Monday, July 18, 2011

Classic Serial–classic production

I rarely bother with Radio 4’s Classic Serial, being more interested in original drama than derivative dramatisations and not at all interested in brutal hack jobs on great literature.  Knocking a novel of 300 pages or more down to two hours is pure vandalism.

I have never, however, read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy and was attracted by the fact that The History of Titus is a six-episode, and therefore six-hour undertaking.


It is superb.  Brian Sibley, an authority on Peake who assisted Peake’s widow with the unfinished Titus Awakes, has maintained the rackety sprawl of Peake’s characters and, despite inevitable cuts and compressions, keeps up a strong dramatic pace.  Jeremy Mortimer’s production is an object lesson in the radiophonic arts and some of the acting – most of the acting – is exceptional.  Paul Rhys’s agonised howl at the burnt ruins of Sepulchrave’s beloved library scoured the soul.


So this is the perfect example of a BBC Classic Serial.  It works within its own terms as a highly successful drama and it prompts the listener to get hold of the original forthwith. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Torchwood–two new series, one week


I don’t know, you wait a couple of years for more Torchwood and two brand new series come along in the same week.  On BBC1 TV we welcomed the new transatlantic co-production, the ten-part Miracle Day.  On BBC Radio 4 we had three self-contained episodes under the umbrella title The Lost Files, which enabled them to resurrect the character of Ianto.

It’s funny.  I wasn’t keen on the last TV series (Torchwood Season 3: The Children of Earth) but I loved Miracle Day.   I loved the last radio season (notably The Golden Age) but The Lost Files was so unremittingly awful I couldn’t last the course.  Rubbish ideas, clumsily executed and brought to the airwaves with all the loving care of a fishmonger gutting fish.  Unspeakable.

But back to the positive…

Captain Jack already has an American accent and coat, so it didn’t seem at all odd for him to be Stateside, whilst living in hiding on the remotest stretch of Welsh coast, and becoming a mother, has only souped up the wondrous Gwen (the always brilliant Eve Myles, above).  The American co-stars felt right  because they  are already stars.  Bill Pullman was super-creepy and Mekhi Phifer nothing short of magnificent – who is ever going to forget him driving a war surplus jeep along the Welsh  beach while Gwen looses her bazooka on the chasing ‘copter?

Obviously huge amounts of co-production cash have been lavished on the show.  This is because American TV execs know a good thing when they see it.  The good thing in this case (OK, the biggest of several good things) is the writer.  Russell T Davies here reminds us why he was able to make Doctor Who go global and why the current series of Doctor Who lost a little of its shine.  Davies is able to thrill hardcore sci fi buffs with the originality of his ideas but keep the mass audience on board with characterisation and compassion.  His replacement as Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat, can certainly deploy a formidable arsenal of sci fi tropes but he simply can’t do credible compassion.  His audience is said to be shrinking slightly, which is a shame.

Maybe the second half of the current season, which wrapped filming last Monday, will vindicate his stewardship.  I for one hope so, because I got really bored with the first half.  In the meantime, we have Torchwood.