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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Matt on the Box: Endeavour, Call the Midwife, The Biggest Little Railway in the World and Derry Girls

Welcome to the latest look back at another week at a very slow TV week in which I look at one returning show and track the progress of three programmes that I've been enjoying over the last month.


The returning show on the list is Endeavour which is back for its fifth series on ITV; which is comprised of six episodes rather than the traditional four. Now set in 1968, there is much change for Morse (Shaun Evans) as he's been promoted to DS whilst the Oxford City Police is itself undergoing a facelift and is now part of the newly formed Thames Valley constabulary. Due to the merger, Morse has been allowed to stay on despite there already being a DS in the station in the form of his reluctant flatmate Jim Strange (Sean Rigby). However, I was under the impression that the decision to keep Morse in the station was a temporary one and that Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) was busy with the recent reshuffle. Against his will Morse is tasked with taking a new DC; George Fancy (Lewis Peek) under his wing with DCI Thursday (Roger Allam) suggesting that it's Morse's chance to prove himself as a mentor. Inevitably, Morse declines Fancy's attempts at small talk and later berates his would-be-protege for stopping in for a lunchtime pint rather than carrying on with his work. As ever, writer Russell Lewis crafts a complex case for Morse and company to solve which is triggered when an associate of a notorious local gangster is murdered. At the same time, Morse is asked to investigate the attempted robbery of a prestigious Faberge egg which is to be auctioned by a local museum. Obviously, this being Endeavour the two incidents are connected via a mysterious red-haired call girl Eve (Charlotte Hope) and an Oxford-university dining society whose secret parties hold many secrets. As with every Endeavour episode there are small clues dropped in throughout the episode to the identity of the killer and these included a particular shade of lipstick plus the way in which all the victims were displayed following their murders. Meanwhile, in a separate subplot, this episode saw the return to Oxford of Thursday's daughter Joan (Sara Vickers) who has lost the closeness she once shared with her father. I'm looking forward to seeing how Lewis uses the character of Joan going forward particularly in terms of both her relationships with her father and with Morse.


The fact that Endeavour series five is six episodes rather than four means that Russel Lewis will have the opportunity to flesh out the characters a little and create arcs away from the mystery of the week. This week's opener explored Morse's sexuality both through the return of Joan and the questions asked of him by Eve who pulled no punches when it came to assessing Morse's treatment of the opposite sex. In fact, the best bits of this episode were those that focused on the change in Morse's character as he appeared to be pricklier than in prior series especially in the way he judged certain suspects in this week's case. This was also evidenced through his dismissal of the juvenile Fancy; a character that I'm yet to warm to primarily due to his treatment of the opposite sex and specifically how he talked about the brilliant WPC Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards). However, it appears that Morse's softer side is still present as he covered for a mistake Fancy made which led he in turn to a clue that helped with the case. It appears that Shaun Evans relishes portraying this new thorny side to Morse and again I felt he delivered a stellar turn throughout the episode. However, as someone who didn't grow up watching the original Inspector Morse, the change in the protagonist's personality was slightly jarring at times as I'm used to him being the soft centre of a more brittle establishment. As Fred Thursday, Roger Allam continues to steal the show and the return of Joan will allow the actor to have his own subplot away from simply being a mentor to Morse. Personally, I wasn't a fan of this week's central mystery, however this may be as I'd just returned from a holiday abroad and possibly didn't give it my full concentration. Despite this, I felt the character of Eve was an interesting one and Charlotte Hope gave a memorable guest turn as someone who challenged Morse at every step of the way. However, this being an opening episode, I felt that Lewis did a fabulous job introducing the newly formed constabulary as well as the character of Fancy and Morse's new personality. Endeavour is a drama that always provides plenty of highlights and I'm already anticipating this new elongated series as allows Lewis to tell more complex tales and give characters longer arcs which will in turn let the audience connect with the more than they have done in previous years.


Airing opposite Endeavour was the third episode of Call the Midwife's seventh series which has so far been predictably consistent in producing top quality instalments. In the past, I've praised writer/creator Heidi Thomas for balancing light and shade throughout each episode however, I think in this Sunday's episode the balance was a little off as horrific circumstances befell several characters. The episode initially began by introducing us to Doreen Lunt (Kelly Gough); a woman pregnant with her third child but living in a dirty hovel which she has failed to maintain due to her failing mental state. Her husband reveals that Doreen't father was taken to an asylum and that's why she shuns the help of Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) before eventually agreeing to be treated by him. Dr. Turner's diagnosis reveals more pain for the Lunts as Doreen has Huntington's Disease a genetic condition that is also found to be present in her daughter. Trixie (Helen George) is tasked with looking after the youngster and eventually takes her to the residential home where she'll get the care she needs. However, her experiences deeply affect her especially while she's also trying to deal with the fact that Alexandra, the daughter of her partner Christopher (Jack Hawkins), is experiencing psychological issues relating to her parents' divorce. Therefore, Trixie decides to cut ties with Christopher for the good of his daughter and this latest separation results in the alcoholic nurse falling off the wagon. Thomas does try to balance all this darkness with Fred and Violet (Cliff Parisi and Annabelle Apison) organising a beauty pageant for the locals and this does provide a few comic moments. Additionally, it begins the friendship of Valerie (Jennifer Kirby) and the Turner's au pair Magda (Nina Yndis) as they are both competing at the pageant but once again the plot quickly turns dark. It's revealed that Magda is pregnant as the result of an abusive relationship in France and tries to give herself an abortion using the knowledge garnered from the medical books in the Turner residence. This being a Call the Midwife episode, everybody rallies around to help Magda who decides to depart Poplar for Paris to study nursing, but I have a feeling she'll be back again soon. As ever, this episode of Call the Midwife was compelling and it's a testament to Thomas's writing that I'm invested in every member of the ensemble cast. Helen George's performance was particularly strong here and although her separation from Christopher was a little far-fetched it's great to see the actress be given another meaty storyline as Trixie turns to drink once again. I'm so glad that Call the Midwife continues to deliver especially as it's the only BBC One drama that's lived up to expectations in 2018 thus far.


A recent trip abroad afforded me the chance to catch-up on two Channel 4 shows that I'd started earlier in the year but had gotten behind on. The first of these is The Biggest Little Railway in the World; the Dick Strawbridge-fronted series in which a group of volunteers attempted to build a model railway between Fort William and Inverness. The route was supposed to replicate the route that the Victorian railway-workers tried and failed to construct due to the harsh terrain contained in the Scottish Highlands. What I enjoyed about the show was that it focused on plenty of model railway enthusiasts who admitted to struggling with social interactions but were forced to work together to get the job done. The programme was at its best when were given information about the volunteers whether it be classic engine restorer Cameron; who talked about how his late mother encouraged his passion for engines or rambunctious Laurence; the leader of one of the teams whose enthusiasm was the driving force for the project. Furthermore, I felt the construction of some of the track was fantastic especially the work done by the special builds team who made several contraptions necessary for the model train to traverse some of the route's trickier parts. The engine itself was the fantastic Silver Lady; who became part of the team as the programme progressed even though she struggled along parts of the route. I knew I'd become invested in the show when I felt myself getting heartbroken that Silver Lady may have to be replaced by an electronic engine which could complete the route without constant interruptions for refuelling. However, the volunteers rallied against this idea as they'd grown a bond with Silver Lady and wanted her to complete the route as much as I did. As the show wore on, the programme-makers began to implant doubt in the mind of the viewers that Silver Lady might not make it to Inverness on time, especially when Dick and his engineering pals were forced into partaking in night shifts in order to complete the journey in time. But, working together, Silver Lady made into Inverness for a celebration with the local railway club and the volunteers who'd worked tirelessly to get her there. Overall, I felt the show was one that celebrated the British spirit and shone a light on our country's brilliant eccentrics who often don't get featured on these sorts of shows. I would recommend the show to anyone who hasn't yet seen it as it filled me with joy and was the sort of uplifting programme I needed to get me through the winter months.


Also finishing this week was Derry Girls; Lisa McGee's semi-autobiographical sitcom set during the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1990's. When I wrote about the first episode I talked about how my favourite moments involved the family of the comedy's protagonist Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) specifically her parents Mary and Gerry (Tara Lynne O'Neill and Tommy Tiernan) and her granddad Joe (Ian McElhinney). This assertion proved to be an accurate assessment of Derry Girls as I personally felt the family scenes clicked more than when Erin had to overcome a series of problems with her cousin Orla (Louisa Harland) and hapless friends Clare and Michelle (Nicola Coughlan and Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) as well as Michelle's awkward English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn). The scenes with the youngsters felt awfully cartoonish as if they'd been lifted from the pages of a Beano-esque comic strip with the actresses not helping the cause by overplaying their parts. Conversely the scenes between Erin's family were well-constructed and well-played including a subplot in the fourth episode where Mary and sister Sarah (Kathy Keira Clare) where horrified when they'd learnt Joe had a new lady friend. I similarly enjoyed the fifth episode where the family were going on their annual holiday that coincided with the Orange March and discovered that they were harbouring a stowaway who wanted to cross the border. But it was Thursday's finale that showed the most promise as every character was perfectly utilised and the comedy felt more authentic than it had done throughout the series. Whilst the storyline involving Erin's family and a lost camera shop docket was hilarious as ever, it was the plot revolving around the girls which provided more memorable moments. With Erin single-handedly attempting to run the school's magazine, she stole a story from an anonymous pupil writing about how hard it was to be secretly gay. When the author of the piece was revealed to be Claire, Erin questioned her friendship with her only for the pair to come together to support Orla's strange step-aerobic-themed entry to the school's talent show. This was the first time where an episode of Derry Girls impressed me and I finally saw what others who'd be raving about the comedy all series had seen from the outset. I'm now hoping that the already-announced second will capitalise on the promise evidenced in the series one finale because if it does Derry Girls could be one of Channel 4's best sitcoms of the last few years.

That's your lot for now remember you can find me on Twitter @mattstvbites and the good news is that next week there's plenty of new shows for me to sink my teeth into so I'll see you all then.

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