Waking the Dead

 
 

 
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The dead will continue to waken

Waking the Dead

For various reasons, one of which is the total sense of apathy I’m feeling after completing Series 6, my Waking the Dead project has stalled. I intend to get back to it before too long, but for the time being I direct you to the web site of my good friend the Baron, who offers his take on the pilot episode and Series 1.

By the way, once I’ve finished the Waking the Dead project (or, I should say, taken it as far as it can currently go, given that Series 8 is at this very moment in production), I’ll be turning my attention back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and attempting to write a proper review of the series as a whole. I won’t be watching all 144 episodes again (I think that would be enough to finish me off completely), but rather providing a summary of my thoughts on the show aimed at those who haven’t necessarily watched it themselves - a definite failing in my Buffy project from a few years back.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead | Web
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 11 and 12: Yahrzeit

DVD

Written by Declan Croghan; Directed by Tim Fywell

We finally come to the final episode of Series 6. It’s been a long trawl, and at times has felt like a chore, but at least we get a half-decent episode to finish off the season. This one finally brings to a head the “Mel’s bracelet” plot that has been simmering in the background throughout the series, and it does an interesting job of finally bringing Boyd to properly acknowledge her death, while as the same time concocting an interesting tale around the murder of a young girl in a London backstreet in 1945. We kick off with a ceremonial Nazi dagger being delivered in a package addressed to Mel at CCHQ, with the plot thickening when it is discovered to have originated from a derelict house once occupied by the Dusniaks, a family of Polish-Jewish refugees who settled there at around the time of the young girl’s death. The dagger is discovered to be the murder weapon, and as a result Boyd launches an investigation into the Dusniaks, unearthing a whole lot of secrets that certain members of the family would prefer to remain hidden.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out why it is that this episode works better then the rest of series, and the best explanation I can really come up with is that it presents us with a tangible idea. Most of the cases this series have been rather oblique, exhibiting a strange ethereality and dealing with vague ideas, more often than not focusing more on trippy hallucinations and flashbacks and less on deduction. Yahrzeit’s story is not only a concrete one but a deeply emotive one, using the backdrop of Josef Mengele’s experiments on children under the Third Reich and spinning a complicated web involving subterfuge identity theft. The puzzle at the heart of the episode isn’t particularly hard to work out, though. Once an elderly man in the throes of dementia who is supposedly a Polish Jew starts wittering away in German and calling his grandson by the wrong name it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and this is only compounded when his daughter begins waxing lyrical about her life in Panama and attempts to spirit him away there, before admitting defeat and providing him with a cyanide pill when the police start asking awkward questions. Still, the plot is at least well-concocted, and, as is often the case with Waking the Dead mysteries, the fun lies in trying to work out the specifics of who did what to who and why rather than the broad whodunit.

Not that I’d class this as a particularly “fun” episode. Indeed, given the subject matter, it’s understandably bleak, albeit ending on a note of optimism that I must say feels a tad forced. Much of this has less to do with the central mystery itself and is more concerned with Sarah (Michelle Forbes), a mysterious American woman who enters the picture as a nuisance and ends up canoodling with Boyd in front of an uproariously unconvincing blue-screen New York backdrop. Sarah is in fact a Mossad agent, and was communicating with Mel just prior to her death. To go into specifics would be to give the game away, and would probably be rather boring to read, but it’s not spoiling too much to reveal that, despite Mossad being illegal in the UK, Boyd allows her to swan around with the rest of the team, make key decisions as regards the investigation and generally act like a snotty bitch. Michelle is a rather loathsome character, and it’s a little too much to swallow that the thoroughly dictatorial Boyd would tolerate her, let alone enter into a relationship with her. (I also have trouble processing the image of her and Mel being friends, but there you go.)

Incidentally, in this episode, we are told that Mel was attempting to trace her Jewish roots prior to her death. Given that Mel was almost certainly not Jewish by birth (as revealed in the Series 4 episode Fugue States, she was born Mary Price and adopted as a baby), I’m not entirely convinced by the use of the word “roots”, but then again, I suppose you can argue that it fits with the “you are who you choose to be” message that the writer clumsily shoehorns into Boyd’s dialogue towards the end. Personally, I’m more content to see this as nothing more than a continuity gaffe, albeit a minor one compared to the clunker the writers drop in the next series in the form of Boyd’s son.

“Yahrzeit”, by the way, is a Hebrew word, meaning the anniversary of a relative, commemorated by the lighting of a candle for the deceased and the reciting of religious text. Thematically, it’s a very appropriate title for the episode.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 10:06 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 9 and 10: Double Bind

DVD

Written by Richard Warlow; Directed by Andy Hay

Confession time: the first time this episode aired, I gave up on it at the end of the first part. That, for me, is incredibly rare. Generally, if I start watching a show, I stick with it, especially if it’s part of a long-running series I’ve been following since the beginning. For whatever reason, though, something about this episode served to distance me from it so much that I just couldn’t continue with it. Maybe it was the dizzying jump cuts, time lapse photography and clumsily “trippy” scenes. Maybe it was Miles Anderson running around gurning like a ninny and doing a piss-poor job of portraying a man off his face on LSD. Maybe it was the fact that Grace barely appears in the episode. Or maybe it was because I was feeling under the weather at the time - I can’t actually remember.

The point is that something about this episode was so unpalatable to me that I did something I almost never do. What makes this double strange is that, watching it for a second time, and actually watching both parts instead of just the first, I didn’t get the same feeling of revulsion or apathy (whichever it was). For reasons that I’ll go into in a moment, this is not a particularly good episode, but it’s far from the worst of the season or indeed the series as a whole. Basically, the story goes that, as a teenagers, Daniel Lennon (Miles Anderson) stabbed both his parents to death and has spent his entire life since then incarcerated in a psychiatric unit. One day, on the way back from a trip to the ophthalmologist with his psychiatrist, Dr. Caroline Ritter (Jill Baker), he forces the car off the road and, in the confusion, escapes. The first thing he does is to log on in an Internet café and send an email to the owners of a house in Hampstead, telling them to dig up their flowerbed. Surprise, surprise, there’s a body buried there, and a post-mortem reveals that the death is likely to have taken place weeks before Lennon killed his parents. Is he another of Lennon’s victims, or is (in Waking the Dead tradition) more going on than meets the eye? Meanwhile, Grace has had enough of Boyd’s erratic behaviour and, declaring that she can’t work with him any more, walks out on the team.

I’m still not entirely sure why Grace was all but written out of this two-parter. In terms of characterisation, it makes sense for her to walk out, and it actually comes as something of a pleasant surprise to hear her finally telling Boyd that enough is enough. The problem is that it’s never resolved. Grace leaves, comes back briefly (in Part 2) to interview a key witness, then leaves again, but come the next episode, it’s as if nothing ever happened. As someone who stuck with the show for so long because I enjoyed the characters and their interaction, this feels like a complete slap in the face. Okay, I’ll grant you, there is some nice writing here and there, with the team’s discussions often petering out or reaching dead ends because, without Grace there to provide the psychological perspective, a vital component of what makes them work is missing. It’s also mildly amusing to see Boyd rooting around in Grace’s office, pouring over some of her textbooks and trying to figure out the psych angle himself, but, bereft of the character, the show feels remarkably empty.

The central mystery that is the focus of the episode can’t make up for this lack either. While it starts out reasonably promising, with Part 1 raising numerous questions and the web of clues and suspects suitably tortuous, the pay-off simply doesn’t justify the setup. To be blunt, the explanation to the mystery is utterly mundane, meaning that the journey to get there hardly feels worthwhile. Oh, and a certain character’s identity, a major issue particularly in the second part, is staggeringly obvious you wonder why the writers even bothered trying to set it up as a puzzle.

On a side note, my reviews have now caught up with my viewing. Now I just need to watch Yahrzeit and Series 6 will be done and dusted. I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see the back of it.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 1:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 7 and 8: Mask of Sanity

DVD

Written by Laurence Davey and Declan Croghan; Directed by David Thacker

James Jenson (Nicholas Beveney) is released from the secure psychiatric unit in which he has spent the last 20 years. Prior to being incarcerated, he was the prime suspect in the murders of three men connected to the children’s home in which he grew up, but was deemed unfit to stand trial. On the day of his release, however, the widow of one of his victims receives a package containing the wallets belonging to each of the three dead men. Boyd reopens the investigation and, in the process, digs up a veritable hornet’s nest in the form of a catalogue of abuse surrounding the children’s home, of which James was but one of many victims. Were the murdered men the perpetrators of this abuse and were their killings acts of revenge carried out by their victims, or is there more to the case than meets the eye?

Mask of Sanity is far from the worst episode of Waking the Dead, but it is an incredibly derivative one. The theme of the institutionalied abuse of children was already handled with far more panache, and indeed by the same director, in the Series 3 episode Breaking Glass. Here, we have an unusually generic tale that essentially plods from plot point to plot point, and not always particularly convincingly, offering up a portrait of cruelty that somehow manages to be both quite harrowing and utterly mundane at the same time. None of the various characters paraded before us, or their tortuous web of relationships, are particularly interesting, and the unravelling of the mystery itself is played out in such a way as to leave this episode virtually indistinguishable from that of any other halfway competent detective drama.

I should probably also mention that, in this episode, Boyd’s behaviour towards the rest of his team, particularly Grace, becomes utterly despicable. In the early years, Boyd’s temper was like an ever-present fuse just waiting to be lit, and his flare-ups were generally interesting to watch. Here, however, there’s no rhyme or reason to the way he treats his colleagues or his suspects, repeatedly undermining Grace in incredibly demeaning ways and, early on, deliberately goading a clearly frightened and mentally deficient suspect into committing an act of violence. This sort of behaviour has gone beyond ever being charming and now just seems mean-spirited.

Oh yeah, and, with this episode, my dad, who is suffering through this project with me, commented: “Is it just me or are they [i.e. the writers] trying to make Spence look as stupid as possible?” I think he may be right. By this stage, the character has all but stopped ceased to function as an actual person and is now relegated to merely being the dim-witted, bumbling plod who constantly loses suspects he’s supposed to be tailing or gets himself beaten up by thugs when he blunders into their path.

Holby connections: until recently, Richard Dillane (Ricardo Rivelli) had a recurring role in Casualty as orthopaedic consultant Sean Anderson.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 5:35 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 5 and 6: The Fall

DVD

Written by Damian Wayling; Directed by Robert Bierman

The conjoined corpses of a man and a woman, shot dead with the same bullet during a sex act, are discovered when the floor of a concealed room gives ways in a former City bank, which went down the tubes in the aftermath of 1992’s Black Wednesday. The man is identified as Mervyn Simmel (Nigel Whitmey), one of the bank’s directors, while the woman turns out to be Katherine Keane (Alison Doody), a journalist known for having a string of affairs with wealthy older men, many of whom hold down prominent government positions. The team’s investigation reveals several potential suspects, one of whom, Lucien Calvin (Peter Capaldi), a former partner at the bank, now clearly deranged and lecturing on the evils of capitalism, seems to be the likeliest.

This episode is undoubtedly a step up from its dire predecessor, but, watching it, one gets the impression that the writer relied a little too heavily on The Da Vinci Code for inspiration - not a good state of affairs by any stretch of the imagination. What this means is that, while Peter Boyd is a considerably more interesting character than Robert Langton (not that it’s difficult to be more interesting than Robert Langton), he does spend rather a lot of time chasing self-flagellating members of a secret society - yet another secret society with the spectre of religion hanging over it, which, hot on the heels of Wren Boys’ sinister nunnery and Deus Ex Machina’s Islamic overtones, means that things are beginning to feel a bit samey.

The highlight of this episode is undoubtedly Peter Capaldi, a fantastic character actor who plays the character of Calvin brilliantly, imbuing him with just the right mix of eccentricity and sinisterness. In the scenes in which he appears, the episode comes alive, and his interaction with Boyd and Grace is fascinating on many levels. In the most straightforward sense, it’s a pleasure to watch three extremely talented actors playing off each other; on a deeper level, writer Damian Wayling weaves a fascinating “family” undercurrent, with Boyd and Grace fairly obviously serving, in Calvin’s eyes, as surrogates for his own domineering father and docile mother, respectively. In Series 6 and 7 there is, on the whole, very little of the Boyd/Grace dynamic that helped make the first five series so enjoyable, so it’s very nice to see it making a welcome, albeit brief, return here.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 4:52 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 3 and 4: Deus Ex Machina

DVD

Written by Nicholas Blincoe; Directed by Andy Hay

This episode manages quite a remarkable feat: on the one hand, it’s completely different from any other episode of Waking the Dead ever aired; on the other, it totally forgettable. It plods along to its conclusion, going in one ear and out the other, leaving no lasting impression. The plot is an odd one that doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the series, clumsily roping Boyd and co into recovering the Skull of the Mahdi, an artefact taken from Sudan as a war trophy more than a century ago, when a prominent Sudanese politician, Khaled Ahmed (Abdi Gouhad), goes on hunger strike. The team are also tasked with re-investigating the murder of an Iraqi refugee, Omar Jaffiri (Hassani Shapi), whose death may be related to the case of the skull. Along the way, they come across the Fakir society, a crowd of pretentious academics who like to dress up in robes and perform bizarre, masonic-like rituals.

Struggling to put my finger on just why this episode left me so cold, I popped over to the BBC’s official Waking the Dead web site and took a gander at the various user reviews that had been submitted. One writer, Ian Gould, hit the nail on the head:

There were too many loose ends and the first part gave the viewer no ideas at all. I expect to be confused but this was beyond confusion, almost bordering on boredom.

[…]

The top and bottom of this episode is that it was based on three ideas of interrogation and that seemed to be the whole plot. I have never been disappointed with this excellent programme before but this particular episode was rubbish.

I apologise for using another viewer’s review in place of my own, but this simply demonstrates how much of a non-entity this episode was for me. Barring some striking images injected by the director, among them Eve’s physical reconstruction of the scene of Jaffiri’s murder, which mixes the past with the present in a manner reminiscent of Series 3’s vastly superior Breaking Glass, I can’t recall a single memorable moment in the storyline’s entire two-hour duration. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I actually watched the episode (I’m currently playing catch-up with my reviews), but I didn’t in any way feel compelled to revisit it. When it aired it was, by a considerable margin, the worst Waking the Dead episode to date, and while I feel that the next season’s Wounds was even poorer, there’s not really all that much between them.

Holby connections: in addition to his appearance in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, Adam James (Michael Leonard in this episode) had a recurring role in Casualty as lawyer-cum-rapist Pete Guildford during Series 19.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 1 and 2: Wren Boys

DVD

Written by Declan Croghan; Directed by Tim Fywell

For some reason, no episodes of Waking the Dead aired in 2006. When Series 6 finally came round, in January 2007, around 16 months had passed since the end of Series 5. The show came back with a new producer, Colin Wratten (who came from EastEnders and, before that, Holby City), a new lead writer, Declan Croghan, and a new pathologist, played by Tara Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, while Waking the Dead doesn’t have much in common with the previous show I did a full run through, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they do share one trait: both go off the rails in their sixth season.

Admittedly, Peter Boyd’s fall from grace is considerably less drastic than Buffy Summers’. Even at its worst, Waking the Dead still manages to retain a veneer of respectability, and I could never claim that these episodes are badly made (whereas some of the latter-day Buffy episodes were shockingly poorly written and directed). Instead, they just tend to feel rather empty, going from Point A to Point B, going through the motions but leaving no real lasting impression. One of the biggest losses come Season 6 is the team feeling that permeated the earlier episodes. Series 5 had its work cut out, having to make do without two of the five original characters, but it somehow managed to pull through, retaining the dynamic between the three remaining regulars and working hard to integrate the two newcomers. Such traits are not in evidence by Series 6. By and large, the characters behave like automatons, the interplay between them feels forced, and they function less as a team and more as a collection of people clocking in and out of the office.

It doesn’t help that the writers seem intent on ignoring any previously established continuity. Their biggest faux pas would come with Series 7 (which I’ll discuss when I get that far), but for now, the wheels are already being set in motion. Stella’s betrayal at the end of the previous series is never even mentioned, while Spence’s brush with death, which provided the cliffhanger between the two series, is brushed aside in a single reference to him having had a tattoo painted around his bullet wound. Seeing him laughing and joking about this with Stella, who played a part in his brush with death, is such a blatant breach of continuity that I find it nearly impossible to forgive. The fact that Felix is never once mentioned is also hard to swallow, although admittedly not entirely surprising, particularly if, as I suspect, she was only ever intended as a last-minute temporary replacement for Frankie.

Unfortunately, the new pathologist, Eve Lockhart, just makes us yearn all the more for her predecessors. The writers are at great pains to ram down our throats the fact that the character is alternative and wacky, smoking foul-smelling cigarettes, burning incense in the lab, listening to reggae music at crime scenes, and so on. Unfortunately, the actress, Tara Fitzgerald, may be many things, but “wacky” is not one of them. Her attempts to be so come across as completely forced, and all too often end up veering towards “annoying” rather than the “charming” that I suspect the writers were going for. At least, however, she is a little more animated in these opening episodes than she would later become: come Series 7, she would barely alter her facial expression and tone of delivery at all. Her major gimmick, aside from her insincere wackiness and amazingly deep voice, is that she keeps a “body farm” consisting of a bank of old body parts, which sounds interesting in theory but in practice is only ever referred to a couple of times.

Anyway, the series begins with what is probably the least impressive episode of Waking the Dead to date. There was worse to come, but I remember the massive disappointment I felt when this two-parter initially aired a couple of years back. The basic plot is that the team are investigating the case of a teenage boy found drowned in a pit of concrete back in 1990. A teenage boy is dumped outside a Casualty department, badly beaten, and Boyd suspects there may be a connection. (I actually can’t remember what it is that causes him to suspect this, which says a lot about how much of an impact the storyline made on me.) This leads him and the team to investigate the community of travellers from which the boy came, along the way taking in the sights of a local abbey and a young nun apparently suffering from stigmata.

This episode does actually have a rather interesting theme: the combination of pagan and Christian beliefs and rituals. As far as I can gather, it’s a pretty accurate representation of the religious beliefs held in many traveller communities, harking back to the latter days of the Roman Empire’s occupation of Britain, when the occupying forces concluded that the easiest way to convert the local tribes to Christianity was to mix the doctrine in with their existing pagan traditions, resulting in (to quote Bremner, Bird & Fortune’s piss-take of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams) “an à la carte religion”. At the same time, though, I think that the episode’s greatest failing is that there are simply too many ideas scrambling for attention, resulting in it feeling incredibly disjointed and not very satisfying as a whole. In addition to the exploration of the travellers and their beliefs, we’ve got stigmata, hallucinogenics, Rottweilers straight out of The Omen, a goat demon who seems to have stepped straight out of Hammer’s adaptation of The Devil Rides Out, arranged fights which clearly own something of a debt to David Fincher’s Fight Club, a family tree as complicated as a spaghetti junction, a young mother offering her unwanted newborn child up to a benevolent angel (no, really), and the curious arrival of an envelope addressed to Mel containing a bracelet inscribed with Hebrew letters. The latter sets up a plot strand which is actually carried through the entire season before finally coming to a head in the final episode, Yahrzeit. I’d like to say that this storyline, which hearkens back to the good old days, provides a sense of continuity to the series and resolves Boyd’s feelings as regards Mel’s death, but I’m sorry to say that, for me at least, this is something that should have been done in Series 5 if at all. Barely mentioning Mel in that series and then taking up the storyline again over a year later, while introducing some whopping continuity errors in the process (more on that later), merely cements my ambivalence towards this season.

Holby connections: Gregory Foreman (Davy in this episode) has appeared in Casualty at various points in Series 22 as Charlie Fairhead’s son, Louis.

 
Posted: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 3:17 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 11 and 12: Cold Fusion

DVD

Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Richard Standeven

Series 5 draws to a close, and like Series 4 before it, it’s the end of an era. The casualties this time are long-serving producer Richard Burrell and lead writer Ed Whitmore, who both leave to do other things, and poor Esther Hall, who receives an even less auspicious exit than Holly Aird (whose at least got a brief mention in a conversation following her departure). It also closes on Waking the Dead’s first and to date only end-of-series cliffhanger, and an absolute whopper it is too - a situation made all the more frustrating by the fact that, back when it originally aired, we actually had to wait about 16 months for Series 6, only for it to be addressed in the lamest, more throwaway manner possible (more on that when I get on to reviewing Series 6).

Still, as season finales go, it’s a good one, thanks mainly to the “no holds barred” quality it has. With Mel’s death at the end of the previous series, we were shown that the regulars were by no means safe from harm, and so, when the lives of two of the main characters come under threat in this episode, we genuinely fear for them. At the heart of it all is Spence, who as I’ve mentioned before is, in my opinion, the least interesting of the original cast of five. He’s at his best in episodes that delve into his past (see also Series 3’s Final Cut), because they tend to be the only occasions on which he stops simply being a plod and is allowed to exist as an actual character. Here, in the classic “wrong man” tradition, he finds himself suspected of everything from destroying evidence to cold-blooded murder when vital evidence pertaining to a case he worked on as a uniformed PC back in the 80s goes missing from CCHQ (his pass having been used to gain access to the storage room), followed almost immediately by an arson attack on Central Lab in which further evidence pertaining to the case is lost.

Yeah, after watching the character for five years (six if you count the pilot), I’d find it a bit hard to swallow if he truly was corrupt, but that’s where the episode’s central twist lies. Again, I’d prefer not to give it away to those who are considering watching the series, so for the time being I’ll just say that someone on the team is involved in shady goings-on which have led to this situation, but aren’t fully aware of what they’ve got themselves involved in. As far as twists go, it’s a pretty good one, even if long-term viewers are unlikely to have any trouble fingering the culprit. Either way, it doesn’t really matter: the final half-hour is nail-biting stuff, and the cliffhanger I mentioned before could have been so good if the new regime that came in with the next series hadn’t completely dropped the ball.

 
Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009 at 5:21 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 9 and 10: Undertow

DVD

Written by Oliver Brown; Directed by David Thacker

Undertow is actually a rather better episode than I’d remembered, but it still suffers from the problem that plagues the other Series 5 episodes that don’t focus specifically on the past of one of the main characters: it seems almost like filler, as if the writers were really excited about delving into regulars’ back-stories and were simply treading water with the episodes in between. Here, the chance activation of the credit card of a murder victim sets in motion a chain of events that leads the team to suspect Steven Hunt (Stephen Moyer), a man currently serving the final stretch of a prison sentence for benefit fraud, of a series of past murders and attempted rapes. Lacking sufficient evidence, and meeting only hostility from Hunt and his family, Boyd decides to have him tailed when he is released, hoping he slips up and they get the evidence they need to pin on him before he finds his next victim.

As with Subterraneans, there’s no real effort made to conceal the killer’s identity: if there isn’t a giant sign saying “Guilty!” over Hunt’s head the moment he is introduced, then it’s well and truly lit up and flashing in neon by the one-hour mark. It’s not a negative as such, but it’s the second storyline of this season to follow such a formula, although at least this time round the audience isn’t constantly several steps ahead of the police. Actually, the writer of this episode does a rather good job of exploiting the team’s frustration at being 99% sure of the culprit’s identity but unable to do anything about it. For me personally, the most interesting aspect of the storyline was Grace’s use of the geography of the various attacks to help work out the killer’s identity, working from the hypothesis that most people don’t go further afield than they have to.

That said, particularly in the second half, things get a bit farcical, with Boyd first trying to drown Hunt, much to Grace’s consternation (“Why didn’t you just slap him about like you usually do?” she demands frostily - me thinks someone somewhere is taking the piss), and then agreeing to a completely asinine entrapment scam with Stella as Hunt’s bait. (We’re supposed to believe that, despite having been tasked with tailing him in the most obvious manner imaginable, Hunt isn’t going to recognise Stella as part of the police force.) As such, we end up in a situation where Part 1 is superior to Part 2, a problem which also plagued the two previous storylines in this series. I don’t dislike this episode by any means. The interplay between the team is still as good as ever, and the banter is often highly amusing, but it’s a minor effort overall.

 
Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 7 and 8: Straw Dog

DVD

Written by Declan Croghan; Directed by Jim O’Hanlon

“Look, we’re not monsters, Sarah.” - Detective Constable Stella Goodman
“Speak for yourself.” - Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd

The following year, Declan Croghan would become Waking the Dead’s lead writer, presumably based on the strengths of this two-parter, which stands out as being by far the best of Series 5. Beyond any great flair in the writing however, this is Sue Johnston’s chance to shine as Grace, for once, steps into the spotlight to become the focus of an entire story. The backdrop is the first case she ever worked on with the police, back in 1980 - a particularly nasty affair involving a serial killer who chopped off his victims’ fingers and sent them to the senior investigating officer, DI Harry Taylor (Tom Ellis). In the present day, the man convicted for the murders, Tony Greene (David Norman), alleges that his confession was beaten out of him, with Grace softening him up psychologically before turning him over to Harry, a man with a suspiciously high rate of success in securing confessions. During the retrial, at which Grace is giving evidence, another victim is abducted and one of his fingers sent to CCHQ, along with a demand that Grace admit that Greene is innocent. As a result, Grace is forced to come face to face with her past and consider that what she remembers as a triumphant first success may in fact have involved her playing an unwitting role in a case of corruption.

Incidentally, at one point in the past I suggested that this episode contradicted an earlier mention by Grace of “kids she never sees” by implying that she never married or having children. Watching it again now, I don’t think it’s quite as clear-cut as this. Yes, it’s true that the scene in question, where Grace strongly urges Felix to have children if she gets the chance, does hint at a sense of longing on Grace’s part, but it’s far from conclusive. (And let’s not forget that she is shown to be wearing a wedding ring throughout. Actually, wait a minute - that in itself creates another inconsistency, as in the final episode of Series 2, Grace stated that her marriage didn’t last.) This scene, by the way, is a very good one, sensitively written and well acted by Sue Johnston and Esther Hall. Material like this would become increasingly less common by Series 6, so it’s very much appreciated here. Equally effective is the scene at the end of the first part, where Grace speaks directly to the abductor via the press. In fact, it’s possibly my all-time favourite moment in the history of the series: the writing has a simple but powerful quality, and the combination of the music and acting succeeds in taking it to another level entirely.

More than any other episode of Waking the Dead, this one relies very heavily on flashbacks, telling two concurrent stories - one in the past and one in the present. Once you get past the fact that the 1980 incarnation of Grace (Emma Lowndes, who otherwise does an impeccable job of mimicking Sue Johnston’s inflections and accent) looks a little too young (that, or the present-day incarnation looks a little too old), it’s possible to appreciate the rather effective recreation of a bygone period, with keen attention to the costume and production design. I’m also impressed by the fact that Croghan was able to create a convincing past for Grace which helps flesh out her character without detracting from or overly contradicting what we already knew about her. What lets the episode down, though, is the killer’s identity. I’d prefer not to spoil things too much for those who haven’t seen it, but let’s just say that it’s a predictable old cliché that reinforces a certain stereotype often perpetuated in films and television programmes about serial killers. It’s not enough to sour things completely, but it does mean that the denouement is less impressive than the setup. Even so, it’s the last of the truly great Waking the Deads, in my opinion. From this point on, possibly only Yahrzeit and Skin can hold a candle to what came before.

By the way, I apologise for having left this project hanging in the lurch for so long. I fully intend to complete it… provided I can work up the stamina to sit through the remainder of Series 6, that is.

Holby connections: director Jim O’Hanlon has helmed several episodes of Casualty and also wrote one episode in 2004.

 
Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009 at 11:42 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 5 and 6: Subterraneans

DVD

Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Michael Offer

“We’ve all had days like that, haven’t we? You make one small mistake, and because of that you make a bigger one. You leave your wallet by the bed. Then you go up to get it. You trip over the rug, you break your leg. Next thing you know, you’re in hospital with a fatal infection. Just because you forgot your wallet.” - Dr. Nick Henderson

After a slightly rocky start, Series 5 finally hits its stride with a solid if not entirely remarkable case which doesn’t have to worry about introducing any new characters or airing the dirty laundry of those that are already established. The story here is that of Michael Sharman (Alexis Conran), a millionaire businessman who simply vanished a year ago. By chance, his body is found locked in the cellar of an old munitions factory, the evidence suggesting that he had been kept alive by his captor for several months, despite no ransom having ever been demanded. A chain of events leads the team to Sharman’s former neighbour, Nick Henderson (Toby Stephens), a celebrated scientist leading a bizarre double life.

Fairly early on in the game, it becomes abundantly clear that Henderson is as guilty as they come, partly because of the evidence against him and partly because we, the audience, are granted intimate access to his daily activities, which include lying to his wife (Nicola Stephenson) about both his whereabouts and his employment status, holing up in a small shed on an allotment overlooking the site of Sharman’s imprisonment, desperately dashing around searching for an alibi for the day of Sharman’s disappearance, and, when the net closes in, going on the run with his wife after hoodwinking her with a sob story about him having discovered an outbreak of SARS in the UK which the government and the police are conspiring to hush up by doing him in. It all borders on farcical, and, particularly in the second part, the increasing absurdity of Henderson’s claims does detract somewhat from what should have been a tense situation (there is a continual undercurrent which suggests that he may end up doing to his wife what he did to Sharman and at least one other victim), but it’s all quite entertaining, and given that it’s sandwiched between two considerably darker episodes, it makes for a welcome change of pace. Not that that flashbacks to Sharman slowly rotting away and going mad in his prison aren’t brutal, however. In fact, the sheer banality of Henderson’s reason for killing him makes the deeply calculated nature of his incarceration all the more shocking.

Ultimately, Subterraneans isn’t a hugely noteworthy or memorable episode, but it works, and the slightly different nature of the case’s progression (i.e. knowing the identity of the villain from a fairly early stage) succeeds in shaking up the formula a little.

Holby connections: Michael Offer has directed several episodes of Holby City over the years, while Kelly Harrison (Tina) played ambulance technician Nikki Marshall in Casualty between Series 16 and 18. Finally, Nicola Stephenson (Julia Henderson) played nurse Julie Fitzjohn in Holby City for its first three series.

 
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 at 2:15 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 3 and 4: Black Run

DVD

Written by Raymond Khoury; Directed by Ben Bolt

Back when Waking the Dead’s fifth series was first beginning to air, in September 2005, Sue Johnston gave an interview with the Radio Times in which she said that the nice thing about the new series was that it focused exclusively on the characters of Boyd, Grace and Spence. At the time, I thought this was a rather unkind dig at her other co-stars, but, in retrospect, I see what she was getting at: while three of the two-parters in Series 5 are what I would term conventional Waking the Dead cases, with the team solving them in their capacity as detached (personally if not emotionally) professionals, each of the other three focuses on a past case of one of the three remaining members of the original team. Black Run is Boyd’s turn to have his dirty laundry aired, and oddly enough it turns to be the weakest of the three.

The story: former police officer Eddy Vine (David Hayman), rotting in prison with terminal cancer, convicted of murdering his partner, Tom Palliser. Pending an appeal for his early release on grounds of ill health, Vine summons Boyd, the man who succeeded in securing his conviction a decade ago, to offer him forgiveness. Vine’s manner, however, is enough to plant a shred of doubt in Boyd’s mind, leading to him unofficially launching a re-examination of the evidence and witness testimony. Gradually, the rest of the team begin to suspect that Boyd may have coached some of the witnesses, causing them to question just for whom Boyd has re-opened the case. The worst is yet to come, however, when Boyd is suspended after putting a biker in a coma after seemingly being drunk at the wheel while in the company of Palliser’s widow, Sheryl (Diane Parish)…

Actually, this is a rather interesting episode for one very specific reason: the part of Eddie Vine is played by David Hayman, best known as DCSI Mike Walker in rival series Trial & Retribution. Seeing him going head to head with Trevor Eve is like some sort of weird crossing over of two different worlds - think The Flintstones Meet the Jetsons, only less crappy. Their scenes together don’t really have the sort of intensity I was expecting, in part because Hayman is putting on a less than convincing Cockney accent, with his regular Glasgow dialect occasionally slipping through the net, but it’s also because there’s something rather contrived about it all. The basic idea is that Boyd is set up for a massive fall by the vindictive Vine, with him pulling the strings from inside prison. Simply put, there aren’t enough scenes between the two characters, and the identities of the individuals that he manages to manipulate into screwing Boyd over are a little on the far-fetched side. Trevor Eve certainly acquits himself with applomb, as always, but, because the show’s producers would never allow him to commit a cock-up on as grand a scale as the one he is accused of here, the outcome is never in any doubt: Vine must be guilty, and Boyd must have been justified in coaching his witnesses to ensure that he went down. Vine is ultimately revealed to be a deeply unpleasant individual, corrupt to the core, but the programme ultimately ends up sending out the rather less than savoury message that it’s okay for the police to bend the rules to ensure a conviction provided they’re convinced their suspect is guilty. It’s actually not entirely surprising that the script comes from Raymond Khoury, best known for his affiliation with Spooks, a programme which frequently revels in glorifying this “bending of the rules” by authorities who seem to be allowed to operate above the law. The series of events in which Boyd becomes embroiled also greatly demeans the character, turning into a screaming, slavering idiot who by rights should have had his status permanently revoked. This is arguably the character at his absolute worst, and comparing this episode with something from, say, Series 1, provides a clear indicator as to just how much he has (d)evolved since the show’s beginning.

The other point of interest is that this storyline introduces Mel’s permanent replacement, Stella Goodman (Félicité Du Jeu). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to warm to this character, primarily because she seems so contrived. Without giving too much away, she is brought into Series 5 to serve a very specific purpose, but once that purpose has been served, the writers of Series 6 and beyond allow her to remain, but end up taking significant liberties with her characterisation once her original raison d’être is gone. Du Jeu tries hard, but she’s always in the shadow of the rest of the cast, who are more experienced and have the benefit of better-developed characters. Stella’s input in this episode is fairly minimal, so she is less irritating here than she would later become, but she still makes me wish they had just kept Georgia Mackenzie on instead.

 
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 at 1:45 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 5, Episodes 1 and 2: Towers of Silence

DVD

Written by Joe Cozens; Directed by Philippa Langdale

One of the nicest things about any show with a small, established cast is the depth of characterisation that it affords. Waking the Dead, as I’ve said before, has never really been about the personal lives of its regulars, but, by spending so long with each of them, you really get a sense of what makes them tick and develop a close attachment to them. The downside, naturally, is that, when one of these characters leaves, the show’s entire world is turned upside down. At the end of its fourth series, Waking the Dead lost not one but two of its five regulars, all of whom had been there since the pilot episode. The result is that, like it or not, the show can never be the same again.

In actual fact, Mel and Frankie weren’t the only ones to leave. The other departure, behind the camera rather than in front of it, was that of executive producer Alexei de Keyser, who died of a heart attack mere days before the broadcast of Series 4’s final episode. He was a producer on Casualty during its 13th series, and was promoted to series producer (in charge of the overall flow of the storylines and characters) for Series 14. When Barbara Machin left to do Waking the Dead, she took de Keyser with her, and I suspect that he, more than perhaps anyone else, was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the show’s tone. On the upside, producer Richard Burrell opted to stick around for a third (and final) year, and, although the rest of the writing staff was new, Ed Whitmore remained in place as head writer, again for one more series.

Of the two new characters brought in to replace those that left at the end of the previous series, only one is introduced in this episode. Unfortunately, brilliant name aside, Dr. Felix Gibson (Esther Hall) has “placeholder” written all over her. Although a valiant effort is made to establish her as having her own personality in this episode, throughout the rest of the series she gives the impression of speaking lines that were intended for her predecessor, Frankie Wharton. I’m not sure precisely when it was realised that Holly Aird definitely wouldn’t be coming back, but Felix’s characterisation leads me to believe that at least some of the scripts were written for Frankie and then hastily retooled for Felix. At least in this first episode, the writer differentiates her from Frankie, primarily by playing up to Boyd’s distinct discomfort around her, unnerved by her demand that he roll up his sleeves and help out in the lab (in contrast to Frankie’s “one woman army” ethic) and attempting to compensate for her rather cold personality by making incessant small talk. (In later episodes, Felix would drop the “cold fish” persona completely and become much more talkative, not to mention discover the same sense of black humour that made Frankie such an enduring character.) I never liked Felix quite as much as Frankie, but she definitely grew on me, partly thanks to Esther Hall, whom I’ve always liked as an actress (even in those cloying BT commercials that she is probably best known for, in which she plays Kris Marshall’s wife), and I was ultimately very disappointed that she only lasted for a single series, and was replaced by the interminably dull Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald), whom I’ll discuss further when I get on to Series 6.

One final note on the casting before I get on to the episode itself: filling in for Mel for this two-parter only is DS Andrea “Andy” Stephenson (Georgia Mackenzie - no relation to me, I hasten to add), which I always found rather curious. Why go to the bother of introducing a new character and integrating her with the team, only to replace her with something completely different for the next case? I suspect that, ultimately, it had a lot to do with a desire on the part of the writers’ to bring in someone with a strong resemblance to Mel, in order to accentuate Boyd’s angst, but at the same time not wanting to simply replace Mel with Mel 2.0, so only keeping her around ‘til she’d served her purpose. It’s a shame, because, from what little we saw of her, I liked Andy a lot more than Mel’s permanent replacement, whom I’ll discuss in my review of the next episode.

Anyway, finally getting on to the episode’s plot, the case the team are investigating this time round involves the discovery of a mummified body aboard a decommissioned cargo plane bound for an “aeroplane graveyard” in Arizona. Found sans hands, the body bears striking similarities to that of Nadir Mehta (Neran Persaud), an airport bag handler found by Andy at the top of a water tower in Kent six years ago when she was a PC. His brother, Sarosh (Emil Marwa), is currently in prison for his murder, but, suspecting that Sarosh is in fact taking the blame for someone else, Boyd mounts an undercover operation inside the walls of the prison. Their investigations reveal a trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals, a shady firm of private investigators, and an Indian police inspector who may not be who he says he is… and that’s only half of it.

It took me a few viewings to warm to this two-parter, and I’m still not sure I’m totally sold on it, particularly given the unsatisfying ending, and I hate the parachuting of David Walliams (one of the most irritating British “comedians” this side of Russell Brand, Jimmy Carr and Ricky Gervais) into the (mercifully brief) role of a high-ranking police official. However, looking back on it, there’s a lot to like. Admittedly, a lot of it is stylistic stuff rather than actual narrative material, but I can be engaged by good direction even if the script isn’t stellar. I particularly like the opening, which intercuts the discovery of the cargo plane body with shots of the deserted Cold Case Headquarters, the silence broken by brief snippets of dialogue between the original cast of five. I like our introduction to Boyd and Grace, visiting a shop so Boyd can buy a model aeroplane (the significance of this currently unclear). I like the ballsy decision to open the new series with only Boyd and Grace present at CCHQ, Spence having been frogmarched into prison for (at the time) unrevealed reasons. I like the moment where Boyd and Grace re-enact an event from the case using his new model plane and various other toys as props, with the scene going from light-hearted comedy to something more serious as Andy’s unexpected arrival causes Boyd’s semi-repressed memories of Mel’s death to simmer up again. I like the scene in which Mehta’s widow, Roshni (wonderfully played by Nina Wadia), realises that the counterfeit medication her husband procured for her actually led to the death of their young child - an extremely emotional scene, heightened by a beautiful piece of piano music that has been used a few times in the show, though never as effectively as here. I like the use of Zoroastrianism, which makes a nice change given how reliant television tends to be on the three “main” monotheistic religions when it wants to inject a dose of the supernatural. Oh, and I love Boyd’s nickname for the mummified body: Crispy Duck. He may be going to pieces over Mel’s death, but the man has not lost his dark sense of humour.

This was a long review, but that is, to an extent, unavoidable given the turning point that this episode marks in the show’s fortunes. Subsequent episode reviews shall, I expect, be considerably briefer.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 7:18 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 11 and 12: Shadowplay

DVD

Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Andy Hay

The final episode of the fourth series, this two-parter marks what is very much the end of an era for Waking the Dead. Given that the events of this episode resonate throughout the subsequent series, I’m afraid avoiding spoilers is simply not going to be an option, so I’m going to be blunt: this is the episode in which Mel dies. Actually, it’s also the episode in which we see the last of Frankie, but people tend to forget about that because she doesn’t end up being thrown off a top storey balcony and pulped on the bonnet of Boyd’s car. In fact, Frankie doesn’t actually have an exit storyline at all: in real life, Holly Aird failed to give the production team sufficient notice about her desire to leave the show, and as a result there wasn’t enough time to write an on-screen exit for the character. Either way, though, this is the final time we see the entire original team together, and as a result I always find this storyline to be rather bittersweet.

For what it’s worth, it’s a very strong episode to cap off a very strong season. The case this time is that of a young woman with psychiatric problems who killed her family in an arson attack. Her claims that she was told to do this by a man calling himself “the Shepherd” arise interest in the team when they unearth two further examples of young women committing murder for the same reasons. Barring the similarities in the cases, there is a further connection: all three were patients of Dr. David Carney (Paul Kaye).

As suggested by the title, theme this time round is the Jungian concept of the shadow aspect: the notion that each of us has a repressed “other half” consisting of our fears and weaknesses, which we project on to others. The theme is given flesh in the form of David Carney and his brother Matt (James Larkin), whose highly competitive relationship is at the heart of the episode’s mystery. It’s threaded throughout both episodes not just in terms of the brothers’ relationship but also in the parallels between the various women that have been manipulated. The use of Jungian psychoanalysis is interesting and actually somewhat refreshing, given that media portrayals of psychoanalysis - Waking the Dead included - have a tendency to rely on the Freudian school of thought, boiling everything down to notions of penis envy and the so-called “primal scene”. I don’t claim to be anything of an expert, but from what little I know of psychoanalysis, I’ve always found the Jungian approach to be the more interesting of the two (although not necessarily any more convincing).

Anyway, psychobabble aside, what we end up with is a solid conclusion to what is, in my opinion, Waking the Dead’s strongest season. Given that it also effectively brings the first “age” of the show to a close, it can also be taken as a solid conclusion to that too. It’s cleverly written, artfully directed and emotionally affecting, and you can’t ask for much more than that. From here on in, it’s into considerably murky waters for the show as it is forced to get back on its feet sans two-fifths of its original cast.

PS. My apologies for not having posted more of these reviews. I’ve actually now watched to the end of Series 5, but other commitments have prevented me from actually doing write-ups for them yet.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 4:41 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 9 and 10: The Hardest Word

DVD

Written by Doug Milburn; Directed by Philippa Langdale

The naked body of a man is discovered tied face down to a bed with the word “sorry” carved into his back, following a sex act. This looks like a case for the Murder Investigation Team, but Boyd, who has been investigating a murder with the exact same characteristics, succeeds in getting himself and his team involved in the inquiry, and they soon find themselves forced to work with the crude and abrasive Detective Superintendent Andy Bulmer (Phil Daniels) and his heavy-handed mob. Boyd, however, can’t seem to keep his eyes off psychological profiler Dr. Greta Simpson (Emma Fielding), drafted in to help with the inquiry. At Grace and Greta’s urging, the team begins to consider that the killer is more than likely someone who was abused him/herself at some point in the past and is now gaining sexual gratification by acting out his/her murderous fantasies.

As I rewatch these episodes, I’m coming to the conclusion that something I’d previously forgotten about Series 4 is how witty it is. Waking the Dead has always had a streak of dark humour about it, but it really comes to the fore in this series. In retrospect, I have a feeling that this may have been intended to make the tragedy that occurs in the final episode all the more horrifying. Anyway, much of the humour here comes from Boyd’s obvious infatuation with Greta, and Grace’s simmering jealousy. Many long-running series seem to end up featuring undercurrents of Platonic affection between certain characters, and Boyd and Grace are the obvious candidates in Waking the Dead. It’s considerably more pronounced here than in the later series, but the two characters often resemble an old married couple with their continual spats and reconciliation, and the combination of mutual respect for and irritation with each other.

When I wrote my original review of Series 4 for DVD Times, I described this two-parter as “the only case in the entire collection that comes even close to striking a bum note”, criticising its ending for being abrupt and not particularly satisfying. I was originally similarly critical of Series 2’s Thin Air but now consider it one of the best episodes of the entire series, and something similar appears to have happened with The Hardest Word. The conclusion is still far from satisfying, and the actual specifics of the killer’s relationship with his/her victims is a little hard to swallow once revealed, but in a sense I don’t think the ending was ever intended to be the sort that wraps everything up neatly. Throughout the episode, after all, the old “nature versus nurture” argument is continually brought up, coming down firmly on the “nurture” side. We are continually shown that abuse is a vicious cycle, with victims often becoming abusers themselves. As such, there’s no real end to it, and I get the impression that the somewhat ambiguous ending, which still leaves us unclear as to just how complicit one character was in the murders, is meant to reflect that.

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:

Basically, the killer is Greta’s father (Julian Glover), who abused her as a child. As a result of the ordeal she suffered, Greta is compelled to recreate the specifics of this abuse in her sexual behaviour, and as a result plays out sadomasochistic scenarios with older men. Her father, however, in some warped way attempting to atone for his abusive behaviour, has been following her around and has actually been carrying out the actual murders. It’s not made clear whether or not Greta was aware who was doing this, but the fact that she never said a word about the fact that both of the victims under investigation were former sexual partners of hers is a little hard to swallow… as is the fact that Boyd basically sends her home with a pat on the back after all of this has been revealed.

Interestingly, barring the pilot, the second episode of this two-parter is the only episode not to conclude with the familiar Waking the Dead theme tune over the credits. Odd, that.

 
Posted: Monday, September 15, 2008 at 12:50 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 7 and 8: Anger Management

DVD

Written by John Milne & Andy Hay; Directed by Andy Hay

“Not now, Grace. I’m having a post-crisis depression.” - Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd

A curious episode, this one, and one which, particularly in its first half, adopts a rather unconventional structure, telling the story in a non-linear fashion and shifting back and forth between different time periods (in fact, the first thing we see is the last thing to happen chronologically). I wonder if this explains the crediting of the director, Andy Hay, as co-writer - the only time this has happened for a Waking the Dead script. I try to imagine the episode playing out in a linear fashion and do have my suspicions that this how it originally started out, with the material being re-ordered to spice it up.

Either way, the result is probably the best episode of the season, primarily because of the humour that ensues from Boyd finally going to see a therapist about his temper - something I’m sure we all agree has been a long time in coming. The therapist, played with acerbic glee by Kerry Fox, forces him to face up to his unpleasant behaviour:

Varley: “When you pace about, how do you react?”
Boyd: “I pace about, I raise my voice, you know…”
Varley: “Stamp your foot and say ‘I want it now’?”
Boyd: “Yeah.”
Varley: “That’s what toddlers do.”

Much of the humour comes from the fact that Boyd’s behaviour, as a result of bottling up his anger, becomes increasingly more absurd, making his team feel even more uncomfortable around him as a result. And, naturally, by the next episode, everything’s back to normal, but still, this slightly more even-tempered Boyd, while brief, makes for a nice change of pace.

The main case, meanwhile, focuses on the death of a man in a hostel, found with a bullet in his skull. The police assume it to be a suicide, but Frankie is convinced that the investigation has been botched and organises for the Cold Case Squad to take a look. Suspicion soon falls upon Sam Jacobs (Nigel Terry), a man who has just completed a stretch in prison for viciously assaulting a man who raped his wife. Sam claims to have put his violent past behind him, but, through a series of flashbacks and encounters with people from his past life, we soon come to learn that his acts of violence extend far beyond merely beating up a rapist.

Nigel Terry, the individual playing Sam Jacobs, is a gifted actor who shows up quite often in British TV series (you name it, he’s probably been in it) and, in my opinion, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He was excellent in the opening two episodes of the previous series of Casualty as an animal rights activist whose home-made bomb unintentionally detonated in a crowded street, and, in Anger Management, he gives what I feel is his best performance that I’ve seen. Sam is a complex character, and, while there’s never any doubt that he has secrets to hide, the precise nature of these secrets remains unclear until the end, and he is portrayed in such a manner that, even when we learn the full extent of his dark past, it’s hard to lose sympathy with him. The dual nature of his life is nicely realised in many ways, among them a curious scene in which he and his family, despite being Buddhists, are shown to still bring in the Sabbath (their background is Jewish). Props also to the director for the rather inventive flamenco dance sequence which is intercut with a character preparing to break into CCHQ to retrieve some vital evidence.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2008 at 3:00 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 5 and 6: Fugue States

DVD

Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Ben Bolt

I have one significant complaint about this episode, and that’s the suspension of disbelief required in order to accept the massive coincidence involving one character and the revelations regarding his/her relationship with another. Otherwise, this is cracking story, one of the very best of the series, which sees the team investigating the disappearance of a twin brother and sister during the Notting Hill carnival of 1990. The case is reopened when a DNA check on a young homeless man injured when he steps in front of a car reveals him to be the boy, Jason (Joe Armstrong), but a bout of amnesia (real or faked?) prevents him from revealing where he has been for nearly 15 years… or the whereabouts his sister, Cindy. In digging into the circumstances surrounding Jason’s disappearance, the team uncovers a history of child abuse and dodgy dealings involving crooked goings-on with social services and an abduction conspiracy.

Any episode involving a missing child runs the risk of becoming repetitive given Boyd’s own experiences in this area, and yes, it’s true that he clearly sees Jason as something of a surrogate for his own missing son, becoming uncharacteristically protective of him (even turning down an opportunity to uncover further evidence as to where he has been because he is afraid it will traumatise him). However, the main personal thrust of this episode, unusually, falls on Mel’s shoulders, following the revelation that she was in fact born Mary Price and, at a young age, was forcibly removed from her mother (deemed mentally unfit to care for her) and placed with foster parents. (This in turn results in a noticeable continuity gaffe in the sixth series when the issue of Mel’s ancestry is raised, but I’ll cover that at a later date.)

I’ve said this previously, but I’ll repeat it here: I think Claire Goose is seriously underappreciated as an actor. Far from simply being a pretty face, she gives the characters she plays a degree of authenticity beyond what is on the page. When she was in Casualty, she gave what is in my opinion the best performance any actor has ever delivered in that show, in the episode Love Me Tender, and she does much the same here, imbuing the character with enough depth that, when she flies off the handle and acts impulsively, you don’t simply think she’s being self-centred and projecting her own personal situation on to the ongoing investigation. Here, she commits a horrific act that is purely the result of her heightened emotional state, resulting in her jumping to the wrong conclusion as to a suspect’s intentions, but she somehow retains our sympathy throughout.

Elsewhere, we get the usual witty banter between the team. I previously said Ed Whitmore’s scripts tended to be drier than, say, Stephen Davis’, but I should probably now take that back, as there are some absolute corkers in this episodes’ dialogue, some of them rather clever. It’s also, for once, reasonably coherent throughout, although I did find myself having to pause a couple of times to work out exactly what was going on in my head. Massive coincidence aside, it’s all pretty logical too. A solid entry and the point at which this season, after a slightly rocky start with In Sight of the Lord, finds its feet before going to enjoy a continuous run of high quality episodes until its end.

 
Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008 at 10:37 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 3 and 4: False Flag

DVD

Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by Suri Krishnamma

This was Stephen Davis’ final episode of Waking the Dead, and it’s a good one, not least because it features the top brass finally doing what she should have done for ages now: commission a psychological report on Boyd. This is part of a rather interesting storyline which involves plans on the part of the Assistant Commissioner to either dismantle the Cold Case Squad or at the very least bring it under her direct jurisdiction. The catalyst for this is a breach of protocol in which Boyd admits to having entered a property without the appropriate warrant. As a result, the rest of the team feels that he has jeopardised their jobs. As later becomes clear, however, the culprit was in fact not Boyd but Spence: Boyd took the rap because he didn’t want Spence’s prospects of promotion to be affected. It’s little moments like these that help make the characters more multi-faceted, something that is particularly important given Boyd’s ever-increasing instability.

Like one of the writer’s previous episodes, Special Relationships, this one ventures into political conspiracy territory, beginning with the discovery of a man’s body in a car, a bullet through his head and an unexploded bomb strapped underneath. The body is identified as that of Gerald Doyle (Dan Morgan), a young man with decidedly pro-Republican views on the conflict in Northern Ireland, and his death is dated to the late 1970s, roughly coinciding with the assassination of Duncan Sanderson (Christopher Strauli), a prominent Conservative MP whose attitude towards Republicanism was nothing if not hard-line. Sanderson was killed by a bomb strapped under his car, and the similarity of the modus operandi between the two murders leads Boyd and the team to suspect a connection. Working on the hypothesis that Doyle was part of a Republican splinter group, they begin to uncover disturbing evidence suggesting that he and several other like-minded individuals were in fact assassinated at the behest of the British government.

As I’ve said before on numerous occasions, Waking the Dead is nothing if not a confusing programme, and, whenever they tackle high level conspiracies, things have a tendency to get really confusing. This is certainly the case here, and once again I found myself beginning to wonder if I’d lost my marbles during the final half-hour, but along the way there is some choice interaction between the team to keep the viewer engaged. Particularly choice are Grace’s attempts to build a profile of the uncooperative Boyd, not to mention a particularly delicious opportunity to watch the man squirm in which Frankie assures him she can defuse an unexploded bomb, before proceeding to ask him which colour of wire he thinks she should cut first. It all gets a tad muddled towards the end, and the denouement for the individual behind the killings is less than satisfactory, but it’s once again a strong episode and a nice swansong for a writer whose standard of episodes has been consistently high.

Holby connections: Peter De Jersey, who plays Dr. Chris Reed in this episode, appeared in Holby City as charge nurse Steve Waring between Series 3 and 5.

 
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 5:35 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 1 and 2: In Sight of the Lord

DVD

Written by Tony McHale; Directed by Andy Hay

Shortly after Waking the Dead’s third series had completed its initial run, it won an Emmy (oddly enough, for what I consider the weakest episode of that series, Multistorey). The result was that, for the fourth series, it received an extended run of twelve episodes, up from the usual eight. The same producer, Richard Burrell, remained on board, and he succeeded in securing the same key writers who had been responsible for the show’s growth.

Oddly enough, though, Series 4 starts with a storyline penned by an outsider. Tony McHale is the creator and current executive producer/lead writer of Holby City; he also wrote and directed several episodes of Casualty between Series 9 and 14. His scripts, particularly of late, have had something of an unhealthy obsession with religion, Christianity to be precise. In fact, it seems to be his goal to get as many storylines revolving around religion as possible in the show under his guidance. This episode of Waking the Dead is no exception, offering up a whole lot of cryptic biblical references in a storyline which involves a serial killer hammering nine inch nails into the skulls of various men who were formerly soldiers in a Second World War army battalion.

This two-parter is unusual in that whereas normally Waking the Dead’s storylines start off reasonably logical and then throw you for a loop in the final half-hour, it’s actually the other way round this time. That’s not to say that the episode is particularly difficult to follow, but, for the first hour and a half, the writing is rather choppy, lurching from one plot development to another without a clear sense of logical progression. Boyd and the team make several rather odd leaps in logic, and while the majority of them don’t end up playing out (such as Boyd’s seemingly out-of-the-blue suggestion that the victims could have been Communists and were therefore assassinated for their political beliefs), I get the sense that McHale knew where he wanted to end up but had a bit of trouble actually getting there.

Actually, of all the Waking the Dead storylines, this is probably actually the most giallo-like of the lot, not only in terms of the killer’s motivation but also his attire: he wears a black coat, black fedora and black gloves, and at one point even employs the sort of harsh whisper that many a giallo killer has been known to employ in order to disguise his voice. The director, Andy Hay, has clearly watched some Argento in his time.

Elsewhere, it’s business as usual. Boyd has sprouted a rather alarming amount of facial hair, which in turn seems to have done nothing for his temper (“I don’t give a shit about your rights!” he bellows at one suspect who has asked for his lawyer to be present). Meanwhile, see if you can spot how often Frankie is conveniently positioned behind a table or another character: the actress, Holly Aird, was pregnant at the time, and, as the series progressed, the production team had to resort to greater and greater lengths to conceal her ballooning stomach.

 
Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Waking the Dead: Series 3, Episodes 7 and 8: Final Cut

DVD

Written by Stephen Davis; Directed by Betsan Morris Evans

It’s always struck be that, apart from Boyd, the only character in Waking the Dead whose past we know anything about is Spence. He would end up being the main focus of the Series 5 finale, and here, two years earlier, his childhood comes back to haunt him in a rather convoluted storyline that also ropes in his mother and missing father. That’s about as personal as things ever get in this show, and it’s somewhat odd, given that I’ve always felt that Spence was the least interesting of the original line-up of characters (now, once the insufferable Eve arrives for Series 6, that’s another matter entirely…). I’m not convinced that the revelations of this episode do anything for the character of Spence, given that they are never referenced again and really don’t succeed in making him any more interesting, but at least his role is something more than functional in this episode.

Anyway, what follows is an extremely convoluted plot, even by Waking the Dead’s standards, which somehow ties together the Mafia, drug smuggling, an extremely violent movie, bizarre burial rituals in a black community, numerous dead bodies concealed in a derelict building, and Ken Russell as a foul-mouthed, booze-soaked director with an overinflated opinion of his own abilities (haha). I’ve seen this one three times now and I’m still not entirely convinced I’ve worked it all out, but at least I’m not completely scratching my head in confusion as I was with Walking on Water earlier in the series. As with that episode, the first part is better than the second, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the face that most of the confusion emerges in the final 30 minutes, but, that said, it’s a strong episode overall and an effective end to a series that has, barring the rather forgettable season premiere, turned out to be better than I remembered. Oh, and, to the best of my knowledge, it’s also the only episode to include a character using the word “fuck”. You rebels!

Holby connections: Camelia Baptiste is played by Sharon D. Clarke, who currently appears in Holby City as consultant Lola Griffin.

 
Posted: Friday, August 15, 2008 at 9:28 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 
 

 
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