TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 49-60m) ***
BBC One
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Chapters: 1. The Halloween Apocalypse ***; 2. War of the Sontarans ***; 3. Once, Upon Time **; 4. Village of the Angels *****; 5. Survivors of the Flux ***; 6. The Vanquishers **
Exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson (1, 2, 4), Pete Levy (3, 5, 6); w. Chris Chibnall, Maxine Alderton (4); d. Jamie Magnus Stone (1, 2, 4), Azhur Saleem (3, 5, 6); ph. Robin Whenary (1, 2, 4), Phil Wood (3, 5, 6); m. Segun Akinola; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; cos. Ray Holman.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent), Craige Els (Karvanista), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Nadia Albina (Diane), Jo Martin (Fugitive Doctor), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck / Skaak / Sontaran Commander Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Svild).
Ambitious and epic in scope this thirteenth series of the revived Doctor Who was also complex, confusing and populated by too many characters. In Flux, the Doctor and her companions navigate a Universe-ending anomaly called the “Flux”, while dealing with enemies and secrets from the Doctor’s past. The story is told in six inter-linking chapters. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. The chapters that could, with some slight tweaks, serve as standalone episodes – the almost traditional “War of the Sontarans” and the deliciously creepy “Village of the Angels” (superbly directed by Stone)  – are the ones that work best. As for the rest we had the enjoyable but overly frenetic scene-setting opener “The Halloween Apocalypse”, the baffling and confusing “Once, Upon Time”, the slightly less baffling “Survivors of the Flux” and the largely unsatisfying conclusion “The Vanquishers”, which left as many unanswered questions as answered ones. The production was certainly the most extravagant ever attempted by the series – crossing various timelines on Earth and locations across (and outside) the Universe. Each of these settings was superbly realised by excellent visuals and great CGI and the series has never looked better. The technical team can hold their heads high. The lead performances were, overall, good. Whittaker has settled into her Doctor well and at times showed the gravitas that had been missing in the previous two seasons. Gill had much more to do, and Yasmin became a stronger and more pro-active character. Bishop provided some good laughs and was likeable as was Els’ dog-like Karvanista. McNally was also extremely likeable as Professor Jericho and he played the role with conviction. Parkinson’s Grand Serpent was enigmatic and the Sontarans have never looked better. The side story concerning Anderson and Graham’s characters, however, felt phoney and could easily have been excised. Where the story was really lacking, once again, was in the writing. Chibnall has had problems throughout his run in creating engaging drama and logical plots. That malaise continued here despite the additional space. Instead of letting the story breathe, he decided to fill it chock full of confusing exposition and too many peripheral characters. The best stories of the previous two seasons had been those from other writers and the best story of this series included the considerable contribution of Maxine Alderton – the others were all written by Chibnall. Playing loose with the show’s mythos through adding more back story to the Doctor with the use of Flynn (as the Doctor’s “mother”); the re-appearance of Martin as another incarnation of the Doctor; and the mysterious Swarm and Azure holding the Doctor’s memories in Gallifreyan watch. But none of this is resolved in the finale with the Doctor fractured across three timelines. Chibnall may well address these loose threads through the specials to follow, but the immediate problem is the story concluded with the big questions remaining unanswered and it asks a lot of casual viewers to stick with it. When Russell T. Davies finally takes back the reins in 2023 my biggest hope is he takes the programme back to its core roots with more straightforward and engaging plots that use temporal physics as a travelling device rather than a central plot premise. History has shown that the episodes which play with temporal themes and settings are those that tend to satisfy the least. For now, we are left with a third successive frustrating series, albeit an improvement on the previous two, and the prospect of a New Year’s special which once again will put time at the centre of its plotline.

TV Review – MAN IN A SUITCASE: MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967)

MAN IN A SUITCASE
MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967, UK, Colour, 49m) ***
Incorporated Television Company (ITC)
Crime, Drama
pr. Sidney Cole; d. Pat Jackson; w. Stanley R. Greenberg (series created by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner); ph. Lionel Banes; md. Albert Elms; theme m. Ron Grainer; ed. John Glen; pd. William Kellner.
Cast: Richard Bradford (McGill), John Barrie (Harry Thyssen), Lionel Murton (Coughlin), Angela Browne (Rachel Thyssen), Stuart Damon (Williams), Fabia Drake (Receptionist), Timothy Bateson (Pfeiffer), Dandy Nichols (Landlady), David Nettheim (Leader), Gerry Wain (Cap), Arthur Howell (Moustache), Clifford Earl (Policeman), Fred Haggerty (Agent).
One of many ITC productions in the 1960s, this benefited from Bradford’s method approach to the lead character McGill and a desire to capture a realistic level of toughness. The series premise is set up in this debut episode (broadcast sixth in sequence) Rachel Thyssen (Browne), McGill’s ex-girlfriend, spots her father Harry (Barrie), who supposedly drowned years ago. Harry was McGill’s boss in American intelligence from where McGill was forced to resign, having been scapegoated when a scientist under observation, defected to Russia. McGill had believed Harry dead, but he is undercover as a double agent. McGill needs his help to clear his name, but the Russians are also taking an interest in him. The elements are well handled and there is greater use of London locations, including a memorable action finale filmed at White City Stadium (renamed Regal City Stadium).

TV Review – THE LARKINS (2021)

THE LARKINS (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 46m) ***
Objective Fiction / Genial Productions / Objective Media Group Scotland / Independent Television (ITV)
Comedy, Drama
Exec pr. Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, Ben Farrell, Charlotte Lewis, Simon Nye, Toby Stevens, Bradley Walsh; pr. Serena Cullen; d. Andy De Emmony; w. Simon Nye, Abigail Wilson (based on the novel “Darling Buds of May” by H.E. Bates); ph. Darran Bragg; m. Nick Green; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Lucy Spink; ad. Polly Stevens; cos. June Nevin.
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Pop Larkin), Joanna Scanlan (Ma Larkin), Sabrina Bartlett (Mariette Larkin), Tok Stephen (Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton), Davina Coleman (Zinnia Larkin), Rosie Coleman (Petunia Larkin), Liam Middleton (Montgomery Larkin), Lydia Page (Primrose Larkin), Lola Shepelev (Victoria Larkin), Amelia Bullmore (Miss Edith Pilchester), Peter Davison (Vicar), Stephen Hagan (Tom Fisher), Francesca Wilson Waterworth (Libby Fothergill), Kriss Dosanjh (The Brigadier), Tony Gardner (Alec Norman), Seeta Indrani (Miss Chand), Natalie Mitson (Pauline Jackson), Barney Walsh (PC Harness), Timmika Ramsay (Poll Saunders), Selina Griffiths (Norma Norman), Wil Johnson (Old Reg), Robert Bathurst (Johnny Delamere), Angela Bai (Aunt Fan), Victoria Grove (Lil), Georgie Glen (Lady Bluff-Gore), Nicholas Le Prevost (Sir George Bluff-Gore).
Charming, if loose, adaptation of Bates’ beloved novel, It follows the warm-hearted, wheeler-dealing adventures of the iconic Larkin family in the idyllic Kent countryside pales next to the classic 1991-3 series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY but still delivers enough sunny charm to remain entertaining. Walsh and Scanlan are well cast as the charismatic Pop and Ma and help give the production its energy. Picture postcard locations and colourful photography also add to the heartwarming mood. Some will baulk at anachronisms, such as the diverse casting, but this helps introduce the material to a wider audience. Amongst the supporting cast, Davison has fun as the unconventional vicar and Stephen is loveable as Charley.

TV review – CLOSE TO ME (2021)

CLOSE TO ME (TV) (2021, UK/Sweden/Mexico, Colour, 6 x 45-48m) **
Dopamine / Nordic Entertainment Group / The Development Partnership
Drama
Exec pr. Gina Carter, Dave Clarke, Ed Clarke, Josephine Genetay, Connie Nielsen, Robert Taylor; pr. Alison Sterling; d. Michael Samuels: w. Angela Pell (based on the novel by Amanda Reynolds); ph. Sergio Delgado; ed. Tania Reddin.
Cast: Connie Nielsen (Jo Harding), Christopher Eccleston (Rob Harding), Susan Lynch (Cathy), Leanne Best (Anna), Tom Taylor (Finn), Nick Blood (Thomas), Rosy McEwen (Sash Harding), Henning Jensen (Frederik), Ray Fearon (Nick), Lorraine Burroughs (Helen), Mads Madsen (Young Frederik), Jamie Flatters (Owen), Kate O’Flynn (Rose), Zoe Croft (Ella), Emilia Lazenby (Young Jo (Age 7)), Sidsel Rostrup (Susanne), Rosa Niemann (Young Jo), Ellie Haddington (Wendy), Joe Tucker (Jerry), Sandra Huggett (Michelle).
Angst-ridden and overlong drama in which Nielsen plays a woman who has a perfect life with her partner until a fall erases an entire year from her memory. As she struggles to piece events together, Jo discovers that her life was in fact far from perfect. It is difficult to invest in or care about such self-consumed characters, despite the valiant efforts of Nielsen and Eccleston in particular. The plot is initially intriguing but soon wears thin as it becomes stretched over six episodes – repeating scenes ad-infinitum as Nielsen tries to find and join the missing pieces of her life together. Brooding dialogue and moody long shots of barren landscapes echo the Scandinavian noir this series aspires to be. The main problem is with the script (or the source material), which requires you to go along with an increasingly manufactured premise. The result is a drama as soulless as the house the couple occupy.

TV Review – VIGIL (2021)

VIGIL (2021, UK) ***½
Crime, Drama

pr co. World Productions; net. BBC One; exec pr. Tom Edge, Jake Lushington, James Strong, Leslie Finlay, Simon Heath, Gaynor Holmes, Roderick Seligman; pr. Angie Daniell; d. Isabelle Sieb, James Strong; w. Tom Edge, Chandni Lakhani, Ed Macdonald (based on an original idea by George Aza-Selinger); ph. Matt Gray, Ruairí O’Brien; m. Glenn Gregory, Berenice Scott; ed. Chris Buckland, Nikki McChristie, Steven Worsley; pd. Tom Sayer; b/cast. 29 August-26 September 2021; r/t. 6 x 60m.

cast. Suranne Jones (Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva), Rose Leslie (Detective Sergeant Kirsten Longacre), Shaun Evans (Warrant Officer Elliot Glover), Martin Compston (Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke), Paterson Joseph (Commander Neil Newsome), Adam James (Lieutenant Commander Mark Prentice), Gary Lewis (Detective Superintendent Colin Robertson), Lauren Lyle (Jade Antoniak), Lolita Chakrabarti (Lieutenant Commander Erin Branning), Dan Li (Lieutenant Commander Hennessy), Lorne MacFadyen (Petty Officer Matthew Doward), Connor Swindells (Lieutenant Simon Hadlow), Lois Chimimba (Chief Petty Officer Tara Kierly), Daniel Portman (Chief Petty Officer Gary Walsh), Anjli Mohindra (Surgeon Lieutenant Tiffany Docherty), Anita Vettesse (Petty Officer Jackie Hamilton), Stephen Dillane (Rear Admiral Shaw).

This expansive and ambitious mix of crime mystery, conspiracy and international politics sees Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Jones) of the Scottish Police Service sent to HMS Vigil, a Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, to investigate a death on board, which takes place shortly after the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler. Her investigations, and those of her colleagues ashore, bring the police into conflict with the Royal Navy and MI5, the British Security Service. The plot is mixed with a tragic back story for Jones leading to her tentative relationship with Leslie. It is these domestic scenes that tend to slow an otherwise fats-paced and enjoyable thriller that plays on its audiences phobias and paranoia. The direction is strong and the script, though exceedingly complicated, has sufficient intrigue and character conflict to retain interest. The production design is excellent, although the submarine interiors seem larger than you might expect, likely to accommodate camera movement and shot framing. The denouement is a little protracted, but overall this is an often tense and enjoyable production.

TV Review – BEFORE WE DIE (2021)

BEFORE WE DIE (2021, UK) ***
Crime, Drama, Thriller

pr co. Caviar Films / DPG Media / Screen Flanders; net. Channel 4; exec pr. Walter Iuzzolino, Jo McGrath, Robert Franke, Bert Hamelinck; pr. Dimitri Verbeeck, Robin Kerremans; d. Jan Matthys; w. Matt Baker; ph. Seppe Van Grieken; m. Jeroen Swinnen; ed. Joris Brouwers; pd. Pepijn Van Looy; ad. Floris Van Looy, Melanie Light; cos. Jutta Smeyers; b/cast. 26 May 2021; r/t. 6 x 44m.

Lesley Sharp (Hannah Laing), Patrick Gibson (Christian Radic), Vincent Regan (Billy Murdoch), Rebecca Scroggs (Tina Carter), Toni Gojanovic (Davor Mimica), Ryszard Turbiasz (Zvonomir), Issy Knopfler (Bianca Mimica), Kazia Pelka (Dubravka Mimica), John O’Connor (Marcus), Tijmen Govaerts (Jovan), Rino Sokol (Pavle), Nisha Nyar (Fran), Tess Bryant (Rachel), Petar Cvirn (Stefan Vargic), Jonathon Sawdon (Darius), Bill Ward (Sean Hardacre), Steve Toussaint (Kane), Mickey Angelov (Andri Kabashi).

Detective Hannah Laing (Sharp) becomes deeply conflicted when she discovers her son (Gibson) is playing a crucial role as an undercover informant in a brutal murder investigation. Adapted from the 2017 Swedish TV series, this Channel 4 drama benefits from sure-handed central performances from Sharp and Gibson. The scenario of the mother/son and police/informer relationship may be manufactured to drive the drama, but the themes are explored by a taut script that unfortunately loses its credibility altogether during the final episode’s protracted, but admittedly neat, twist denouement. Gojanovich displays the necessary charisma to make the chief villain a three-dimensional character. The Bristol setting, however, feels at odds with the premise which would have sat more naturally with a bigger city location. Technical attributes are strong, with the story being nicely shot and the musical score, for once, complementary and not overly intrusive. The story ends where the first series of the Swedish version did, with some plot points remaining unresolved, before moving on to a second series.

PRESS REACTION:
The Guardian (Lucy Mangan): “…based on a Swedish series of the same name. It figures: viewing it felt exactly like watching something where all the important things had been lost in translation.” (**)
Independent(Sean O’Grady): “It’s the kind of bewilderingly complicated detective drama we’ve become used to, the sort where you can’t quite recall who’s doing what to whom, or why, but we still feel for the various complicated characters living their complicated lives.” (***)
Times(Carol Midgley): “sharp acting, but I don’t believe this monster mum.” (**)
Telegraph (Anita Singh): “…this crime thriller was patronisingly slow. Still, at least the actors provided some eye candy.” (**)
i (Emily Watkins): “The programme’s downfall was its occasional paint-by-numbers narrative beats, and there were a few too many coincidences. Still, it was terribly good fun – let’s say exemplary of a newly coined genre, Bristol Noir.  (***)

 

TV Review – INNOCENT (SERIES 2) (2021)

INNOCENT (Series 2) (2021, UK) **
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. TXTV; net. ITV – Independent Television (UK); pr. Jeremy Gwilt; d. Tracey Larcombe ; w. Chris Lang (series created by Matthew Arlidge, Chris Lang) ; ph. Ian Moss (Colour. 1.78:1); m. Samuel Sim; ed. Matthew Tabern; pd. Kieran McNulty; ad. Irina Kuksova; b/cast. 17-20 May 2021; r/t. 4 x 45m.

Cast: Katherine Kelly (Sally Wright), Jamie Bamber (Sam Wright), Shaun Dooley (DCI Mike Braithwaite), Priyanga Burford (Karen), Laura Rollins (Paine) Andrew Tiernan (John Taylor), Lucy Black (Maria Taylor), Amy-Leigh Hickman (Bethany), Ellie Rawnsley (Anna Stamp), Nadia Albina (Jenny), Poppy Miller (Supt Denham), Michael Yare (Alf), Michael Stevenson (DC Dave Green).

Matthew Taylor, a 16-year-old school boy was brutally murdered in the quiet Lake District. Five years later the accused is found not guilty and released from prison, but who did kill him? The premise here is to take a wrongly convicted party and make them the centre of a drama in which a new police  investigation uncovers the real perpetrator of the crime.  The format then moves into familiar whodunnit territory, whilst dealing with the personal dramas affecting the wronged party (in this case the excellent Katherine Kelly) and those immediately involved with the scenario. The issue I have with this drama is that the premise is so manufactured it requires a considerable suspension of disbelief to assume the initial investigation was so inept as to have missed the multiple clues presented here to solve the case. This is driven by both the concept’s restrictive boundaries and the lack of skilled writing to extract any believable situations from the idea. The feeling therefore is that the characters have been created to serve the scenario rather than falling naturally into Lang’s  environment. Additionally the direction falls into the trap of many similar crime drama series in recent years by pushing the big melodramatic moments and manipulating the audience through overly manufactured false trails and constant incidental music. It manages to retain some interest through Kelly’s excellent lead performance, which is much more nuanced than the majority of the cast, who appear to have waltzed in off the soap opera conveyer belt. The series plays out over 4 episodes and three hours of screen time and as such it does not feel protracted, but when we do get to the final act and the unveiling of the killer, only those unfamiliar with the genre tropes will be surprised.

TV Review – MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021)

MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021, USA) *****
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. Home Box Office (HBO) / Mayhem Pictures / wiip studios; net. Home Box Office (HBO) (USA), Sky Atlantic (UK); exec pr. Gordon Gray, Brad Ingelsby, Paul Lee, Gavin O’Connor, Mark Roybal, Kate Winslet, Craig Zobel; pr. Karen Wacker; d. Craig Zobel; w. Brad Ingelsby; ph. Ben Richardson (Colour. Video (HDTV). ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), 2.00:1); m. Lele Marchitelli; ed. Amy E. Duddleston, Naomi Sunrise Filoramo; pd. Keith P. Cunningham; ad. Gina B. Cranham, Michael Gowen, Michelle C. Harmon; b/cast. 18 April 2021 – 31 May 2021 (USA), 19 April 2021 – 1 June 2021 (UK); r/t. 403m (7 episodes).

Cast: Kate Winslet (Detective Mare Sheehan), Julianne Nicholson (Lori Ross), Jean Smart (Helen Fahey), Angourie Rice (Siobhan Sheehan), John Douglas Thompson (Chief Carter), Joe Tippett (John Ross), Cameron Mann (Ryan Ross), Jack Mulhern (Dylan Hinchey), Izzy King (Drew Sheehan), Justin Hurtt-Dunkley (Officer Trammel), Sosie Bacon (Carrie Layden), David Denman (Frank Sheehan), Neal Huff (Father Dan Hastings), James McArdle (Deacon Mark Burton), Guy Pearce (Richard Ryan), Ruby Cruz (Jess Riley), Enid Graham (Dawn Bailey), Chinasa Ogbuagu (Beth Hanlon), Kassie Mundhenk (Moira Ross), Mackenzie Lansing (Brianna Delrasso).

Kate Winslet stars as a detective in a small Pennsylvania town who investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart. The result is one of the greatest crime TV series ever, driven by a superb script, expert direction and a lead performance from Winslet that is astonishing in its sincerity. Writer Brad Ingelsby has shown how to pace a mystery over 7 episodes whilst fleshing out fully rounded characters with flaws which show them to be real and believable. Where Ingelsby’s writing impresses most is that it avoids the pitfall of many modern crime dramas by refusing to manufacture melodrama and shock twists for the sake of it and instead relies on story progression through quality writing, strong characterisation and natural dialogue. Everything that happens here feels and looks real and is performed with integrity by a cast at the top of their game. Winslet holds the centre ground as the detective haunted by a tragedy in her family’s recent past and reminders in the disintegration of her best friend’s family as she investigates a murder case and a missing persons case, which may or may not be related. As Winslet unravels the mysteries and deals with ongoing personal dramas, she starts to come to terms with the tragedy that haunts her. The audience is pulled in to her life and feels everything she feels as her relationships with family and friends evolve with her investigation. US reviewers pointed to similarities in approach to TRUE DETECTIVE, and here there are parallels with BBC’s HAPPY VALLEY. MARE OF EASTTOWN surpasses the former and sits comfortably with the latter.

TV Review – INTERGALACTIC (2021)

INTERGALACTIC (UK, 2021, 8 x 45m) **
Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure

net; Sky One; pr co. Babieka / Moonage Pictures / Tiger Aspect Productions; d. Kieron Hawkes, China Moo-Young , Hannah Quinn; cr. Julie Gearey; w. Julie Gearey, Laura Grace ; exec pr. Paul Gilbert; series pr. Nick Pitt.

cast: Savannah Steyn (Ash Harper), Eleanor Tomlinson (Candy), Natasha O’Keeffe (Emma), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Tula), Thomas Turgoose (Drew), Oliver Coopersmith (Echo), Imogen Daines (Verona), Diany Samba-Bandza (Genevieve), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Yann Harper), Craig Parkinson (Dr. Lee), Parminder Nagra (Rebecca Harper), Neil Maskell (Wendell), Samantha Schnitzler (Captain Alessia Harris).

The year 2143. Climate change has screwed the planet and the world’s cities, now mostly underwater, are controlled by a pseudo democratic government called the Commonworld. After sky cop Harper (Savannah Steyn) is set up for a crime she had nothing to do with, she is placed on board prisoner transport ship the Hemlock bound for an off-planet prison. On board she is thrown into the melee of a mutiny stirred up by a band of hardened female criminals who threaten to kill her if she doesn’t fly them to safety.

Intergalactic must be one of the biggest wasted opportunities to hit our TV screens in recent years.  Backed by Sky with a top-notch production design (by Mark Geraghty); more than acceptable visual effects; and a solid-gold premise inspired by one of British TVs best sci-fi adventure series (Blake’s 7) this should have been a celebration of what is great about British TV. Unfortunately we had to deal with characters, who for the most part were very difficult to like and left us with no-one to root for; incessant and overly gratuitous use of foul language; banal and cliched dialogue and storylines; and a finale that wasn’t. The latter is partly explained by the fact there were two more scripts to shoot before production was curtailed by the pandemic. The producers, directors and writers must take the blame for the rest. Tonally, the series veered from witty and tongue-in-cheek to violent and abrasive – often in the same scene. The former losing out increasingly to the latter as the series progressed. That would have been okay, as the stakes were raised in those later episodes, but what we were left with was a depressing tale of self-centred characters whose cause and motivations were never fully explained to any logical or believable level. The performances were almost universally one-note and ranged from the awful (Duncan-Brewster, who simply snarls her way through her entire performance) to the passable (most of the rest) . Only Turgoose managed to inject any depth into his character, whilst Coopersmith struggled to bring some Han Solo-esque charm to his. The series had admirable qualities in its use of a diverse cast and its pushing most of the leading roles to females. There are also the occasional amusing and witty lines of dialogue that shine like beacons amongst most of the writing (Turgoose remarking the one planet they visit was “worse then Bolton”). Stereotypes are much in evidence, however, and the story becomes increasingly predictable and derivative of other, better productions (and that is saying something when one of the inspirations was Con-Air). The design of the Hemlock, the prison ship stolen by the mutineers, is genuinely impressive and it is a shame it is not peopled by characters we would like to spend more time with. The camera work is good, but the direction often feels amateurish and the cast seem unable to bring any level of empathy to their characters.  There is a backstory for each that feels like it was taken from the “bumper book of prison characters” and there is insufficient subtlety in the writing to present these backstories in anything other than flat monologues. For an example of how to write a sci-fi show about a group of misfits and a totalitarian government, Geary should have looked no further than Firefly, which attacked similar themes with much more style and wit as well as characters you wanted to spend time with, rather than wince at every aggressive use of the “f-word” – instead she did not even look to the strengths of Blake’s 7 and landed much closer to Con-Air – more is the pity. It is hard to see the series being picked up for a second run, which is a shame in that it will likely kill off any further attempts to create a rebirth for British sci-fi TV for the foreseeable future.