Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 60m) *** pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie, Lily Travers, Jared Garfield, Jodie Whittaker, Jenna Coleman, Matt Lucas. Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning. Self-indulgent bow-out for Capaldi’s Doctor with a confusing plot device designed to wring-out every emotion from fans of the series. It will likely have left non-fans cold with its frozen-in-time plot line as both 1st and 12th Doctors hold back their re-generations. There were nice touches in this episode – notably the resolution of the WWI army captain’s story and the meeting up with an old friend/foe. Bradley doesn’t always get the 1st Doctor right, but this is not helped by him being given some weak lines, knowingly poking fun at the changes in cultural environment since the days of those early serials. Capaldi is excellent, as ever, and it is sad to see his Doctor finally go. Whittaker’s brief appearance looked promising and left us on another cliffhanger. The production values were good and the photography excellent, but hopefully new producer Chibnall will move away from Moffat’s penchant for complex concepts and get back to good old-fashioned story-telling to win back a broader audience base. 
A Word – Series 2, The (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Jenny Frayn; d. Susan Tully, Luke Snellin; w. Peter Bowker; ph. Ruairí O’Brien, Ollie Downey; m. Rob Lane. Cast: Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Max Vento, Molly Wright, Christopher Eccleston, Vinette Robinson, Greg McHugh, Pooky Quesnel, Leon Harrop, Lucy Gaskell. Second series of the BBC drama following the Hughes family living in the Lake District and their young son Joe (the excellent Vento) who is diagnosed as autistic. In this second series Bowker opens up the story to broaden the scope of the story – bringing in the personal lives of the family and their impact on each other and on how they deal with Joe. Whilst the first series struggled initially to get the tone right before eventually striking a successful balance between drama and humour, this second series hits the ground running and produces a set of funny and touching scenes throughout an engaging and real story. The perfomances are excellent – notably the remarkable Vento as Joe and Eccleston as Joe’s tactless grandfather. Ingleby and Christie are also very good as Joe’s parents, who begin to drift apart as they struggle to come to terms with their son’s condition. Bowker’s writing manages to steer clear of descending into soap opera as he juggles numerous relationship storylines across six episodes. Making great use of its Lake District location this is a warm drama that treats its subject matter seriously whilst still finding a lovely humour that feels natural and respectful. 
Bancroft (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 4 x 47m) ** pr. Phil Collinson; d. John Hayes; w. Kate Brooke; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Edmund Butt. Cast: Sarah Parish, Faye Marsay, Amara Karan, Adrian Edmondson, Linus Roache, Adam Long, Ryan McKen, Steve Evets, Charles Babalola, Anjli Mohindra, Lee Boardman, Art Malik, Lily Sacofsky. Detective Superintendent Elizabeth Bancroft (Parrish) is running an operation to against a vicious gang and adopts dubious methods to bring down the brothers who run it. Meanwhile, DS Katherine Stevens (Marsay) is assigned to a cold murder case and finds that there’s more to it than it seems – and that Bancroft has some secrets in her past that may prove difficult to hide. Over-the-top and lacking credibility, this crime drama is the latest in a long line of increasingly dark and contrived series to populate our TV screens. There is something compulsive about the performances of Parrish and Marsay that keeps the viewer going despite the implausibilities, but ultimately this is a cold experience with one twist too many and a finale that satisfies no-one with its calculated approach to demand a sequel. 
Murder on the Blackpool Express (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 91m) *½ pr. Jim Poyser; d. Simon Delaney; w. Jason Cook; ph. Ian Adrian; m. Samuel Karl Bohn. Cast: Johnny Vegas, Sian Gibson, Griff Rhys Jones, Mark Heap, Nina Wadia, Kimberley Nixon, Nigel Havers, Kevin Eldon, Una Stubbs, Sheila Reid. Feature-length comedy about a crime writer (Jones) who takes a group of his fans on a coach tour of locations from his books. The bus is soon leaving a string of bodies in its wake, and the passengers are faced with the possibility of a murderer in their midst. Woeful attempt to parody the Agatha Christie classic constantly misfires and long outstays its welcome. A good cast of comedy veterans is wasted with lame material and is poorly directed – even the few good jokes are badly delivered and executed.
Gunpowder (TV) (2017, UK, Colour, 3 x 60m) ***½ pr. Laurie Borg; d. J Blakeson; w. Ronan Bennett; ph. Philipp Blaubach; m. Volker Bertelmann; ed. Mark Eckersley. Cast: Kit Harington, Liv Tyler, Peter Mullan, Mark Gatiss, Tom Cullen, Edward Holcroft, David Bamber, Shaun Dooley, Derek Riddell, Kevin Eldon, Robert Emms, Luke Neal, Richard Douglas, Pedro Casablanc, Jason Redshaw, Sian Webber. British activist Guy Fawkes and a group of provincial English Catholics plan to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I in the early 17th century. Compelling BBC mini-series drama paints a black-and-white picture of the historical events. In driving for sensationalism the drama can lack emotional depth, but it remains compulsive viewing until the conventional shoot-out finale. Strong production values (and design by Grant Montgomery) with meticulous attention to period detail – including graphic scenes of torture and execution. 
Strike: The Silkworm (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 2x60m) ***½ pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Kieron Hawkes; w. Tom Edge; ph. Gary Shaw; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Monica Dolan, Sarah Gordy, Dominic Mafham, Peter Sullivan, Tim McInnerny, Lia Williams, Sargon Yelda, Caitlin Innes Edwards, Ian Attard, Joey Batey, Natasha O’Keeffe, Jeremy Swift. Strike is approached by Leonora Quine with a plea to locate her husband, the notorious writer Owen Quine, who has disappeared without a trace. The plot, dealing with literature used as a sadistic weapon for revenge was never going to be easy to adapt for TV and whilst the first book stretched to a 3-hour adaptation, here Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling) second Cormoran Strike novel is condensed into 2 hours. Whilst this creates some necessary tightening of the plot, it does make for demanding viewing in trying to keep up with its intricacies. Those who do so will be rewarded with a strong variation on the traditional whodunit. Burke and Grainger again excel in their lead roles and the support acting all round is strong. The series will return in 2018 with an adaptation of the third novel in the series, “Career of Evil”. 
Park Avenue Rustlers, The (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 74m) *** d. Jack Arnold; w. Sy Salkowitz; ph. William Cronjager; m. Lee Holdridge. Cast: Dennis Weaver, J. D. Cannon, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowall, Diana Muldaur, Brenda Vaccaro, Lloyd Bochner, Norman Fell, Terry Carter. A partner poses as McCloud’s lover to help him infiltrate a car-theft ring. Strong entry in NBC’s McCloud series, which formed part of the Mystery Movie wheel. Veteran Arnold directs with added vigour – notably during the climax involving a hair-raising helicopter stunt. Weaver is excellent, as ever, with his laconic charm and Cannon is a great foil as his world-weary superior. Weaver was actually dangling from the helicopter skid as it left the top of the 20-storey building, having missed the cue to be replaced by a stuntman. [PG]
Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 3x60m) ***½ pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Michael Keillor; w. Ben Richards; ph. Hubert Taczanowski; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Martin Shaw, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Kadiff Kirwan, Elarica Johnson, Bronson Webb, Leo Bill, Tezlym Senior-Sakutu, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha O’Keeffe. Private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired to find out if a supermodel’s suicide in London may have been a murder. Faithful adaptation of the novel by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, who also exec produced). Stylishly shot on location in the city of London. The mystery elements are traditional, but the lead characters of the one-legged war hero turned PI and his new female assistant are interesting and they are compellingly portrayed by Burke and Grainger. Followed by STRIKE: THE SILKWORM (2017). 
Doctor Who: World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 106m) ∗∗∗∗½ pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, John Simm , Oliver Lansley, Paul Brightwell, Alison Lintott, Briana Shann, Rosie Boore, Samantha Spiro, Simon Coombs, Nicholas Briggs, David Bradley. Friendship drives the Doctor into the rashest decision of his life. Trapped on a giant spaceship, caught in the event horizon of a black hole, he witnesses the death of someone he is pledged to protect. Is there any way he can redeem his mistake? Are events already out of control? For once, time is the Time Lord’s enemy. Moffat’s season finales have generally been a case of excellent set-up and disappointing pay-off. This story comes close to meeting that trend, but ultimately wins out because of the superb performances, a witty script and its no-win situation. Capaldi excels here in fighting his moral dilemna. Gomez and Simm spark well with Capaldi and each other and there is a sense of irony about the resolution of their story. The first episode set up the premise brilliantly in one of the best ever episodes of the series. The resolution felt a little contrived in places and overly sentimental in the resolution of Bill’s story, but this is otherwise an excellent finale with a superb twist right at the end leaving us looking forward to the Xmas special to come. 
Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 42m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Charles Palmer; w. Rona Munro; ph. Mark Waters; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Rebecca Benson, Daniel Kerr, Brian Vernel, Rohan Nedd, Ben Hunter, Sam Adewunmi, Billy Matthews, Aaron Phagura, Jocelyn Brassington, Lewis McGowan. A long time ago, the ninth legion of the Roman army vanished into the mists of Scotland. Bill has a theory about what happened, and the Doctor has a time machine. But when they arrive in ancient Aberdeenshire, what they find is a far greater threat than any army. In a cairn, on a hillside, is a doorway leading to the end of the world. Another variant on the ‘monster of the week’ theme, working slightly better than EMPRESS OF MARS thanks to a more polished script from Munro (the only writer from the original series to pen a story since the 2005 relaunch – 1989’s SURVIVAL, the last broadcast story of the original run. What lets the episode down is the variable performances given by the young guest cast, contrasting with the confident ones from the regulars, some dodgy CGI and an overly neat ending. Its familiarity actually makes a welcome break from Moffat’s high concept episodes and is a diverting enough tale.