TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE GHOST MONUMENT (2018)

Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 48m) ***½  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Mark Tonderai; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Tico Poulakakis; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Susan Lynch, Shaun Dooley, Art Malik.  Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough in a hostile alien environment to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom and Epzo? A perfunctory story is enhanced by excellent production values, visual effects and effective use of South African locations to create an alien environment. Whittaker continues to grow into the role of the Doctor, but her excessive crew of three companions leaves little room for individual character development and a vying for screen time. Malik is wasted in a mysterious role, whilst Lynch and Dooley do their best to bring life and motivation to their competitive characters. Whilst the storyline is refreshingly simple, it is also lacking in any real sense of peril – as the night threat is all too easily dispatched. There is promise here that the series can develop, but it will need to find space to allow its ensemble cast to breathe and develop in a format seemingly restricted to standalone episodes and a lack of two-parters, which would allow the stories and characters the requisite room. [PG]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

Image result for the woman who fell to earthDoctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 60m) ***½  pr.  Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Denis Crossan; m.  Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Sharon D. Clarke, Samuel Oatley, Johnny Dixon, Amit Shah, Asha Kingsley, Janine Mellor, Asif Khan, James Thackeray, Philip Abiodun, Stephen MacKenna, Everal A Walsh.  In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed forever, as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city? Whittaker’s debut as the first female Doctor is a refreshingly straight-forward story but lacks any real wider threat being seemingly contained to a small area around Sheffield. Whittaker acquits herself well and in her post-regenerative state is sparky and witty. Walsh, Cole and Gill look promising as future companions. The whole thing is sumptuously photographed – mostly shot at night to create a more claustrophobic atmosphere – and the score is appropriately menacing, without being overbearing. This serves to give the story a more cinematic feel. As debut stories go it ticks most of the boxes and creates a new feel for the series that is seemingly a back to basics approach and that’s not necessarily a bad thing after some of the overblown and lazily written concepts that had crept in during Steven Moffat’s tenure. That said dumbing down the show would be a mistake. A promising, if flawed opener. The episode’s title is a reference to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976) starring David Bowie. [PG]

TV REVIEW – JACK RYAN – SEASON ONE (2018)

Image result for jack ryan season oneJack Ryan – Season One (2018; USA; Colour; 1 x 65m, 7 x 42m-51m) ****  pr. Nazrin Choudhury, José Luis Ecolar, Robert Phillips; d. Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim, Patricia Riggen, Carlton Cuse; w. Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, Stephen Kronish, Daria Polatin, Patrick Aison, Annie Jacobsen, Nazrin Choudhury, Nolan Dunbar; ph.  Richard Rutkowski, Checco Varese, Christopher Faloona; m. Ramin Djawadi.  Cast: John Krasinski, Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, Ali Suliman, Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez, Dina Shihabi, Karim Zein, Nadia Affolter, Jordi Mollà, Arpy Ayvazian, Adam Bernett, Amir El-Masry, Goran Kostic, Eileen Li, Mena Massoud, Victoria Sanchez, Marie-Josée Croze, John Hoogenakker, Shadi Jahno, Zarif Kabier, Kevin Kent, Brittany Drisdelle, Shailene Garnett, Matt McCoy, Maxime Robin, Kenny Wong, Chadi Alhelou, Jonathan Bailey, Jamil Khoury, Stéphane Krau, Al Sapienza, Kareem Tristan Alleyne, Ron Canada, Michael Gaston, Matthew Kabwe, Yani Marin, Laurean Adrian Parau, Kaan Urgancioglu, Jessica Abruzzese, Numan Acar, Mehdi Aissaoui. When CIA analyst Jack Ryan stumbles upon a suspicious series of bank transfers his search for answers pulls him from the safety of his desk job and catapults him into a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout Europe and the Middle East, with a rising terrorist figurehead preparing for a massive attack against the US and her allies. Impressively mounted reworking of Tom Clancy’s hero as an ex-marine with a past thrown back into the field to hunt down the terrorist leader, whilst trying to protect the leader’s defecting wife and children. Action scenes are well handled and for the most part the script is both intelligent and suspenseful, only occasionally lapsing into genre conventions. Krasinski is good as the latest actor to take on the role of the eponymous hero with Pierce equally good as his superior. Suliman manages to convey menace with a deeper rooted motivation as the terrorist leader, making him a three-dimensional character.  Certain elements of the background stories are left unresolved signalling a second season will follow. [15]

TV Review – SPACE 1999: BREAKAWAY (1975)

Image result for space 1999 breakawaySpace 1999: Breakaway (TV) (1975; UK; Colour; 50m) ***  Exec pr. Gerry Anderson; pr. Sylvia Anderson; d. Lee H. Katzin; w. George Bellak; ph. Frank Watts; m. Barry Gray. Cast: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, Roy Dotrice, Prentis Hancock, Zienia Merton, Anton Phillips, Nick Tate, Philip Madoc, Lon Satton Lon Satton, Eric Carte Eric Carte. Commander John Koenig, the new commander of Moonbase Alpha, leads the investigation of a mysterious disease at the station and uncovers evidence of a far greater looming disaster. First episode of the TV series sets up the premise by telling the tale of the events that lead up to the Moon being blasted out of the Earth’s orbit and out into deep space. Landau has the right amount of gravitas as the base commander and is well supported by Morse as his scientific sidekick. Bain, however, gives a one-note performance as the medical doctor and lacks charisma. Her chemistry with real-life husband Landau would be allowed to develop as the series progressed. Great special effects and model work for the day as Gerry Anderson adds his usual high production values. Anderson re-edited Katzin’s initial cut, which reportedly ran close to 2-hours in length, and shot new scenes once series production was underway. [PG]

TV Review – ARMCHAIR THEATRE: A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER (1967)

Armchair Theatre: A Magnum for Schneider (TV) (1967; UK; B&W; 55m) ****  pr. Leonard White; d. Bill Bain; w. James Mitchell; m. Robert Farnon. Cast:  Edward Woodward, Joseph Fürst, Ronald Radd, Peter Bowles, Francesca Tu, Russell Hunter, Helen Ford, Martin Wyldeck, John Scarborough, Ivor Dean.  This Armachair Theatre presentation was the first adventure of David Callan (Woodward), top agent for the S.I.S. Forcibly “retired” several years earlier because he had lost his nerve. Callan is called back into service to handle the assassination of Schneider, a German businessman who may be more than he seems. Confined to studio sets, despite the limitation so its production this remains a fascinating piece of television driven by Woodward’s brilliant performance and Mitchell’s sharp script – adding depth and a cynical humour to an unsympathetic character. Hunter is Callan’s unkempt underworld contact, Lonely. The TV series Callan was picked up later the same year and ran for four series from 1967-1972. Mitchell later novelised the story as “A Red File for Callan” and this in itself was later filmed for theatrical release as Callan in 1974. [12]

TV Review – UNFORGOTTEN – SERIES 3 (2018)

Image result for unforgotten series 3Unforgotten – Series 3 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 47m) ****  pr. Guy de Glanville; d. Andy Wilson; w. Chris Lang; ph. Søren Bay; m. Michael Price.  Cast: Nicola Walker, Sanjeev Bhaskar, James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally, Neil Morrissey, Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ove, Amanda Root, Jordan Long, Lewis Reeves, Carolina Main, Peter Egan. Sara Stewart, Bronagh Waugh, Brid Brennan, Alastair MacKenzie, Tom Rhys Harries, Siobhan Redmond, Lucinda Dryzek, Jo Herbert.  When workmen carrying out carriageway repairs on the central reservation of the M1 uncover human remains, Cassie (Walker) and the team are called to investigate. The third series of Unforgotten maintains the high standard set by the first two. The formula is the same as before by setting up the discovery of a body and then lining up a number of inter-related suspects, all with their own secrets. In that respect it can perhaps be judged to be adding nothing new. However, the underlying story here has lots of resonance and a truly chilling finale. The cast is very strong and all deliver top-class performances, notably the quartet of suspects – Fleet, Jennings, McNally and Morrissey. Walker’s tics may be occasionally distracting, but she and Bhaskar continue to make for a likeable detective duo. Lang’s script is well balanced and maintains its mystery through to its dark finale and Wilson directs without needing to resort to the overly-stylised visuals so often used in  modern TV crime dramas. [15]

Justified – an American TV classic

JustifiedHaving just completed my third go-round of all six series of the TV series Justified (2010-2015) and also having recently read all of Elmore Leonard’s printed stories featuring modern-day Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, I have concluded Justified is the perfect example of how to take a literary creation and expand on the character and to create something even better for the TV screen. Even after three full viewings I haven’t tired of the series and will probably go round again in another couple of years. Timothy Olyphant was born to play Raylan, with his laconic no-nonsense delivery and old-west values. Walton Goggins was so charismatic as local gangster Boyd Crowder he was resurrected from the dead, having been killed off in Leonard’s novella Fire in the Hole and again in the adaptation of that novella for the pilot. The supporting cast are all wonderful and the colourful and quirky characters they portray reflect the locale perfectly.

Elmore Leonard created the character of Raylan Givens in his 1993 novel Pronto. This was followed by Riding the Rap two years later. Both novels set the template for the Raylan Givens character, which was closely followed in the TV series. It was Leonard’s third Givens story, the excellent 2002 novella Fire in the Hole, that was the basis for the series, with Raylan being relocated to Harlan County to end the criminal activities of Boyd Crowder. Raylan and Boyd dug coal together in the Harlan mines in their younger years, but now they are either side of the law with Raylan determined to bring Boyd to justice.  A fourth book, Raylan, followed in 2012. This was three separate stories linked together by a theme of a female opponent for Raylan. The novel was based on story lines Leonard contributed to the TV series and also allowed him to resurrect the character of Boyd in print.

Related imageJustified‘s first series was more a run of singular episodes with an over-riding arc. The stories were therefore episodic, but vastly entertaining. It was the second season where the series really took off with the introduction of the Bennett clan, run by matriarch Mags, wonderfully played by Margo Martindale. The series began a new approach of a continuing story thread with each season bringing a new major character into the story, whilst the regular cast continued the longer arc that would reach its brilliantly written and satisfying conclusion at the end of the sixth and final season. I wrote a short review of each season in an earlier piece I posted and I don’t want to give too much away here, in case anyone has yet to experience what in my opinion is amongst the very best American TV series of all time.

If you have never watched Justified, go seek out the pilot and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

TV Review – COME HOME (2018)

Image result for come home tv series 2018Come Home (2018; UK; Colour; 3 x 60m) ***  pr. Madonna Baptiste; d. Andrea Harkin; w. Danny Brocklehurst; ph. Joel Devlin; m. Murray Gold.  Cast. Christopher Eccleston,  Paula Malcomson, Kerri Quinn, Anthony Boyle, Lola Petticrew, Darcey McNeeley, Brandon Brownlee, Patrick O’Kane, Brid Brennan, Derbhle Crotty, Rory Keenan.  When mother Marie (Malcolmson) mysteriously leaves the family home, the repercussions are enormous, but when secrets are revealed from the past, both Marie and her husband Greg (Eccleston) realise they can’t just walk away from their lives. At times this often intense drama captures the depths of despair from both sides of the story with its structuring geared around a balanced perspective and a final episode designed to weight the arguments equally, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion. The story is therefore both authentic and ultimately disappointing. Authentic in that it does not go for the big dramatic climax and disappointing in that the climax itself is anticlimactic. Technical values are good, if at times the camerawork is overly self-indulgent. The performances from Eccleston and Malcolmson feel real and honest. In the end, though, you are left with more of a feeling of voyeurism than engagement – as if you’ve been watching real-life without the protagonists permission. This may well have been the intention, but the result is a good drama that somehow misses out on being something with more to say.

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY – SERIES 2 (2016)

Image result for happy valley series 2Happy Valley – Series 2 (TV) (2016; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Juliet Charlesworth; d. Sally Wainwright, Neasa Hardiman; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Siobhan Finneran, Charlie Murphy, James Norton, Con O’Neill, Katherine Kelly, George Costigan, Shirley Henderson, Kevin Doyle, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Matthew Lewis, Amelia Bullmore, Angela Pleasence.  Sarah Lancashire returns in the acclaimed BBC thriller written by Sally Wainwright. No-nonsense police sergeant Catherine Cawood is back heading up her team of dedicated police officers in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. While on duty, she makes a gruesome discovery – a body. The victim’s injuries bear a striking similarity to a string of other murders over the previous few months, suggesting a serial killer is on the loose. But the case becomes even more shocking when it emerges that Catherine knows the victim – something that could have serious repercussions for both herself and her family. Wainwright manages to match the extraordinary success of the first series with an equally absorbing follow-up that puts Lancashire’s police sergeant through the emotional wringer. This exceptional piece of TV works as a psychological thriller, a mystery and a gritty drama, but feels natural because of the humour that is deftly mixed with the darkness. Wainwright’s characters are well drawn and real – enhanced by superb performances from a very strong cast. The location work adds to the authenticity and the visuals are underpinned by a resonant score from Foster. [15]

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY (2014)

Image result for happy valley blu-rayHappy Valley (TV) (2014; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Karen Lewis; d. Euros Lyn, Sally Wainwright, Tim Fywell; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast:  Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton, Adam Long, Charlie Murphy, Karl Davies, Jill Baker, Rhys Connah. Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) is a strong-willed police sergeant in West Yorkshire, still coming to terms with the suicide of her teenage daughter, Becky, eight years earlier. Cawood is now divorced from her husband and living with her sister, Clare (Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who is helping her bring up Becky’s young son, Ryan (Connah), the product of rape. Neither Catherine’s ex-husband nor their adult son, Daniel, want anything to do with Ryan. Catherine hears that Tommy Lee Royce (Norton), the man responsible for the brutal rape that impregnated Becky and drove her to suicide shortly after Ryan was born, is out of prison after serving eight years for drug charges. Catherine soon becomes obsessed with finding Royce, unaware that he is involved in the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher (Murphy), a plot instigated by Kevin Weatherill (Pemberton) and orchestrated by Ashley Cowgill (Armstrong). Things quickly take a dark turn as the abductors scramble to keep the kidnapping secret, although Catherine is onto them. This is crime TV writing of the highest order, enhanced by a dynamite cast – including Lancashire as the world-on-her shoulders police officer and Norton as the dangerously psychotic ex-con. Well-paced and stylishly directed throughout – despite the use of three directors. Wainwright sealed her reputation as one of the best writers on TV with this series, which deftly mixes in elements of domestic drama along with a dry wit to complement a riveting crime thriller plot. A must see TV experience. [15]