TV Review: Colditz (1972-1974)

April 1, 2018

Over by the self-service checkout area at Sainsburys last Christmas was a selection of classic TV boxed sets, including the likes of The Saint, Danger Man and Survivors. I suggested for a Christmas present from my parents that they just choose one at random that I hadn’t seen, and hoped for the best that I’d enjoy it.

They got me the 1972-1974 British drama, Colditz.

And I loved it.

It was obviously a show I had heard of, but my knowledge of the plot only extended as far as it being about British POWs held in an ‘escape-proof’ castle.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Yes, there are lots of escape attempts, but it’s mainly about the relationships between the prisoners and also between the prisoners and their German captors. And it’s the latter relationship that I found the most engrossing.

I think it’s fair to say that by and large, the Germans in WW2 dramas and movies are presented as the evil enemy, and yet in Colditz – based as it is on the experiences of those who were in the POW camp at the time – this isn’t the case. Coming under the jurisdiction of the Wehrmacht rather than the SS or Gestapo, it’s run by mostly honourable people – Germans of the Old School – who are at pains to ensure that their prisoners are treated fairly and within the terms of the Geneva Convention. Yes, in the second season the writers include the entirely fictional boo-hiss villain, Major Mohn for the purposes of added drama, but it’s the likes of the Kommandant (played by the king of 1970s BBC drama, Bernard Hepton) and his chief of security, Ullman (Hans Meyer) who are the ones that reflect the type of German who ran the camp. In fact, I found myself rooting for them thanks to their restraint in the face of being constantly tested by British officers often acting like children.

With solid acting all the way through, and a cast – both regular and guest – of fine actors that you’ll probably recognise, Colditz is the sort of drama that you just don’t seem to get anymore. It’s slow building, it has episodes based around one-off guest characters (and the finest example of that is the jaw-droppingly good Tweedledum, about an officer who pretends to everyone around him that he has gone mad in a bid to be sent back to England on compassionate grounds), and the entire quality of the show rests on the strength of the acting and writing.

It certainly made me invest in it emotionally and come away from the final episode wanting to learn more about the realities of the way the camp was run.

I would offer Colditz my highest recommendation. In an era of throwaway NetFlix shows that are often pretty dull, this is one of the finest dramas I’ve watched in a long, long time.

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TV: Save Me Review

March 18, 2018

*Note: Because of the nature of this review, there are spoilers concerning the conclusion of the final episode. If you want a very brief non-spoiler point of view, I’ll say it’s worth watching but sags a little in the middle.

So anyway…

In a recent interview, Save Me writer and lead star Lennie James admitted that it was always the intention for the new Sky Atlantic show to have a second season; it was commissioned on that brief.

Alas that’s the way TV networks operate nowadays and the results are mixed. A show like Line of Duty can support a story told over multiple seasons because there’s a background plot that runs throughout, but each season focuses on a specific storyline or character. Meanwhile there are so many other examples – and Under the Dome is the one that immediately springs to mind – where you can just see that the story doesn’t have enough about it to justify another run, and yet it gets one because it makes financial sense for the network. It’s a case of financial reward over creative satisfaction.

Having polished off Save Me last night, I fear it falls in the second category.

This is a show about Nelly, a guy whose 13-year-old daughter – who he hasn’t seen for years – is kidnapped. Initially he’s suspected of being responsible, but it turns out pretty quickly that someone who was pretending to be him contacted her on the internet and lured her into a trap. Because of the very specific information about Nelly’s life used to by the kidnapper to attract her, Nelly realises that it must be someone he knows from his local pub who must be responsible, and takes on the burden of solving the crime.

Now if I was going to write that for maximum creative effect, it would be told from beginning to end in one go. Nelly would find the person responsible and then from there find Jody (the daughter) either alive or dead.

As it turns out, Nelly does work out the culprit and even gets as far as finding out where Jody’s being held captive by a local paedophile ring, but in the end he finds another girl instead.

It just seemed like such a flat ending.

Over the course of the six episodes, Save Me was mostly about Lenny and his relationships with characters around him, and it did a very good job of giving those characters a back-story and a potential motive for wanting to kidnap Jody. And though some of the characters were a bit odd – Jody’s mother played by Suranne Jones isn’t written as being particularly bothered about her kidnapping and is more interested in getting pissed and having sex with Lenny behind her partner’s back – they all get put under the microscope.

Now that we know who kidnapped her – even though the reveal came thanks the disappointing Terry Nation style trope of “Hold on a minute; the only way you’d know that piece of information is if you are the kidnapper” – and more to the point now that we know who didn’t kidnap her, those characters seem largely redundant going forward.

And there’s the problem. Save Me ends on a note of the viewer feeling short-changed by the ending, and concerned that to have the story resolved one way or the other, they’ll have to endure a second season that doesn’t appear to have the legs to make it worth watching.

That being said, if you want to live for the moment and enjoy it for what it is now, the first season is mostly an entertaining watch up until the ending, although it does slow down to a crawl in episode three.


Stuart’s Entertainment Review (The Detectorists, Peaky Blinders, Manhunt Unabomber etc)

February 12, 2018

A roundup of some of the shows I’ve been watching lately…

The Detectorists

Because this is considered a ‘gentle’ comedy, I made the mistake of thinking that it was something akin to Last of the Summer Wine. In actual fact, this show is probably the best BBC sitcom in a long, long time. It’s not what I would consider hilarious, but it has its moments. The main thing though is that the characters are likeable and relatable and the story across all three seasons is one you can invest in.

It’s feel good and charmingly British.

Peaky Blinders

Perhaps less charmingly British, but British nevertheless is Peaky Blinders.

Packed with big name actors and some absolutely brilliant performances, it’s entertaining and gritty throughout.

It’s not exactly the most original of plotlines – a family rise to prominence in a historical setting – but that setting is a good one, and the story does progress as the show goes on.

I also liked how it used modern music instead of stuff that perhaps might have seemed more fitting to the era.

Manhunt: Unabomber

What I like about this show is that it’s an apparently mostly accurate retelling of a genuine FBI case, so while it’s not the most exciting show you’ll ever see, it is at least informative and interesting.

Running for only 8 episodes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but if I had any criticism, it would be that the time hopping, non-linear nature of it seemed unnecessary.

The Good Place

I thought I’d written a review of The Good Place after I watched season 1 on NetFlix last year, but apparently not. And I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have said I thought it was a bit light and no more than average. I kept watching though and just finished off the second season this evening, and I’ve got to seriously recommend it.

It’s not a laugh out loud comedy – indeed I don’t really remember ever doing that while watching it – but what it is is clever. It makes you think while still being fun.

And unlike so many other shows there’s genuine development, not only of characters, but of plot; the show is now in a completely different place (no pun intended) than it was at the start.

Like I say, I’d recommend it highly. It’s well worth your time.

Lovesick

Previously known as Scrotal Recall on Channel 4, this show was bought by Netflix and renamed as something that perhaps has more marketability.

I’d never seen it before Saturday, but I’m hooked now and have binge watched it over the last couple of days.

It’s a bit derivative of How I Met Your Mother (the leads may as well be called Ted and Barney) but it has that more adult, British twist to it in terms of the language and the style of humour.

More than the other two comedies in this list it’ll make you chuckle, but it also has a story that’s decent enough to sustain it.

Riverdale

Watched the first episode but it didn’t grab me. I think Pretty Little Liars has filled my ‘Teen Drama for BFFs’ quota for the next wee while.

Danger Man

A much older show, but I’ve recently started watching the 1960s Patrick McGoohan ITC show.

For when it was made it does seem high budget, and though the episodes tend to resolve far quicker than they should, it’s a decent watch.

Of course, knowing me as you do, dear readers, part of the fun is identifying the actors who have appeared in Doctor Who at one point or another.

Let’s just say when Patrick Troughton showed up with his Salamander voice on, I was pretty thrilled.


TV – The Crown Season 2 Review

December 13, 2017

When it comes to watching Netflix Original series, my most regular complaint is that the shows start well but tail off badly. Whether it’s drama shows like Luke Cage or Ozark, or true crime shows like Making of a Murderer, I’ll get bored and barely muster up the will to finish them.

I think part of the reason for that is that there’s not enough story to last the course, so everything slows down to a crawl and they inevitably rely on time-wasting tropes such as the flashback episode that nobody wanted to see in the first place.

But The Crown is a bit different; well…maybe except for the flashback episode, because in the new season there was one that went back to Prince Philip’s childhood, and it was by far and away the weakest of the entire run.

Apart from that though, The Crowd is a consistently entertaining show that manages to stay fresh and interesting throughout. I think the reason for that is that it tackles a variety of major issues that happened in the UK and abroad late 1950s/early 1960s rather than just sticking with the same thing, like so many other NetFlix shows do. So while the first three episodes are about the fallout from the Suez Crisis and Prince Philip’s trip around the world on the Royal Yacht Britannia, it then moves on to other topics like Princess Margaret’s relationship with the future Lord Snowdon, the view of the monarchy being out of touch following a disastrous speech by the Queen at a factory, the Ghanian Crisis, JFK, the Profumo Affair and the revalations about the former King and his relationship with the Nazis (and by the way, what an absolute bastard he was, eh?).

That kept me engrossed and educated, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And it’s well enough acted too, with Claire Foy being particularly good as the Queen and deserving of all the credit she gets. I’m not sure if Matt Smith is that good or if I just see him as Matt Smith and therefore can’t separate him from his performance as the Doctor.

If I was to have any complaint – as churlish as it is – is that the actors playing the parts are perhaps a little too good-looking for the characters they play, but hey ho.

Anyway, this is definitely a show you should watch. I’m yet to come across anyone who has anything but praise for it.

If you’ve not seen it, that’s your next couple of weeks sorted.


TV: The Fall Review

August 31, 2017

Sometimes you’ll watch a show and persevere with it either out of loyalty or reputation.

Other times you think “That’s enough” and just stop.

And that’s what happened with me and The Fall.

Put simply, after an initially decent first season, things began to slow down so much in the second that whole hour-long episodes would go by without anything happening. After one episode of the third and final season, the entirety of which was spent with people hanging around the A&E department of the local hospital, I could face no more. Yes, there were only five instalments left, but that would be five hours I could be spending doing something else.

So I just read what happened in the last episode – my fears vindicated by reviews suggesting the final season as a whole was one gigantic waste of time – and moved on.

Maybe I’m spoiled by having already seen the superior-in-every-conceivable-way Line of Duty, meaning that the pace and acting would never stand up? After all, in place of the mighty Ted Hastings, we had that guy with the beard who looked like he was going to burst into tears every time he was on screen. Or it could be that I was put off by sub-plots that went nowhere and paper thin characters who would routinely acted in an unbelievable manner?

Whatever it was, I couldn’t face any more of it and I would implore you not to bother with it.

In a world with so much content available to the viewing public, this just isn’t worth your time.

 


Doctor Who – The Doctor Falls Review (“A Masterclass of Acting, But Maybe Not of Writing”)

July 2, 2017

Only this morning I was speaking to a friend about the time back in 1987 when my dad didn’t record episode four of Paradise Towers and it took until December 1994 for it to be repeated on TV again.

That sort of thing must seem alien to the youth of today.

But imagine if it wasn’t?

Imagine if for some reason an episode shown today wouldn’t be able to be seen again – unless you happened to know someone who taped it – until 2024? If that was the case, the whole of Scotland would be absolutely raging right about now.

Because for some reason, right at the point when The Doctor Falls was reaching its climax – when Bill had left the TARDIS and the Doctor lay dead on the floor – BBC Scotland’s feed of the show lost its sound and the remainder of the episode played out to a load of buzzing noises. And then they didn’t even bother to apologise in the post-credits continuity announcement. Bastards.

Thankfully it’s 2017 and I was able to immediately go to the iPlayer and watch it properly there, but by that point arguably the most important scenes of the episode had lost their immediate impact.

Still…I suppose it’s better than waiting seven years to find out what was said.

Anyway, on to the review…

Doctor Who – The Doctor Falls Review: What’s This One About?

Writing everyone out.

Thoughts – A Familiar Change of Pace

Last week I was concerned that this episode would fail to capitalise on the strengths of World Enough and Time, and that it would end up completely over the top like Last of the Timelords.

Those concerns were unfounded to an extent, but as good as this was, my immediate thoughts were that it not only paid a little bit too much tribute to the show’s own lore, but also rehashed old ideas.

For example…

  • References to Telos, Marinus (that was put in there just to mess with people like me, presumably), Planet 14 and so on.
  • Repeating famous lines from classic stories. And Dragonfire.
  • A situation that resembled the events of The Time of the Doctor a little too much.
  • A companion going off to travel the universe after supposedly dying.
  • The Doctor having a Logopolis style flashback to all his companions (except, bizarrely Rory, but even then that could be a deliberate nod to Leela’s omission to the flashback from Resurrection of the Daleks

    The moment when the sound went out and viewers in Scotland went mental

    for all I know)

  • Finishing the story in what we must assume is the last few minutes of The Tenth Planet.

Is this a problem? Mostly no. The references will either go over people’s heads or be seen as quite cool; either way they aren’t essential to being able to follow the plot.

And I guess for the untrained eye, the similarities with Time of the Doctor will go unseen, and there won’t be anyone out there who doesn’t like the set-up to the Christmas episode.

But Bill’s departure – if that’s what it is – was too similar to Clara’s, even to the casual viewer. Objectively, that’s lacking in originality.

Having said that though, where else could it go? Steven Moffat was faced with a choice – just as he did with Clara – of killing the character off or finding a way to give her a happy ending.

Had he not given her that happy ending, it would have been one of the most astonishingly bleak but also brilliant ends to a companion in the show’s history.

I have to say though, the sentimentalist in me is happy that she was spared that end. I like Bill and if it’s the last time we see her then it’s a pity.

The Story Itself

Beyond the similarities it has to old episodes, how good is The Doctor Falls?

Well it’s not without its flaws, but it is very good.

If I was to be critical, I’d say that the Cybermen were all too readily relegated to bit-part players. I’ve said before that they work best as incidental figures because of how devoid of character they are, but then this is

Mon Then

the Tenth Planet Cybermen we’re talking about, and as characterisation goes, they are the best ones. They could have been used better.

I’d also say that much of what went on in this episode amounted to window dressing. Ultimately it didn’t really matter where the characters were, because nothing was resolved. Though Nardole led the villagers to safety, it was left unclear what their long-term fate was, both in terms of Cyberman attack and the ship falling in to the black hole.

And while earlier in the episode it was suggested that they couldn’t get back to the TARDIS because of how time was passing (even though that doesn’t hold up considering the pre-Cybermen came for Bill last week) a magic wand was waved to get the Doctor back there in the end.

In spite of those issues though, what made it enjoyable was the strength of acting from the main players.

Matt Lucas seemed to have more about him as Nardole this week, while Michelle Gomez and John Simm – though both toned down a little bit over the last seven days – worked as a wonderful double act.

Pearl Mackie was excellent as Bill, she really was, and the strength of her acting sold the heartbreaking predicament Bill found herself in.

But best of all was Peter Capaldi.

Even though I don’t think he was always given the best material to work with – why he doesn’t want to regenerate is yet to be explained – he was utterly superb; perhaps the best he’s ever been. Not a single line of dialogue is delivered with anything less than brilliance.

While this looks to be the end of the road for most of the characters, we’ve still got Christmas with Capaldi – the finest actor to play the part in my opinion – and if this is anything to go by, he’ll be tremendous one last time.

Random Observations

  • I feel I might have brushed over how good Missy and The Master were. Some of the lines – including “The Doctor’s dead. He told me he’d always hated you. Let’s go.” and “Urgh, well doesn’t that take all the

    Rory was sad to find out he wasn’t worthy of being in the flashback while that Silurian and her lover were.

    fun out of cruelty” – were sublime, and the way they both stabbed each other in the back was as apt a way for them to go as any.

  • The explanation for how the Master got there and why he was in disguise was also well done.
  • But I’d liked to have seen him regenerate, and felt the suggestion that he had an erection to be a little bit crude for Doctor Who.
  • Hey look, it’s that woman who has made a career out of playing Barbara Windsor.
  • The incidental music was top-notch, as was the direction.
  • On that note, I loved how we saw the Doctor ‘die’ through the shutting of his own eyes.
  • Although if I’m going to be a bit churlish, I found the perspective of the Doctor looking down at ‘Bill’ when he should have been looking up at a Cyberman was a bit off.
  • Anyone else notice that the Cybermen guns used what seemed to be the same sound effect as the Autons from Spearhead from Space?
  • Pearl Mackie’s delivery of the line “Why can’t I be angry” is a highlight of her performance.
  • Maybe I’m being a bit daft but why did they film the pre-credits scene from World Enough and Time a few weeks ago when – based on Capaldi’s hair length – the end of this week’s episode was filmed at the same time as the rest of it?
  • My guess is that the Christmas episode might be all about the two Doctors learning to accept regeneration. I could be off though.
  • The scarecrows were pointless.
  • It’s been pointed out that John Simm’s Master seems to have an obsession with putting the Doctor in a wheelchair. It’s true; it’s happened in every story he’s been in.
  • I was wrong about Nardole’s fate; he wasn’t killed off, and in fact the way he departed – while understated – was nicely handled.

Doctor Who – The Doctor Falls Review: Final Thoughts

Overwhelmingly, the strengths of The Doctor Falls lie in the performances of the actors. They – led by Peter Capaldi – were on top form.

The writing? Only so-so.

Now we’ve just got to wait six months to see how this era of Doctor Who is going to end.

I’m looking forward to it already.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon


Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review (or “Light Filler”)

June 18, 2017

A few months ago there was a bit of excitement among fans of the show that there would be a classic series writer returning to pen an episode in the latest season.

Though I can’t say I was excited, it certainly piqued my interest…until I found out it was by Rona Munro, who wrote the frankly awful Survival.

Hey, maybe in the intervening 28 years she’s got better?

We can but hope…

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS crew go to second century Scotland so that the Doctor and Bill can settle a bet on who knows more about what happened to the Ninth Roman Legion, who famously went missing without trace.

Obviously there are monsters.

And music.

And love.

Or some such nonsense.

Thoughts – It’s All A Bit Kiddy

Seeing as I write my reviews on the Sunday after transmission, I always have a quick look at what other reviewers think first, just out of curiosity.

In one review, the angle they took was that the casting of so many young actors was a clever slap in the face to people who assume that Doctor Who is a kids show.

This is how I felt watching this episode. I think Capaldi felt the same filming it.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to that view.

I felt this episode felt like a kids show rather than something aimed at a broader audience, and not just because of the casting (although it didn’t help).

To me, The Eaters of Light felt…well…a bit light.

There was so little to it that it felt like there was only around 15 minutes of plot accounted for, with the rest made up of unnecessary dialogue and stalling.

The monster of the week had no character to it, it barely appeared and though it was sold to us as one of the greatest threats the universe has ever seen, it was defeated by the equivalent of letting it run outside before closing the door behind it.

The only saving grace was that the last scenes with Missy in the TARDIS at least felt like they were going somewhere, and would lead into next week’s two-part finale.

And hey, maybe that’s it; maybe like Fear Her or Boom Town, this was an episode to kill a bit of time before the proper drama kicks off next week.

Regardless of that though, this wasn’t up to much.

The Characterisation of the Doctor

I’ve always said that Peter Capaldi is fantastic. He’s a superb actor who – by and large – has always been at the top of his game even if the quality of the script isn’t great.

But here I didn’t think he was at his best.

He looked bored and lacking in enthusiasm for the episode and I don’t blame him.

The Doctor was written as a miserable bastard whose only purpose was to deliver expository sciencey dialogue that explained what was going on with the monster of the week up until the last minute where he decided that he must sacrifice himself to save the universe.

And then as it turned out, he wasn’t even allowed to be the hero, as the kids all grouped together to vanquish this apparently unstoppable monster.

Yay, go kids.

I wouldn’t have been enthusiastic either.

Let’s Write An Episode All About The TARDIS’s Auto-Translate Feature Despite Forgetting To Use It A Few Episodes Ago. Yay.

A few weeks ago in my review of Extremis, I asked why the TARDIS didn’t translate the Pope. I wasn’t getting upset about it; I merely asked the question in my Random Observations section.

In one of the replies to my review on the blog – and by the way, I do enjoy hearing what you all think about my opinions even if I don’t agree with them – someone said “As far as Pope not being translated is

“You’re really brave”.
“Are you not coming too?”
“Erm….we’ll remember you”.

concerned I find it curious that you’ve failed to realise how the Tardis translation works. The Tardis translates everything, unless it is funny for her not to.”

Now I’m sorry, but that’s the type of reply that gets my goat a little bit.

It’s as if this reader owns a leaflet containing The Official Rules of Doctor Who that I have perhaps missed and is saying to me that I am unequivocally and factually incorrect to make that observation.

And of course, I’m not.

It’s just an inconsistent approach to writing and it’s a bit lazy, regardless of whether or not people want to excuse it for the sake of sticking up for something that they like.

And it’s that inconsistency that has led me to bring the subject back up today.

In The Eaters of Light, the TARDIS’s auto-translate appears to be a corner-stone in the dialogue, with Bill being surprised she can understand the Romans, the Romans being surprised that they can understand the native Scots and The Doctor making a poor gag about how everyone sounds like children.

Not only is it a bit of an odd thing to bring up so late into Bill’s time in the TARDIS, but it’s clearly just time filling dialogue to mask that there’s very little substance to the episode.

And like I say, it’s brought up mere weeks on from the Pope speaking to Bill in Italian.

So it’s worth bringing up.

Though I did like the gag about how the TARDIS must also have lip-sync.

Random Observations

  • There’s inconsistency in other areas of the episode too. Unlike last week where Nardole was happy to go to Mars and release Missy from the vault, he’s back to asking why they left her unattended. To be fair, the Doctor addresses the inconsistency in the dialogue, but doesn’t explain or excuse it.
  • The stuff with the crows is probably the sort of thing the writer and/or Steven Moffat found dead clever. Again, I just thought it was stalling.
  • I’m from Scotland but I absolutely hate that Celtic music played throughout.
  • And the twee over-amplified accents annoyed me too.
  • I didn’t really understand the ending. The Doctor said he needed to keep watch over the gate because he was the only person with the life span to do it for all eternity. Yet this was resolved by maybe eight humans going in at the same time? How does that work?
  • Also notice that while the young Scots girl was well up for it, her brave mates basically said “We’ll remember you but we’re fucked if we’re coming too”. Nice.
  • The premise to the episode is a good one though. There’s a reason for them being there.
  • I noticed over the past week that there was a bit of controversy over the casting of a black actor in Queen Victoria’s army. If you missed it, Mark Gatiss wasn’t too keen on the casting – done not for realism but because the BBC want casting to be a bit less ‘homogeneously white’ – until he was placated by the evidence that there was one single black soldier in her army. I see both points. The BBC are right to encourage multicultural casting – and if we’re being honest, there should be a lot more of it in shows like Eastenders – but you’ve surely got to cast accurately for the role. I can’t see many people complaining that Doctor Who is homogeneously white when Pearl Mackie plays the second lead and so I doubt anyone would have been upset about it if that soldier had been played by a white guy. Anyway, I bring this all up because again, an ancient army has been cast in a multicultural way. But before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Roman Army that came to Britain was filled with men from North Africa.
  • Looking ahead to next week, I felt it was a bit ‘name-checky’ to call them ‘Mondasian Cybermen’.
  • And I’m annoyed that that same awful Cybermen incidental music is back.
  • I was hoping for the 1960s Cybermen incidental music to go with them. Let’s hope it happens.

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: Final Thoughts

My brother said to me yesterday morning “I’m looking forward to next week’s episode; I can’t help but think this one will just be filler”.

He was right.

The Eaters of Light was a strangely empty episode with a childrens TV feel and a poorly written Doctor.

It’s not terrible, but it’s far from being good.

Though I hope Rona Munro isn’t asked back.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon