Being Human: Series 5, Episode 4–The Greater Good

“All we’re doing is marking time till the inevitable happens.” – Hal


It was another frenetic mix of farce and fear in this week’s Being Human, a contrast that seems to be the default style of this final year. Perhaps responding to criticisms that the show had gone too far towards the Dark Side in series 2 and 3, Toby Whithouse seems to have steered the tone towards a much broader style of comedy in its non-horror moments. Whether it works is arguable; the domestic sitcom setting of that first sleeper hit series was, generally speaking, more believable than the more overt silliness on display here. Nevertheless, it makes for a very shocking contrast when the story does turn dark.

We were also back to the story proper of this final year, with the reintroduction of Crumb, another appearance from Mr Rook, and more manipulation from the grotesque Captain Hatch (aka Beelzebub). And we got another look at Evil Hal as he struggled beneath the surface of the usually likeable stuffy vampire, while the gang found themselves cast in the unlikely role of a rehab clinic for other wayward supernaturals.

The first of these was beefy werewolf Bobby, played by the incomparable Ricky Grover. Usually typecast as terrifying hard men, Grover got to show his softer side as Bobby, an institutionalised werewolf who’s been kept under lock and key in Rook’s Archive since unexpectedly massacring his family as a 12-year-old in 1980.

Stuck in a timewarped world of Kevin Keegan and Burt Reynolds, Bobby was, despite his bearlike bulk, an instantly lovable character. Deprived of his home in the Archive as the Home Office cuts bit deep and stopped the electric, Bobby was handed over to our heroes by the reluctant Rook, who couldn’t think of anywhere else for him to go.

This didn’t please Tom any, to Hal’s amusement (“Oh my God – you’ve become a snob!”).  Thus motivated by reverse psychology, Tom immediately made it his life’s mission to integrate Bobby back into society just as he had been; no mean feat given his tendency to hide under tables and give crushing bear hugs to those he liked. Employing Bobby to work at the hotel was definitely the stuff of broad sitcom rather than naturalistic comedy – “No – it’s ‘Barry Grand, Bobby speaking’. You’re Bobby.”


Rook’s other supernatural loose end was, of course, the increasingly manic Crumb, now cutting a swathe through Barry’s pizza delivery boys with fellow gamer and Rook’s former assistant Alan. Tasked with bringing Crumb under control, Hal popped over to his house to a marvellously surreal and bizarre scene; Crumb and Alan, caked in blood but done up in Flaming Orc finery, surrounded by bloodied corpses. As a funny/horrific moment, it was up there with the best.

I’ve enjoyed Crumb as a character, with his increasingly desperate attempts to break free of his loser self, only to discover that being undead doesn’t necessarily change your personality. “There is no Ian here, only Crumb,” he hissed manically through the letterbox in an amusingly pathetic attempt to seem frightening. Hal – who can be really frightening – wasn’t impressed.

I must admit, I can understand why some fans might find Crumb too broadly comic a character to be believable, with his ‘Colin Hunt – office joker’ persona. But while it’s obvious that this year’s Big Bad is none other than Satan himself, I thought it might be quite apropos for this show for Crumb to turn out to be the gang’s real downfall. It would have fit perfectly with the show’s original premise of the supernatural meeting the very, very ordinary – epic archetypes like Herrick or Mr Snow can’t defeat the heroes, but a jumped-up nobody would be their end.

Sadly, it seems that’s not to be. Still, Crumb provided plenty of entertainment – and yet more musings on what ‘being human’ might be – before his demise. Unexpectedly keen to follow Hal’s example in giving up blood, he willingly submitted himself to Hal’s rehab programme; returning yet again to this show’s conception of vampires needing blood not for sustenance, but as a heroin-like addiction.

Going cold turkey was every bit as nasty for Crumb as it had been for Hal – and Mitchell before him. Tormented by hallucinations of one of his victims, he unintentionally staked young Alan (a shame, as he was rather easy on the eye for those of us who fancy nerds).


And he pushed Hal to the brink, as the tactic of leaving him with two glasses of blood – one human, one werewolf and therefore lethal – basically backfired. Having failed to rehabilitate Crumb with his own mantra of repetitive tasks, or a disastrous ‘date’ with Alex, Hal found himself strapped into a chair and engaging in haemophagic Russian Roulette with the pathetic new recruit. At which point, Evil Hal came out to play.

This, I must admit, was an interesting take on Hal’s dark side. While Mitchell always treated it as an aspect of himself, Hal seems to think of Evil Hal as an entirely separate personality; and it’s reciprocated, as each refers to the other in the third person. “He was here, wasn’t he?” Evil Hal was just as scary as he was in the flashbacks to his bloody past, and with Hal finally succumbing to the temptation of drinking the flask of blood Rook left him, I doubt we’ve seen the last of this dark side. Even if we have seen the last of Crumb, who, in a debatable final act of ‘courage’ ended up drinking the werewolf blood and disintegrating. A shame, I was enjoying Colin Hoult as the least cool vampire since Evil Ed.

This was all neatly tied in to the ongoing plans of Captain Hatch, who found another player to manipulate in the form of the disillusioned Rook. And when I say ‘player’,it’s literal; he basically did a deal with the Devil over a hand of three card brag. Rook may have had Jack, Queen and King (“the trinity – a hard hand to beat”) but Hatch could best him with three 6’s – 666.


Still thriving on conflict, Hatch persuaded Rook that the best way to salvage his department was to prompt some real carnage – and that the way to do it was to let Wolf-Bobby loose in the hotel. After all, as Hatch persuasively argued (the old tempter), better to lose a few lives in the quest for “the greater good”.


Phil Davis was, again, brilliant as Hatch here. Posing (perhaps truthfully) as a man who’d been rescued from vampires years ago by Rook’s predecessors, he gained the stuffy civil servant’s confidence with yet another set of mannerisms; calm, rational and well-spoken, he only lost his cool when it became clear things weren’t working out as he planned, reverting to his cockney snarl.

Because things didn’t go well – Wolf-Tom came to the rescue in the nick of time. Locked into a room together by the frantic Hal, they fought all night before waking up naked together in another amusing scene. If you’re used to Ricky Grover as a terrifying thug, just watch him and Michael Socha hugging with no clothes on.


This was an enjoyable episode, highlighted by two brilliant performances of comedy/pathos from Ricky Grover as Bobby and Colin Hoult as Crumb. Writer John Jackson cleverly interwove the various plot elements to come together in a gripping climax, with Hatch’s plan, Bobby’s plight and Hal’s dilemma all neatly intercut in a good bit of pacing.

And yet, while it was never less than watchable, I will admit that the show does seem to be becoming a bit formulaic, with its OTT humour lurching towards OTT horror every episode. Only two more episodes to go; in one sense that makes me sad, but in another it’s perhaps a relief – this concept may have been taken as far as it can go.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 11–I Ain’t a Judas

“There’s nothing to work out. We’re gonna kill him. I don’t know how, or when, but we will.” – Rick


After the frenetic action of the last two slam bang episodes, it was only natural that this week’s Walking Dead took a bit of a breather, as the characters were able to take stock, and manoeuvre themselves for the coming conflict – a conflict that Andrea was desperate to avoid. It’s a measure of how well-drawn the characters have become that this episode’s intrigue and emotional trauma was as gripping as the action that had preceded it.

As the title indicates, the episode was all about loyalty – or the lack of it. We know that, loose cannon though he may be, Merle is unswervingly loyal to his brother. And Daryl is equally loyal to the rest of the gang at the prison, who Glenn and Hershel unhesitatingly describe as family.


Other loyalties, however, are shakier – particularly in Woodbury. Andrea finally seems to be getting some sort of an inkling (perceptive of her) that the man she’s sleeping with might actually be… a bit dangerous. Points for finally realising this were immediately deducted for her own foolish trust in Milton, confiding in him her plan to nip off and visit Rick. Milton, of course, is loyal only to the Governor, and was straight off to let his charismatic cult leader know. The Governor, who may be a nutter but is a shrewd politician, immediately recruited him as a double agent, to report on his girlfriend’s treacherous activities.

He needn’t have bothered, as Andrea basically blabbed exactly what she’d been doing when she got back. Again, would you do that with someone you’d just been told was a lying, murdering psychopath, and who you would later contemplate killing in his sleep after sex? Andrea’s dilemma – her loyalty to her old friends vs her newfound lover, who wants to kill them – was a central point of the story. Irritating though her persistent naivete is, it did at least pay off with the shades of grey she was faced with in deciding – a choice she still, apparently, hasn’t made.

It may seem an obvious choice to we the viewers, who think of Rick and the gang as the heroes of the piece. But the cleverest thing in this episode was allowing us to see them through Andrea’s eyes when finally reunited with them. Remember, she hasn’t seen them since halfway through the season 2 finale, when they were just losing Hershel’s cosy farm. She doesn’t even know Shane’s dead. Or T-Dog. Or Lori. In fact, the gang has befriended and lost several people she never even met.

Rick, meanwhile, is plainly unravelling mentally, instantly twitchy and paranoid; Hershel is failing to get him to pull it together, and even Carl thinks he should maybe take a break (“I think you should stop. Being leader. Let Hershel and Daryl handle it”). Hershel, meanwhile, is one leg lighter than when Andrea last saw him. Glenn’s been beaten half to death. And the whole gang look ragged, dirty and on the verge of collapse.

Because we’ve been with them through this whole process, we haven’t really noticed how far they’ve deteriorated until we saw the shock on Andrea’s face at the state of them. Even the prison, which previously seemed like a hard won haven, took on a new light when looked at with fresh eyes – Andrea described the situation as “they’re broken. Living in horrible conditions”.


As the episode’s central theme, Andrea’s reunion with the group was well-handled; it even made some of the scales fall from her eyes regarding her boyfriend. But not enough to make her take up Carol’s suggestion of killing him in his sleep. And while Carol might have been pleased to see Andrea, the rest of the gang were more equivocal – or downright hostile. Rick didn’t trust her for a minute, and she earned Michonne’s contempt for choosing the Governor and a life of comfort over hardship and her friend.


For whatever else it may be, Woodbury is luxury compared to the dank, forbidding prison. By merest coincidence (and maybe a bit of plot contrivance), Tyreese and his group have found themselves welcome recruits there. With the Governor doing his hail-fellow-well-met act, Allen and Ben were immediately keen to sign up for getting rid of the unkempt loons who’d just chucked them out of the prison. Told you we’d need to watch out for them.

Tyreese was less keen, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference; the Governor was conscripting, basically, anyone who could shoot a gun for what’s presumably his next assault on the prison. Arthritis might win you a ticket out of his army, but asthma won’t, especially when the teenager concerned was so keen to fight for his community. The Woodbury residents’ fervent loyalty to their Jim Jones-like leader touched on the episode’s central theme again – as well as cementing the Governor as a Fuhrer-like figure who can command irrational devotion. In times of peril, people like turning to a strong, charismatic leader. They don’t always make the right decision about who that should be.


Away from the intrigue in Woodbury and Andrea’s sour reunion, there were plenty of choice character moments to be had. Glenn continues to be an embittered, vengeance-hungry figure; Merle, meanwhile, was revealing yet more hidden layers. In a quiet chat with the amenable Hershel, he revealed that not only does he know his scripture, but he likes to read – “Woodbury had a damn fine library. One of the only things I miss about it.” The man’s just full of surprises. He may have a way to go before atoning for torturing Glenn in the Governor’s name, but I like the way the writers are developing him as a character with more depth than the stereotypical redneck thug we met way back in season 1.

Gore of the week

In a more contemplative episode than recent weeks, there were slightly fewer Walkers to be seen. But we did get one wince-making moment when Andrea, having learned a lesson from Michonne, ‘customised’ one to be her ‘guardian angel’. He didn’t look too pretty even before she got her hands on him, with half his face ripped off:


But he got a whole lot worse when Milton pinned him down and Andrea lopped off his arms with an axe then smashed out his teeth on a rock.


Reminiscent of a similarly unpleasant sequence in the movie American History X, and only slightly more bearable because the victim here was actually already dead.


This felt like a ‘calm before the storm’ episode, as wounds were licked, loyalties tested and preparations for the next moves made by both sides. Even though Andrea’s bullish stupidity long since became deeply annoying, it served a purpose here as she was forced to choose, and still can’t make herself do it. As I mentioned, the character interaction on display here was every bit as gripping as any shootout, and the glimpse at Rick and the gang through fresh eyes was a bit of a shocker after we’ve become so accustomed to their gradual decline.

I’m sure the calm won’t last long though. As Beth took to crooning in the lamplit prison, seguing into a montage soundtracked by the mournful voice of Tom Waits, it’s clear that there’s tragic events a-comin’. But how soon?

Being Human: Series 5, Episodes 2 & 3–Sticks and Ropes / Pies and Prejudice

“You’re too late. The end has begun. Night will fall. And.. he… will… RISE!”


Well lo and behold, a day after I wrote in my last review that Being Human had plenty of mileage left in it, BBC3 went and cancelled it! Low ratings, they said. Well, it’s bound to have low ratings if you sneak it on with virtually no pre-publicity and shift the HD showing (which lots of people including myself would rather watch) to a week later because of the football.

Commenting on the cancellation, showrunner Toby Whithouse said the series had “a definite end” but that it would “keep viewers guessing”, which to me sounds like two contradictory statements. Still, at least it means he’ll be free to take over Doctor Who when Steven Moffat steps down (fingers crossed). And it is fair to say that Being Human lost a lot of its fans with the loss of the original cast. Not everyone has warmed to the new gang the way I have.

Nor to its rather more broadbrush comedic style this year. In another bumper blog post to catch up with all the shows I missed reviewing while off in LA, I watched episodes 2 and 3 back to back yesterday, and found the same approach of mixing humour and horror that we saw in episode 1. For episode 2, written by Daragh Carville, the balance was once again about right, the darkness of the horror more than offsetting the silliness of the humour. Episode 3, for me at least, was rather less successful, highlighting some of the new gang’s basic implausibilities and saddled with a guest character that, no matter how good Mighty Boosh star Julian Barratt may be, was very obviously a ripoff of Alan Partridge.


Sticks and Ropes, as the title indicates, was our first sight of the mysterious figures that Saul told Annie lurked in the afterlife, way back in series 2. There’s some truth in the old saw that this sort of thing might have been better left to the imagination; I’ve generally found that Being Human works better with sinister hints than actually showing its mythos. However, the Men With Sticks and Ropes were indeed finally seen, and actually they were pretty nasty. Led by a glowing eyed Martin Hancock (you may remember him from such soap operas as Coronation Street and Holby City), they were aided by some atmospheric lighting and direction from Philip John, which couldn’t quite avoid making them look like low-budget Cenobites. Nice try, though.

But before we got to them, it was time for more comedic fun at the Barry Grand Hotel, which is clearly going to be the major setting for this year (aside from Honolulu Heights, anyway). As we now know the Devil resides there in the form of repulsive pensioner Captain Hatch, things were getting “a bit suicidey”. So, with a little urging from Hatch himself, manager Patsy announced an Employee of the Month contest. Cue Hal and Tom bringing out their competitive sides in a series of fun skits, all of which were underlined by the fact that Hatch actually wants them competing with each other.

For as we learned in ep1, Hatch (ie the Devil) actually thrives on the energy generated by vampire/werewolf conflict, and this is his chance to escape from his incarceration in decrepitude. So, for all the broad comedy of Hal and Tom’s competition (sterilising the till keypad, food fights etc), things swiftly turned nasty with a bit of subtle goading from Hatch himself. “I’ve tried to be shit,” snarled Hal, “but you always find a way to be more shit!”

Since the show has established a (mostly) believable friendship between Hal and Tom, it was actually quite nasty to watch. It also showcased how good an actor Phil Davis is; Hatch may, on the surface, appear an unsubtle grotesque, but there was some clever stuff going on in the performance.

Given some alone time to goad Tom (a pretty gross scene as Tom had to clean him up after his colostomy bag burst), he wormed doubts into Tom’s mind with a broad Cockney accent, playing on his doubts about the ‘lordly’ Hal being his superior. When it was Hal’s turn to be manipulated, Davis took on a more cut glass accent, praising Hal’s florid vocabulary (“Meritocracy. That’s beautiful.”), and opining that there should always be a hierarchy.

It also gave him time to repeatedly allude to the Devil’s relationship with God (“I used to work with a bloke like him once. Stabbed me in the back. Threw me out.”) which is clever but still makes me uneasy about the theology. As I said in my review of ep1, if you accept that the Devil exists, you have to accept that God exists too, and for an atheist like me, that feels weird. And yet I have no problem with the show’s basic premise of vampires, werewolves and ghosts – perhaps because everyone accepts that they belong in the realm of fantasy. Funny, isn’t it?

Of course, that might be because Mr Rook is so good at his job. We caught up with him too, as he continued to try and save his funding from the pompous Home Secretary (Toby Whithouse himself, in an amusingly stuffy performance). Rook’s plan, actually, didn’t make a whole lot of sense; bring in the sister (and, as it turned out, niece) of twitchy new vampire Crumb and let him devour them, then show it to his boss as evidence of what he was dealing with. It came as no surprise that the Home Secretary didn’t consider two deaths a viable justification for increasing public funding. Perhaps Whithouse is straying into Yes Minister territory.


Still, it was good to see Steven Robertson back as the prim Rook, and Colin Hoult is marvellous as Crumb. He’s a simultaneously amusing and scary portrayal of, as he puts it, what happens when “the victim gets superpowers”. Plainly wracked by blood withdrawal, much like Hal in ep1, he still managed to find time to bang on about his favourite role play game, which, as it turned out, Rook’s disillusioned young assistant also liked. Which was the cue for yet another swerve between humour and horror when Crumb acceded to his request to be “recruited”.

Alex, meanwhile, was dealing with the unexpected appearance of a new ghost at Honolulu Heights – an irritating spoiled brat from the Edwardian era called Oliver, who claimed to have died there as a child. This too swerved between funny and chilling, as Oliver revealed that he’d killed himself from guilt at seeing his crippled little brother drown. It also turned out to be a part of Hatch’s plan; Oliver had been put there to bring out the Men With Sticks and Rope when his Door appeared.

Alex managed to avoid that by getting him through the Door and closing it, as the Men With Sticks and Rope couldn’t survive on our side. But there were some dire warnings, along with the revelation that the Men work for Hell itself – the first indication we’ve had that there’s a worse afterlife in Being Human than Limbo, and again playing very much into the realm of Christian mythology.

This was a very busy episode, capped with a truly nasty scene in which Hatch basically explained his entire plan for our benefit; it might have been unsubtle exposition, but it was intercut with Hatch causing hotel manager Patsy to slowly die in front of us, blood streaming from every orifice until he finally gently suggested she wash herself in the sea. Nasty. He also revealed that, while he liked vampire/werewolf conflict, he didn’t like the idea of them also having a ghost friend, making a Trinity. Definitely Christian mythology there.

With so many of this year’s ongoing plotlines weaving together, it could have been an overcrowded episode. But in fact it was far more entertaining than the more simple one that followed. Pies and Prejudice stuck to a more simple A plot/B plot formula; in the A plot, Tom fell under the spell of incompetent werewolf and former Partridge-like weatherman Larry Chrysler (Julian Barratt), while in the B plot, Alex caught a glimpse of her future with another of Hal’s ghostly victims, the misleadingly prim and proper Lady Mary (Amanda Hale).


Unlike the previous ep, there wasn’t much in the way of actual horror here, which left the broad comedy looking a bit one-note. I like Julian Barratt, and this kind of role is very much his forte, but it was so transparently Alan Partridge it felt like cheap writing. Plus, we were back to Tom being written as an impressionable idiot rather than a naive innocent; it’s a subtle distinction, but one that writer Jamie Mathieson has managed to avoid in previous episodes.


It was fun seeing Lady Mary’s transformation from genteel 19th century lady to modern party girl as soon as Hal turned his back, and underlined the episode’s general point about the lies people tell each other and themselves. He was under the impression that she was a relic from another age (much like himself), while she was under the impression she’d been keeping him from killing for 200 years. Both were wrong. In one sense at least, that was clever writing, as it echoes the Jane Austen novel whose title the episode puns on.

Still, the ep gave Mathieson a chance to give a bit more welcome depth to Alex’s character, as she visited her family to see them moving on without her and resolved to let them get on with their lives. She also got to see, in Lady Mary, what she could become if she stayed Earthbound for too long; an aimless shade reduced to seeking pleasure by feeding on the sensations of sad clubbers shagging in toilets.


No sign of Hatch or Crumb this time, but we did briefly catch up with Mr Rook, as he contemplated suicide after pouring out his troubles to what turned out to be a phone sex line. And Hal was forced to turn to Rook after his fury at Larry for turning Tom into a sobbing wreck drove him to murder. Again, we got the sense of a very strong friendship between Hal and Tom, and it was affectingly played by both Damian Molony and Michael Socha as Hal gently tried to coax him back to the house. Still, isn’t it a little soon after the death of his previous best friend to be telling Tom, “you’re the best man I’ve ever known”?

Of course, the friendship between Hal and Tom, however different they are, is integral to the group’s chemistry. But I also have a feeling, given how strongly it’s being emphasised, that it’s going to be a vital plot point at some point this series.

For all that, I found the arc-heavy, slightly overcrowded Sticks and Ropes a more enjoyable episode than the more straightforward comedy of Pies and Prejudice. Even if it is a mixed bag this year (and hasn’t it always been?), I do still love this show though, even with its new characters. I shall miss it when it’s gone. Though I still have the American version to watch, which is very much its own beast now, and every bit as watchable.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episodes 9 & 10–The Suicide King / Home

“We’re staying put. We’re gonna defend this place. We’re making a stand.” – Glenn


Blimey, how does this show keep being so good after last year’s lacklustre season? Back with a bang after its mid-season break, The Walking Dead’s first two new episodes in months offered a high octane mix of action, character development, gore and sheer bloody insanity.

Jumping straight in where we left off, we were immediately confronted with the conundrum of whether bad old boy Merle really would fight his little brother to the death for the entertainment of the seething Governor and his vengeance-hungry mob. Kudos to Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus for actually keeping me guessing on that – it would be a wrench, as both characters are too good to lose.

I wasn’t guessing for long though, as Rick and co stormed to the rescue in the first of several frenetic action sequences across the two episodes. Their frantic retreat with the unwelcome Merle (“You wanna talk about this now?”) was gripping, but they left chaos in their wake. The Governor had a point when he said that they’d left six people dead, and terrified the largely innocent population of Woodbury; Rick and co might be the good guys to us, but they’ve just terrorised another community. That’s how wars start.


The Governor is emphatically not a good guy, but bafflingly Andrea still seemed unable to figure this out. I mean, really – she’s seen zombie fights, his undead daughter in a cupboard, fish tanks full of severed heads and him forcing one of her friends to fight his brother to the death. What more evidence does she need that her boyfriend is a homicidal psychopath? How amazingly gullible must she be to still take his contrition at face value, and believe him when he told her he planned no action against the gang at the prison?

Still, the show’s got enough else going for it for me to be able to forgive Andrea’s implausible stupidity. In the breathers between action sequences, we got some great character interaction and reflection. Everyone was, understandably, rather tense. Glenn knew a little about what the Governor did to Maggie, and was really, really angry; Daryl won’t go back to the prison without his hotheaded brother, and Rick wasn’t up for that – even less so were Glenn and Maggie, after the whole torture/beating/attempted murder thing.

Rick has been losing his fragile grip on sanity too, in a nice contrast to the already nutty Governor. After last season’s phantom phone calls with Lori and hallucination of Shane, he’s taken to seeing an apparition of Lori wandering the prison in a white dress. This caused him to start shouting incoherently, clutching his head and waving a gun about – probably the best incentive he could have given for the reluctant Tyreese and his group to move out.

We learned a bit more about Tyreese’s group here. He’s plainly a decent guy, but they’re not perfect; Allen and his son Ben were all for jumping the skeleton crew left at the prison before Rick and co got back. Luckily Tyreese nipped that in the bud, but I wonder if they’re going to be ones to watch?

Hershel, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming the moral conscience of the group the way Dale used to be, but without the burden of Dale’s sour relationship with Shane. He was the only oasis of stability in two episodes of increasingly stressed, frantic and increasingly unhinged main characters. But he still couldn’t talk Angry Glenn out of his headstrong suicide mission to take down the Governor, or convince Mad Rick to come back inside and sort himself out. There again, Dale never used to have much luck at talking sense into anyone either.


Merle and Daryl, wandering the woods together, got some electrifying scenes together. It occurred to me that, last year’s hallucination of Merle aside, this is the first time they’ve had actual screen time together, and Rooker and Reedus didn’t disappoint. Bickering constantly about how nice Daryl had become since their initial plan to loot the camp back in season one, they got caught up in another frenetic action sequence when Daryl selflessly jumped in to rescue a Hispanic family stuck on a bridge full of Walkers, with his reluctant brother trailing after him.

It was a cracking bit of action, but the aftermath was, if anything, even more gripping, as both brothers addressed their differences with fisticuffs. It looked like Merle was on top there until he tore Daryl’s shirt and saw the scars of what their father had done to him as a boy (“That’s why I left first. I’d’ve killed him if I’d stayed.”). Together with Carol explicitly spelling out the similarity in their and her own abusive relationships, it was a powerful moment that, perhaps for the first time, made you feel sympathetic for Merle – no mean feat.

Back in Woodbury, Andrea was the only one calm enough to soothe the panicking population – probably because she’s the only one who can’t see what’s really going on there. Nonetheless, she managed to damp down a potentially explosive confrontation between the Governor’s thugs and the fleeing populace (most of whom, remember, are innocent, if gullible) with a statesmanlike speech about pulling together, because when the history books are written, Woodbury will be in them. Yes Andrea, and so was Jonestown.

The speech impressed the Governor enough for him to hand over de facto leadership to Andrea because he’d done “terrible things”. And she was still too clueless to figure out that he was going to be straight off to the prison with a whole bunch of thugs with guns…

And I’d started to warm to last remaining convict Axel too (though I was a little suspicious of his ever-changing story). However, I should have realised that the greater depth given to his character in the latter of these two episodes meant he was immediately for the chop – that’s this show’s version of the war movie weary soldier saying he’s only got two more weeks on duty till he sees his sweetheart.

So it proved, and Axel’s surprise shot to the head was followed by the poor guy’s corpse being mercilessly pulverised with bullets while Carol used him as a human shield. It was, of course, the Governor, coolly machine-gunning left, right and centre, backed up by his cronies while they drove a van full of Walkers through the prison gates and released them. Hershel was pinned down in the grass, Rick trapped outside where he’d been talking to Imaginary Lori; it was a lengthy, heart-stopping action sequence of pure brilliance. Given the show’s eagerness to off its main characters this year, there was a genuine sense of jeopardy. You couldn’t be sure who would make it.


Which was the perfect cue for Daryl and Merle to ride to the rescue, as the Governor left with a satisfied smirk, assuming the Walkers would do his work for him. Angry Glenn turned up too, roaring back in his pickup to rescue Hershel while the rest of the guys locked the inner gates and stared forlornly at the Walkers shambling through the area they’d wanted to grow crops in.

Gore of the week(s).

As ever this year, plenty of zombies in almost every shot, even when they’re just shadowy figures stumbling around in the background. This gave plenty of opportunities for some brutal head shots with knives, guns and even fists – though I had to wonder at the wisdom of Daryl punching them in the mouths. Surely if he cut his fist, he’d die as surely as if they’d bitten him?

Be that as it may, picks of the weeks were a couple of inventive head smashes. In ep9, Angry Glenn was so angry that he literally stomped a Walker’s head into mush:


While in ep10, Daryl managed a similar effect with the tailgate of an elderly Subaru in his rescue of the stricken family on the bridge:



These were two excellent episodes (despite Andrea’s annoying stupidity), outstanding as much for the performances as the thrills and action. Andrew Lincoln’s portrayal of the rapidly unravelling Rick is magnetic, while so, in a different way, is David Morrissey as the coolly psychopathic Governor. Melissa McBride continues to be quietly affecting as Carol, and Scott Wilson as Hershel has really come into his own recently. Steven Yeun continues to convince as Glenn becomes more bitter and angry, his relationship with Maggie hitting a bit of a rough spot this week.

Despite all that, my top performances this week were the continuingly superb Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus as Merle and Daryl. Rooker keeps Merle just the right side of parody, while Reedus manages to embody the kind of integrity his brother seems unable to ever reach. They’re a brilliant pair to watch.

The second half of the season is off to a terrific start. Will the Governor be back? What do you think? Will Andrea ever realise she’s being had? And how many of our main cast will be left alive and sane by the end of the season? Six more episodes to go…

Gallifrey One: the 2013 experience


Regular readers of this blog (all three or four of you) may have noticed a distinct absence of posts on the usual topics recently. There’s a reason for this, as there is this time every year – I’ve been off in sunny Los Angeles with 3600 other people celebrating my favourite TV show at the world’s biggest and longest-running Doctor Who convention – Gallifrey One.

The history bit

Gallifrey One has now been running annually for 24 years. Back in 1990, it had a whopping attendance of 660 people. The first time I went, in 2005, there were 737. Then the show came back on the air, and it got a little bit popular – hence the fact that this year, in the much bigger Los Angeles Airport Marriott, there were about 3600 there, including con staff and guests.

Shaun Lyon – a man of infinite patience.

Co-ordinating this madness, as he has done since the beginning, is the ever-gracious Shaun Lyon, a man who must have the patience of a saint to put up with the growing sense of entitlement from some of the show’s less… socially skilled fans.

Working with Shaun is the legendary Robbie Bourget, a woman whose organisational skills are no lesser, but who leaves the fronting primarily to Shaun – much to his joy. And with both of them are a loyal team of volunteers who take on the thankless task of stewarding for 3000 unruly costumed lunatics. Unpaid. Given my years of experience in customer service and the impression it left me of the general public, I believe these people deserve some kind of medal.

Are they ‘costumed lunatics’?

Well, that’s maybe a bit unfair. Most of the cosplayers (for so they are now known) are wonderful people, and some of them are very good friends. Besides – it’s a sci-fi convention, you expect to see costumes. And you’ll see some of the best here. At any given time of day, roughly half the people there are costumed in some way.


Most of the costumes are Doctors, of course, with a preponderance of Tom Baker – the most familiar Doctor in the US, as his shows were broadcast ad nauseam by PBS in the 80s and 90s. However, the show’s newfound popularity means a veritable plethora of David Tennants and Matt Smiths too, probably outnumbering the Toms. Here’s Tristan Eisenberg doing Matt and Tom, while still resembling Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd:


Sylvester McCoy has his fans too (handily, as he happened to be there). Dominic Francis does a terrific Sylvester, but my favourites are Miranda and Sam as a female Seventh Doctor and a male Ace:


If you want to be really obscure though, TV writer, creator of The Middleman and all-round ball of unstoppable energy Javier Grillo-Marxuach came as the Rowan Atkinson Doctor from The Curse of Fatal Death. Does this photo make him canon?


What about the monsters?

Oh yes, there are monsters. Gallifrey One is one of the only places where you can find things like this lurking round hotel corridors:


And, inevitably, there are Daleks. One of them even found its way onto a hotel balcony overlooking the swimming pool:


So who are the kings of cosplay? Every year, on the Saturday evening, a masquerade is held to find out. Those who enter parade their costumes on the main stage in variously successful comedy skits, one of the most popular events of the weekend.

For many years, the winners were my good friends Mette Hedin and Bryan Little; these days they tend not to enter, graciously giving other people a chance to win. Nevertheless, their costumes are usually the highly-anticipated highlight of the weekend. Here’s a few from this year, also including their friend Radar as Bill S Preston, and a disco-lighted Stone of Blood:


But there are panels featuring people from the show, right?

Indeed there are. That’s technically the main point of the con, and Shaun has always excelled in getting a marvellous selection of guests, with at least one Doctor every year. This year, it was the effervescent Sylvester McCoy, who took total ownership of the con’s main room by wandering off the stage into the audience with a microphone to take questions, leaving his hapless interviewers Nick Briggs and Jason Haigh-Ellery to trail behind in bemusement.


Legendary costume designer June Hudson was there too, with one of the most fascinating panels of the weekend as she talked us through her history, techniques and philosophy of designing costumes for the show in the 70s and 80s:


Biggest draw of the weekend was probably Freema Agyeman, making her first American convention appearance and causing the autograph line to stretch way, way out of the door:


And so many others – 1970s producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Rose Tyler’s dad Shaun Dingwall, legendary character actor and Winston Churchill impersonator Ian McNeice, Mark Strickson, Fraser Hines with his collection of classic anecdotes (some of which could be heard several times this very weekend). We even got a non-convention appearance from the star of Community’s affectionate Who parody Inspector Spacetime, Travis Richey:


Some keep themselves to themselves when off the clock, but others (especially Fraser) can be found mingling with the fans (especially when there’s alcohol nearby). Warning – do not go up and bow to them gasping “I’m not worthy!” They are mostly fairly normal (even Fraser), and will happily have a normal chat.

I got to chat to Inspector Spacetime over a beer about his new costume, and after the con was over, had the pleasure of Philip Hinchcliffe sitting down with me and my other half Barry for a quiet chat in the lobby. Even on Wednesday, three days after the con was technically over, Sylvester McCoy was still there, and was nice enough to join me and a group of friends for lunch at LA airport’s rather freaky Encounter restaurant:

The Seventh Doctor encounters his deadliest enemy – the Shrimp Cocktail.

What to expect from Gallifrey One – a brief guide.

1. Enormous quantities of alcohol.


Each night (but especially on the last night, Sunday), an unofficial gathering of the more alcoholically minded takes place outside hotel bar Champions in the hotel lobby. This has become known as Lobbycon. Much alcohol will be consumed there, while discussing such lofty topics as whether Steven Moffat is a better writer than Russell T Davies, or whether next year’s returning monster really ought to be the Nimon.

Terror of the DVD Content Producer: When Steve Roberts Attacks

Also, there are room parties, at which people bring their own (vastly cheaper) booze. One of the best is the Friday night bash in room 110, run by the splendid Shawn Sulma, Andrew Trembley and Kevin Roche. This year, Kevin brought a small robot which dispensed cocktails of prodigious strength at the press of a keypad. I may have had too many of them.


2. A certain amount of debauchery.

Contrary to popular opinion, not only do Doctor Who fans have sex drives, they sometimes even get to exercise them. Stick hundreds of them in a hotel with many rooms, lots of alcohol, and a hot tub, and occasionally adult-themed things happen. These are, of course, totally unofficial.

Also contrary to popular opinion, many Doctor Who fans actually are rather attractive, which helps grease the wheels (so to speak). Me being me, it was the men who took my eye, and I took some pictures (with their permission) to prove that nerds can be sexy too. And no, nothing happened with me and any of them – I’m a good boy.


3. Enormously long autograph queues.

I don’t really do autographs. But a lot of my friends do. And so do a lot of other people, especially now the con’s getting so big. If you want that precious signature or photo with the show’s stars, have patience – it could be a long wait.

4. Gary Russell.


Former actor turned Who scribe turned all-purpose Who superstar Gary is there every year, usually functioning as interviewer on the panels. As an interviewer, Gary is brilliant – sharp, bitchy, clever, and with a perfect rapport with the guests, many of whom he’s known for years. He has the great interviewers’ gift of making the whole thing seem effortless – knowing when to be quiet and give the guests their head, when to prompt them, and how to put them at their ease. Any panel with Gary hosting it is usually worth seeing for him as much as the guest he’s interviewing.

5. Meeting lots of new friends.

Gallifrey One is, more than any other convention I’ve been to, a friendly event built as much on social interaction as showmanship. Every year, I come away with a crop of new Facebook friends, many of whom I then see the next year, when I meet more. It can end up being quite difficult spending more than a couple of minutes with some of them every year when you know so many people – to those I barely saw this year, I can only apologise and say that next year, I’ll try harder! And don’t worry if you (drunkenly, perhaps) don’t remember their names when you see them next year – that’s what name badges are for.

6. Ribbons.


A recent phenomenon (over the last few years), the ribbon-collecting craze has reached epic proportions. These are small ribbons with a sticky edge that you attach to the bottom of your name badge, and then to each other, until you have a Tom Baker scarf-style length of them. They usually have funny, or cryptic, or downright dirty quotes and allusions to the show, the con itself, or people you might actually know. Above are the ones I collected over the last two years; a puny amount compared to this lady, who made a skirt out of them:


The etiquette of ribbon trading is technically that you’re meant to have your own made to trade with those of others. Here’s a useful guide to having them made. In practice, I’m never organised enough to do this, but people tend to be generous enough with them for that not to be a problem. But I try not to be pushy about asking when I’ve none of my own to give out. Next year, perhaps (though I say that every year).

So that was Gallifrey One 2013 – bigger than ever, but still just as much fun and just as sociable. Thanks as always are due to Shaun and Robbie, and their army of patient volunteers, along with the guests and all my friends who I only see once a year, too numerous to namecheck here. I’ll be back reviewing the shows I usually review soon – though given the number of episodes I’ve missed, it may be posts featuring several episodes in one go. For now, check out this fantastic video of Gallifrey highlights from the BBC’s own Ed Stradling, which provided one or two of the screencaps used here, and sums up the fun with the aid of the Traveling Wilburys:

Fun fun fun till the hotel take the Daleks away.

Dallas (the next generation): Season 2, Episode 3

“It’s a rare and beautiful thing when enemies share a common goal.” – JR


Previously, on Dallas: Much hi energy treachery last week:

  • Christopher’s court hearing to annul his marriage to Pamela didn’t go too well when The Real Rebecca Sutter sold him out for a suitcase full of Barnes cash.
  • The new evil Pamela upset her dad’s sinister henchman Frank, who promptly sent Christopher a damning cellphone incriminating her in the disappearance of The Real Rebecca Sutter’s brother.
  • JR went a-blackmailin’ the local prosecutor to save Sue Ellen’s reputation (and her ass) from jail.
  • John Ross, having formed an alliance with his worst enemy/best shag Pamela, stepped up his efforts to regain control of Ewing Energies by helping Elena become an equal partner while she’s still in hock to his mother.
  • And Bobby, doggedly investigating why Ann’s secret daughter wants nothing to do with her, discovered the real secret – Harris had kidnapped her himself, and given her to his evil (and younger-looking than he is) mother to raise as a twisted snob.

With all this in place and the clockwork running, this week’s episode settled down into a slightly less manic pace, as the chess game continued. At least until the last couple of minutes, when it suddenly dropped a massive plot bomb shocker.

There was an awful lot of unlikely alliances being forged left right and centre; JR, able to sense Frank’s annoyance with Pamela, came to an … arrangement which could inconvenience her somewhat. Frank is going to contrive to have the body of Tommy Sutter turn up (with JR’s eager help), which would not only annoy The Real Rebecca Sutter, but would probably result in Pamela going to jail.

John Ross, meanwhile, had a surprisingly easy time enlisting the help of his mother in calling in Elena’s debt. Well, maybe not that surprising, really; he’s momma’s little boy, and Elena broke his black heart. So into Elena’s office Sue Ellen strode, superimposed badly on the CG view outside the window, to demand recompense. She looked mighty pissed; well, as pissed as she can look with a face that’s somewhat restricted in mobility.

Apparently, Elena hadn’t made good on her debt because her attempts to drill at the Old Henderson Place had been hampered by ‘a salt dome’ . Fortunately,at this point her drilling-mad little brother (of whom we’ve never heard before) turned up back at the old homestead. Fresh from a spell in the army that cured him of his juvenile delinquency by acting on political delinquency in Iraq, his name is Drew, and he’s going to be the show’s latest hunk. Seething with bitterness at the death of their father trying to drill for oil in a place that doesn’t have any oil, he’s also going to be ideal for helping Elena get past that ‘salt dome’…

Elsewhere, Christopher had got the drop on The Real Rebecca Sutter and dragged her to the local police department, where her description of her brother was strangely at odds with Christopher’s. Could it be that the Tommy Sutter we met last year wasn’t Tommy Sutter after all, and there’s a Real Tommy Sutter out there to go with his sister?

Probably not – I’d guess The Real Rebecca Sutter was just lying. Either way, it made the cops suspicious enough to visit Pamela’s old condo, where some CSI-style shenanigans revealed an awful lot of bloodstains in the places Frank hadn’t been able to properly clean. It’s so hard to find good help these days. Apparently, the spatter patterns were enough for the cop to conclude that they were from someone being shot, probably fatally – Gil Grissom would be proud.

So, could stuff be going pear-shaped for Pamela this early into her career in evil? I think not. If she’s any kind of a match for John Ross (beyond arguing about who goes on top), she’ll find a way out of this.

Who’s double-crossing who this week?

The same guys as last week, ie virtually the entire cast.

The Real Rebecca Sutter is still being fickle; now she works for Christopher, now she works for Pamela, now she works for herself. Christopher’s feeding her with suspicion about the fate of her brother at Pamela’s hands though, so she’ll have to make a decision pretty soon. My decision would be to vamoose before she gets a visit from Frank, as almost every lead in to commercial now seems to be a slow zoom onto his pursed-lipped, sinister face.

But Frank may not be quite the henchman Pamela thinks he is, now he’s under the spell of the wily JR. What corpse-conjuring antics will they cook up in an attempt to cage the Barnes bitch?

And does Sue Ellen even realise that her son has become the new JR, and is manipulating her into screwing over every other Ewing? Actually, perhaps. She used to turn a blind eye to it often enough with JR (though booze probably helped).

Hey look, it’s that hombre from that thing:

Elena’s newfound long-lost little brother Drew is played with a surly snarl by Mexican actor Kuno Becker. Soccer film fans may remember him from such movies as Goal. And Goal 2. And Goal 3.


What on Earth is Judith Ryland wearing this week?

After last week’s nifty Servalan dress/Glenn Close hair combo, this week Judith was to be found lurking around the Dallas Police Department wearing her hair down and what appeared to be a cast-off ensemble from Cher:


Given the pose, you could charitably assume she’d been picked up for streetwalking.

This week’s big cliffhanger:

Well, they finally pushed her too far.

Yes, Ann Ewing might have appeared both tough and saintly, but that secret daughter is plainly her Achilles heel. She spent the episode trying to reconcile with young Emma by the novel method of having her dragged down to the local police station. But even a heartfelt chat in the interview room failed to convince Emma that she wasn’t the monster Harris and Judith said she was. Funny, that.

Later, overhearing a policeman inform Bobby that Harris was not, technically, guilty of anything, Ann snuck out glassy-eyed to endure more lecherous torment from Harris in her quest for answers. After lip-lickingly probing her clothing to ensure she wasn’t wired again, Harris went on to (perhaps unwisely) push her to the brink of madness by taunting her about missing the experience of her daughter’s childhood.

So she shot him.

Dallas has always thrived on a good shooting – the most memorable being the first time JR was shot, which was enough of an event to be covered on the BBC News. The novelty wore off when the ratings-hungry producers kept having him shot, but, hateable though he is, the shooting of Harris felt similarly seismic. Will he recover? Well, Mitch Pileggi’s in the opening credits and it’s only episode 3. What do you think?

The faces!

Side note: one of the things I’d hoped they’d change this year was to have the cast’s faces in the credits (the way Dallas used to be) ideally in a triptych format:


Sadly, they haven’t done that. So here’s a fan made one that’s pretty good; it doesn’t have the triptych thing, but at least has the cast visible:

The way it should be.

Being Human: Series 5, Episode 1–The Trinity

“The world is on the brink of calamity. We face an enemy of unimaginable cunning and power. So let’s keep cockups to a minimum.”


And I face a viewing challenge of unimaginable confusion – watching the fifth series of Being Human while also watching the third season of the US version, which surprised me by being every bit as good. Taking the mythology into entirely different directions being a good start. The US version has nine more episodes to go, the British just seven – can I keep them straight in my head?

Well, I’m not blogging on the US version – I have a job now, and there’s Dallas every week, and both Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are back soon, so I’ll be busy enough. So, the real Being Human – the original – it is. And how is our original Being Human shaping up with its new cast?

For me, not too badly. I have my reservations about it, though less than some, and less than my own reservations about the new cast in Misfits. I can understand why a lot of old fans found the new cast impossible to get used to. The schtick of the original concept was that the gang were, on the face of it, normal people who just happened to be supernatural beings; with the new guys, they’re supernatural beings trying, none too successfully, to seem like normal people. It’s a fine distinction, but it sets them apart.

New ghost Alex is the closes we have to a ‘normal’ character – she only died the other week (as it were), and is very much a product of modern society. Hal, on the other hand, is a 500-year-old vampire with crippling OCD; even if he were human, he’d find it hard to fit in. Tom is a werewolf raised in a rarefied, sheltered environment, like a latterday warrior monk crossed with (as Alex remarks) the Amish. It’s almost a reversal of the original premise. Mitchell and George were as normal a pair of lads as you could meet – apart from the whole blood drinking/wolf-transforming stuff. Hal and Tom can barely pass as normal in any circumstance.

Still, I rather like the reversal. But there’s the whole ever-growing mythology thing too. Last year it felt like showrunner Toby Whithouse might have taken that as far as it could reasonably go, with a barely averted vampire-driven apocalypse. But he added that last-minute coda of a shadowy group of Sir Humphrey-types who go around covering for the supernaturals. So you might reasonably expect them to be the main focus of this year, right?

Wrong, as it turns out. Yes, the mysterious Mr Rook (Steven Robertson) is present, and a big player – “our job is to maintain the illusion that man is alone. And it’s been the job of people like us for hundreds of years”. But, as we discover in a series of interspersed flashbacks to 1918, there’s worse out there than anything we’ve met so far. How much worse? Well… it’s the Devil.

Um… yes. At this point, a number of fans may be thinking Mr Whithouse has performed aerial acrobatics over a certain carnivorous fish. That’s understandable; this is a well that’s been pretty much plumbed dry. Plus, it comes accompanied by all the baggage of Judeo-Christian mythology; if there’s a Devil, logically there must be a God, and that’s a whole other can of theology.

Still, Supernatural pulled that off (in its first five series, before the story ended and it was dragged out for another agonising three years), as have various comic series including Hellblazer and Preacher. So why not Being Human?

Indeed, Toby Whithouse still finds ways to surprise me even with the most hackneyed of ideas. In fact, the show’s entire premise – a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost in the same story – seems to come from the fag end of the 1930s/40s horror boom; Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein and the Mummy in the House of Dracula. But Whithouse is a good enough writer to make it work.

So it proved here. Unlike a lot of fans, I’d been pretty much won over by the new gang last year. I think Damien Molony as Hal strikes an interesting contrast between the comical (his OCD) and the horrific – the fact that his OCD is actually therapy that stops him turning into an unstoppable killer. And yes, he’s pretty easy on the eye too, as we got to see in a playful prologue where he fought the glamorous werewolf leader Lady Catherine. Logically, there was no real reason for Hal to be shirtless throughout, but I shan’t complain.

We joined the gang pretty much where we’d left them last year, albeit a few weeks later – with Hal still strapped to a chair, doing cold turkey after his first taste of blood in over fifty years. Marvellously, it was his OCD that made Tom and Alex realise he was (sort of) recovered. Clearly, he was traumatised by the sheer state they’d let Honolulu Heights get into without him; “this is going to be a two sets of Marigolds job”.

Most of the episode seemed to be played at a broadbrush comedy level I didn’t much care for. The introduction of office loser Ian Cram was initially too sitcom for my tastes, as was the sequence of Hal and Tom going for jobs at a local hotel. But it paid off when the script turned dark. Doomed by a chance encounter with a pissed-off Hal, Cram ended up knocked over by a car and vampirised by the well-meaning (or was he?) Hal. He then proceeded to turn up back at his office, covered in blood, and devour the boss’ pet employee/nephew Gavin.

Hal’s attempt to deal with that by killing both Cram and himself was a turning point, as Alex and Tom came to his rescue. And then Mr Rook turned up, and for all his ‘comedy civil servant’ routine earlier, was still prepared to do his job by ramming a pen into the office manager’s brain (“I liked that pen”). It worked precisely because it had been played so much for laughs earlier; when it suddenly turned so dark, the contrast was all the more noticeable.

The flashbacks were also well-integrated, so that by the end, it came as little surprise that the Devil unleashed by Hal, werewolf queen Lady Catherine and ghost wizard Emile was none other than potty-mouthed pensioner Captain Hatch, the Fawlty Towers-esque resident of the Barry Island Grand Hotel. Yes, it’s a deal of coincidence that he ended up in the same town as Hal; but we’ll see whether Whithouse comes up with a convincing rationale for that. Besides, I’d already guessed that Hatch would be a major player. You don’t cast an actor of Phil Davis’ stature in a novelty bit part.

Meantime, we have Mr Rook’s mysterious government department to uncover more about; it was amusing that his department is threatened with the axe by austerity-style government cuts despite being around since “the days of Cromwell”. And Alex has had her hopes of passing on dashed by the discovery that her family have already held her funeral and begun to get on with their lives – what’s the unresolved issue that will conjure up her Door? And Cram – now the self-styled ‘Crumb’ – is a bitter, psychotic prisoner of Mr Rook’s department. I hope to see more of him; he’s as interesting and atypical a vampire as last series’ Cutler.

So, yes, I still understand the reservations about the show. And I appreciate that the increasingly complex mythology is in danger of overwhelming its initially simple premise. But I like the mythology. And I like the characters, different though they may be. There’s still a chance that this reinvention might fall on its arse, and it’s entirely subjective whether you think it will; I was very down on the similar reinvention Misfits had last series, but I know plenty of people who disagreed. On this evidence, I still think Being Human has plenty of mileage left in it – but let’s see whether the rest of the series proves me right or wrong.

Dallas (the next generation): Season 2, Episode 2

“Son, you got the Devil in you.” – JR
”Takes one to know one.” – John Ross


Previously, on Dallas: A barnstorming season opener set the scene for another year of Ewing double dealing, with John Ross (Josh Henderson really upping his game this year)now firmly cemented as the new JR.

  • Harris Ryland slimily revealed that he’d known where Ann’s secret daughter was all along, using the information to get back The Tape that stopped him from ruining Sue Ellen.
  • Sue Ellen’s gubernatorial chances took a bit of a blow when it was revealed on TV that her fabled honesty encompassed bribery and blackmail.
  • Rebecca, with a new black dress and veneer of evil, told a flabbergasted Bobby and Christopher that she was really Pamela Rebecca Barnes.
  • Christopher aimed to annul his marriage to her and deny her access to the children presently in her uterus by means of parading The Real Rebecca Sutter in court.
  • John Ross made a deal with another devil; sexual chemistry simmering between them, he offered Pamela a secret weapon in the court battle – The Real Rebecca Sutter.
  • And Ann tracked down her daughter, only to find that she was a hoity toity horse rider who wanted nothing to do with her.

This week, the double dealing continued, with JR himself getting more firmly involved than previously. Characters were reeling from last week’s revelations; Ann, previously able to cope rather well with stress, suddenly decided that the best cure for her shock was to take to her bed and have sedatives pumped into her, while Sue Ellen,having lost the election, was yet again reaching for the bottle.

Quite why a recovering alcoholic would keep a bottle of wine in the cupboard was not fully explored, as she was saved from herself by none other than JR. Ex-husband he may be, but plainly Sue Ellen is still high on his priority list, as he was able to take time out from his busy schedule of trying to ruin Bobby to help her out with a bit of blackmail. So it was straight off to the golf course to nudgingly explain to the local prosecutor that he had possession  of… certain photographs.

Larry Hagman’s performance was as charismatic as ever, but careful editing couldn’t quite hide the difficulty he was having walking, which was rather sad. It’s a tribute to the guy that he plainly worked right up until the end like a trouper, in one last hurrah for his most famous role.

He also got a confrontation with Pamela, all unaware that his son was busy conniving with her in the usual wheels within wheels plotting the show thrives on. Their confrontation in the Barnes boardroom came just after the show’s return to one of the classic tropes of Big Business drama – the Tempestuous Board Meeting, in which various extras in suits sit around a shiny table, but plainly haven’t been paid enough to have actual lines.


It is decreed that in the Tempestuous Board Meeting, one of the characters will upset the corporate applecart, and so it proved here, as Pamela upstaged the furious Frank with her new plan for green energy. Frank, as we know from last year, was raised from the slums by Cliff but never actually adopted – a fact JR hoped to exploit. Cliff’s actual daughter nicking his meeting is plainly not going to please him; since Faran Tahir looks so much like the villain of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, she should watch out for her heart:


Elsewhere, Lou the Lawyer took a break from his usual function as Mr Exposition to do some actual lawyering, as Christopher and Pamela faced off at the annulment hearing. Plainly both Lou and Christopher were taken by surprise when The Real Rebecca Sutter failed to back up their case, which may have something to do with the suitcase full of money Pamela had previously slipped her.

Christopher was pretty mad. “You want a war? You got one!” he snarled at Pamela, plainly looking to 1980s Schwarzenegger movies for his lines. But Pamela too has a bit of a problem; the real Rebecca Sutter doesn’t yet know that Pamela actually shot the brother she’s so keen to find.

Who’s double crossing who this week?

Still everyone. That’s the Dallas way.

JR doesn’t yet know that his son has hooked up with the daughter of his deadliest enemy. And it’s not just to screw over Christopher, as other kinds of screwing are plainly involved. Thankfully it’s a first to see the Ewing baddie in a passionate embrace with the Barnes baddie, as I’m not sure JR and Cliff in that position would be quite such a pleasant image.

Frank’s obviously pretty PO’d with Pamela, so he’s paid a cute young drug addict to deliver a cellphone to Christopher, which contains damning voicemails that indicate Pamela might have done away with the brother of The Real Rebecca Sutter.

Christopher duly played his part like a good little puppet, setting his secretary on a mission to observe and report on John Ross’ secretary, then confronting The Real Rebecca Sutter with what he knew.

John Ross played along with Bobby and Christopher’s nice gesture of making Elena an equal partner in Ewing Energies. What, a favour from John Ross? Hardly – his mother holds all of Elena’s debts from last year, and if she can get him Elena’s shares, he’ll be one step closer to seizing the company.

Harris Ryland popped up for his weekly slime, smirking as he failed to divulge to Bobby how he knew where Ann’s Secret Daughter was. So Bobby took matters into his own hands without telling Ann, and put on his investigating boots for a trip to the local riding academy.

Hey look, it’s that gal from that thing:

As Bobby’s quest for answers led him to the sinister figure of Harris Ryland’s mom Judith, who is apparently younger than he is. Eagle-eyed 80s fans might have recognised Judith Light from Danza extravaganza Who’s the Boss, apparently wearing an outfit discarded by Blake’s 7’s Servalan:


Appearances to the contrary, Judith Light actually is older than Mitch Pileggi. By a whole three years, making her, presumably, a very young mother at time of birth.

This week’s big cliffhanger:

Having spent the episode hot (well, lukewarm anyway) on the trail of Ann’s Secret Daughter, Bobby tracked her down by means of a horse. Turned out she and the horse were a package deal, having arrived from London together with the mysterious ‘Mrs Brown’. And who else should ‘Mrs Brown’ turn out to be but Harris Ryland’s mum? And she’s every bit as evil as he is, just a bit more glamorous. Turns out Harris actually kidnapped his own daughter, then gave her to his mother to raise believing Ann was a bitch. Even by his standards of bastardy, this is a new and exciting low.

Another rip-roaring Texan thrill ride then, with a new villain added to the mix in the form of Judith Ryland Brown, who may turn out to be the show’s new elder superbitch in Joan Collins style. Nice to see JR getting things to do too; he deserves to go out scheming. While John Ross is shaping into a formidable heir for him, Christopher is as adorably clueless as ever, leaving Bobby to be the smart good guy. Let’s hope that brain tumour doesn’t pop up again…

House of Cards–Could I possibly comment?

Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”


It’s not often I’m in a position to review an entire season of a show before most people have seen it; but thanks to Netflix’s innovative approach to their first original show, that’s precisely what I can do. House of Cards, an adaptation of the classic 1990 BBC production, is the online media group’s first attempt at original drama, and in an unprecedented step, they made the entire 13 episodes of the show’s first season available in one great lump, on 1st Feb.

Probably not too many people have done what I just have and spent the entire weekend watching the whole thing, so I’ll try and keep this as spoiler-free as possible. The fact that I wolfed it down at such a pace is fairly telling in itself; this is an addictive show. But how does it stack up against its respected original? Or indeed as a drama in its own right, from a media organisation taking its first steps into production?

The answer to both questions is, pretty well. House of Cards, the 1990 BBC production, wholly deserves its reputation. The twisty tale of a venal, Machiavellian Conservative Chief Whip who, passed over for promotion, contrives not only to destroy the ineffectual Prime Minister but actually to replace him, had the extraordinarily serendipitous good fortune to coincide with the real life toppling of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and her own replacement by the ineffectual John Major. The idea that secret Tory knives were being sharpened against this uncharismatic figure seemed none too far fetched, particularly when Major described three of his Cabinet as “bastards”.

The show also gave the role of a lifetime to Shakespearean actor Ian Richardson. As scheming Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, Richardson was given enough dialogue ammunition by writer Andrew Davies to chew up every scene he was in. Using the old-as-the-hills dramatic device of occasionally turning and talking directly to the audience, the show contrived to make the viewer complicit in Urquhart’s byzantine schemes, which ended up in treachery, political disgrace and even murder.

Fast forward 23 years, and the new House of Cards emerges into a vastly different political landscape. In 1990, we were just beginning to get used to the ideas that our elected officials might be, well, a bit dodgy. In 2013, after the decades of corruption exposed by (and sometimes embodied by) the press, it seems almost a given that, if you’re in office, you’re up to no good. The new show has to work that bit harder to be shocking when you automatically assume everyone in politics is on the take.

It also has to adapt to being American. This has two consequences. Firstly, the American political system is vastly different; you can’t just knife the leader in the back, take over the Party and become President from nowhere. And secondly, American television demands rather more than four hour long episodes in a season, diluting the intense, economical storytelling that characterised the original. But longer seasons have their benefits too, giving more time to flesh out the characters and, in a show like this, add layer upon layer to the basic political intrigue.

Said intrigue is carried out here by Kevin Spacey as House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, an intriguing variation on Richardson’s original Urquhart (whose name was obviously deemed too complex). While Urquhart was a haughty old-fashioned Tory from the rural shires, Underwood is from more humble beginnings. The son of a middling South Carolina peach farmer, he’s backstabbed his way into a position of some power in Congress. Like his British counterpart, when his party (intriguingly, the Democrats) win a general election, he’s more than a bit put out when he doesn’t get the promised position of Secretary of State. And so, as in the original, the scheming and manipulation begins.

This is the kind of character Kevin Spacey excels at. With his soft-spoken Southern drawl, Frank (only his wife calls him Francis) can seem as genial as you like. But that inner bastard is ready to leap out at a moment’s notice, and frequently does. We first encounter him, in a cold open to the first episode, killing a dog. OK, the dog’s just been hit by a car and is unlikely to survive; but Frank decides to put it out of its misery before its distraught owners can watch it die. "There are two kinds of pain," Frank explains. "The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain, the kind that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act, do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing."

Compassion? Of a sort that only Frank can employ. He’s not a monster; in fact he’s probably more sympathetic than his original British counterpart. But he’s just as goal-driven. Nothing, but nothing will get in the way of his revenge and his ambitions. But what are those ambitions? It takes thirteen blackmailing, seducing, corrupting episodes to find out. Along the way, Spacey makes this monster both loveable and hateable: a political JR Ewing for the modern age. Those sly asides to the camera are present and correct, not only involving us in his schemes but also helping us to keep track of what’s going on and why. And yes, he does use the original show’s catchphrase, but not often. When? I couldn’t possibly comment.

The length of the season allows his character to be explored more fully, and his shcemes have extra layers of complexity. Plans within plans: why is Frank so keen on supporting the President’s educational reform agenda? What interest can he have in furthering the career of substance-abusing Philadelphia Congressman Pete Russo (the rather hunky Corey Stoll, who spends a good amount of time in various states of undress)? And is he using his journalist protege / leak machine / shag Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), or is she using him?

Zoe takes the place of the original’s Mattie Storin, and like Underwood himself, inhabits a journalistic world that’s far dirtier than that of 1990. She’s no stranger to sleeping around the Capitol for a story, and neither are half her colleagues; hardly the thrilling flirtation with the dark side Mattie indulged in, more a matter of everyday business. But Zoe knows that Frank’s one of the biggest fish she can net, and grasps him with both hands. So to speak. And so the game of cat and mouse begins. But which is which?

Just as Zoe’s a more rounded character than the comparatively innocent Mattie, so is Frank’s wife. The original Elizabeth Urquhart, as played by the towering Diane Fletcher, functioned as a shadowy Lady Macbeth figure, clearly the inspiration behind – and control for – all her husband’s schemes. But for all Fletcher’s subtle performance, Elizabeth was given no more than suggestions of a character of her own.

Here, Frank is married to the more glamorous Claire (Robin Wright) a political animal in her own right. With her own prestigious charity group, the Clean Water Initiative, Claire is complicit in her husband’s schemes (well, some of them), but she’s not the power behind the throne. And she’s no more immune from being used and manipulated than anyone else, as she discovers through the course of the show. If her charity gets in the way of his schemes, she’ll get no special treatment.

Her relationship with Frank is (mostly) one of mutual respect, but she’s also distracted by her own lack of fulfilment. Frank has no doubts or shame about his corruption (he stops into a church at one point and spits contempt at both Heaven and Hell before maliciously blowing out all the prayer candles). But Claire is hitting the menopause, and increasingly bothered by her and Frank’s conscious decision never to have children (“I hate children,” mutters Frank at one point). She also has a Dark Past, with a rugged and pseudy British photographer who she’s had an on/off thing with over the years. Yes, it’s a little hackneyed, but as played by Wright, Claire becomes every bit as complex a character as Frank himself.

The length of the story allows for some amusing diversions too. Frank spends most of one episode visiting his alma mater (a fairly prestigious military school) for the dedication of the new library named after him, leading to much drunken hijinks with his old classmates in an episode that spends more time musing about the passage of time than politics. At the other end of the scale, another episode shows him simultaneously trying to quell a scandal in his home district centring on a peach-shaped water tower (disturbingly real), while simultaneously phoning in to the Capitol to negotiate education reform.

He’s not infallible either, leading to some laugh out loud moments such as his stumbling performance in a CNN debate when he accidentally replaces the word ‘education’ with ‘defecation’. His schemes sometimes seem not to work out either; but he’s nothing if not adaptable.

It’s an enthralling, twisting ride of Machiavellian scheming. Just as the original was the dark shadow to Yes Minister, this seems like the dark shadow to The West Wing. The choice of Democrats for Frank’s party affiliation is current, yes, but I can’t help but think it’s a middle finger to Jed Bartlet’s oh-so-Utopian administration too.

It’s not without its flaws; the need to provide a cliffhanger for the show’s second season means its carefully adapted story seems to run out of puff just when it’s gathering steam for a proper conclusion. Plainly, Netflix have their eye on adapting the later adventures of our own beloved Francis Urquhart. But how will they manage the next one, given that America doesn’t have a King? Or does it…