Wednesday 28 October 2015


That's 'cuffs' as in the hand-locking variety rather than the ends of sleeves or a playful swipe to the side of the head.  A drama about either of the latter might seem to offer less possibilities, but at least they'd have lacked the cliches.  Think 'The Bill' or 'Holby Blue', 'Mersey Beat'... or any of a host of MoR cop shows.  In fact, it's probably easiest to sum up the episode with a sequence of cliches.

1: it's the rookie PC's first day
2: he's the son of the Chief Super (would they really be based at the same station?)
3: he's gay, and gets hit on by an unlikely woman and the male duty solicitor
4. he's paired with a tough, no-nonsense old-timer (Ashley Walters)
5. he makes a couple of serious mistakes but redeems himself by the end of the episode
6. his canteen lunch arrives just as they get a 'shout'
6. his dad has had a fling with a detective sergeant in the station (Amanda Abbington)
7. the aforementioned detective sergeant lives with a dog, to whom she's devoted, and eats microwave dinners
8. the mention of a racist released from prison is immediately followed by said racist attacking a victim
9. a stinger track fails to catch a getaway van but unexpectedly stops a man abducting his daughter
10. the rookie's mentor is proved wrong by the rookie when a vulnerable man hangs himself
11. no-one waits for backup, neatly explained by government cuts

Brighton hasn't featured in a good drama since Peter Mullan developed dementia and lost his criminal empire in 'The Fear', but there was little to enjoy in this beyond shots of the wheel, the piers, the marina, the Lanes and... the A27.  The writer Julie Gearey did superior work in 'Prisoners' Wives' and the main cast, other than newcomer Jacob Ifan as PC Jake Vickers, have all been far better elsewhere.  

Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde, ITV's new Sunday teatime drama, is lots of fun.  Written by Charlie Higson, most famous for The Fast Show, but also the writer of several gruesome thrillers for grown ups (King of the Ants), and kids (the Young Bond books), it's very pointedly not an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but a new spin-off, following the life of his grandson, Robert Jekyll.

It's almost like a Alan Moore graphic novel re-imagining of the story, set in the 1930s with Robert trying to find out about his past, and battling his urges to change from his normal, mild-mannered self to the demonic Hyde.  It also brings to mind 'The Incredible Hulk', with the first transformation coming about when he needs to lift a truck off a small child.  (Thankfully he doesn't inflate and his clothes stay on).  Higson has also thrown a bit of medicine in there, with Jekyll needing to keep taking his pills to keep the attacks at bay.  It's not really much of a spoiler to say that he loses the pills pretty early on.

It's very entertaining, with some great performances particularly from Tom Bateman as Jekyll, and Richard E Grant hamming it up as the baddie Sir Roger Bulstrode, head of a murky organisation investigating the paranormal in 1930s London (we said it was a bit Alan Moore).  It has been criticised for being too scary for the 6.30pm slot, and maybe it is - the bit where intruders enter Jekyll's parents' house was genuinely unsettling - but we remember being terrified by Doctor Who when we were, ahem, somewhat smaller, and he is currently on show pre-watershed on BBC1.

Some bits don't work.  The very brief explanation of Jekyll's ancestry: Stevenson's Hyde had an illegitimate son, who met Jekyll's adopted father in the First World War, having fathered a child himself, which he then abandoned) is a bit convoluted and doesn't explain why Jekyll is called Jekyll, but let's not think about that too much.  

Friday 23 October 2015

The Last Kingdom

'Sharpe' author Bernard Cornwell penned a Saxon saga which is now billed as the BBC's answer to 'Game of Thrones'.  We're not GoT fans, but it's a misleading comparison.  This is the historical rather than the fantasy genre, though we're making no claims as to historical accuracy (remember those electric guitars accompanying Sean Bean to Waterloo?).

Anyway, the Danes, in their incarnation as Vikings in the 9th Century, invade a Saxon coastal fort in Northumbria and take young Uhtred captive, having slaughtered his father and brother.  Uhtred is brought up a Dane, but never forgets who he is, and won't relinquish his birthright to his scheming uncle Aelfric (Joseph Millson).

That's kind of it, minus a great deal of sword-waving, blood-letting and a rather disturbing scene of childhood sexual assault.  It's the usual tale of warrior honour - Christian and Pagan - with a dash of romance beloved of Cornwell readers and we've no doubt viewers will love it too.  Alexander Dreymon has the kind of pretty-boy looks that won Orlando Bloom a following, i.e. he doesn't look much like a Saxon or a Dane, but a few million will doubtless follow his trek to the titular last English kingdom of Wessex over the next seven episodes.

Thursday 15 October 2015


Remember 'The Sixth Sense'?  "I see dead people."  If the boy had somehow grown up to be Stellan Skarsgard and become a UK detective, this would be his continuing story.  DI John River is accompanied by his recently deceased Sergeant 'Stevie' Stevenson (Nicola Walker, also pleasing the crowds in 'Unforgotten' over on ITV).  Stevie straightens him out, jollies him up and keeps him going.  Sadly for River, he also manages to accrue the ghost of the young man he suspected of Stevie's killing, whom he has chased to his death from a tower block balcony.  He wants his name cleared.  Then there's the subject of the book River is reading, one Thomas Neill Cream (Eddie Marsan), the Lambeth Poisoner, who hanged for his crimes in 1892 and imparts his macabre philosophy.

Given his array of dead head-friends, it's amazing he manages any work at all, but his boss, DCI Chrissie Read (Lesley Manville) states that his clear-up rate is 80%.  That could of-course be down to the fact that the victim drops by to give him a nudge, as in this week's case of a girl whose boyfriend is accused of her murder.

It's sad and it's funny.  There's a matter-of-factness about the talking dead for River, while his interactions with the living at work force you to remember that he's in danger of a breakdown.  In fact, talking dead aside, the main TWNH is that even solving 80% of cases wouldn't save him from an enforced period of rest when colleagues have witnessed him talking to and even punching people who don't exist.  Morgan's writing can be great, so we're hoping for something of substance.  There are comparisons to Scandi noir, but this is no 'Wallander' or 'The Killing', and none the worse for that.  We were reminded in his recall of his late colleague of the scenes of Craven and his murdered daughter in 'Edge of Darkness'.  If it maintains the edge, rather than skipping into vacuous light or tumbling wholesale into darkness, this could be among the best dramas this year.

Honorary mention for Adeel Akhtar as Rivers' new DS, Ira King.  He was so good as Wilson Wilson in 'Utopia', we were shocked to see him with two good eyes.

Saturday 10 October 2015


A bit like a longer, more-involved 'Waking the Dead'... and featuring two of its stars (Trevor Eve and Claire Goose), this begins with the discovery of a skeleton by builders and follows the investigation by dogged cop DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and her glum DS, Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) into the fate and identity of the remains.  Simultaneously, we are shown the lives of some families who, as becomes apparent in the last scene, are in some way linked to the murdered man.

It's gripping.  Walker and Bhaskar are a genuis pairing, and both are watchable in just about anything.  The supporting cast are stellar - Bernard Hill, Gemma Jones and Tom Courtenay to name three - and you sense an all-too-human tragedy lurking in the past and waiting to be dug up with the victim's body.

Any drawbacks?  Cases in real life do turn on amazing luck and tiny clues, but this is sailing close to the TWNH wind in the connections made so far.  (They could identify the car from a key found nearby; it only had one owner; it has survived since 1965; there was a bag in the boot!; there's a dated diary in the bag!; the ink is rendered legible by a forensic process! etc.)  We're hoping that with the names of the other characters being foiund within it, no further coincidences need happen.  Please.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

From Darkness

At an early point in this BBC1 Sunday-nighter, Claire Church (Anne-Marie Duff) tells her ex-boss DCI John Hind (Johnny Harris) that he's a walking cliche.  It's hard to disagree with her, and he's one of many.  A traumatic, unsolved case involving the serial murder of prostitutes in Manchester in 2000 sent the young DC Church to the faraway Western Isles, where she finds cold-water swimming, marathon training and a local single dad an easier proposition.  The discovery of a long-buried woman's body then sends the investigating officer after Claire, to find out what she knows about the case.  Despite her reluctance she is inevitably drawn back into the investigation, which looks to have claimed a new victim.

This feels like a composite of several previous ITV crime dramas, some more forgettable than others.  Claire's breakdown predictably had as much to do with her affair with her married boss as with modern-day Ripper killings.  His reasons for dragging her back to the past are clearly not professional (or likely, after 15 years), and if she's half the cop he keeps saying she is, then she'd know that too.  Whatever it was that attracted her to him isn't apparent in the present, and Harris plays him as a rather sleazy, pathetic character you can't imagine the intrepid Claire having any time for whatsoever.  This is partly thanks to Duff, of-course, who can always make the viewer care whether or not she makes it to the next episode.  We're not against less-than-cozy Sunday night offerings, but they need a bit more originality to keep us awake.