Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: The Field of Blood, Southcliffe, I Love My Country and Doctor Who Live

by | Aug 11, 2013 | All, Reviews

Welcome once again to a look at the highs and the lows of this week’s TV.

We start this week with a sequel to a drama that first aired back in 2011 on BBC Scotland. The first instalment of The Field of Blood had an interesting journey as it later found a cult following on the iPlayer before it was reshown on BBC1. Two years later a second two-part instalment, based on Denise Mina’s The Dead Hour, was aired on BBC One primetime, an interesting experiment seeing as not everyone caught the show’s first run. However, I personally feel that you didn’t need to have any prior knowledge of the characters to enjoy this second slice of Glaswegian thriller. The story was set in 1984 where plucky young reporter Paddy Meehan (Jayd Johnson) is still listening out for police bulletins with cynical old hack McVie (Ford Kiernan) in the broken down cold car. One night the pair hear of a domestic disturbance and discover it involves prominent human rights lawyer Vhari Burnett. As they attempt to investigate the matter they are stopped by a mysterious man in braces who offers them a bribe in return for their silence. Though both take the money, they later regret their decision when Burnett is reported dead and later a second body is discovered in the form of her lover Mark Thillingly. While Paddy and McVie attempt to crack the case and print the exclusive story, there are changes being made at The Glasgow Daily News. The paper has been sold and the new owners have implanted the glamorous power-suit wearing Maloney (Katharine Kelly) as the managing editor. Maloney attempts to drag the paper kicking and screaming into the new decade by introducing computers and getting rid of some of the institution’s more senior staff members. Maloney’s arrival isn’t welcomed by editor Murray Devlin (David Morrissey) who finds her interference to be detrimental to the success of The Daily News. Though Maloney’s true motives aren’t made clear, it seems that her initial frostiness may have just been a front as she attempts to bond with both Paddy and Devlin. The case gets even more interesting when links are made between Miner’s Union leader Willie McDade (David Heyman) and Burnett’s murder.

I have to say I really enjoyed this two-part Field of Blood story which didn’t alienate new viewers while at the same time respected those who’d watched from the start. I found that writer/director David Kane and his team recreated the world of the smoke-filed newsroom perfectly and it did seem like somewhere where change wouldn’t be appreciated. The story itself was brilliantly paced and intriguing from beginning to end with just enough clues being dropped throughout. While I found a lot of the miner’s strike plot to be quite clichéd, I was happy with the way it ultimately played into the main story and everything made sense by the end. That is apart from the character of Maloney, whose allegiances were never fully explained as she flip-flopped between being on the side of the journalists and being their bitter enemy. It seemed to be as if David Kane never truly understood this character and therefore I feel the character was a failure due to his presentation of her rather than Katherine Kelly’s muddled performance. Thankfully all the rest of the characters felt well drawn with the brilliant Paddy being played with a mixture of strength and naivety by the fabulous Jayd Johnson. Johnson has brilliant chemistry with the majority of her co-stars namely Ford Kiernan as the weather-beaten McVie, who offers up some revelations about his own personal life here. David Morrissey is predictably excellent in his supporting role as the crusading journalist who is always on hand with some sage words for Paddy. The only part of the story that I wasn’t completely enamoured with was Paddy’s romance with married copper DC Dan Burns, a subplot which ultimately had life-changing altercations for Paddy. Overall though this was a really gripping two part drama that the BBC were right to air in primetime as it combined a really well-written story with fantastically drawn-characters and some fine performances. I’m just hoping that this instalment did well enough to warrant the adaptation in Mina’s Paddy Meehan trilogy as I’d really like to see all of these characters once again.

There was more new drama this week in the form of Channel 4’s Southcliffe, which aired its first two instalments on Sunday and Monday. The drama concerns the fictional seaside town of the title which sees a mass tragedy occur when deranged gunman Stephen Morton (Sean Harris) goes on a rampage. The first episode flashes back to see the motives behind Morton’s massacre and reveal that he’s a fairly quiet man who revels in his army background. These flashbacks seem him embark on a brief friendship with Chris (Joe Dempsie), a young soldier who has just returned from Afghanistan. However, the friendship doesn’t last when Morton terrorises Chris when the two train together and later Chris’ uncle humiliates Stephen which is the final tipping point for him. Meanwhile the episode also followed the story of David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear), a TV reporter who was born in Southcliffe but has incredibly painful memories of growing up in the town. The second episode fleshed out some more of the characters including pub landlord Paul (Antol Yusef), who has a loving family but at the same time is still carrying on an affair with a younger woman. We also meet social worker Claire (Shirley Henderson) who is trying for another baby with husband Andrew (Eddie Marsan) as their teenage daughter (Kaya Scodelario) is about to fly the coop. Obviously, by the end of the episode, these families are flung into turmoil as Morton’s rampage sends shockwaves through Soutchliffe.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Southcliffe as the first episode was incredibly meandering with set pieces that never seemed to go anywhere. For example the scene in which Stephen tortured Chris in the woods had far too much time devoted to it and I found it to be really repetitive. At the same time I felt that writer Tony Grisoni had written two very compelling characters in Stephen and David, two men who’d had similar upbringings but had gone down two drastically different paths. I’m really glad I made the decision to keep watching as episode two filled in a lot of the blanks and really opened up the story a lot more. It helps that Southcliffe has a really excellent ensemble cast who all breathe life into their respective characters and make them somewhat believable. I found that Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan were perfectly suited as Anna and Andrew Salter, the hard-working couple who couldn’t catch a break when it came to having another child. Rory Kinnear was suitably slimy as David, the star reporter who is too big for his own boots and who obviously has some demons to confront on his return to Southcliffe. Even Sean Harris made us slightly sympathise with sad gunman Stephen, who seemingly had little where else in his life to go than down. The only criticism I have of the cast is that I feel that Kaya Scodelario was somewhat squandered in a role in which she basically had to run a lot and then get shot. I think the role of Anna could’ve been given to a lesser actress as I feel Kaya’s talents were wasted in this small role. While Grisoni’s characters are strong, I wasn’t a massive fan of the jumping backwards and forwards in time, especially as it was done with increasingly regularity. Meanwhile Canadian director Sean Durkin used his experiences growing up in Surrey to create the moody, grey world of Southcliffe with its beaches full of abandoned boats and hollow shipping containers. While it takes a while to adjust to how bleak Southcliffe is, I found myself really engrossed by the end of episode two and definitely feel that this is one of the strongest dramas to come along for a while. I’m just hoping the two concluding instalments don’t let it down and that it has a definitive resolution of some kind.

Though we’ve had two excellent dramas, the week’s TV wasn’t all great as we had to endure yet another awful Saturday night entertainment catastrophe in I Love My Country. In a year that has already brought us Off their Rockers, Animal Antics, Britain’s Brightest and Splash!; I Love My Country continues the trend of awful weekend programmes which are supposed to entertain us in some way. However, I Love My Country is just plain bizarre as we see teams captained by the charming Frank Skinner and the awful Mickey Flanagan answering questions that are in some way related to the UK. The first thing to say about the teams is that they all look like they’ve been pulled out of the BBC Canteen as we had Saturday Kitchen’s James Martin, BBC Breakfast’s Susanna Reid and Fatboy from Eastenders as three of the unwilling victims. The choice of Gabby Logan as host makes me think that the BBC want to evoke memories of the Olympics by airing it at this time of the year, while it also makes me think that Logan has to fire her agent for getting her to host both this and Splash! The games themselves are a bizarre mix which included a sort of higher or lower guessing game, a round of pass the parcel and a sing-a-long to a Beatles song. Yes, there were plenty of music rounds on display here so of course this warranted a house band fronted by the ubiquitous Jamelia. The singer’s presence on the show provided another surreal moment when she started singing ‘Ace of Spades’, something that I’d never though I’d see especially on a Saturday evening entertainment show. The worse element of the programme, for me at least, had to be the baying studio audience, all of whom were split into two sides and either supported Mickey or Frank. Their baying, whooping and hollering would’ve been off-putting even if I Love My Country was the next Noel’s House Party. But instead it was just another nail in the coffin of a show that looked like it had been designed by committee and just felt incredibly cynical.

Finally, even though it’s old news now, I thought I’d give my opinions on the choice of Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor Who. Those who tuned in to, Doctor Who Live – The Next Doctor, expecting to hear the announcement straight away had obviously never seen one of these live specials before. Instead, there was a number of pointless talking heads being brought out to talk to Zoe Ball about their love of Doctor Who. This was best exemplified when Rufus Hound came on and was just awful, even almost revealing the name of the doctor when he uttered the name Peter. There were also endless video montages of the regeneration process and a pre-taped message from Matt Smith who looked like he was already getting used to not having to talk about the same show all the time. While I wasn’t disappointed on Capaldi being announced as the next Doctor, I was disappointed to see how much time was actually devoted to interviewing him. Though I get that it was all about building anticipation, I found that I had quite a few more questions than the ones Zoe Ball had for Capaldi. My other issue is that not everybody watching Doctor Who will know who Capaldi is, aside from maybe his previous appearances in Torchwood and Doctor Who itself. While I’m not saying they had to air a Malcolm Tucker highlights package they could’ve at least given a little bit of a career retrospective. When Matt Smith was announced as the Doctor I remember the pre-taped special showed us highlights of Smith’s career and why others felt he’d be a good choice for the role. I feel that this is what this programme lacked and this show did have the feel of something that had been knocked together in about ten minutes. Fortunately I’m really glad that an excellent actor like Capaldi has been cast in the role and it will bring something new to a character who, for years now, has been played by young actors who have been relative newcomers. It will be refreshing to see a Doctor who isn’t a potential love interest for his companion and I’ll be interested to see how Capaldi plays the character when he starts the job at the end of the year.

For more of my views on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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