My followers on Twitter will know I’ve been slightly downbeat about the state of UK drama this year. The C-Word aside, there hasn’t been a BBC to grab me by the short and curly’s. I’d hoped it would be Doctor Foster, I’d previewed the first episode and LOVED Surrane Jones, loved the second episode and then slowly grew disillusioned with it.
Whilst Surrane’s performance throughout as ‘scorned woman’ Gemma Foster couldn’t possibly faulted, I found some aspects of the five-episode run from stage writer Mike Barlett a little too far fetched to fully immerse myself into it. With it’s wide screen format, bright colours and distinct lack of dialogue in what I considered to be pivotal moments, I view it in the same way as I do glossy US dramas like Homeland and The Affair.
But, now, I’d like you to disregard anything I said in those first two moany paragraphs, the finale of Doctor Foster was utterly BRILLIANT! I’d waited all year for a homegrown drama to grab me and this final episode had me from the first second! Barlett’s theatre background came to the fore in the brilliantly tense and awkward fifteen minute scene that saw Gemma sit down to dinner with the family of the girl her husband had been sleeping with for two years. I literally couldn’t look away. If the phone had rang I’d’ve switched it off without taking my eyes off the screen, if a small fire had broken out in the room next door to mine I’d’ve dealt with it when Gemma had finished her speech. I was captivated.
The ratings for this five-part drama had remained steady but my feelings toward it were more up and down than the Doctor’s rocky relationship. This final episode might be the best finale of TV drama I’ve seen for a long time. I had previously thought I hadn’t warmed to the characters but as Gemma took centre stage at the dinner table I was completely on her side, willing her to goad everyone on at the table. Even when the dinner scene had read its impressive and wonderfully awkward climax Barlett’s script wasn’t done with us. In a stroke of genius the rest of the perfectly paced finale saw Gemma confronting everyone who had wronged her and reveling in their discomfort.
I’ve known since 2009’s Unforgiven how incredibly talented Surrane Jones is, she has the ability to transform into her characters and you immediately believe her. Doctor Gemma Foster is about as far from Unforgiven’s Ruth Slater or Rachel Bailey in her other successful ITV series, but she’s no less believable. The scene which saw her son Tom confront her about not being around was heartbreaking and felt incredibly authentic, and the penultimate scene which saw the real showdown between her and unfaithful husband Simon was almost too much to bare. It’s worth saying how wonderful Bertie Carvel was too, at no point did I agree with Simon’s actions, but at no point did I really hate him either.
The final moments were perhaps a little bit more convenient than I’d’ve liked as Foster bumps into her husband’s lover in town, but they did serve to bring the drama to a full conclusion without leaving audiences wondering where the characters would end up. It’s become an insufferable trend of modern drama to leave the final moments up to the interpretation of the audience member, sometimes it works, more often than not you end up feeling short changed after immersing yourself in a series for 5 or 6 weeks or more and not getting that satisfying conclusion you’ve longed for. Sometimes it’s nice to have a show end with everything tied up nicely.
So, there you have it, me completely stamping over almost every comment I’ve made about this superb drama on social media. This is certainly an occasion when I’m almost gleeful to have been so wrong and judged a drama so harshly. It’s not been a stellar year for BBC drama, but Doctor Foster is not just a standout of this year it’s a stand out of contemporary BBC drama in general.
Doctor Foster is now available to own on DVD.