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An appointment at the knacker’s yard


Source: The Guardian (thanks to colinr for the heads-up)

After just two series, the BBC has pulled the plug on its cop series Holby Blue, a spin-off of the medical drama Holby City (itself a spin-off of Casualty). This comes in the wake of pretty dire viewing figures, not helped by going head to head with ITV’s venerable The Bill.

In a sense, I’m somewhat disappointed by this news. The show was never particularly brilliant, and, barring the first and last episodes, the second series was a step down from the first, but it had its moments, and I can’t help thinking it may have been a victim of circumstance. I think the biggest nail in its coffin was that it just didn’t know what it wanted to be - serious gritty cop show or just another soap about people in uniform. It had a bit of an identity crisis, and that’s never a good thing when the market is already saturated with similar shows that have a much better idea of what their focus is. Just flick through any TV schedule and you’ll see just how inundated we are with police procedurals. They cater to all sorts of different tastes, but the crucial thing is that they seem to know what their own target audience is. So, in a sense, Lewis isn’t competing with The Bill because they’re aimed at a different core group (although obviously there will be people who watch both), and ditto with Waking the Dead or CSI. I don’t think Holby Blue knew whether it wanted to pull in The Bill viewers or Waking the Dead, and as a result it ended up feeling a bit limp and watered down.

It’s ultimately no great loss, but I get the impression that quite a few people didn’t really give it a chance. I know a lot of Casualty and Holby City viewers took exception to what they saw as a cynical ploy to make them watch a show that was unconnected to its parents in all but name, while I suspect many people who don’t watch these two medical series also avoided Holby Blue because they assumed it would be more of the same, when in actual fact it was rather different. Still, fans of police drama aren’t exactly short of viewing matter.

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2008 at 8:20 PM
Categories: TV | Web

Buffy the Cartoon Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Animated Series

At some point prior to the demise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an animated spin-off was proposed. It ultimately never came to pass, despite some aggressive lobbying by Joss Whedon and his colleagues, and despite a number of pieces of concept art that were released generating some degree of interest. Recently, however, a promo video was released (or leaked), giving fans a chance to see what the show that never was would have looked like. Some generous soul uploaded it to YouTube for your viewing consumption.

To be honest, my overriding reaction is that the show’s failure to materialise is no big loss. Based on this three and a half minute clip, it suffers from exactly the same problems as the Season 8 comics, namely flat characterisation and what I like to call “ice cream on the hamburgers” syndrome: essentially, a tendency to throw in everything but the kitchen sink simply because it’s possible. The “real” Buffy series made the most of its limited budget and generally found creative ways around monetary issues (the occasional clumsy CGI dragon notwithstanding). Here, the philosophy seems to have been that, because the medium is animation rather than live action, there’s no limit to what you can do.

This is a myth propagated by scriptwriters and executives who have no understanding of animation. Doing a visually audacious set-piece in animation is no different from doing one in live action, in that it takes longer and requires more work. Unfortunately, scriptwriters are rarely particularly good at thinking visually, generally speaking because it’s not in their job descriptor and the artist/writer segregation of the post-60s animation industry means that they are completely cut off from the visual side of production. It takes less than five seconds for a budding writer to type the words “a huge dragon flies through the entire city and has an epic fight with Buffy”. Now imagine the poor guy who has to draw it. It’s therefore no surprise that such scenes often have a lacklustre quality to them: they can’t be much fun to do, and as a result the animator ends up merely going through the motions and producing a piece of technically complex but ultimately lifeless animation.

The whole of the animated Buffy promo feels lifeless. It also feels rather pointless. What, after all, is this achieving that wasn’t already being achieved, more successfully, in its live action variant (barring the obvious increase in scope and scale mentioned above)? Okay, you’ve got Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head et al voicing the characters they played in the live action show (Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t want to participate and as a result was voiced by a soundalike, but everyone else appears to have been on board), but again this doesn’t achieve much, because none of the actors seem particularly comfortable in their roles. I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth repeating: to provide voice-overs for animation requires a completely different set of skills than to act on screen or on the stage. For one thing, you’re limited to your voice, and, let’s be honest, there aren’t many actors who are famed for their voices above all else. Put simply, a good actor doesn’t necessarily equate to a good voice actor. (Of course, it works in reverse too. Would you automatically assume Jim Cummings or Cam Clarke would be able to cut it in the live action world?)

So, ultimately, what you have is a curiosity piece that doesn’t serve much purpose other than to provide a brief thrill at the sight of something which looks vaguely like Sarah Michelle Gellar (and Alyson Hannigan, and…) moving around in animated form. Not exactly the strongest basis upon which to build a series. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have worked or found its audience, but it ultimately looks fairly limp and generic, and I’m not convinced Joss Whedon’s style of writing translates effectively into the animated world (just as I’m not convinced it translates effectively into comics).

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2008 at 10:21 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | TV | Web

Waking the Dead: Series 3, Episodes 3 and 4: Walking on Water


Written by Simon Mirren; Directed by Andy Hay

After yet another extended delay, I finally get back into Waking the Dead’s third series, and with a significantly better episode than the season premiere. Taking the same path as Series 2’s Special Relationships, the plot this time focuses on a man, Mark Lovell (Craig Kelly), who has recently been acquitted of the murder of his adoptive father, Thomas, an event which took place almost a decade ago. On the night of the murder, four other members of the family vanished without a trace along with their boat. When the latter is discovered off the coast near the family home and salvaged, Boyd reopens the investigation, the assumption being that, if they can find out what happened to the rest of the family, they stand a good chance of finding Thomas’ real killer. Unfortunately, since he was locked up, Mark has changed - dramatically so. He is now Maria, and Maria is proving to be less than cooperative when it comes to dredging up Mark’s past.

It’s at this stage that Waking the Dead becomes very, very confusing, and I must confess that, despite having now seen the episode three times, I’m still completely flummoxed by what is supposed to be going on in the final twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that the writer, Simon Mirren, inserts a Big Huge Plot Twist out of left field, involving conspiracies, espionage and drug smuggling, and it’s a shame, because everything leading up to these final twenty minutes is very good. I love the way the script pokes fun at Boyd’s discomfort when faced with Mark/Maria. Much like with David Hemmings’ character in Argento’s Profondo Rosso, Boyd isn’t disgusted by the sight of a man dressed as a woman: he simply doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for all his tantrums and crudity, Boyd is actually a pretty liberal fellow, something of a rarity in TV detectives. (When Spence asks how Mark’s gender disorder affects his status as a suspect, Boyd snaps back “It doesn’t.”)

There’s some nice direction in this episode too, including a very neat shot of a body being slid out of a storage freezer, shown from the point of view of the body. On the other hand, I’m not wild about the various shots of the dead appearing and vanishing while Frankie is working alone on the salvaged boat. It’s getting a little too close to the pseudo-mysticism that plagued some of the later episodes for my liking.

Holby connections: The writer of this episode, Simon Mirren, penned several episodes of Casualty during the Series 13-14 period (he’s also Helen Mirren’s nephew), while Craig Kelly, who plays Mark Lovell, starred as SHO Daniel Perryman throughout Casualty’s tenth series.

Posted: Monday, August 04, 2008 at 11:13 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Why Britain will never complete with Boll and Fagrasso


Note: this film was sent to me by Baron Scarpia as part of our ongoing trade in dreadful movies. You can read his thoughts on the film in question here.

My good friend the Baron once opined that the UK traditionally doesn’t have much of a track record for producing truly awful filmmakers. While Italy has given us Claudio Fragasso and Germany has bestowed Uwe Boll upon us, and America is responsible for Tom Green, I don’t really think the British Isles has an equivalent. Broadly speaking, Britain tends to make films in the “drippy toffs played by Hugh Grant who find love” or “grimy northern squalor picture in which everyone has perpetually just been laid off from their job down the coal mines” models, and most of them are far from dreadful, just mind-numbingly tedious and depressing. Occasionally, an exception to the rule comes along, such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s romantic drama My Summer of Love or Neil Marshall’s excellent monster horror flick The Descent, which serve to suggest that perhaps the British film industry shouldn’t be dismantled after all, but by and large this country wastes its lottery grants on brain-destroying crap like Sex Lives of the Potato Men (of which I managed to stomach approximately twelve minutes before turning off my TV and disconnecting it from the wall lest it somehow turn itself back on and subject me to yet more pain).

There’s a third broad category of British film about which I’ve yet to say anything, and that’s the gangster movie à la Guy Ritchie. I don’t like gangster movies, particularly British ones. There are few things I find more irritating than watching a bunch of gristle-chinned wannabe thugs swaggering about, talking in incomprehensible Cockney accents and calling each other unpleasant names. About the only thing I find passably interesting about them is the moral grey area in which they operate, broadly speaking encouraging the audience to align its sympathies with a bunch of moral degenerates for whom theft, assault and murder is a way of life. It’s possible to pull off if you’re good: I’m sure I’m not alone in finding Hannibal Lecter to be a highly compelling character in spite of (or perhaps because of) his nastiness. Lecter isn’t a gangster, but he serves to illustrate a point: if done right, it’s possible to root for the bad guy.

'The All Saints eagerly examine the papers for reviews of their film.

The All Saints eagerly examine the papers for reviews of their film.

Honest doesn’t get a lot of things right. For a start, it stars three-quarters of a British girl group known as All Saints. (If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry. They were never really relevant to begin with and are extremely unlikely to become so in the near or distant future.) If you’ve had the misfortune of seeing Mariah Carey or Britney Spears’ forays into the world of acting, you’ll know that such endeavours rarely meet with success, and that’s before you even begin to take acting ability into consideration. The All Saints (I’m not going to bother referring to them by their actual names, because neither they nor their characters do anything in particular distinguish themselves from each other), I must assure you, cannot act. Given that at least one of them appears in virtually every single scene in the film, you’d be forgiven for assuming this to be a massive problem. Oddly enough, it’s not, and the reason for that is that their incompetence is matched on every level, if not dwarfed, by a dreadful script, moronic direction and an outlook so morally derelict that it makes Dr. Lecter simply seem like a cheeky chappy who went a wee bit too far.

The All Saints, you see, are gangsters. Hard-talking ladies who walk the streets of 1960s East End London and routinely do things like steal diamonds and threaten innocent bystanders with crowbars and shotguns. One such jaunt goes wrong, and one of the Saints ends up being apprehended by and falling in love with a wretched excuse for a journalist, whose seemingly radical prose is matched in its incompetence only by every single other act of incompetence committed by the filmmakers. Along the way, we get to see the All Saints doing their damnedest to act menacing, getting stoned out of their minds and having a slow motion argument inside a moving vehicle. No, that last part is not a typo.

'Cos this is, like, what the 60s was all about.

Cos this is, like, what the 60s was all about.

This film was directed by David A. Stewart, who the Internet Movie Database handily tells me was part of the Eurythmics. Barring some music videos that he shot for his own band, Honest was the first thing he ever directed, and I’m pleased to report that he has never stepped behind a camera since. He also provided the film’s music and co-wrote the script (along with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who between them have written everything from Porridge to Across the Universe). A man of many talents, clearly. Or not. You see, consider that one person had his hand in so many pies and it begins to look pretty obvious why every single one of them tastes foul. No matter what’s wrong with this movie (and there’s a lot wrong with it), Stewart is the common factor. This is a man who thinks that the most exciting part of a car chase is a conversation taking place between the vehicles passengers, and that the best way to accentuate the tension is not to show exterior shots of the car travelling in slow motion, but to show close-ups of the characters talking in slow motion. He also believes that slowing down and speeding up his footage to a handy “Whoomfff!” sound effect is the height of stylishness, that shots of naked people writhing around during an acid trip is, like, the coolest, most provocative thing ever, and that the All Saints can act. To be fair, you could argue that he is simply being let down by useless leads, but then he also manages to draw useless performances from competent actors like James Cosmo and Corin Redgrave, which puts paid to that theory. (Oh, and Matt Bardock, who currently plays Cockney wideboy paramedic Jeff in Casualty, appears in this film as a Cockney wideboy gangster. I wonder if the loss of hair that he experienced between his appearances in these two productions is to do with the stress resulting in the knowledge that he had appeared in such a train wreck.)

Did I mention the script? Clement and La Frenais have done good work elsewhere, so I can only assume that, once again, the problems stem from our friend Mr. Stewart. Gangster movies generally have the unenviable task of aligning the audience’s sympathies with people who are utterly nasty individuals who, by rights, should be locked away for the rest of their lives somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine. Most gangster movies are reasonable honest about this and either don’t attempt to excuse their anti-heroes’ behaviour, or at the very least pit them against people who are equally or more repugnant than they are. Honest, despite its title, is anything but. At every possible occasion, the script attempts to exonerate the All Saints for their contemptible behaviour by offering pitiful excuses like suggesting that they don’t like doing it (don’t do it, then), that they’re only doing it to get their dad a new telly (get a job, then), or that it’s because their mother is dead (get over it, then). Oh, and we have a tasteless little subplot involving one of them teaching a lesson to a next-door neighbour who routinely assaults his girlfriend, which again is only there to show us that the girls are good after all, innit? (The Saint in question, incidentally, pours engine oil down the offending ladybasher’s throat, which, in addition to being incredibly messy, strikes me as about as distasteful as you can get once you realise that the writers actually want you applaud this act of torture.)

One of the All Saints recreates how she got the part.

One of the All Saints recreates how she got the part.

Oh, and the film is also content to wallow in its own hypocrisy, opening with the girls chastising a security guard for looking at pornography, despite the fact that the film is loaded to the gills with gratuitous nudity, the most leering of which is provided by two-thirds of the three-quarters of the All Saints, neither of whom are even attractive enough to warrant such exposure. I have, however, provided a picture of one of them, in order to rub their faces in their own double standards.

All this is well and good, but the film’s greatest crime, by far, is how boring it is, and this is where my opinion and the Baron’s part ways. The Baron, you see, feels that a film can do worse than be boring. I, on the other hand, think that there is no greater crime. Note to filmmakers: you can be as incompetent and as morally bankrupt as you like, but provide you do so in a semi-interesting way, you may at least retain my attention. Unfortunately, for the most part watching Honest is like watching paint dry. There are a few moments that make me shake my head in disbelief and cry out “What the fuck were they thinking?”, but, for the most part, it’s simply as dull and worthless as virtually every other British movie, and it’s because of that that it doesn’t make it into “so bad it’s good territory”. It’s just a feckless, incompetently made waste of celluloid.

Incidentally, the back cover of the DVD proclaims that this film is a “cult classic”. Presumably, in the same way that Manos: The Hands of Fate and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 are cult classics.

Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2008 at 6:47 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Games | Reviews | TV

Blu-ray Stendhal this year


Blue Underground’s web site has been updated to include a release date for the company’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Dario Argento’s splendid The Stendhal Syndrome: November 18th. This and Don Taylor’s The Final Countdown are the only two Blue Underground Blu-ray releases to have release dates, and, while I’m slightly surprised that this will by the first Argento film to be released in high definition (Jenifer doesn’t count), I’m more than happy that it’s on its way. Now hurry up with a release date for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage!

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Web

Is this not just the most awful thing ever?


The above is a trailer that is currently being screened for Holby City, one of the BBC’s medical drama series. No, seriously.

This can, I think, be taken as ample proof for what I’ve been suspecting for some time now: that the show’s producers have completely lost the plot. I challenge you to decide which is the more ridiculous image: Amanda Mealing with a snake’s tongue, Hugh Quarshie being molested by disembodied hands, Rosie Marcel snarling and leaping about like Halle Berry in Catwoman, or Patsy Kensit wearing a white wedding dress.

The end of the world as we know it or the work of a demented genius? You decide.

Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 9:08 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | TV

A game everyone can play

A game everyone can play

Source: Spumboard

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 5:22 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | TV | Web

The dream is over

Hellgate: London

It looks as if Hellgate: London developers Flagship Studios have finally bitten off more than they can chew. After numerous rumours of employees leaving in droves and customers dissatisfied with the quality of the game and/or the support being provided with it, the final nail has been hammered into the studio’s creaky coffin, with Flagship apparently closing its doors following the laying off of the entire staff. Financial support from Korean distributor and co-owner of the intellectual property HanbitSoft has reportedly dried up, with the implication being that HanbitSoft will, from now on, take full control of the franchise and continue to develop it themselves:

HanbitSoft states that the reason it is pursuing this course of action is because “It is hard for us to accept Flagship Studios’ requests for continued support in capital and funding any longer and because Flagship was being difficult”, and because it co-owns a direct stake in the IP, it therefore “has a say in reviewing and determining any course of action to be taken with Hellgate: London.”

HanbitSoft is expected to take full control over the IP. HanbitSoft goes on to state that in doing so, it will be able to “properly manage and develop Hellgate: London into a good game with proper content”, with its own in-house team of developers.


I’m not entirely surprised, but I’m disappointed nonetheless. I would have liked to see Flagship Studios succeed. The games industry is coming ever closer to mirroring the movie business in the sense that all the power these days is in the hands of a small number of megacorporations, and something about the idea of Flagship striking out on their own as an independent developer appealed to me. Theirs was a worthy attempt to deliver a triple-A game as an autonomous company, but ultimately they failed to pull it off. I still like Hellgate: London, in spite of its myriad flaws, and I genuinely hope that HanbitSoft are able to salvage something from the wreckage, but it’s a damn shame that its creators will no longer be involved with the project they poured their heart and soul into, whatever you might think of the end results.

No creator, regardless of the medium in which they work, likes to see their baby dragged away from them, particularly under circumstances such as these (shades of the 1992 Nickelodeon takeover of Ren & Stimpy, methinks), and I can only hope that the Flagship people are able to bounce back from this in some form or other. Hmm, I suspect they’re probably greatly regretting walking out of Blizzard Entertainment back in 2003.

Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Games | TV | Web

Waking the Dead: Series 3, Episodes 1 and 2: Multistorey


Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Robert Bierman

After a somewhat lengthy break, I return to my Waking the Dead reviews and plunge into the show’s third series. For some reason, Series 3 is always the one that I have the most trouble remembering: ultimately, only the final episode stands out in my mind, and that’s only because it’s unusually character-driven for Waking the Dead at this stage in its history. That’s not to say that Series 3 is in any way poor, but it’s not particularly memorable, and it has the unfortunate disadvantage of starting with what was, at the time, the programme’s weakest storyline to date.

The focus is on a mass shooting which took place in 1996 when a lone gunman, Carl Mackenzie (Sean Pertwee), murdered or injured several pedestrians in the high street from the vantage point of the top floor of a multi-storey car park. In the present day, the case is up for appeal. Pertwee always claimed his innocence, stating that he had in fact been kidnapped and framed by the real gunman, but two witness reports, including that of the police officer who succeeded in apprehending him, state that they saw him with the gun in his hands…

It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about Multistorey that doesn’t work. On paper, it’s actually a very interesting scenario, but for some reason none of it really pulls together. There’s no real sense of urgency, despite Boyd have a personal connection in the form of having been friends with a police officer who was killed in the massacre, and despite him (temporarily) concealing evidence when an eyewitness’ account is revealed to have been less than reliable. None of the characters, not even the accused, really come to life, and it ultimately all feels a little pedestrian.

On a side note, after swapping producers every year since the pilot, the show finally got itself a long-term producer in the form of Richard Burrell, who remained in that role until the end of Series 5 and has since gone on to produce a diverse array of programmes for the BBC, including the first series of the recent re-imagining of Robin Hood, The Invisibles and Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story. Oh, and, on a purely trivial note, it never ceases to amaze me how much the moustache and beard Spence adopts as of this episode changes his appearance, adding at least ten years to him and greatly increasing his stature.

Holby connections: Robert Pugh (Robert Cross in this episode) played paramedic Andy Ponting in the first two series of Casualty, while Kim Vithana (Beth Downing in this episode) played midwife Rosie Sattar between Series 5 and 7 of Holby City.

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 10:19 AM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 7 and 8: Thin Air


Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Edward Bennett

In 1989, 18-year-old Joanna Gold (Sophie Winkleman) vanished without a trace while walking on Hampstead Heath with her parents, brother and sister. Flash forward to the present day, and the striking red dress Joanna was last seen wearing is discovered, in immaculate condition, in a storage facility. It turns out that the facility is being rented by an Alec Garvey (Justin Salinger), a man with a track record for stalking girls. Being leaned on by the Commissioner to get a result, any result, Boyd charges Garvey, resulting in his attempted suicide. Faced with the horrible prospect that he fingered the wrong man, Boyd reopens the case and goes back to the fateful day of Joanna’s disappearance, digging up disturbing family secrets and discovering that Joanna Gold was not as squeaky-clean as the public have been led to believe.

This is one of my all-time favourite episodes of Waking the Dead, and I think one of the reasons why it works so well is that it’s unusually creepy. At its heart we have a striking and frankly baffling image - a girl in a red dress simply vanishing into thin air on a clear day in an open space - and, as the investigation intensifies, all sorts of guilty secrets come to the fore. The Golds put up a front of being model members of society, but it’s clear from the outset that they are all as guilty as sin and each have something the hide. It helps that we have a superb array of actors playing the key members of the family: Roger Allam, as the father, can’t help but look suspicious, and everything about his demeanour screams “hostile” from the second Boyd encounters him, while Cherie Lunghi works wonders as his brittle wife. However, the best performance comes from Sophie Winkleman (whom you might know as Big Suze in Peep Show - a very different role), who plays both Joanna Gold and the present-day incarnation of her younger sister Clara. The resemblance is intended to be uncanny, but it’s not until the final fifteen minutes that we realise just how disturbing this actually is.

This was the first episode to be written by Ed Whitmore, who would become Waking the Dead’s key writer until the regime change at the end of Series 5, penning a total of six two-parters. Whitmore’s scripts are drier than those written by Stephen Davis, but I think he tends to do better at connecting the A-to-B plot elements, gradually teasing out information and taking the investigative team down unexpected avenues. Particularly well-handled is a plot development that I accused of being tacked-on when I wrote my review of the Series 2 DVD set for DVD Times, but which in retrospect I now see is actually foreshadowed quite brilliantly, particularly in the curious relationship that develops between Boyd and Clara. It’s one of these moments that leaves you screaming “No! No!” at the screen as Boyd digs his own grave, and the actions that he commits in order to get to the bottom of the mystery are reckless in the extreme, culminating in him going for a midnight jaunt on Hampstead Heath with Clara wearing Joanna’s red dress. However, when you consider the extent to which his own child’s disappearance (mentioned briefly but, thankfully, not flogged to death), it’s possible to find reason in his obsessive behaviour.

On a side note, this episode indirectly reveals more about our core cast of characters than all of the previous ones put together. In addition to the revelation that Grace was at one point married with two sons (the marriage didn’t last), and that Mel lives alone but has “lots of friends”, we discover that Spence previously considered jacking in his career as a policeman and going into business with his entrepreneur friend, and that, in 1989, Frankie spent the summer in Cyprus having a wild affair with a tattoo artist named Andreas (Grace’s response of “Ooooh, Andreas!” being the one time in the series that Sue Johnston’s performance reminds me of her part in The Royle Family). She too, it seems, was sorely tempted to abandon her career, but decided that, although the sex was great, she wasn’t in love. This focus is, as ever, on Boyd, but it’s these little moments that help build up a bigger picture of the rest of the cast without rubbing our faces in their personal lives.

Series 2 is, on the whole, not as consistent as Series 1. While this means that we do get a slightly weaker episode than we’ve been used to seeing up until now, Deathwatch, it does also provide us with the best episode so far, Thin Air. In the next instalment, we’ll be venturing into Series 3, which, to tell the truth, I can recall little of, before heading towards, in my opinion, the best series, Series 4.

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 1:54 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 5 and 6: Special Relationships


Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by David Thacker

Around a year ago, the body of Home Office Advisor Katherine Reed (Francesca Ryan) was discovered by burglar Ricky Taft (Del Synnott) during a routine break-in. Flash forward to the present, and Taft has just been acquitted of killing her. With the investigation closed, it becomes a cold case and is immediately sent the way of Boyd and company… along with a humourless Home Office auditor (the two are completely unconnected, naturally). The team’s investigations reveal a maze of conspiracies and cover-ups, and the more digging that is done into Katherine Reed’s private life, the less it makes sense.

This is probably the most convoluted Waking the Dead story so far, and one that firmly establishes the series’ penchant for outlandish explanations. It appears that almost everyone is/was screwing everyone else, both literally and figuratively. In order to delve into this and show just how mixed up everything is, I’m afraid I’m going to have to enter into spoiler territory.

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:

Katherine Reed was what Grace describes as a “professional feminist”. Convinced that men are an “evolutionary mistake” and are pre-programmed with violent tendencies, she wrote several books on the subject and was a prominent campaigner against the male-dominated social hierarchy before, for no clear reason, abandoning her principles and joining the very establishment she previously attacked as an advisor to the Home Office. This apparent abandoning of her principles is never adequately explained and is, I feel, the episode’s major oversight, but what does become clear is that Katherine was if not a lesbian then at least bisexual, and that her marriage to Professor Ray Levin (Anton Lesser) was a sham.

Initially, I thought the episode was going down that well-trodden television route of portraying all bisexuals as unable to keep their pants on and willing to sleep with anyone and anything, and initially the evidence does seem to point in this direction, but there is a quite intriguing twist in it all which shows that the writer of the episode, Stephen Davis, is above such simplicities. A key piece of evidence which emerges is the fact that, on or close to the night of her death, Katherine had sex with a man (semen is found inside the body). In one of his trademark “rule-breaking to get results” moments, Boyd pilfers the razor of a key suspect, Sir James Beatty (Corin Redgrave), allowing Frankie to match his DNA to the semen found inside Katherine. Add to this the fact that Katherine was involved in a secret (albeit seemingly very loving) relationship with her husband’s colleague, Lorna Gyles (Amanda Root), and was at one point discovered in bed with another woman by the aforementioned husband, and Katherine is really shaping up to be a bit of a slapper.

The rather brilliant twist, however, is that Sir James Beatty did not in fact have sex with Katherine, either on the night of her death or at any other time. He was having an affair, but not with Katherine: rather, he was engaged in an illicit tryst with his secretary, Ann Hardingham (Kika Markham). His wife, a deeply deranged former GP by the name of Lady Alice Beatty (Patricia Hodge), killed Katherine, believing such an affair between her and her husband to be taking place, and planted her husband’s semen inside the body. Alice, whose status and money all came from her husband, therefore now had a perfect means of preventing him from leaving her: if he did, she could, without much effort, set in motion the events which would lead to him being convicted of Katherine’s murder.

See what I mean about complexity? And I haven’t even got into Boyd’s past relationship with the investigating DI in Katherine’s murder, Jess Worrall (Ruth Gemmell), his signing and flouting of the Official Secrets Act, an interview with an extremely uncooperative CIA operative and a grand conspiracy involving Boyd suspecting either MI5 or the CIA of assassinating Katherine. There’s a massive amount of stuff going on here, and I’m not convinced that it all comes together in an entirely satisfying way (the Home Office auditor, in particular, feels somewhat tacked on and is brushed aside just over 20 minutes into the second part, when Boyd sends her packing), but it does strike me as quite clever in its own way. It also helps that, as with the previous episode, also penned by Stephen Davis, this one is rather witty, poking fun at the Boyd character and his thinly-veiled fear (or perhaps misunderstanding) of tough women. The angry, over the top Boyd of later years is definitely beginning to take shape here, by the way, culminating in him bawling out Grace, to the best of my recollection the first time this has happened. (Oddly enough, it would take Grace a further four years to declare “enough is enough”.)

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 2:00 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 3 and 4: Deathwatch


Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by Maurice Phillips

Also known as “The One With David Hemmings In It”. The man himself doesn’t look at all well (his appearance was filmed just over a year before he suffered a fatal heart attack), but it’s a pleasure to see such a legend in the series, and he gives a good performance. It’s one that initially seems to be that of a grumpy ex-cop, disparaging of the newfangled investigative methods and reminiscing about a time when there was no paperwork and the police went by their instincts, but one that, in the second hour, reveals considerable complexities and twists things in a different direction. It’s not exactly surprising that Hemmings’ character has something to hide - he’s the major guest star, after all - but everyone in this episode is keeping a secret of some sort, so that’s not giving much away.

Anyway, the plot focuses on the death, under suspicious circumstances, of Harold Newman (Howard Goorney), an elderly man living in a nursing home. It becomes clear that he died with a guilty conscience, leaving a list of twelve people whose deaths he claims to have caused. The mysterious twelve turn out to have comprised the jury who condemned East End gangster Frank Sutton (Toby Mace) to death in 1963. Working with the assumption that Newman was a contract killer, Boyd and the CCS set out to find out for whom he was working, and who would now want him dead.

So follows a rather convoluted tale that, to be perfectly honest, doesn’t really play fair with the audience, by giving us a killer who, prior to being identified, only appears in a single throwaway scene and has a single line of dialogue. Of course, he’s ultimately only a means to an end, as the real thrust of the plot takes place nearly 40 years in the past, but it’s somewhat frustrating nonetheless. What makes up for this is, as is often the case in the early episodes, the interaction between the team. The explosive, absurd side of Boyd is now firmly established, but there is still degree of warmth between him and his colleagues that is almost completely absent in the most recent episodes. There is a dizzying array of genuinely amusing dialogue in this episode, much of it involving Grace’s birthday celebrations. (My favourite is Boyds “All right, all right, the shopping channel’s closed down. Now it’s time for the news.”)

Holby connections: David Ashton, who plays Father Cameron in this episode, wrote several episodes of Casualty during Series 2 and 3, while Ronald Pickup, who plays Charles Sutton, had a recurring role in Holby City about a year back as Lord Byrne.

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 1 and 2: Life Sentence


Written by John Milne; Directed by Edward Bennett

A playing card, the Queen of Hearts, is left on the windscreen of Dr. Claire Delaney (Susannah Harker), who, several years ago, was the first of six women to be abducted by Thomas Rice (Samuel West), and the only one to survive. All the others were raped and murdered, and, on each occasion, a pack of playing cards was delivered to the investigating officer, with the instructions that he gamble for the victim’s life by picking a card. Now, working under the assumption that Rice in fact had an accomplice, Boyd and his team set out to re-interview the notoriously slippery killer, now serving a life sentence.

It strikes me that this plot is rather similar to that of Dario Argento’s The Card Player, albeit without the Internet factor. This episode initially aired on September 2nd 2002, and The Card Player premiered in Italy in January 2004. Now, I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Dario Argento spends his time watching British television to get ideas for his film plots, but the likeness is nonetheless striking. The other point of reference, of course, is The Silence of the Lambs, the parallels being virtually impossible to ignore when you consider Rice’s “quid pro quo” attitude and Boyd’s use of Mel as a honey trap of sorts. Of course, Samuel West is no Anthony Hopkins and Claire Goose, good as she is, is no Jodie Foster, but the encounters between them (and Grace) are well-written and result in one of Waking the Dead’s truly tense scenes, as Rice systematically blocks his cell’s security cameras with various paintings, circling around Mel as he moves in for the kill.

Otherwise, this turns out to be a fairly conventional, albeit nasty, tale of kidnapping and murder. Certainly, after tales of bodies being found in churches and photojournalists burning to death in Series 1, this one seems a bit more like “real life”, while certain aspects of this case do bear a passing resemblance to the abduction storyline of the pilot. It’s an assured start to the second series, however, and one with a set of suspects that is manageable and at the same time not so limited as to make the culprit seem obvious. Actually, several people are hiding something, and the various allegiances are not all what you would expect.

Incidentally, from this episode onwards, the team have moved into their permanent location - the rather snazzy-looking headquarters with the transparent evidence boards and a lack of sufficient lighting. The episode also contains what is, to the best of my recollection, the first time Boyd uses his favourite interview technique of leaning forward and asking a suspect a question, then asking it again ONLY THIS TIME SHOUTING IT SO LOUD THE SPIT FLIES OUT OF HIS MOUTH. Truly, a man of tact and subtlety.

Holby connections: Paterson Joseph, who plays Dermot Sullivan in this episode, starred in Casualty as nurse Mark Grace from Series 12 to mid-Series 13. Nowadays, though, he is probably best known as Johnson in Peep Show.

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7:47 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 7 and 8: Every Breath You Take


Written by Barbara Machin; Directed by Gary Love

“You know when you put a fork in a sausage and it bursts? Well, it’s the same with brain matter.” - Dr. Frankie Wharton

A body is fished out of the Thames, and is identified as that of missing police sergeant Debbie Britten (Joanne Farrell). Given that Debbie was something of a poster child for the police force, DAC Christie orders Boyd to drop everything and spare no expense in bringing her killer to justice. Prior to her disappearance, Debbie attracted a number of stalkers, among them Michael Skinner (Andrew Buckley) and Christopher Redford (Lee Ross), both of whom emerge as prime suspects. However, Boyd’s old friend Steven Maitland (Thomas Lockyer), who worked on the hunt for Debbie at the time of her disappearance, knows more than he is letting on, and an illicit check on the police DNA database reveals that his relationship with her was far from strictly professional.

Series 1, as a whole, is comprised of four very good self-contained stories, and I’m of the opinion that this one is, overall, the best of the bunch. Actually, it’s a shame this was the last episode Barbara Machin wrote of her own show. One thing I appreciate about her scripts is her attention to procedural detail. Whereas I tend to find that most writers working within the confines of so-called precinct dramas tend to use the basic formula (cop show, medical drama, etc.) as a framework upon which to hang a storyline about relationships (not necessarily of the romantic variety) between various characters, Machin is every bit as interested in the nitty-gritty of what the various professionals do, and will spend a lot of time recreating procedure simply because it can be compelling in and of itself. In this storyline, a considerable amount of time is spent showing how Frankie locates some bullets that have been concealed at the scene of the crime. It’s fascinating to watch and, given Machin’s track record for comprehensive research, no doubt completely accurate. I’ve always been more interested in the psychological than the scientific side of things, however, so the most interesting part of the episode, for me, is the way in which it constructs two distinct profiles for Debbie’s two obsessive stalkers. Likewise, there’s a twist at the end that comes slightly out of left field, but in retrospect it does make a great deal of sense.

Elsewhere, the more compulsive, aggressive side of Boyd’s personality begins to emerge. This is certainly the first time we see him literally bawling at his subordinates and suspects, and on the whole the level of dysfunction between members of the team is much higher here than it has been until now. There are still some nicely touching moments, though, including Boyd telling Grace about his own past stalker-like behaviour towards a woman about whom he became obsessed (“But you see, ultimately, you knew when no meant no,” Grace points out; “No, I married her,” replies Boyd), and Boyd’s apology to Frankie after putting her job on the line (“I love you, Frankie” - I suspect you have to see it for yourself to get it).

Holby connections: Gary Love directed a number of episodes of Casualty between Series 12 and 14, among them my second-favourite episode of all time, Love Me Tender, which contains what can reasonably considered to be Claire Goose’s finest performance to date. This episode has a considerably more ambitious look than that of the rest of the first series as a whole.

Update, June 16th, 2008 12:05 PM: Incidentally, something I forgot to mention last night is that, in this episode, Grace states that she has a thesis to work on and “kids I never see”. Later episodes, in which it is stated that Grace never married or had children, directly contradict this.

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 10:45 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 5 and 6: A Simple Sacrifice


Written by Simon Mirren; Directed by Robert Del Maestro

This is probably the weakest storyline of the first series, although not because it’s in any way bad. On the contrary, Series 1 is remarkably solid overall, and this merely sticks out as the least impressive of a very impressive bunch. The plot this time round focuses on the impending release of Annie Keel (Harriet Walter), a woman who, nearly 25 years ago, confessed to stabbing to death her husband and her son’s friend, who was sleeping over at the time, but leaving her own son, Sam, alive. The case is re-opened in 2001 due to two factors: first of all, the evidence appears flimsy and Annie’s confession too pat (the implication being that she is covering up for someone else). Secondly, someone has been sending the police anonymous letters claiming that Annie is innocent and that he/she knows who the real culprit is. Finally, Grace doesn’t believe that the attacks fit the profile of a woman, particularly a mother.

Quickly, it becomes apparent that the key to solving the mystery rests with Sam Keel (Cal Macaninch). Why was he left alive when the other child was killed? It’s therefore somewhat irritating that Boyd and his team take absolutely no steps towards tracking him down until very late in the game. Equally frustrating is the fact that, early on in the second part of this story, it becomes fairly clear who the real culprit, the same person who is now writing to the police, is. This is not because the evidence allows the viewer to work out why he/she would commit the crime, but simply because what we know about the killer’s gender from flashbacks allows us to rule out various other parties, eventually leaving us with two possible suspects, only one of whom is in a position to be sending the police information by the final half-hour.

Systematic elimination of this sort is not necessarily a bad thing (and I’m sure it’s the sort of thing the police find themselves faced with all the time), but it’s slightly unsatisfying in a detective drama because it leaves the audience in a position of knowing who did it but not having the faintest clue why. It also provides us with information that the police themselves do not possess (the flashbacks), which in turn makes their unearthing of his/her identity a bit too convenient. When he/she does reveal his/her motives, during a particularly tense stand-off, they seem fairly pat (his/her reason for killing Sam’s friend is particularly anticlimactic) and don’t really lead to a satisfying conclusion. Far more interesting is why Annie Keel took the blame, and it’s this element that helps keep the episode above water.

Holby connections: a shedload. The writer, Simon Mirren, penned several episodes of Casualty during the Series 13-14 period, while the director, Robert Del Maestro, has helmed many episodes of both Casualty and Holby City over the years. The adult Sam Keel is played by Cal Macaninch, better known as DI John Keenan in Holby Blue, while Rakie Ayola (nurse Kyla Tyson in present day Holby City) has a semi-important role here as a prison officer.

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2008 at 3:33 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 3 and 4: The Blind Beggar


Written by John Milne; Directed by Robert Knights

Before reviewing the episodes themselves, I must take a minute to share with you the moment, about a third of the way into the second part, where I actually had to pause my DVD to allow myself a good old-fashioned chortle. The object of my derision was not this episode itself but rather the most recent series of Waking the Dead. You see, in Series 7, we finally get to meet Boyd’s son, who ran away at some point in the past and has been missing, presumed dead for several years. In Series 7, the character is called Luke.

In The Blind Beggar, Boyd calls him Joe.

At least ten times.

Savour that for a moment. Go on, re-read what I’ve just typed and think very hard about it. The disappearance of Boyd’s son is, understandably, an extremely significant moment in the character’s life and it has played a major role in defining his personality and his reasons for doing his job. And yet the people responsible for putting together the most recent series clearly considered it so trivial that they didn’t even bother to get the character’s name right. It’s no wonder Boyd’s personality has been so heavily mangled in recent years - if you can’t remember a simple name, what hope do you have of getting to grips with characterisation?

But I digress. The Blind Beggar stands out as a particularly good episode in the Waking the Dead canon. Slow to get going, this one tonally feels closer to an episode of Inspector Morse than your average Waking the Dead fare, with lots of slow, contemplative wanders through cloisters and incidental choral music. The plot deals with the discovery of a body during a routine excavation in the crypt of a Catholic church. The concealment of the body is dated to around the time that a previous excavation was carried out on the same area by a man named Gabriel Hare, who later appears to have committed suicide after being virtually excommunicated by the church’s incredibly nasty parishioner, Father Sebastian Stuart (Barry Morse).

Fairly quickly, it becomes apparent that the body is likely to be that of Nick Bowen, a young man who disappeared in 1982, at around the time of the initial excavation, but the story is considerably more complicated than it appears to be at face value. This is a confusing episode even by Waking the Dead’s standards, spinning a long and tortuous yarn through a close-knit community seemingly populated almost entirely by people with their own long-kept secrets and personal vendettas against each other. It’s a tribute to the writing of John Milne, who penned several episodes throughout the show’s classic period (Series 1-4), this it remains comprehensible despite the large cast of characters and convoluted family trees.

The episode also benefits from an excellent performance from guest star Annette Crosbie (Mrs. Victor Meldrew herself). The unwritten rule of Waking the Dead seems to be that the character played by the highest profile guest actor either did the killing or knows something about it (hence, when David Hemmings shows up in the second series, try as he might to keep his head down, he just doesn’t stand a chance), but the fun in this episode comes from working out precisely what Crosbie’s character knows or did. The character is multi-faceted and extremely conflicted, and it’s a testament to Crosbie’s performance that she remains sympathetic even when it becomes clear that she has behaved quite abominably.

Elsewhere, we get hints at Boyd’s disdain for religion: he tells us he only goes to church for “hatchings, matchings and dispatchings”, and reacts with barely disguised contempt when a priest wishes to reclaim various sacraments discovered with the body. Grace, incidentally, is portrayed here as a semi-lapsed Catholic, which hasn’t really been explored since despite there having been various opportunities to do so (I’m thinking particularly of the Series 5 storyline in which it is revealed that she had an abortion at some point in the 80s). It does, however, shed some light on he rather rigorous defence of religion in the Series 7 episode Skin when an irate Boyd postulates that the only difference between neo-Nazis and priests is the colour of their uniforms. (Yeah, you try to rationalise that one.)

Some choice dialogue, too, my favourite line being Frankie’s exclamation, while working in the church crypt, that she wants to take up smoking so she can have an excuse to go outside to shout and swear every once in a while.

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 8:16 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 1, Episodes 1 and 2: Burn Out


Written by Peter Jukes; Directed by Edward Bennett

The series proper begins, and the various alterations made after the pilot had aired are firmly in case. The status of Boyd’s son now conforms with the established canon, although the fact that it is stated that he would be 25 now (i.e. 2001) is somewhat at odds with the depiction of the character seven years later in the recently aired Series 7, in which the actor playing the re-emergent Luke Boyd couldn’t have been much more than that age. Still, that’s a complaint for my Series 7 reviews, which I’ll no doubt get on to at some point.

In any event, this first episode dwells to a considerable extent on the degree to which the loss of Boyd’s son is playing on his mind. The specifics of his disappearance are not elaborated on at this stage, with it simply being made clear that he is missing, presumed dead. Fitting, therefore, that, on what would be his son’s 25th birthday, he encounters a young woman, Marina Coleman, whose father supposedly burned to death in a car crash nine years ago, who is haunted by the man’s memory and believes that there is more to the case than either suicide or accidental death. Badgered into taking on the case by Marina, Boyd, who initially tells her that he doesn’t accept cases on request, becomes increasingly driven to solve this mystery, much to the annoyance of his team, who are being leaned on by Detective Assistant Commissioner Christie (Simon Kunz) to produce results.

Marina, by the way, is played by Angela Griffin, who portrayed nurse Jasmine Hopkins throughout the first three series of Holby City. Several other names crop up on both sides of the camera related to it and its parent show, Casualty, beyond the obvious example of series creator Barbara Machin, and Claire Goose (who, immediately prior to Waking the Dead, played nurse Tina Seabrook for three years in Casualty), and if I can remember I’ll point them out as they occur.

This episode’s greatest strength, the straightforwardness of the mystery, is also its greatest weakness. On the one hand, the pool of suspects is fairly small and the script doesn’t throw in any unreasonable twists out of left field, which means that, unlike some of the later episodes, you can actually make sense of this one on the first viewing. On the downside, I guessed what was going on a few minutes into the second hour, after which point it became slightly frustrating having to watch the team going around in circles. Boyd is remarkably slow to catch on to all of this - “I don’t understand,” he says at one point. Well, it’s not exactly rocket science, and if I was DAC Christie I wouldn’t consider the amount of time it took the case to be solved as much of an incentive to keep the Cold Case Unit afloat.

In addition to laying much of the groundwork as regards Boyd’s son, we also get something of a hint of the sheer nastiness of which the character is capable when he tells a suspect, with some glee, that the team is about to exhume his brother’s body, and then proceeds, with total calm, to tear him to pieces by completely stripping him of his worth. In many ways, this earlier, calmer Boyd is actually more disturbing than the later one who rants and raves and throws his weight about, because he is so deceptively polite.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, I really enjoy the interaction between the team, and the sense of camaraderie that exists between them - something which is almost completely absent in the more recent episodes, where no-one seems to have a sense of humour. The jubilation they experience over cracking a particularly tough case is quite infectious, and the dinner scene between Boyd and Grace is very nice too. All in all, a good start to the series, if an unspectacular one.

Posted: Sunday, June 08, 2008 at 9:47 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead



One of the more annoying aspects of any new home entertainment format is that the studios have an unfortunate habit of releasing their less than stellar titles before their classics. Such was the case with 20th Century Fox, who rather bafflingly chose the 2006 remake of The Omen, a execrable little film about which I have already written in some detail, as one of their Blu-ray launch titles. At the time, I was a little peeved, to say the least, that this woeful excuse for filmmaking had been given the 1080p treatment while the original, in my opinion a horror classic, continued to languish in the standard definition pit.

Luckily, Fox have seen the error of their ways and have just announced an Omenistic extravaganza for this September. In addition to a standalone Blu-ray release of the original (and best) The Omen, they will also be putting out a box set containing the horrid remake and the less than stunning sequels, Damien: Omen II and The Final Conflict (the hilariously dreadful third sequel, the TV-originated Omen IV: The Awakening, is, perhaps mercifully, nowhere to be found).

Provided Fox doesn’t cancel or postpone this release, as they have a habit of doing, this should be one of my key purchases this year. I make no bones about the fact that I think The Omen is a magnificent film, easily my favourite of the “Big Three” US horror films of the late 60s and 70s (although I concede that The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby are technically “better” films). I doubt I shall be bothering with the box set - an RRP of $129.98 is a bit steep for one classic, one turd and two hack jobs of limited value - but the stand-alone release should go down a treat this Halloween.

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2008 at 7:18 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | TV

Waking the Dead: Pilot


Written by Barbara Machin; Directed by Martin Hutchings

The two-part pilot episode aired almost a year before the series itself, and feels very much like a dry run. Not in the sense that it’s inferior to what followed, but because it clearly serves as an opportunity to test the waters by experimenting with the various parameters. Several elements were changed between the pilot and the first episode of Series 1: among them, fairly minor details like Mel’s surname (Silverman in the pilot, Silver in the series) and the music and title sequence, the familiar Joe Campbell composition not having yet been adopted. More significantly, elements of the characters’ lives shown in this episode directly contradict what we learn in the series itself. This is particularly true of Boyd, who, in the pilot, is still with his wife, with whom he has a baby, Matt. (In the series, Boyd and his wife are separated, and their son, Luke, is considerably older and is missing presumed dead. Actually, if you want, an argument could be made that Boyd does in fact have two sons, but I’m not sure how theoretically possible that would be.)

The pilot sets the tone by dealing with a case which has personal significance for Boyd. Several years ago, he was the investigating officer in the kidnap of a teenage girl. The girl was raped and then murdered, and the press announcement that Boyd has re-opened the case prompts the original attacker, Jimmy Marshall (Finbar Lynch), to abduct another girl, Jodie Whitemoor (Amelia Warner). By cross-cutting between scenes with Jimmy and Jodie, and the investigation itself, a considerable amount of tension is built up, exacerbated by our knowledge of how the previous case, the obvious template for this one, ended. To a degree, Boyd’s personal involvement feels ever so slightly contrived, but it’s an effective way to introduce the characters and the formula, and, in the second part, when it becomes clear that Marshall’s plans for Boyd go far beyond making him relive his previous failure, things (without giving too much away for first-timers) become even more personal.

Interestingly enough, Boyd, who, in the series, clearly believes in the “he who shouts loudest” mantra, is quite an understated presence here, quiet and contemplative, and actually diffusing rather than causing any arguments that break out among the team. Most of the conflict comes from the protocol-obsessed Frankie and her dealings with Spence, who is more concerned with the feelings of the dead girl’s relatives than with following the book. (Their opposing attitudes towards an exhumation raise some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas.) In later episodes, Boyd would become Frankie’s sparring partner, which in a sense is a shame, because I always felt Spence was the least interesting of the core cast, and confrontations such as the ones he has with Frankie in the pilot hint at a more interesting personality than we would end up with as the series progressed.

Holby connections: the director, Martin Hutchings, has helmed episodes of all three Holby shows, including the pilot episodes of both Holby City and Holby Blue. Additionally, David Sterne (Mac in Holby Blue) has a very brief appearance in this episode as a shopkeeper.

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2008 at 11:02 PM
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

The Waking the Dead Project

The original Waking the Dead team. From left to right: Boyd, Frankie, Grace, Spence and Mel.

Above: The original Waking the Dead team. From left to right: Boyd, Frankie, Grace, Spence and Mel.

I’ve mentioned once or twice already that I was going to do a Waking the Dead project, similar to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer project I did a couple of years back and which nearly broke my will and sanity. 144 episodes of any television programme is a lot, but the number seems particularly high when you consider that the final two seasons, 44 episodes’ worth of material, were at times pretty appalling. Luckily, Waking the Dead has two things in its favour. Number one, there have, to date, been only 74 episodes (including the two-part pilot). Number two, while the later series have, in my opinion, not been of the same standard as the earlier ones, the show has never plumbed the same depths as Buffy at its worst.

The main failing of my Buffy project was the perspective from which I wrote it. Essentially, I wrote as a fan talking to other fans, and therefore didn’t take account of the fact that not everyone reading my ramblings would be as intimately familiar with the series, characters and storylines as I was. I didn’t make it easy for people to understand what I was talking about, and I suspect I probably didn’t convince anyone unfamiliar with the show to check it out either. It would be a shame if I didn’t persuade anyone to give Waking the Dead a whirl - I think it’s a very good series, and if I thought otherwise I wouldn’t be attempting this project - so right off the bat I’m going to do my best to make things a bit more accessible this time round.

To briefly explain what this is all about, Waking the Dead is the creation of a writer named Barbara Machin. Hers is not exactly a household name, but it’s one with which I’m familiar because it appeared at the beginning of many an episode of Casualty between 1990 and 1998. The episodes she wrote for the medical drama stand out as being among the best, often due to her seeming fascination with mental disorders and her attempts to get inside the minds of those so afflicted.

Waking the Dead’s concept is that of “cold cases”, i.e. police investigations that have been shelved or thought to have been closed but which have been opened up due to new evidence coming to light, or because it is thought that the advanced forensic and profiling systems available in the 21st century may shed new light on old material. The idea is not necessarily groundbreaking, and seems even less so when you consider the existence of American-originated shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Cold Case (both of which, I feel compelled to point out, came along after Waking the Dead), but it’s a good one, I think, because it allows the programme’s writers to cherry-pick from virtually any period in recent history. Each investigation tends to challenge the viewer’s ability to keep track of the various ongoing strands and suspects, although it has at times drawn criticism (from people including myself) for being overly convoluted for its own sake.

What, for me, however, makes the early episodes of this show so enjoyable is the interaction between the Cold Case Unit. There are five core members of the team, three of whom have been present for all (so far) seven series. The man at the centre is Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd (Trevor Eve), a driven, moody and at times baffling man who, taking a page right out of the Detective Clichés Handbook, sometimes breaks the rules or acts like a jerk but gets results. Working under him are DS (later DI) Spencer Jordan (Wil Johnson) and DC (later DS) Amelia “Mel” Silver (Claire Goose), who find their boss’ behaviour strange and a bit alarming at times, but grit their teeth and put up with his mood swings because they know from experience that his slightly unorthodox methods work. Joining them is Dr. Grace Foley (Sue Johnston), a psychological profiler who, it has been suggested to me, is the audience’s main point of identification because she is the level-headed one who often diffuses Boyd’s temper tantrums and smoothes out discord within the team. (She also happens to be my favourite character for reasons that I’m sure to discuss in my episode reviews.) The final player is Dr. Frankie Wharton (Holly Aird), a forensic scientist and someone who is somewhat on the periphery of the team, something which is emphasised fairly often in the earlier episodes by portraying her as feeling marginalised and out of the loop. Frankie is every bit as obsessive about her work as Boyd, spending seemingly every waking hour in her lab, but she is able to keep her head in a way that Boyd isn’t.

The format of the series stays more or less the same, generally opening with a crime taking place or a new piece of evidence being discovered. From then on, the team and the audience are introduced to the evidence and an array of suspects, with the investigation being teased out over the course of two one-hour episodes. Each two-parter tells a self-contained story, although in the last couple of years some attempted has been made to thread either a similar theme or an ongoing story arc throughout each series. Sometimes the episodes take the form of a whodunit; on other occasions, the audience is in on the culprit’s identity while the team is in the dark. Occasionally, there is an obvious suspect and the storyline consists of the team building the case against him/her. What does, for the most part, remain consistent is that, broadly speaking, we only see the team in the context of their job. There have been exceptions, particularly in the pilot and in the most recent series, but Waking the Dead is, by and large, devoid of soap opera, which is definitely appreciated given the TV crime drama genre’s tendency to combine the professional with the private.

Without further ado, it’s time for me to crack on with the first review…

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2008 at 10:37 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

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