Review – Bold and daring television from the BBC – King Charles III, from stage to screen

 

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So, tonight saw the airing of the BBC’s adaptation of 2014’s critically acclaimed stage play, King Charles III. It was one of my theatre highlights of that year (you’ll find my original review here) and I was thrilled to hear that such a daring and though-provoking drama was to be brought to the screen, particularly with most of the original main cast.

Now it has aired and after reading such diverse comments about the programme on Twitter,  it seemed only right to review this new version and compare it to my experience of Mike Bartlett’s original material.

On seeing it for the first time in the theatre, I imagine I had the same thoughts many tuning in to BBC Two had; starting off with unease and discomfort at what I was watching. These are after all, some of the most familiar people in our lives in Britain. However, the cleverness of the style, structured as if a History play by Shakespeare, in verse, means that although real people, the drama is a step removed from reality, allowing the audience to be absorbed by the characters in front of them, rather than focussing on who they were based on.

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Many are also saying that it is disrespectful, but I disagree. I support the Royal Family by and large (especially the Queen and the younger members) and yet I loved this play and equally enjoyed the screen version. It isn’t autobiographical – after all it’s set in the future! Like any good drama, it causes its audience to discuss and debate its content. It requires you to focus and engage with the questions it raises. None of us know what will happen when the Queen passes away and the crown moves to Charles and yes, this is a heightened reality, which I doubt would ever come to pass. However, as a drama, it asks some intriguing questions – Would Charles, who we know has given his political views in the past, resist giving his assent to a law he personally disagreed with? If he did, what would William do? Would he say nothing, or would he in fact do what was necessary in order to preserve the future of the Monarchy if it was put at risk by his father’s actions? Should we even still have a Monarchy, or does the stability of the Monarch actually hold Britain together?

Ultimately these are simply people, just like the rest of us and King Charles III treats them as such, as people with flaws, weaknesses, ambitions and desires. Yes, there are aspects I remain uncomfortable with (in particular, putting words in to the mouths of William and Harry about their mother), but I cannot take offence at something that isn’t claiming to be anything but fiction. In fact, I find myself thinking about the actual Royal Family and their lives in a whole new light.

As for the transition from stage to screen, overall, Mike Bartlett has done a great job in adapting his play for television. There have of course been cuts, mainly to long soliloquies to save time and certain scenes have changed locations (Jess no longer comes to the Palace after her first night on the town with Harry, which I actually think makes much more sense), but on the whole the text and the spirit of the play remains the same, something that I was a little worried may not translate from the stage. Director Rupert Goold (who also directed the play) is perfectly placed to ensure the Shakespearian tone of the piece remains – dramatic in places, mildly comedic in others. I also loved the moments in which characters spoke to camera, preserving the sense of theatre (which is becoming more common on television, with dramas such as House of Cards) and the use of the original music from the play, particularly the haunting Latin singing during the Coronation (which in the theatre gave me goosebumps).

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Although, I did prefer the stage play due to my love of theatre and the powerful atmosphere the play brought to the stage, there are elements that, in my opinion, work better, or are improved by this adaptation. The biggest example is the ghostly presence of Diana. I never enjoyed this on stage, finding it rather cheesy and uncomfortable (even though I understood that a Shakespearean History play needs a ghost to steer the fates of the characters). Rather than a woman walking across a stage, here through the use of lighting and echoing voices, these moments actually work much better. Also, the inclusion of scenes showing the rest of the family’s reactions to Charles’ dissolution of Parliament were also welcome television additions, raising the stakes of the unfolding drama.

The acting remains strong in this 90 minute drama, with the key players from the stage stepping back in to their roles (Charles, William, Harry, Camilla and the Prime Minister all the same). I’ve seen a fair amount of comments on social media criticising the acting, but, in my opinion, to think that is to miss the complexity of this piece. This is after all a fictional story, depicting a family we all know incredibly well. Therefore the actors had to find a balance between conveying a realistic portrayal of those we know, but without becoming caricatures of them. This isn’t after all Spitting Image, which would indeed have been cheesy!

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Central to this is the incredible performance by Tim Pigott-Smith, whose recent death makes watching this even more poignant. He brings to the screen a man whose whole life has been geared towards this one job and on finally getting it, he faces choices which affect the stability of the whole country. It’s interesting that the law he opposes is one restricting freedom of the press, which may be seen by some as admirable. Yet, the monarch’s role is not to stop laws, but to give their ceremonial assent and it is this decision, followed by his dissolution of a Parliament that he feels opposes him, that results in civil unrest. Over the course of the story, you move from admiration, to frustration and then to deep sympathy for Charles and this is thanks to the rich depth of Pigott-Smith’s performance. The last few scenes are heartbreaking and remind me how much he will be missed.

My favourite role on stage was that of Kate and she is just as strong here (with Charlotte Riley replacing Lydia Wilson). Kate is strong and an equal partner to her husband and her soliloquy to camera captures that strength of resolve. I’m not sure I agree with the Lady Macbeth comparisons, but every Shakespearean History needs an expert manipulator! Oliver Chris also does a fantastic job at playing a conflicted William. He loves his father and yet, ultimately has no choice but to effectively betray him, in order to restore stability. I’ve never seen them as evil as many are saying tonight, as although cruel to Charles, their actions seem necessary to preserve the monarchy that the current Queen has worked decades to protect above all else. This drama now includes their two children and by having William hug his son, as he is faced with the such a hard choice, added an extra layer of emotion to the story. Crucially, the final confrontation between William and Charles was just as powerful to watch on screen, which is all due to the work of the actors.

Adam James (a favourite of mine for years), is back as the Prime Minister, placed in an impossible situation and privy to the later emotional scenes. His interactions with Pigott-Smith and Oliver Chris remain very believable. Margot Leicester provides strong support as Camilla, while Richard Goulding returns to the role of Harry. His was a difficult role on stage, as Harry’s plot line acts as the less weighty aspect of the drama and because of that, comes across as weaker and a bit farfetched. However, the more you think about it, the more sad it is, to see someone adrift and ultimately forced to give up what may have made him happy. It’s a performance that I think you have greater appreciation for the more you watch it. The newcomers to the main cast, Tamara Lawrence as Jess and Priyanga Burford as the Opposition leader were also very good too and I particularly liked the gender switch, meaning the Conservative leader here was also a woman!

Clearly, this drama won’t have appealed to everyone and will have its critics, which is fine by me, provided all those criticising it have actually watched it. It’s also true that theatre will never have the same impact on screen as it does live. However, I applaud the decision of Mike Bartlett, Rupert Goold and the BBC to be bold enough to take such a daring piece of theatre and make it available to a wider audience, while ensuring that those of us who loved the play get to see it again in a new form, for which personally, I’m extremely grateful!

King Charles III is now available in the UK on BBC iPlayer. It will also air in the USA on Sunday 14th May on Masterpiece on PBS. The text of the play is available from Nick Hern Books here.

 

 

Doctor Who Review – The Pilot is a welcome return for our favourite Time Lord! 


Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s been a long time since Doctor Who was on our television screens?! Yes, there was the mediocre Christmas special, but after a year without a weekly dose, I tuned in last night with all my fingers crossed and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. We all know that series 10 will be the last for Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi and I was so pleased that The Pilot saw a return to form, proving to be one of the most enjoyable episodes in a long time. 

This series opener acted as the perfect springboard for anyone new to the show, or hoping to introduce others to it, as we see the Doctor meeting Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie), the latest companion to be introduced to the fantastical life of the Doctor and his blue box. He is currently undercover as a university professor and Bill has been attending his lectures, despite not being a student. It becomes clear very quickly that she is someone with the curiousness and bravery that appeals to the Doctor and is the ideal candidate to travel through time and space with him and Nardole (continuing to be played with fun & wit by Matt Lucas).

It’s not easy taking on the role as new companion, but Pearl Mackie does a great job in this episode. So much so, that I already felt she’d been around for ages by the time the credits rolled. Bill is strong, independent, clever and able to think on her feet. She’s also kind, caring and not intimidated by the Doctor and takes the revelation of who he is in her stride. She reminded me a lot of Rose from series one, with her simply keen for adventure in her life. She also likes chips too! The Doctor has clearly taken an interest in her, investing time in her education and already displaying a protectiveness towards her. With the photo of his granddaughter Susan on his desk, I’m looking forward to seeing a similar style relationship unfold over the course of this series. Much has been said in the media about Bill’s sexuality, being the first LGBT companion. I think it’s great that a show such as Doctor Who is including such a character without making a fuss about this aspect of her life. It’s simply who she is. It’s early days, but I’m already thinking Bill could be one of my favourite companions yet.

Story-wise, this was a solid start from Steven Moffat. I admit I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with Moffat’s style of storytelling in recent years, with less than satisfactory resolutions to convoluted arcs, so it was great to see him back to writing an entertaining, creepy story without all that baggage. As is his style, this was a scare for children coming via something they see every day. He’s done shadows, statues and snowmen and now it’s the innocent looking puddle outside your front door that could be coming to get you and the episode had just enough creepiness, enhanced by its direction and Murray Gold’s music. The scenes with Bill in her bathroom were even tense enough for the adults watching!

Admittedly, there were ideas here that we’ve seen before in Doctor Who that fans will pick up on. We’ve already had water monsters coming to get you in The Waters of Mars and the eerie repeating of what you say in Midnight, so this wasn’t an original story in every sense, but I don’t mind that too much when the story is engaging (and admittedly only hardcore fans who watch the show a lot will notice these points anyway). I wasn’t sure about the inclusion of the Daleks though. Yes, they are a cornerstone of Doctor Who and in the right story they are brilliant, but this did feel a little unnecessary to The Pilot’s plot, being more a “look it’s Doctor Who with Daleks” stunt. It’s a minor gripe though and overall this was a fun, entertaining and engaging return to this iconic series, which also laid some questions that I assume will unfold over the next few episodes, in particular what is in The Vault and to whom the Doctor promised not to get involved with another companion. I just hope that there is a clear arc this year, culminating in a satisfying farewell to Peter Capaldi.

Welcome back Doctor! I’ve missed you!

Doctor Who continues in the UK on BBC One on Saturday nights and in the USA on BBC America, also on Saturday nights.

Who’s Who? – My suggestions for the next Doctor!

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Peter Capaldi has announced that he will leave Doctor Who during this year’s Christmas special. Personally, I’m disappointed Capaldi isn’t staying for longer. He’s a great Doctor, but I think the episodes he’s had under Steven Moffat have been somewhat patchy and I would have liked to see his Doctor under Chris Chibnall’s new era. Sadly it’s not to be.

The announcement has unsurprisingly been followed by speculation as to who should replace him. I’ve seen some rather wacky suggestions over the last few days, including actors far too famous (and therefore expensive) to take the role and so it made me start to think about who I’d like to see. Yes, I agree some of the names flying around would be great (Ben Whishaw, Bill Nighy, Rory Kinnear etc.), but I just don’t think they are realistic and so I’ve tried to keep this list within the realms of possibility!

I’ll start with a disclaimer – Personally, I don’t see the Doctor as a woman. I know not everyone agrees with this and I respect that, but for me, the Doctor is a man and I don’t see myself as doing a disservice to my gender by saying that. My list therefore reflects my view.

  • Kris Marshall

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I’ve been a big fan of Kris Marshall for years and now he’s leaving Death In Paradise, having him become the next Doctor would keep him on my television screen! He’s quirky, capable of comedic and serious work and would bring a new sparkle of fun to the TARDIS. He’s therefore top of my wish list. He also left Death In Paradise to be nearer his family, so regular work in the UK would be perfect for him.

  • Bertie Carvel

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Bertie Carvel is a fantastic actor, whose stage work is always a joy and although he’s started to be seen more on television (most recently in Doctor Foster), he’s not too famous that having him join Doctor Who doesn’t seem farfetched. I could easily see him handling both light-hearted and darker stories and I can already picture him doing a kick-ass “I’m the Doctor” speech.

  • John Heffernen

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John Heffernen has been one of my favourite actors since I saw him on stage in 2010 in After The Dance. Why would he make a great Doctor? The answer is his versatility. I’ve seen him tackle all manner of roles on stage and each time he brings a new energy to his work. Although this would take him away from the stage, I’d be willing to accept it if he was swapping this for such a plum television role!

  • Rafe Spall

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I’ve included Rafe Spall on my list, but I already accept he may already be too famous to be in the position to be open to taking such a role. As his current role in the National Theatre’s Hedda Gabler proves yet again, he has a wonderful way of being able to pivot effortlessly from a playful to dark (and often chilling – did you see The Shadow Line?!) personality and he’s already proved he can take on strong roles in BBC drama.

  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

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I first came across Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Mr. Eko in Lost and loved the air of mystery he brought to that role. It’s that sense of being a bit of an enigma that I think he’d be able to bring to Doctor Who. With recent Hollywood films Concussion and Suicide Squad on his CV, as well as a brief spell in Game of Thrones, he’s not an unknown, but is still growing in exposure. He’s probably also a good age for the iconic Timelord.

  • Sacha Dhawan

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Sacha Dhawan is steadily building up a solid television career, which has included roles in a two of Mark Gatiss’s projects (the creepy The Tractate Middoth and the story behind Doctor Who, An Adventure in Time and Space), not to mention a role in the latest series of Sherlock, as well as Line of Duty and Mr Selfridge. He’s certainly an actor on the rise, but someone not too well known, meaning he could bring something fresh to the series, while at the same time building his own profile.

  • Stephen Mangan

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Stephen Mangan’s name has come up in connection with the role of the Doctor in the past and I have to admit, I quite like the idea. If the BBC are wanting a more established name, he provides that, while also bringing a solid career of work with him of roles that don’t just include comedy. He’s also suitably quirky (and his friendship with David Tennant could lure the latter back for the odd cameo)!

  • Jonjo O’Neill

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Another theatre favourite of mine is Jonjo O’Neill, who has impressed me on stage with some unforgettable performances. He is also building his television career, with roles in the last series of The Fall and even a small part in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who. Jonjo has an energy that not all actors possess (anyone who saw him as Mercutio for the Royal Shakespeare Company or in the recent Royal Court play Unreachable with Matt Smith, can attest to this). Anyone taking on the Doctor needs to have a strong screen presence and someone with the mesmerising quality he has would be an ideal choice.

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So, those are my top choices to be the next inhabitant of the TARDIS. What do you think? It’s certainly going to be an interesting time for Doctor Who fans as we await a new series this Spring, as well as any information on what Chris Chibnall has in mind (will he have a writer’s room and who will he pick for it? will he turn to some directors from RTD’s era of the series?).

One thing is certain, it’s Doctor Who’s ability to constantly refresh itself with each new Doctor that makes it so fun to watch!

2016 Review – My Top Television of the year

It’s time to look back on 2016 and I’m starting off with a review of this year’s television offerings. Personally, I think it’s been a fantastic year for television across all channels and online platforms. There have been some fantastic new shows, which have drawn us in and have us anticipating their return, while other series have continued to keep us tuning in for yet another year.

It’s always hard to choose the highlights of the year, but below are the programmes that have really stood out for me over the last twelve months.

The Crown (Netflix)

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If any series has impressed me the most this year it’s been The Crown. I’d heard the rumours about how expensive it had been to make, but on seeing it, it was clear to see it was worth every penny Netflix had invested in it! Taking us through from the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip in 1947 to 1955, I became absorbed by the world it created on screen. Everything works in The Crown, resulting in a drama of the highest quality. The acting ensemble is superb, with Jared Harris making me cry as King George, Claire Foy’s award-nominated performance as Elizabeth and actors such as Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby bringing people we feel we knew to life anew. Combined with strong scripts and direction, gorgeous sets and costumes and a wonderful score, this really was a television highlight.

Line of Duty (series 3, BBC Two)

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Line of Duty is a rare series for the simple fact that every series it just gets better. After the excellent second series in 2014, I really didn’t think it could impress me any more. How wrong I was! With the perfect balance of new story and continuing threads left lingering since series one, this was a taut, nail-biting drama that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat (and indeed jumping out of it too). Jed Mercurio’s scripts are a joy to watch and the cast continue to deliver. Take your time writing series four Jed, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. If you have yet to watch Line of Duty, catch up fast!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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The BBC drama department didn’t hold back with this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel. Made in partnership with AMC and The Ink Factory, the additional budget available to the series meant that the result was a hugely impressive, movie-quality production. Heck, I actually preferred this to the latest Bond film! Hugh Laurie was on top form as the charming, yet dangerous Richard Roper, a pregnant Olivia Colman kicked ass as Angela Burr and Tom Hiddleston demonstrated to a new audience outside of theatre and Marvel films what a great actor he is as Jonathan Pine. It was tense, thrilling, visually stunning and superbly acted. Some are sad it will likely never return. I actually think that’s a good thing. Sometimes a series should go out on a high.

Game of Thrones (series 6, HBO/Sky Atlantic)

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Game of Thrones series 6 was a bit of a mixed bag, with a few episodes in the middle slowing down in pace somewhat. However, as is always the case, it opened with some strong moments, including the return of Jon Snow (as if he was going to stay dead!) and ended with two of the finest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. The Battle of the Bastards was utterly incredible, showcasing battle scenes worthy of any film (and indeed better than most of them!), while The Winds of Winter took the show further down its darker path as Cersei Lannister shows everyone what a mistake it is to get on her bad side! With only two shorter seasons left, it’s all starting to get very exciting indeed!

Stranger Things (Netflix)

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I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy Stranger Things, but I’m so pleased I gave it a try, as I loved its mix of dark creepiness, humour and 80s nostalgia (right down to its brilliant title music and sequence). As a kid I loved The Goonies and watching this show took me right back to that era. Indeed part of the fun of watching it was spotting the nods to the films of that decade, whether ET, The Goonies or another. The strength of the acting of its young lead actors was also a surprise and surely Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven has now become an iconic character. Plus I’ll never hang Christmas lights again without thinking about this show!

Planet Earth II (BBC One)

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I admit I don’t watch many nature documentaries, but I couldn’t miss David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, which surely brought some of the most incredible sequences to television this year. Whether the iguana escaping the snakes, the monkeys pinching people’s food in India, the bowerbird with its love heart, or the majesty of the eagles to name just a few moments, the series was breathtaking and really made you remember how much more to life there is on the planet that we all take for granted.

The X-Files (series 10, Channel 5)

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As a lifelong X-Phile, the return of my favourite duo to television was bound to make this list! Yes, I admit some of the episodes weren’t as strong as the original run, but as a set of six, I thought they did a great job of showcasing everything that made The X-Files such an iconic series. There was mythology, creepiness and Darin Morgan’s brand of craziness in my favourite instalment “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster”. The series was always able to switch between these different genres and it was fantastic that by re-assembling the old writers it was able to do the same again and of course it was a thrill to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back together. Was it perfect? No. It was however a revival that made me smile in 2016 and I have my fingers crossed that there will be more to come.

Happy Valley (series 2, BBC One)

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Series one of Happy Valley was a highlight of 2014 and this year the second series proved again that Sally Wainwright’s gritty drama was worth tuning in to. Set 18 months after the previous series, we see Catherine Cawood (the excellent Sarah Lancashire) moving forward with life as Tommy Lee Royce (superbly played by James Norton) sits in prison. However, his influence was still felt through the eerily brilliant performance of Shirley Henderson as classroom assistant Miss Wealand, a woman who has become besotted by Royce and manoeuvres herself in to young Ryan’s life. Cawood also had her day job, as we see her working a case that crosses paths with a detective (Kevin Boyle) who finds himself in a terrible situation following an affair. If you have yet to catch Happy Valley, put it on your to-do list for next year.

Olympics 2016 (BBC coverage)

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Summer 2016 saw us all tuning in to Rio to watch the finest athletes in the world competing for Olympic honour. I always find the Olympics inspiring, as we see true role models who have worked hard to be there. You can keep all of your shallow footballers and reality stars in my view. Thanks to the BBC’s multi-channel and multi-platform coverage, I literally watched sport for two weeks and it was fantastic. Whether watching Team GB succeed in the velodrome, Bolt making history or Simone Biles’s incredible floor routine, it was a truly satisfying summer and I genuinely missed it once it was over.

The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC Two)

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The first series of The Hollow Crown took us from Richard II to Henry V and this second series moved the Tudor story along through Henry VI, culminating in the iconic character of Richard III. Shakespeare may not be on everyone’s must-see list, but the BBC’s efforts to make these famous plays appeal to a modern audience deserve attention. Henry VI as a play can drag in places and so this adaptation was able to tighten up the story without losing any of its power and emotion. Hugh Bonneville was on top form as the Duke of Gloucester, Sophie Okonedo was a force to be reckoned with as Margaret and Tom Sturridge’s Henry was a much more emotional and less petulant portrayal than I’d seen before. Then of course there was Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard. It’s a superb performance, that was both chilling and charming and with support from Dame Judi Dench and Keeley Hawes this series really does showcase the strength of the British actors working today.

Victoria (ITV)

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This list started with one Queen and so it seems only right that it ends with another. The first series of Victoria took us in to the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. Jenna Coleman (best known for her role in Doctor Who) was excellent as the young woman taking on the role of monarch in a world ruled by men. Her chemistry with Tom Hughes’s Albert really sold their blossoming romance, but it was her close relationship with her first prime minister Lord Melbourne, played by the superb Rufus Sewell that I truly loved and I admit I was very sad when Lord M’s time in her life came to an end. Hopefully series two will be just as strong as the first.

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So that was 2016 for me and there were so many shows I didn’t manage to watch (The Night Of and Westworld to name just two). The good news is that 2017 is already shaping up to be just as strong a year. For some suggestions of shows to tune in to next year, feel free to read for post on 17 shows to watch in 2017.

 

Television Preview – The Fall series 3, plus Q&A with Allan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

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As I took my seat in the auditorium at the BFI in London tonight and the lights went down, I felt a little apprehensive and perhaps a bit nervous. I was after all about to sit and watch the first episode of series three of The Fall in public; this being the series which in previous years has had me watching from behind a pillow! However, it was too tempting to miss, particularly as this preview screening was to be followed by a Q&A with the show’s creator, writer and director Allan Cubitt and stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan (more on the Q&A at the end of this post for those interested).

Although I don’t plan to give much away about what happens in the first episode (and have not referred to anything we were told was embargoed), I will mention some aspects of episode one here and will also try and set out at the end as much detail of the Q&A as I can so some may class this as containing mild spoilers if you wish to know nothing before tuning in.

Disclaimers out of the way, the third series of the BBC’s superb psychological thriller, picks up exactly where we left events; Rose Stagg has been found, but Paul Spector and DS Anderson have been shot. The stakes are high for Stella Gibson as the man she has pursued over the previous two series is rushed to hospital and a desperate battle to save his life begins. As a result, this episode of The Fall finds us in very different territory to previous episodes, in a sense becoming more of a medical drama. Be warned if you are squeamish of hospital scenes as there’s plenty of blood and guts here!

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The dramatic end of series 2!

As well Spector’s fight for life, this opener does set the scene for other storylines that are likely to play out in this series. There is of course Rose Stagg, the woman to survive Spector, who will no doubt have to come to terms with her terrible ordeal, together with her husband (played wonderfully by Jonjo O’Neill). There are also those others affected most profoundly by Spector, particularly his family (I can’t help but feel so sad for his children, who surely cannot remain shielded from the truth in today’s media world) and Katie (still played brilliantly, to the extent I wanted to shake her in to seeing sense, by Aisling Franciosi).

Then of course there is Stella Gibson, who remains one of the most fascinating, strong and multi-faceted characters on television. Gillian Anderson is (unsurprisingly) on excellent form here, in a role she knows so well by now, as we see her emotional reaction to recent events. It’s particularly interesting when she is asked why she reacted with anguish when Spector was shot and you do wonder perhaps if her answer is the whole truth (although Gillian herself says that it is so I believe her!).

One of my favourite moments of the episode was the simple touch of Stella taking the missing person poster of Rose Stagg from the hospital noticeboard; this woman at least she was able to save. There is also a lovely moment between her and Rose’s husband. As she gives him advice on how he should be there for Rose, I again found myself curious as to Stella’s own history. We know she used to have her own rubber band on her wrist and this scene again brings our questions on Stella to the forefront. Creator Allan Cubitt confirmed we would learn a little more, but he and Gillian Anderson have always felt that one of the strengths of the character was the enigmatic nature of her life, so I cannot imagine we’ll ever really know her, and perhaps that’s how it should be. John Lynch also returns as ACC Burns, who finds himself having to defend Gibson’s decision to take Spector to the woodland, which resulted in the shooting. It will be interesting to see how she stands up to any attempts to blame her for what happened and how that will affect her relationship with Burns.

Overall, this is a great start to the third series, laying the base for events to unfold over the coming weeks and it is credit to Cubitt’s style and the characters he has created, that despite Spector being in no position to harm anyone in this episode, I still found myself tensing when nurses went near him alone! It did feel a bit slow in places, but was still an absorbing hour of drama, containing strong performances from its cast. I’m certainly intrigued to see the path the story will take this series and hope the BBC hurries up and announces an airdate!

 

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(L-R) Alan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan (better photo of him below)

 

Q&A with Allan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

Below is as detailed a record of the Q&A as I can write. The BFI usually uploads its Q&A segments to its website, so I’d keep an eye out for this in the future.

1. Discussing the medical aspects of the series

As this episode takes place predominantly in the hospital setting, the Q&A began with a discussion of the medical element of the series as a whole. Allan Cubitt explained how The Fall has always had a medical element, in the context of while Spector took life, others were trying to save lives. He referred to Sally Ann Spector’s work at the hospital and the deliberate cutting between scenes in which the baby died in the neonatal unit in series one, with Spector’s terrible crimes, in order to convey the enormity of what Spector does. He also talked about having to direct a medical drama for the first time with this episode, which was a new experience for him.

He also touched on how those in the medical profession in Northern Ireland have understood the dilemma of treating patients such as Specter for a long time, particularly during the Troubles and indeed reference to putting clinical need above morals when it comes to medical care is discussed in the episode.

2. Redemption for its characters?

The panel was asked if they thought there was any redemption for any of the characters this series and they all said yes, although refused to say which characters! On being asked specifically if he thought there was anything redeemable about Spector, Jamie Dornan admitted it was hard, but when playing him, he did think there were aspects of him that were commendable (albeit very few!), those being the traces of him being a good, loving father and that he approached his career with professionalism, providing a good quality of support to families who’d been bereaved.

3. Man, monster & method?

Linked to the discussion of the redemptive qualities (if any!) of Spector, Dornan was asked if he felt Spector was man or monster and his approach to playing him. He made clear that it would have been wrong to play him as a monster and that there had to be relateable aspects to him. When playing the scenes with his children, Dornan played them as a father and nothing else, as why would he? In those moments Spector is just a father and a husband and he was keen to avoid the “monstrous” tag. On being asked whether he used method acting for the part (basically meaning staying in character the whole time), Dornan laughingly said he didn’t stay in character all the time, as he probably wouldn’t still be married if he had! He spoke about all actors having their own method, but explained how after all these years he now has ways of locking in to Spector’s psyche without too much build up.

Cubitt also complimented the emotional depth of his lead actors, speaking about Dornan’s personal reaction when they were filming the scene from series two in which Rose Stagg is screaming at the camera. Apparently Dornan watched Valene Kane’s performance on set, with his head in his hands because it had affected him so much, but yet then he was still able to deliver his scenes as Spector talking to the camera afterwards. Cubitt also spoke about Gillian Anderson having not seen those scenes in advance of filming the moments where Stella watches the tapes for the first time, meaning her response to them was genuine, again highlighting the empathetic and powerful actors he has as his leads.

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(L-R) Alan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

 

4. The ease of becoming Stella?

Gillian Anderson spoke about it being easy to “put on” the character of Stella now, saying that on going to the wardrobe fittings (at Selfridges apparently!), as soon as the clothes are on, she becomes Stella. Cubitt agreed that the look created for her really worked, as on arriving in Belfast she is presenting a face to the world of a woman doing a professional job.

5. Stella’s relationship with Spector?

As mentioned above, there is a scene in which Stella’s relationship with Spector is questioned, in light of her “anguished” reaction to him being shot. Stella justifies this by saying she didn’t want it to end without him facing justice, as the families needed that closure. On being asked whether she thought Stella’s answer was the truth or whether there was an unhealthy fascination with him, Gillian Anderson agreed that Stella is fascinated by him, but is obsessed with bringing him to justice. It’s hard for Stella to grasp that he may get off without punishment by dying and Anderson thinks Stella made the right choice to go to help him in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Anderson also highlighted that Stella is a character with flaws, such as her decision to sleep with DS Anderson (Colin Morgan) in series 2, but Cubitt commented that he hoped the characters are true to life in the sense that they are flawed.

6. Stella’s character and background

The panel agreed that Stella Gibson is an important character to have on our screens, as a strong woman in the police force, who is comfortable with who she is as a woman. Anderson admitted that she hadn’t met anyone quite like her and that there were aspects of Stella that aren’t her, but would be fun to adopt. She also spoke about how it is more interesting for the audience not to know her background, although agreed we do learn a little more this series. Cubitt agreed that he’d wanted things to unfold gradually and that the enigmatic nature of Stella has always been important. He talked about there being a scene in which we were to see her call her mother, but that they didn’t keep it, as it would have given an idea of her class and background and that it’s more interesting to wonder what her life away from Belfast is like. We assume she has no partner or children, but on the other hand it wouldn’t totally surprise you if that transpired (he stressed that wasn’t a spoiler / hint at all for the series).

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7. Media criticism of The Fall

The criticism the series has faced in the past was also discussed, particularly those press articles which had criticised it for being misogynistic and glamorising violence against women. Cubitt spoke about how much it had upset him on a personal level, as he was the writer and creator so whose fantasies were they saying they were if not his? It was personally insulting, but he didn’t see people who held those views changing them during series 3, as if people have such a “reductive and simplistic” view then a few more episodes of drama wouldn’t change it. To him it is absurd. He spoke about how he’d been contacted by people who had also praised the emotional truth of characters such as Katie and he highlighted how frequently Stella talks about the idea of men, women and violence, raising this topic in a clear and intelligent way. Cubitt also reminded the audience that Spector says he doesn’t hate women, he hates everyone, including himself and that in fact the most violent we see him is when he kills Joe Brawley. It was a fascinating section of the Q&A, which could have become a whole separate conversation on its own.

Audience Questions

It was then time for the audience part of the Q&A, which thankfully was filled with intelligent and interesting questions.

8. As an icon and role model since The X-Files, does Gillian Anderson feel a sense of responsibility when choosing her roles?

Gillian admitted that she did feel a certain sense of responsibility, but that even if that wasn’t the case, she would probably still choose the same roles as she has done, because those are the roles she is attracted to.

9. Is this the final chapter of The Fall?

Although the BFI audience tonight was urging the panel not to answer this question, Anderson pointed out they’d been answering it all day, so we’d read it tomorrow anyway! All Cubitt would say is that series three was not necessarily the end of The Fall. I guess we’ll all have to watch and see!

10. What made Allan Cubitt think Jamie Dornan was Paul Spector from his original audition for another role in the drama?

Allan Cubitt was asked what he saw in Jamie Dornan’s audition tape that made him right for Spector, seeing as Dornan had originally auditioned for the role of James Olson. Cubitt spoke about having met Dornan before and wanting to bring him in to audition, but then realising he wasn’t right for the part of Olson. His extraordinary presence on camera convinced Cubitt straight away that he was right for Spector, but that it was felt by others that Dornan should come back and audition again for the role. He did and Cubitt was quite adamant that this was the right actor (to the extent it was Dornan or no one for him) and that on sending the tape to Gillian Anderson she also agreed. Cubitt also commented that as the actor would need to spend 50% of the time on screen alongside Anderson as Stella Gibson, he needed someone with just as much emotional depth and that Dornan had that. He also enthused about the stunning casting for series three.

11. Does Gillian have any advice for young actors when facing rejection?

Gillian’s advice was perseverance and not to take rejection personally as it can be a gift. As long as you leave an audition knowing you gave it everything, the rest is out of your hands.

12. How has Jamie’s view of playing Spector changed since series one, in light of him becoming a husband and father?

Jamie was reminded that at the launch of series one, he’d said he couldn’t relate to Spector as he hadn’t killed someone, wasn’t a husband and wasn’t a father. Now two of those facts have changed (don’t worry, he still hasn’t killed anyone), has his view of the character changed? Dornan agreed that a lot had changed for him since The Fall had begun and that having children is like a reset button for your life (in that everything changes in an instant), but that actually you see less of Spector being a father this series. He spoke about drawing on his love for his niece when he was filming those scenes for series one.

13. Had Allan Cubitt always intended the role of Katie to develop the way she has?

Cubitt said that he had the notion that Katie’s role would develop that way and that throughout The Fall there is the theme at play of people not being parented completely. Katie, for example, has lost her father, something Spector cruelly reminds her about in series two. Cubitt spoke about being fascinated by what Spector thinks of Katie, as she is not on his radar as a victim because he sees her as a child and that it is this warped view that Stella calls him out on. Cubitt wanted Katie to go on a complex journey where she is ultimately learning that there are dangers in the world.

14. When he knew the end game, how did Cubitt map out the story when he had no idea about the number of series he would have?

Cubitt recalled being asked to write for the second series of Prime Suspect, in which he had four hours to map out. That experience had made him realise that that amount of time uses a lot of story! He explained that although he knew the story beats for The Fall, he had also known that there would be detail along the way that he would have to invent and that as characters are invented, they started to dictate side plots as well.

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Sadly that was all the panel had time for tonight. As is always the case with the BFI’s previews and Q&As, it was a fascinating insight in to the making of this excellent British drama. No air date was confirmed for The Fall tonight, but hopefully we won’t have too long to wait to find out what the next chapter has in store for Stella Gibson and Paul Spector!

If you have yet to watch The Fall, in the UK it’s available on Amazon Prime and via the BBC Store. The teaser trailer for series three can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Su8qOzmIRL0

Happy 11th Birthday to “New Who” – My 11 farourite moments of modern Doctor Who

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So, tonight marked 11 years since Doctor Who returned to our television screens in the UK with a new Doctor at the helm and a whole new look. I wasn’t a fan back then. Sure I’d enjoyed the Paul McGann special, but that was all really. Yet, the iconic status of Doctor Who in this country meant that on 26th March 2005 I was sitting down with my family to watch its relaunch on BBC One.

Rose may not have been the best episode (it still feels incredibly cheesy to me whenever I watch it), but it was perfect for re-launching the series. The plot was bonkers, but what lifted it to a different level was the performance of its central character – Christopher Eccleston was a superb Doctor from the start. He carried a weight to him that made it plausible that he was hundreds of years old and had suffered a painful past, one which had left him scarred and angry. He held my attention from the beginning. Throw in to the mix a surprisingly (back then anyway) good performance by Billie Piper as Rose, some jokes and some glorious shots of London (I still love the Westminster Bridge moment) and the series was well and truly back.

I admit that I never expected it to do as well as it did and the fact it’s still going strong is wonderful, as it continues to excite and inspire young children. Personally, I’m still not a classic Who fan, but I enjoy “New Who” and have it to thank for introducing me to some of the closest friends I now have and that’s priceless.

So, to mark this 11th birthday (bizarre for a show that has already celebrated its 50th!), here are my favourite 11 moments from New Who. I have to say it’s taken a lot of discipline to keep to just 11! Let me know yours in the comments.

1. The Doctor sees Rose again (The Stolen Earth, series 4)

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This moment has been my favourite of New Who ever since I first saw it and nothing has quite matched it since. It’s just so perfectly executed by the cast and crew. There is no dialogue – it doesn’t need it. It just needs Murray’s music and three great performances from Catherine, David and Billie. You don’t need to have seen any of the series before to understand just what seeing Rose again means to the Doctor. It’s all right there on David’s face. Gorgeous.

2. Vincent Van Gogh sees how loved his work is (Vincent & The Doctor, series 5)

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Oh I do love Vincent and the Doctor. People may criticise Richard Curtis but he did a superb job with this episode, tackling the subject of depression with such sensitivity, while still bringing a story full of fun and humour, as well as poignancy to the screen. The moment Vincent (played to perfection by Tony Curran) sees his exhibition in Paris and hears how cherished his work is, makes me well up every time. For anyone who thinks Doctor Who doesn’t carry real weight and emotion, you need to see this episode.

3. The Doctor has dinner with Margaret Slitheen (Boom Town, series 1)

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Boom Town is a lovely, silly story from the first series and enabled Eccleston to show his ability to play comedy more than perhaps any other episode. The scene in which he and Margaret Slitheen go out to dinner and exchange threats is wonderful, as she tries in vain to kill him, foiled each time by The Doctor being three steps ahead of her! Plus the fact I’ve been able to go to Cardiff Bay and eat in that very restaurant makes it quite fun too!

4. The wall / the beach farewell (Doomsday, series 2)

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I think this moment was when Doctor Wo gained so many more loyal fans (and perhaps David Tennant too!). The story of the Doctor and Rose had been a lovely one and their deep affection for each other was always obvious and with the arrival of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor became something more of a love story. These two people who could never really be together, who were then separated by a dimension, prevented even from finally saying how they truly feel for each other. Doctor Who’s female fanbase is very strong now and I think in part it’s due to David and Billie opening out the universe of the series with this very human relationship. Admit it, you cried at this moment too right?

5. When The Doctor finally has enough of the laws of time (Waters of Mars, series 4 specials)

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Waters of Mars was such a superb episode; so much darker in tone and allowing David Tennant to show another side of the Tenth Doctor. I could have chosen so many moments of this show, but I particularly loved the powerful moments as the Doctor walks away from the base, with the sounds of fear and dying of the crew in his ears, to then turn back. He has had enough of the laws of time and is going to finally say enough is enough. Although it’s a path we know he shouldn’t be on, you cannot help but admire the Doctor is this moment as he chooses to go back to help.

6. Fear Is A Superpower (Listen, series 8)

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As someone who always liked Jenna Coleman and Clara, the end of Listen remains a highlight of New Who for me. Hearing her gently talking to the young Doctor, to give him strength and comfort, which in turn he will give to the young Danny years later is lovely. It’s also added to by the beautiful score from Murray Gold and is a truly moving and powerful scene from the series.

7. Reunited with Donna Noble (Partners In Crime, series 4)

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Ahh Donna Noble, how we all loved her! Seeing her return in series 4 was a true treat and nothing could have been more perfect for her reunion with the Doctor than this wonderfully funny mime scene from Partners In Crime. Both David and Catherine are superb comic actors and this scene kicked off the start of the wonderful thread of comedy and fun that ran throughout this series and is something I still miss.

8. Never trust a hug (Death In Heaven, series 8)

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Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor was a very strong one indeed (better than series 9 in my view). After such a brilliant series, this scene towards the end of Death In Heaven was played so perfectly by Peter and Jenna. Each character is so much like the other by this time and so good at hiding their pain from the other, pretending everything is fine. In this one moment the audience was able to see how sad and lonely each one was and how their love for the other meant that they were determined to hide it from them  so that they could be happy. “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way of hiding your face.”

9. Rory’s impossible choice (The Girl Who Waited, series 6)

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Oh how I loved Rory. He was a character who came such a long way over his time in Doctor Who and at times brought a level of emotion to the episodes that would otherwise have been lacking. The moment he is faced with the choice of which Amy to save in The Girl Who Waited was one of Arthur Darvill’s best moments. Whether to save his young Amy, or the Amy she would have become had she had the time to be lost there for decades as this old Amy had, is an impossible decision. Seeing him cry with confusion and desperation as older Amy begs to be let in to the TARDIS was heartbreaking to watch.

10. Four knocks (The End of Time, series 4 specials)

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The End of Time may have been a bit bonkers in places, but the Four Knock scene was a highlight of New Who. The sheer joy and relief on the Doctor’s face as he thinks it’s over, to be replaced so suddenly by utter horror and sadness when Wilf knocks on that door is beautifully played, accompanied by some subtle, but equally powerful music from Murray Gold. It had me in tears the first time I watched it and even now is an emotional piece of drama that the series and the actors should be proud of.

11. A hologram farewell (The Parting of The Ways, series 1)

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My final moment to mark this 11th birthday goes to the Doctor who started it all – the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. He has been through so much with Rose and in order to save her he does what he thinks is the right thing for her – to send her home, with this final message sent via his hologram. It’s a lovely gesture and shows a real depth to his character. It’s still a shame we didn’t get him in this role for a little longer.

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So those are my favourite 11 moments over the last 11 years of this iconic British series, one which has brought so much joy and fun to so many for over 50 years now. Thanks very much Doctor Who – long may you continue to let us travel through time and space with you!

 

 

My Top Television Choices for 2016!

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After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).

The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)

Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)

untitledIn the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.

Happy Valley (BBC One)

timthumbI came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Broadchurch__Ripper_Street_and_The_Missing_stars_to_play__pivotal_roles__in_Line_of_Duty_series_3Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)

Game_of_Thrones_Season_6Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!

Grantchester (ITV)

Grantchester-1920X1080James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)

12137941I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.

The Crown (Netflix)

“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.

Queen Victoria (ITV)

victoria_itvStaying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.

House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)

House-Of-Cards-Season-4Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.

Death in Paradise (BBC One –  started Thursday 7th January)

Death_in_Paradise_s_sun_soaked_crime_solving_is_the_perfect_cure_for_a_case_of_the_January_bluesAnother heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie).  I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.

Undercover (BBC One)

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As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!

In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..

Prison Break

3d5de4f061d24b32cb8feecb460374a5I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.

Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)

I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!

Billions 

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Photo: James Minchin/SHOWTIME

Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

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I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.

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So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

Television Nostalgia – Spooks – BBC Drama at its finest

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After watching the recent Spooks film The Greater Good, I was struck by just how brilliant the original television series was. I thought so at the time of course, but time sometimes causes you to forget. So, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to revisit one of my favourite BBC dramas and one that even almost four years after it ended, still outclasses the majority of dramas on television today.

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The original Spooks cast

Created by David Wolstencroft, Spooks ran for ten years on BBC One, between 2002 and 2011. In may not have taken place in real-time like 24, but Spooks was certainly a change in pace compared to other dramas on British television at the time. Its high quality ensemble cast and intelligent and frighteningly current stories meant that the series stood out and quickly developed a strong following.

Series one introduced us to the core MI5 Section D team, led by Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen), who together with Zoe (Keeley Hawes) and Danny (David Oweloyo) seemed to be Britain’s only line of defence against the constant threats thrown at the intelligence service. Overseeing it all was their boss Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), who so quickly became the bedrock of the series – you couldn’t believe he would ever leave.

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The team moved on with Adam, Ros, Zafa, Jo and Ruth joining over the first 5 years

The series may have become more high-tech, faster paced and filled with more action as the series developed, but such aspects were never the reason for its success. Perhaps the key to Spooks’ popularity and longevity was the very real awareness that no one was safe. At that time heroes always seemed to triumph in long running dramas, but Spooks very early on took a brave stand in bucking the trend. This was of course through the shocking death of Lisa Faulkener’s character. Although Matthew, Keeley and David are big stars now, in 2002 Lisa Faulkener was the most known and killing her off in episode two and in such harrowing scenes, truly made the series stand out. I can still remember the first time I watched it.

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Richard Armitage joined as the mysterious Lucas North in series 7

From then on, you knew that any character could die at any time and your favourites may not survive, which added to the tension and tone of the show. This seems much more common now, with shows such as Game of Thrones following the same model, but it was a much braver choice when Spooks began and it meant that over its ten year run, Spooks saw the team of Section D grow and inevitably change. The original trio had left by the end of series three, but we had already grown to know Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) and other newcomers, not to mention the growing support from Ruth (Nicola Walker), Malcolm and Colin. Later saw the introduction of the superb Hermione Norris as Ros Myers – strong, clever, serious, but still funny at times and at heart a caring member of her team, despite her hard edge and then the sigma that was Lucas North (Richard Armitage). It was perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the last two years that the new team members, as good as they were, never had enough time to gel in the same way as their predecessors had and part of the power of Spooks was getting its audience to care about its characters.

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The final Section D team from series 10

The series included so many strong stories, with funny, tense, emotional and action-packed moments. Overall I enjoyed the series from start to finish. Were I to pick a favourite series as a whole, I’d probably say one of series 2-4. On the flip side of that, series 6 was the least interesting, as its shift to focussing on one overarching plot over the whole series didn’t work as well as individual stories. I also think that, as great as the new cast members were post series 8, once Ros had gone, it didn’t feel quite as strong as it had.

So, on finishing my rewatch of the series, here are my top ten episodes of one of BBC’s finest dramas.

1. Danny’s Heroic Sacrifice (series 3 episode 10)

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This is perhaps the story from Spooks which has stayed in my mind over the years since it first aired. As well as being the finale to the third series, it was also the episode in which we said farewell to Danny, superbly played by David Oweloyo. The story is a tense thriller from start to finish, as both Danny and Fiona are kidnapped. From watching since the start, I knew that anything could happen and that there was a horrible possibility that my favourite of the original trio was not going to have a happy ending. What makes the episode stand out so much is how Danny meets his fate. Unlike others, he makes the conscious decision to provoke their captor, knowing it will almost certainly cost him his life. It’s such an honourable moment in the series and the scenes themselves were incredibly powerful, as Adam and the team react to it. I also loved the end, as Ruth (already entrenched in the series by this point) lovingly says her own goodbye to Danny. It’s an an incredibly emotional and powerful episode.

2. London terrorist attacks (series 4 episodes 1 and 2)

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To open the fourth series, Spooks chose a storyline which became sadly close to real life, coming only months after the London bombings in 2005. This certainly resulted in a stronger impact on us as an audience at the time. On its own merit, it’s another brilliant episode and the first two-parter of the series, which also properly welcomed the newest member of the team, Zafar (Raza Jaffrey). As well as the usual blend of tension, action and drama, I also thought Adam’s connection with Martine McCutcheon’s character was a nice aspect of the story and truly showed his willingness to do what was honourable, choosing to go back to be with her, knowing he may not survive. This was Spooks on a larger scale and is perhaps why the recent feature film felt less impressive to me, when two parters during its run were so strong already.

3. Lockdown on the Grid (series 2 episode 5)

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I thought this second series episode, set entirely on the Grid was a brilliantly written hour of television. With the team in lockdown in what they initially believe to be a training exercise, events soon unfold in to a much more frightening scenario, with the possibility that a lethal substance has been released, killing a huge amount of the population of the country. With seeming chaos outside Thames House, Tom has to take control and maintain order of the team, as fears and frustrations start to boil over. With the action being contained within such a small space, it feels very claustrophobic, which only adds to the tense atmosphere. Matthew Macfadyen is brilliant here and it showed how Spooks didn’t need lots of action and explosions to be gripping television.

4. Farewell to Ruth (series 5 episode 5)

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Farewell to Ruth (well until series 8 anyway). Ruth quickly became one of my favourite characters in Spooks and watching her relationship with Harry develop was one of the loveliest aspects of the series. You wanted them to be together and yet it seemed inevitable that something would ruin it (more on that later). Having Ruth at the centre of this story allowed Nicola Walker to take an even bigger role and having both her and Harry willing to take the blame for the other was very honourable. Their final scene by the Thames felt very real and believable and I was sorry to see her go.

5. Fiona Carter’s past returns (series 4 episode 7)

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I wasn’t a huge fan of Fiona Carter and by killing her off it allowed for more emotional scenes for Rupert Penry-Jones, as Adam has to cope with the tragic loss of his wife and having to come to terms with her death while still being able to do his job. As an episode I thought this hour from series four was one of the most engaging and skilfully scripted, as when it starts you are not quite seeing the truth of the circumstances. It’s only as the story unfolds that we start to realise that Fiona is running her own agenda, one which shows how brave she is and how much she cares for her family. By the end I really thought she might survive, another skill of the writers that you know characters may die, but you are never quite sure when their end will happen.

6. Tom is framed / the beginning of Tom’s fall (series 2 episode 10)

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Matthew Macfadyen did such a fantastic job playing Tom Quinn and developing his character over the course of the first two series. The finale here marks the start of his inevitable end as a spy. So much happens that you don’t expect, as the story starts out as a relatively standard plot. It’s only once Tom is set up that it becomes something much larger, placing him and the team in situations we haven’t seen them in before, most notably mistrusting each other. Having Danny and Zoe seemingly against Tom by the end was wonderfully tense, not to mention Tom actually shooting Harry! It made you wonder whether he had started to lose all hope and made the possibility that he really had walked out in to the sea to die seem much more plausible. Series three couldn’t come quickly enough.

7. Finale (series 10 episode 6)

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Series nine and ten weren’t as strong as those that had gone before and I wasn’t a huge fan of the Russian plot across the final series. However, it did make sense to have the focus be on Harry – the person who embodied Spooks more than any other character. So many series finales arrive and don’t do justice to the series, whether feeling open-ended, weak or unsatisfying for all the fans who have been loyal over the previous years. I loved that the finale to Spooks did mange to achieve a dramatic hour of television, while also honouring all those who had been a part of it over the decade. Yes, I would have loved Ruth and Harry to get their happy ending, but it feels much more realistic and honest to have that slip from their grasp. Peter Firth and Nicola Walker were always wonderful together and their final moments are heart-wrenching television. I also loved that the episode didn’t just end there – having Harry visit the house Ruth hoped they’d live in is so sad and the memorial wall he visits feels very poignant too (although where is Tarik on it?) and as a final treat for the fans, the return (although briefly) of Tom Quinn! Overall, it’s a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to the ten years that has preceded it, ending with Harry back at his desk, ready to protect the Service and the country he holds dear.

8. Adam Carter dies a hero (series 7 episode 1)

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I always loved Adam. Together with Danny he was perhaps my favourite of the team and I was very sad to see him go. The shock here I think was having him leave in the opening episode of the new series and it was such a close call too. I honestly thought he was going to survive (silly of me, knowing the tragedies that frequently occurred in the series). Ros had after all just come back, so I expected them to at least have some episodes back together and they surely couldn’t make little Wes an orphan would they?! After the action of the episode, one of the most powerful and poignant scenes in the whole ten series has to be the end of this story, as poor Harry goes to break the news to Wes. It’s a subtle scene, played beautifully by both actors, which brought a tear to my eye.

9. Hunted by Russians while averting a nuclear disaster (series 7 episode 8)

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For me this was the strongest episode of the later years of Spooks, as the team find itself hunted across London by Russian operatives, as they try and avert a nuclear explosion, with the help of recently revealed traitor Connie. Gemma Jones is so fantastic here, as we see Connie’s ruthless and selfish character, while almost admiring her foresight in having such a strong card up her sleeve. Also having the team on the run, means that the pace and tension is relentless throughout the story and despite her dreadful deeds, Connie at least salvaged some respect, in giving her life to stop the nuclear explosion.

10. The introduction of Ros Myers (series 5 episodes 1 & 2)

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Picking a final choice was quite hard, but in the end it had to be the opening two parter from series five, which was so much like a mini movie. London was at risk, the government was about to be overthrown, Anna Chancellor is almost blown up, but more importantly it introduced one of Spooks’ greatest characters and one of the strongest female characters from British drama in Ros Myers. I only knew Hermione Norris from the comedy Cold Feet, so it was fantastic to see her in such a strong, serious role. Ros really is a force to be reckoned with in Spooks and it’s interesting to see her introduced as more of an enemy, only for her to go on to be one of the most capable officers Section D had. The series lost some of its magic and strength when she left in series 8.

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So those are my top ten episodes. there were a few others that could have made it (the introduction of Jo Portman in series 4 is great, Ros’s final episode in series 8, not to mention that infamous second episode). It’s been lovely revisiting such a superb BBC series and if you haven’t watched for a while or know someone who missed it the first time around, I certainly recommend it. It’s a testament to its quality that over a decade on it stills stands up as a quality drama series.

Spooks is available on DVD from all the usual stockists and is available on UK Netflix and Amazon Instant. Spooks: The Greater Good is released on DVD in September.

Murray Gold’s Out of this World Music – My top 20 tracks from a decade of Doctor Who!

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Montage source: israbox.org

This weekend saw the arrival through the post of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, containing Murray Gold’s music from series 8 and the most recent Christmas special Last Christmas. Across 3 CDs! I’m a huge admirer of film and television composers, whose music I strongly believe is integral to the shows they accompany. None more so than Doctor Who. So many moments of the series over the last decade have been made stronger by Murray’s contribution, whether emphasising a sense of fun and joy or deep sadness and heartbreak. These scenes and the world of New Who wouldn’t be the same without him.

So, as I listened to the latest soundtrack this weekend, reliving Peter Capaldi’s fantastic first series as the Time Lord, while looking forward to next weekend’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concert, it made me think about all the other musical moments from the eras of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith and which ones would make my track list if compiling the ultimate soundtrack to modern Doctor Who.

So, here are my top 20 choices (10 was too hard!). Let me know which ones you’d include in your list.

1. “I Am The Doctor” – 11th Doctor’s theme (series 5-7)

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From the moment I heard this piece of music, I knew it was going to be a firm favourite and it came to encapsulate Matt Smith’s time on the series. It is grand and sweeping in scope and exploded this new Doctor on to the screen with fun, fanfare and excitement. Surely no soundtrack or Prom could ever be without it and it’s a shining example of the powerful contribution music can have, to not only a mood of a series, but also to a character. I now cannot imagine the Eleventh Doctor without thinking of this track and it’s certainly my favourite theme of all the Doctors so far.

2. “Doomsday” – Farewell to Rose (series 2)

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The Doctor and Rose’s parting on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay is an iconic moment in modern Doctor Who, which certainly caused quite a lot of tears from some fans. David and Billie are exceptional in this upsetting final scene together (well at the time anyway) and Murray’s haunting theme, accompanied by Melanie Pappenheim’s vocals added a deep sense of heart and emotion to an already intense moment. It’s also quite an interesting track by itself, as the vocals and piano, carrying such sadness mix with the guitar, giving the music a heartbeat of sorts and an edgier tone too.

3. Together of Not At All – The Song of Amy & Rory / Goodbye Pond (series 7)

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This piece of music from series seven’s The Angels Take Manhattan immediately stood out for me on first viewing the episode. Although it begins very creepy in the first few bars, it becomes something altogether different, capturing through the music and the vocals of Halia Meguid the love between the Ponds and how ultimately being together was the most important thing in their universe. As long as they were together they could face anything, even death. The graveyard is perhaps the sad moment for the Doctor (and indeed “Goodbye Pond” is a gorgeous track to go with it), but it was this moment that moved me the most, watching this couple take that leap of faith together. It was a highlight of the last Prom for me and I’m still sad it was one of the sections cut from the televised version. This is one of Murray’s finest tracks so far in ten years and it was always going to make this list.

4. Fear – Clara’s message of strength to a young Time Lord (series 8)

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Listen was one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first year (see my review of series 8 here) and the more I watch it, the more it edges to the top of the list. Despite being such a spooky and scary story, it also had a wonderful message for children (and indeed adults) about how fear is a superpower that we shouldn’t be frightened of, but instead should use to give us strength to achieve things we may not be able to do otherwise. This piece (thankfully on the new soundtrack) accompanies Clara’s speech to the young, scared Doctor. It is some of Jenna’s best work and is a genuinely beautiful piece of music from Murray and highlights how he helps enhance some of the most passionate and crucial scenes and messages in the series through his music.

5. Vale Decem – Goodbye to Ten and Tennant (The End of Time, series 4 Specials)

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Oh how this piece of music will always take me back to New Year’s Day 2010, as we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor and Russell T Davies in The End of Time. Some may think it was a drawn out end, but I loved it and Vale Decem (Farewell Ten in Latin) was the perfect choice to end David Tennant’s incredible time on the series. It was grand and emotional and still provided a sense of hope for the future with the arrival of Matt Smith. Hearing the combination of the music and choir live in the Royal Albert Hall, bringing this moment back to life at the Prom was a wonderful experience.

6. All the Strange, Strange Creatures (series 3 and 4)

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This piece of sweeping music has become a staple of the Doctor Who Prom and although associated with the Tenth Doctor’s time, it can easily be used as the theme for the variety of monsters all the Doctors have faced. It was one of the first pieces of Doctor Who music, within which you could truly appreciate the scope and power of the National Orchestra of Wales that bring each episode to life. Hearing it live is always a joy.

7. The Doctor’s Theme – Welcome Christopher Eccleston! (series 1)

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The first of New Who’s Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston was superb on the series. His Doctor’s theme was a perfectly otherworldly piece of music, which seemed to speak to the vast time and journey of this 900 year-old alien. It’s haunting and emotive and tinged with sadness, highlighting the great losses he has suffered in recent years. It was an early indicator that the music of the series was not simply going to be background noise, but a crucial thread of the production and this track will forever make me think fondly about Doctor number nine and his arrival in 2005.

8. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (series 3-4)

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Another classic piece from Ten’s era of the show is this one, first heard in all its glory during The Sound of Drums as the Doctor described his home to Martha and Captain Jack. The wistfulness is perfectly played by David Tennant and the graphics bringing our first real glimpse of his home were wonderful. However it’s this music that has come to be the biggest association with Gallifrey and is a lovely creation by Murray.

9. Rose’s Theme (series 1 and 2)

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She was the first companion of New Who and integral to the show’s initial success and Rose’s theme was one of the first pieces of Murray’s music to resonate through the episodes. It was such a great decision to have themes for key characters and this is definitely one of my favourites. I love how light the notes of the piano sound, giving it an air of romance and beauty, which matched the heart of Rose perfectly.

10. Four Knocks (series 4 Specials)

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Another tearjerker here in the form of Four Knocks, the heartbreaking music written to accompany the Tenth Doctor’s realisation that he still had to die in order to save Wilf. It’s some of David Tennant’s finest acting and this subtle, gentle, emotionally raw music is absolutely perfect. Well done to Julie Gardner, who I believe fought with Russell T Davies to have music over the scene. My one gripe with Four Knocks now however is the choice to have it play again over the top of Clara’s lovely scene with the old 11th Doctor just before he goes off to meet his fate in the clock tower in Matt Smith’s swansong. I can’t have been the only fan of the music of the series to be taken out of the emotion of the scene by the distraction and surprise on hearing what should always have remained a piece capturing the Tenth Doctor’s sacrifice.

11. A Good Man? (Twelve’s Theme) (series 8)

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I admit, on first watching Deep Breath I was listening for the Twelfth Doctor’s theme and by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Matt’s Doctor’s theme had been so iconic and stood out immediately. Peter’s theme however, despite being just as strong, somehow seems less obvious. As Murray points out in his sleeve notes to the latest album, the horns that signal the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme do pop up within every episode of series eight, weaving each story to the next. On listening to the theme by itself as part of this soundtrack, it’s power, excitement and beauty shines through the music and it’s a worthy successor to I Am The Doctor.

12. The Life and Death of Amy Pond/Amy’s Theme (series 5-7)

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Yet another theme for a memorable companion. I admit I wasn’t a huge Amy Pond fan, but her theme is lovely piece of music, which captures her special bond with her raggedy Doctor. It carries with it a sense of childlike magic, perfect for the girl who has known the Doctor most of her life and whose story is always a little unknown to the audience. This was expanded on in The Life and Death of Amy Pond track, which plays over the tragic scenes at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as River is trapped in the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and Rory unexpectedly kills Amy in his arms and represents some of the most heartfelt music of the series.

13. “This Time There’s Three of Us (The Majestic Tale)” (The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary)

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The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was certainly a proud moment for the BBC’s flagship show and Murray’s music was right at home on the big cinema screen. Capturing the celebration and grand scope of the episode and everything it represented, I loved this track from it, which is equally exciting to hear in its own right without watching the episode. It picks up the emotion of the scene with the Moment, before whisking us up in to the sweeping grandeur of the hero-like fanfare that accompanied the Doctors joining together to save their home. There were three Doctors (and then 13) and what a wonderful team they made!

14. The Long Song / Infinite Potential (series 7)

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Okay so The Rings of Akhaten was not a great story in my view, but I did love the stirring choral singing in this track. It ensures that the end of the episode at least pulls off something lovely, together with the following track, Infinite Potential, which accompanies Clara saving the day with the power of infinite memories in her leaf. It’s an example for me of where the music of an episode is something I enjoy much more than the story itself! Also, it was a magical number to hear live at the Prom.

15. Song of Captivity & Freedom (series 4)

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Most of the attention goes on the Song of Freedom played in Journey’s End as the Earth is towed to safety. However I’ve always liked the other half of this theme, The Song of Captivity from The Planet of the Ood and this track from the series 4 soundtrack wonderfully combines both in to one piece of music. It is tinged with sadness through the incredible voice of Mark Chambers, but it’s a lovely part of the score of the show and was something a bit different in tone.

16. (The Majestic Tale of) An Idiot With a Box (series 8)

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I love what Murray has achieved with this piece from the series 8 finale and reading his sleeve notes makes it all make sense. Apparently Mr Moffat missed I Am The Doctor, associating it with his time as showrunner, whereas Murray associates it with Matt Smith’s era (I agree with Murray). So, as a compromise, this piece incorporates both! You can hear I Am The Doctor, albeit slightly tweaked in style, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor theme, with its bold, powerful horn section. What you get is an epic, bold, exciting and glorious number, which had better be played at the next Prom!

17. Up The Shard (series 7)

bellsofstjohnFarewell to the Ponds and hello to Clara in series 7. Her first adventure as an official companion, The Bells on St. John, was bonkers, but lots of fun and I particularly loved Murray’s grand musical choice to accompany the Doctor’s mad motorcycle ride up the side of the Shard, which uses I Am The Doctor as a base and expands it.

18. With Love, Vincent (series 5)

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This is one of my favourites stories of New Who and after the tears are shed after watching Vincent in the museum of his own art, it’s this lovely track which accompanies Amy as, through her tears at knowing she didn’t save Vincent, she sees her sunflowers, now bearing an affectionate message for her. It gives the episode a happier ending, in which the Doctor and Amy can look fondly on the life of an extraordinary man.

19. Altering Lives (The Waters of Mars, series 4 Specials)

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Waters of Mars is a much darker story than most of the Tenth Doctor’s time, deliberately building up to his exit in the following episodes. However, its story is one that on the whole is praised by fans and for me is the strongest of the Specials that year. It’s a story about loss, accepting destiny and sacrifice and this quiet, spiritual track enhances all of those important themes and is most associated with the scene in which the Doctor finally tells Adelaide her fate, as he stands in the airlock, preparing to walk away yet again from a fixed point in time, no matter how painful it is for him.

20. The Cybermen theme (throughout)

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Ever since its return in 2005, there have been two constant enemies, popping up over and over again for the Doctor to defeat. I love Murray’s themes for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, the first with its almost Darth Vadar style evil. However, it’s the Cybermen music, with its eerie strings and bold horns that has always grabbed me, especially once the frantic violins and choir join in and the piece builds to a crescendo. The theme always crops up in some form when the Cybermen appear, most recently of course in the series 8 finale, but I admit this track always makes me think of Rose desperately clinging the the lever in Doomsday!

So that’s my selection. It was a lot harder than I imagined, hence it becoming a top 20 and there were so many other possible candidates (The Impossible Planet suite, The Carrionites Swarm, Boe, Final Days from The End of Time to name just a few)! Now all I need is a re-release of series one and two, which only ever had one CD for both years. That is criminal! Surely others out there would agree that this is a much needed addition to the Doctor Who soundtrack collection? Come on Murray Gold and Silva Screen. You know you want to!

The Doctor Who soundtracks are released by Silva Screen (see their Doctor Who music website here) and are available through all the usual stockists.

BAFTA Television Awards 2015 Predictions

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The film awards season has come to an end for another year, but here in the UK there is one significant awards ceremony yet to come and that’s the BAFTA Television Awards (now sponsored by House of Fraser). Nominations will be announced on Wednesday 8th April at 7:35 a.m. and afterwards I’ll update my blog with my thoughts on the inclusions and omissions this year. In advance, I thought I’d look back on 2014 and make my predictions as to which programmes and performances could be in the running.

First things first – the eligibility rules:

  • Programmes must have had their first transmission in the UK between 1 January and 31 December 2014 on terrestrial, cable, satellite or digital channels, including web based broadcasters who commission content (e.g. Netflix).
  • International programmes are only eligible in the International category, unless they are co- productions (both financially and creatively, and provided the first transmission was in the UK).

I tend to watch dramas more than comedies so my predictions will be for the drama categories only. I’ve also followed last year nominations format, assuming only four nominees will be included for each category. 2014 was an incredibly strong year for British television drama and it seems very likely that there will be some tough competition at this year’s ceremony.

Actor

This category is going to be a tough one this year, with a quite a number of performances worthy of acknowledgement. Here are my choices:

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1. Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock (BBC One)

I certainly hope Benedict Cumberbatch receives his third nomination for playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s international hit series, as it’s a performance which certainly deserves recognition by BAFTA. Heck, even the Emmys in America recognised his work for the role this year! On top of that, Benedict has yet to win a BAFTA, despite superb roles in 2004’s Hawking and 2012’s Parade’s End among others. I think it’s certainly time he picked up a statuette, but he has some very strong competition this year.

2. James Nesbitt – The Missing (BBC One)

Labelled as the new Broadchurch when it began, this emotional drama saw James Nesbitt playing a father desperate to find out what happened to his son. The performance has drawn a great deal of praise and it seems a safe bet that he’ll be in this year’s shortlist, as this was one of the most powerful performances last year and a brilliant effort by him.

3. Toby Jones – Marvellous (BBC Two)

Another wonderful performance of 2014 was Toby Jone’s work as Neil Baldwin, who despite learning difficulties, seemed able to turn his hand to anything. I’ve already seen chatter that he should win the BAFTA for the role and such an uplifting, true story, so strongly acted, seems bound to be included in this year’s list of nominees.

4. Richard Harrington – Hinterland (BBC Four)

I’ve yet to watch Hinterland, but everyone I know who has seen it raved about the series and Richard Harrington’s performance as DCI Tom Mathias, as did most of the critics in their round ups of 2014’s television highlights. BAFTA often includes nominees who may not have had as wide an audience as more recognisable ones, so I think he has a good chance.

I’ve also heard strong praise from friends about Philip Glenister in From There To Here, Micahel Palin in Remember Me and Reece Shearsmith in The Widower, so perhaps one of those will topple some of my choices.

Actress

My prediction is that this will be the hottest contested category of this year’s BAFTAs and looking back at those eligible only highlights just how many fantastic female performances there were on television, something I strongly hope continues. Here are my choices:

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1. Sarah Lancashire – Happy Valley (BBC One)

If Sarah Lancashire isn’t nominated I’ll eat my hat! Seriously, this was one of the finest performances in any drama series. As Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley, she was strong, kind, witty, compassionate, emotionally scarred and so much more, as she doggedly fought to bring her daughter’s rapist to justice and stop him harming anyone else. It’s definitely the finest performance of her career, which must surely be acknowledged by BAFTA.

2. Keeley Hawes – Line of Duty (BBC Two)

Keeley Hawes’s career goes from strength to strength and her performance in the second series of Line of Duty took it to a new level. DI Lindsay Denton was one of the most interesting and confusing characters on television last year and trying to decide on her guilt or innocence throughout was one of the most puzzling television mysteries. One minute you felt sorry for her, then you were certain she was behind everything and that’s all due to Keeley’s excellent performance.

3. Sheridan Smith – Cilla (ITV)

Another actress whose career is gaining pace and praise is that of Sheridan Smith, who seems able to turn her hand from comedy to drama, both on stage and screen, so easily. This three part drama about the early career of Cilla Black was wonderful viewing. Sheridan slipped in to the role of such an iconic British personality so effortlessly, able to carry off the drama and comedic moments, not to mention her superb voice, giving the drama an added layer of authenticity. After winning the National TV Award, she’s certainly in with a good chance of a nomination.

4. Gillian Anderson – The Fall (BBC Two)

One of my biggest gripes about 2014’s BAFTA nominations was the omission of Gillian Anderson for her performance in the BBC’s dark and disturbing crime drama The Fall. Like DI Denton in Line of Duty, Superintendent Stella Gibson is certainly an intriguing female character and Gillian’s performance continues to be fantastic. I hope she receives a nomination this time around.

Drama Series

It’s not going to come as a surprise that my choices for drama series reflect some of the impressive acting performances this year.

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1. Sherlock (BBC One)

Sherlock won the BAFTA for drama series after its first, superb series. I doubt it will win again for series three, which was a series that seemed to divide viewers. However, for me, it was still one of the strongest dramas on television during 2014 and therefore I hope to see it in the shortlist. It has also already won an Emmy for writing this year and so this could see it on the BAFTA list again too.

2. Happy Valley (BBC One)

It wasn’t just Sarah Lancashire’s stunning performance in Happy Valley that made it the success it was. Sally Wainwright’s drama had a gripping, excellently paced script, interesting characters and a strong ensemble cast, all of which contributed to its overall quality. There were many moments that had me practically holding my breath as I watched it and I’ll be stunned if it’s not nominated on Wednesday.

3. Line of Duty (BBC Two)

Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty made a significant impact during series one and I did wonder whether series two would ever be as strong. I needn’t have worried about that! Series two kicked off as it meant to go on, with the end of the series opener becoming one of the most shocking and memorable moments of the year (for my others see my previous blog post). Through six episodes we followed every twist and turn of the depths of corruption and slight of hand (who can forget both their interview with Denton and then the interrogation scene of episode five?). It was a series that required you to truly pay attention and I am very much looking forward to series three.

4. Hinterland (BBC Four)

Hinterland is on my list of shows to catch up on after all the positive comments I’ve heard and read about it. Many have said its the Welsh answer to The Killing, which is incredibly high praise and in fact it’s now even been bought by Danish television! BAFTA likes to recognise a variety of programmes and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hinterland makes an appearance in the nominees list.

Supporting Actor

My choices for supporting actor are certainly varied, with loyal friends, soul mates and psychopaths making up my top four! In fact for me they brilliantly highlight how wonderfully varied drama can be.

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1. Martin Freeman – Sherlock (BBC One)

Martin Freeman is such a talented actor, recently recognised by the Emmys for his wonderful performance in Sherlock as series three reminded us all yet again that the series is about so much more than Benedict Cumberbatch. The series is so brilliant because of them both and these latest episodes allowed Martin to take the role of Watson to new emotional depths. He may not win (as he has already won for the role in 2011) but the scene above, in which he realises his friend is alive, which was so perfectly gauged, deserves a nomination in itself!

2. Aneurin Barnard – Cilla (ITV)

Sheridan Smith wasn’t the only strong performance in Cilla, and Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard did a fantastic job supporting her as Bobby Willis, the man who stood by her side throughout her career and whom she married in 1969. Their chemistry together was a treat to watch and I look forward to seeing what he will do next.

3. James Norton – Happy Valley (BBC One)

James Norton has quickly become one of my favourite actors and one on my must watch list, on stage and screen, ever since 2013’s Death Comes To Pemberley. He is certainly on the rise and 2014 saw him on screen in two very different roles, which demonstrate his range. I loved Grantchester on ITV, but think it’s unlikely his performance will achieve a best actor nomination. On the other hand, his performance as psychopath Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley was memorable for very different reasons. He was incredibly frightening and absolutely believable, as he roamed the Yorkshire countryside (the terrifying hit and run just one example) and Norton should without a doubt be on this year’s supporting actor shortlist.

4. Lars Mikkelsen – Sherlock (BBC One)

I have found it difficult to choose my fourth nominee for supporting actor, but seeing as there is precedent in the past for actors from the same series being pitted against each other (and even from Sherlock), I have included Lars Mikkelsen’s creepy turn as Charles Augustus Magnussen in the third series finale. He was a superb villain and only made more chillingly disturbing by Lars’s performance. You had no idea what he would do next, which made it riveting to watch. Everything from peeing in the fireplace, to flicking Watson’s face, simply because he could, made this a thoroughly memorable role.

Supporting Actress

Unlike the strong performances crying out for nomination in the leading actress category, I’ve found it much harder to decide on my predictions for supporting actress and at the moment I can only think of Joanne Froggatt. I dip in and out of Downton Abbey and tend to prefer the characters and acting of those below stairs, none more so than Jonanne Froggatt as Anna Bates. Every year she proves why she deserves some of the series’ most important story lines and her acting is always excellent. She deservedly won the Golden Globe this year for her performance and I think she has a good chance of a nomination here too.

As I’m struggling to think of anyone else to choose with any confidence in this category I’ll leave it at that and instead stick to trying to choose the winner once the nominations are announced on Wednesday.

International 

The international category is a hard one to predict. Won last year by Breaking Bad, I’m assuming it’ll be focussed on American and Nordic drama.

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1. House of Cards (Netflix)

House of Cards may have been beaten last year, but I’d say it has a strong chance of another nomination, with series two remaining my favourite of all three seasons made to date. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright lead the drama with such class and its stylish and superbly plotted episodes have made it (and Netflix) hugely successful. They should nominate it for no other reason than not to make Frank Underwood angry!

2. True Detective (HBO)

I’m currently catching up with True Detective after missing it the first time around and I’ll admit I’m struggling with it. Three episodes in and I’m finding it incredibly slow and a bit dull. I’ve never been a fan of Matthew McConaughey either, but even I have to admit that both his and Woody Harrelson’s acting in the HBO series is very good indeed and for that reason alone I’m determined to continue with it. As it’s one of the American dramas that made almost every “best of 2014” list I read in December, I’m predicting it may receive a nomination from BAFTA too.

3. Fargo (FX)

The darkly comic Fargo is another strong contender for this year’s shortlist. The episodes are well-paced, with a perfect mix of tension and black humour and the acting by the cast, but by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman in particular is fantastic. I’ll certainly be tuning in to series two. It did very well at this year’s Golden Globes and may do just as well at BAFTA.

4. The Good Wife (CBS)

I think it’s unlikely that BAFTA will select four nominees from America. However, as I have yet to see any of the latest Nordic offerings (usually the most likely to be recognised here), I can’t confidently choose any one of them. Therefore I’ve picked a series that I’d like to see nominated. The Good Wife is one of the few television series that gets better as it goes one. The last series of the show was utterly brilliant, taking many of the characters in directions the audience would never have imagined. It continues to be strongly acted by both its main and guest cast and has some of the best writing on television at the moment. It probably won’t be on the list, but it would be if I was choosing!

So those are my predictions. I’d love to hear what you think should be on the shortlist, for these or any other category. I’ll have a go at predicting the winners after the nominations are revealed on Wednesday!

UPDATE: Nominations are out and I’ve selected my winners here.