episode 3 was a classic where not very much happens. Characters willfully impede the investigation and every plot point feels like a dead end, until a frantic final three minutes which leaves you shaking your head and softly repeating the word “What?” to yourself over and over.

Our heros

“I’m not well” says Saga in typical matter-of-fact style. If only it was always so easy to acknowledge your own mental health problems and ask for help. She then lists a devastating catalogue of personal disasters. “We’ve got a bit to work with” says the unflappable therapist, surely in the running for Understatement of the Year 2018.  We hope with help Saga will turn the corner and apply her logical, analytical brain to her own situation, but Mummy is messing with her delicate mental state from beyond the grave – having her lawyer send childhood mementos to Saga’s workplace. Don’t open the box Saga! It’ll be about as much fun as Brad Pitt’s surprise gift in Seven.

The Danish sister from episode two,  christened by the internet Öliver and Dødger, were such a perfect fit for a hole we’re desperate to be filled. Like a Choir of (Young) Believers the internet sang out in one voice “They could be Henrik’s daughters!” And he gets them home a lot faster than I’d have ever imagined, but now in context of their old bedroom he would recognise them, right? He seems to be the only person not swept up in the idea that they’re his long lost children. But one night at Henrik’s Hotel turns into two as these resourceful Tracy Beakers refuse to be sent off to any dumping ground.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 1

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 1. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule.

Hey, you can come out from behind the cushion now. Is everyone ok? Take a deep breath, shake your fist at BBC2 for making you wait a whole week for the next episode and let’s process that remarkable hour of television.

So The Bridge is back with a bang, gleefully ramping up the tension, messing with our expectations of Saga and Henrik, all while introducing the usual cast of victims, ne’er-do-wells, and various hangers-on, some of whom will inevitably be added to the final body count.

We begin with a striking close up of Saga’s face, silent, dark and isolated. She wakes and sighs, remembering she’s in a nightmare she can’t escape from. She’s been in prison since the end of series 3 and I was worried her character development and personal resilience would be set back to zero but she’s doing her best. She awaits the outcome of her retrial for her manipulative mother’s murder. Remember she has a motive, no real alibi (she was set up to be alone in a graveyard when her mother died) and there was forensic evidence all stacked up against her. It sees a new witness has come forward, but Saga’s simple belief in right and wrong, and the power of the law has been firmly shaken. And she’s floundering. If she’s not a cop then where does that leave her. Without the job who is she?

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‘Witnesses’ – Series 2

As you may have noticed I’m still waiting on the next big Euro drama to cross my path. All the Scandi stuff recently has me feeling a bit flat, with fairly promising starts leading to confused middles and ‘meh’ endings. It’s fine to have a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains, but you need to populate it with original characters leading interesting lives. The story needs to be multi-layered, but not too complicated; zoning out and playing with your phone is the absolute death knell for a subtitled drama. Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have clear motivations that we can relate to.

So with a Gallic shrug it might well be time to bid au revoir to the northernmost corners of Europe and see what France might have to offer; after all, the daddy of the noir resurgence in the past decade has been the Emmy award-winning and much loved Spiral. The most memorable dramas I’ve watched recently have been French, or part French; the balls-out action heros in Braquo, stylish super spies in The Bureau and the best character in Midnight Sun was the deeply troubled French detective.

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