TV Review: Doctor Who – Revolution of the Daleks

Teed up as the big farewell for two companions, Revolution of the Daleks was still a treat as Doctor Who returned to the festive schedule

“Sometimes we get a bit scared cos new can be a bit scary, right?”

Just a quickie for this perennial favourite. Doctor Who was quite lucky in that they got their Christmas episode in the can in good time pre-pandemic, it was actually filmed back in 2019 when Covid was but a Chinese whisper. And the way of these things as they are these days, we already knew that Revolution of the Daleks would mark the end of the TARDIS journeys for two of her current companions – would we get an Adric-style death to take us into 2021?

Spoiler alert, of course not. Ryan and Graham got to go back to Sheffield no problem, complete with psychic paper mementos, and even Sharon D Clarke’s Grace came back to welcome them home, well her ghost did at least. Dramatically it might not have been the punchiest way to go but in the end, it felt like the right thing to do , reflecting the relative normality of the ‘fam’ and their inter-relationships. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who – Revolution of the Daleks”

TV Review: Black Narcissus

A quality cast including Gemma Arterton and Dame Diana Rigg can’t save Black Narcissus for me

“Better honey than vinegar”

A funny one this, particularly for the captive audience of the inbuilt lethargy of the Twixmas period. In the absence of Sarah Phelps’ brilliant reinventions of Agatha Christie, Black Narcissus was the BBC’s big drama punt on the festive schedule but I’m not entirely sure if it was the right choice.

Based on the Rumer Godden novel and famously filmed in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger with Deborah Kerr, the story follows a band of Anglican nuns as they try to establish a new mission in the Himalayan mountains. Their chosen base is a former palace with erotic paintings on the bricks, a troubled history seeping from the mortar and a swarthily handsome agent who keeps popping by – Sister Act this ain’t. Continue reading “TV Review: Black Narcissus”

TV Review: The Undoing

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant may have been the headliners but the real star of The Undoing was Noma Dumezweni saying the word ‘muck’

“People hire me to create muck”

Created by David E Kelley and directed by Susanne Bier for HBO Max, The Undoing was sold on its prestige merits but in the end, proved to be watchable hokum. And heaven knows in these times, that was what we kinda needed. Traditional scheduling of one episode a week heightened the buzz with some good old-fashioning theorising going on between episodes and if it didn’t quite live up to expectations in the end, well we’ve only ourselves to blame.

Set up as a whodunnit in the higher echelons of Manhattan society, we followed Nicole Kidman’s Grace and Hugh Grant’s Jonathan as their gilded lives are torn asunder when he is arrested for the murder of Matilda De Angelis’ Elena, who we soon find out is his lover. He couldn’t have done it, could he? Over six episodes, an inordinate amount of red herrings and a titanic court battle, the result might not have that surprising but I found the journey highly entertaining. Continue reading “TV Review: The Undoing”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 5

Series 5 of Jonathan Creek is an ignominious end to a show that started out so well

“Why do I know I’m going to regret this”

It started with the 2013 Easter special but the refresh of Jonathan Creek that characterises Series 5 is a spectacular misfire. Jonathan leaving the world of magic is understandable but making him a mid-level advertising executive is just baffling. And that’s before you add in the wife who appears from nowhere, Sarah Alexander’s Polly, and  a move to the countryside to a rural village.

It’s a reset that makes little sense – there is ZERO chemistry between Jonathan and Polly and little evidence to convince of their relationship especially as he now directs his patronising non-explanations at her – and ultimately adds little value. The village setting adds a Midsomer Murders/Marple-ish vibe to the mystery solving which detracts from its USP and also means that there has to be increasingly convoluted ways in which to fold Jonathan back into the world of impossible crimes that he’s ostensibly left behind.

All told, there’s too little sense of fun about the whole enterprise, writer David Renwick’s inspiration perchance finally running dry unlike his continued misogynistic tendencies. An ignominious end to a series that started out so well. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 5”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4

Series 4 sees Jonathan Creek lose its way badly as chauvinism slides into misogyny amid Alan Davies and Julia Sawalha’s strange chemistry

“Now it’ll save your time and mine, I think, if I truncate”

I found series 4 of Jonathan Creek surprisingly difficult to watch. Even if the quality had started to taper off over the course of the previous three seasons, something critical had been lost at this point, far over and beyond the departure of original star Caroline Quentin. Her replacement was Julia Sawalha’s Carla, introduced in the 2001 Christmas special and though she shares a screwball-ish energy with Alan Davies’ duffle-coated protagonist, she’s been married off to Ade Edmondson’s svengali Brendan.

It’s an odd choice that unsettles the whole rhythm of the show, as it devotes way too much time to the uneasy relationship between the pair. And as David Renwick’s writing fully immerses itself in its worst male chauvinist excesses – just look at how women are presented in the first episode, from the prizewinner presented as a grotesque to Anna Francolini being done dirty as a ditzy assistant – the idea that the majority of female characters now have to throw themselves at Jonathan’s feet, is delusional nonsense. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3

Elements of David Renwick’s writing starts to show signs of flagging as the magic starts to fade in Series 3 of Jonathan Creek

“What exactly does all this add up to?”

After a decent first couple of series, the third season of Jonathan Creek sees the show start to wobble a bit as the raft of impossible crimes sways from ingenious plotting to improbably convoluted. Episodes tackle disappearing aliens and a man who thinks he has sold his soul to the devil and it doesn’t always come off.

That said, there’s still some classic tales in here too. The revelation of ‘The Eyes of Tiresias’ is artfully done and ‘Miracle in Crooked Lane’ is properly, admirably fiendish even with its meta-theatrics. Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin both continue in good form but David Renwick’s writing doesn’t permit more than piecemeal character development which, three series in, leaves them a little flat. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 3”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2

The second series of Jonathan Creek continues the good form of the first, even if the writing starts to verge on the misogynistic

“There’s always an explanation”

After the success of its first season, Series 2 of Jonathan Creek followed in short order in early 1998. And having firmly established its modus operandi of impossible crimes and simmering but awkward sexual chemistry between Akan Davies’ Jonathan and Caroline Quentin’s Maddy, it carries on ploughing that same furrow.

This series sees Stuart Milligan added to the mix as Adam Klein, replacing Anthony Head who got the job as Giles on Buffy and whilst he is a vividly entertaining character, his presence seems to allow writer David Renwick to indulge in some misogynistic touches over and above what might be ‘forgiven’ for being 20 years old, just look at the way Adam and indeed Jonathan treat the majority of the women in their life…  Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1

I turn to a rewatch of Jonathan Creek to get me through Week 2 of Lockdown #2 and enjoy the freshness of the first series

“No one could have killed your husband and then left this room”

Starting in 1997 and memorably co-opting Saint-Saëns’ renowned ‘Danse Macabre’ for its theme tune, mystery crime thriller Jonathan Creek occupies a happy place in my TV memories, so I was a little hesitant at first in case it didn’t match up to how I remembered.

From cracking seemingly impenetrable alibis, to working out how to escape a nuclear bunker, to locked room mysteries of all sorts, it turns out David Renwick’s writing holds up rather well. The plotting is sufficiently twisty that it is nigh on impossible to figure out who and certainly howdunnit and I remembered none of the important details so it was like watching it anew. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1”