I really wished I’d watched the first run of Doctor Foster prior to its comebackas I feel like it would’ve provided a refresher on the attributes of certain characters who I believe have changed significantly since series one. This is especially true of Simon (Bertie Carvel) who, as I can remember, was initially presented as charismatic and charming to the extent that we were unsure how deceptive he was until the latter half of the series. However, in this series he has transformed into a pantomime villain who is intent on wrecking the lives of those who he believes wronged him two years ago no matter the consequences.
To an extent I feel the same way about Gemma (Suranne Jones) who was able to get her own back on Simon after learning about his deceit and his betrayal. However, after learning that he plans to force her to move out of Parminster, she appears to be playing into his hands by making decisions that he can use against her. Although I can understand she was distraught after her teenage son Tom (Tom Taylor) decided to move in with his dad last week her actions in this episode called for more dramatic license than anything that happened last week. From the opening scene in which she was seen lurking outside the school gates, essentially stalking her son and accosting his friend Max (Frank Kauer) about his whereabouts. It soon transpired that Tom had visited Gemma’s surgery on her day off, deciding to book an appointment with newcomer Sian (Sian Brooke) rather than see his normal GP Ros (Thusitha Jayasundera) . Upon seeing Tom at the surgery she resolves to make Sian break her Hippocratic Oath by revealing the nature of her son’s problems and eventually makes a date to have dinner with her colleague.
Meanwhile, Gemma enlists the help of neighbour Neil (Adam James) to discover the source of the funds that allowed Simon and Kate (Jodie Comer) to afford such a gorgeous house on The Acres estate. After pretending to bump into him at his new office, Neil agrees to go for a drink with Simon who informs that he invested in an American fracking business with a small amount of money garnered from Kate’s father. However, at their meeting Simon seems more interested in discussing his former neighbour’s one-night stand with his ex-wife which she then used to learn about his financial status. It was clear from these scenes that Simon isn’t over Gemma and once again I felt for Kate who was at home with their young daughter whilst he was out seeking revenge against another man. However, that revenge was eventually executed when Simon gets a drunken Neil to cheat on his wife once again with a woman he sets up with at the pub. Unfortunately, this is the final straw with Neil’s marriage to Anna (Victoria Hamilton) as she kicks him out of the house and he’s forced to move into a hotel.
My favourite parts of this episode involved the dinner between Gemma and Sian; an initially frosty affair that later sees the woman bond over ex-husbands and sons. These scenes worked due to the chemistry that Jones and Brooke shared and the care that writer Mike Bartlett took in introducing this new character. It was great to see Sian’s guard gradually being taken down as she revealed her secret smoking habit with Gemma and the two shared a cigarette together. Here Sian revealed that Tom had come to see her as he was struggling to sleep and felt he may be suffering from anxiety. As much as I enjoyed the dinner scene between Sian and Gemma everything that came after it further stretched the credibility of the drama. Instead of agreeing to have dessert at Sian’s, Gemma instead drunkenly turns up at Max’s house wanting to share wine with him and discover more about her son. Here she learned that her son no longer loved her, something that must have happened very recently as the pair seemed very happy when the series began. Gemma then appeared in the bushes outside Simon’s house in order to stalk her son before arriving at a club in town where she attempted to have sex with her new love interest James (Prasanna Puwanarajah) who rightly rebuffed her advances. Gemma’s wild night out then ended with her conveniently leaving the club at the same time Simon left the pub and him taking a photo of her whilst she was trying to confront him in Parminster town square.
The final moments of the episode helped to fill some of the gaps in logic that I struggled with last week but at the same time annoyed me as they’d spoiled elements of the plot that I’d previously enjoyed. Firstly, the burgeoning friendship between Sian and Gemma looked to be over before it began as it was revealed that the former was a university acquaintance of Simon and had been feeding back information about her experiences at the surgery to her ex-husband. Furthermore, it was revealed here that Simon’s plan was to oust Gemma from Parminster within a month as he’d informed Sian that he wouldn’t have to deal with her for very long. This made me feel that his new home in The Acres is a temporary solution and he plans to move back into his former abode once his ex-wife has left the picture, a theory that would be backed up by the fact that Simon had several estate agents arrive at Gemma’s house in an attempt put an evaluation on the property. Gemma’s closing confrontation with her ex-husband confirmed one of the theories that we’d had on the podcast last week, as it was strongly suggested that Simon had told Tom something about his mother that instantly changed his opinion of her. This was followed up by a scene at Tom’s school where we’d learnt that he’d attacked Max, presumably as he’d learned that Gemma had been round at his best friend’s house the night before.
My above thoughts on the episode may make you believe that I have a negative opinion of Doctor Foster but I think it’s primarily as I enjoyed the first series so much that this episode frustrated me so much. I’m particularly annoyed with Gemma’s actions up to this point as she’s playing exactly into Simon’s hands as her drunken antics coupled with her basically becoming a stalker will give him more ammunition in the upcoming episodes. One theory I heard was that Gemma is acting this way in order to Simon into a force sense of security however, I feel if this was the case then Bartlett should really let viewers in on his protagonist’s new scheme. Furthermore, I feel that Bartlett should give us some scenes showing Simon at home with Tom and Kate as it would counterbalance the character of the smirking villain that he’s played since the second series began. Indeed, the only time I felt Simon was a real character here was when he showed true concern for Tom when he and Gemma arrived at the school in the closing scene.
Despite my feelings about the character’s motivations I still feel that the strong acting and great direction still make Doctor Foster a cut above the other dramas currently populating our screens. As I previously mentioned, I really liked everything between Sian and Gemma and their dinner scenes really showcased the skill of Suranne Jones and Sian Brooke. In fact, Brooke has already supplanted herself into the cast fairly well and I’m hoping she continues to play a significant role in the story even now her connection to Simon has been revealed. I also enjoyed the scene between James and Gemma where he brought her breakfast and tried to explain to her that she should possibly stop focusing on the past. In this scene, James came off as possibly the series most rational character to the extent that I hope he runs far away from Gemma before he becomes another pawn in the game that the Fosters are playing. Jeremy Lovering’s direction continues to be series two’s other highlights as he allowed us to see the world through Gemma’s eyes as she plunged further into drunkenness. I particularly enjoyed how he directed the scenes where Gemma peered at Simon’s house through the bushes and later her completely ludicrous behaviour at the club.
Overall, I’m hoping that Doctor Foster picks up soon as at the moment I’m disappointed with where Bartlett has taken his two main characters. Although Jones’ central performance and Lovering’s direction continues to be strong I’m not sure if the series still works for me. However, as I enjoyed the first series so much, I’m willing to give Bartlett and company the benefit of the doubt and hope that as we reach the halfway point of series two things start to make a lot more sense.
Doctor Foster Continues Tuesday at 9.00pm on BBC One