Trauma was a haunting meditation on destructive grief

trauma itv john simm adrian lester mike bartlett marc evans review tv grief drama

This death is at the heart of Trauma; as a programme, it’s fascinated by death and its impact, depicting an almost eschatological collapse of the status quo. This manifests through Trauma’s examination of both Dan Bowker (John Simm) and Jon Allerton (Adrian Lester), as parent and surgeon are forced to confront this death and how it changes them. There’s a compelling bond between them, as a grieving man latches onto the last human face who told him everything would be okay, the relationship quickly deteriorating as he searches for someone to blame. 

In a sense, certain similarities can be drawn between this and writer Mike Bartlett’s previous work on Doctor Foster, another drama focused on a spiralling disintegration of its lead character’s life; what sets Trauma apart, however, is how dedicated it is to exploring dual perspectives. There’s a real nuance and subtlety to Trauma, a measured approach to character work that doesn’t betray any of the ambiguity it allows.

In hindsight, that’s quite the pretentious title. But hey. I was pretty pleased with the article in the end. There’s one bit that isn’t quite right – a line of analysis that I don’t think exactly goes anywhere – but on the whole, a largely good article.

I really loved this show, and I was quite surprised to find that it wasn’t super well received generally. The explanation, as ever, is that I was right and they were all wrong. (More seriously, I think that a lot of the reason why people didn’t respond to this show so well is that they didn’t quite get why John Simm’s character became so fixated on Adrian Lester’s – admittedly, you can then argue about how well the show justified that, but still.)

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King Charles III is a Shakespearean epic for the modern age

king charles iii windsors mike bartlett bbc two shakespeare blank verse tim pigott smith hd

The central conceit of King Charles III is to posit a world in which Shakespeare survived to satirise a modern monarch in much the same way he did with Richard III or Henry V. Bartlett’s King Charles III is firmly rooted within the Shakespearean tradition, drawing on familiar aspects of the Bard’s work – Diana appears as a ghostly spectre akin to Hamlet’s father, while Kate Middleton fills the role of Lady Macbeth.

But this goes beyond simply remixing familiar archetypes and applying a modern veneer to Shakespeare’s existing work. King Charles III mimics the style of Shakespearean language, written in blank verse; such use of iambic pentameter, rarely seen on television, allows a grandeur of scale that positions the play firmly within a Shakespearean style, but allows it to seek out its own innovations and find a fresh outlook. In turn, then, King Charles III isn’t a ‘greatest hits’ compilation that aims to imitate Shakespeare, but rather a play that seeks to stand among his work.

A piece of King Charles III, the TV adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s award-winning play. I really enjoyed it!

In response to the obvious: no, when I wrote this I had not seen or read very much Shakespeare. Yes, I’m aware it shows. No, I haven’t read or seen a great deal more since, but enough to find the above faintly, albeit endearingly, embarrassing. Yes, I intend to read and watch more Shakespeare.

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Doctor Who Review: Knock Knock

doctor who review knock knock series 10 peter capaldi twelfth doctor bill potts pearl mackie david suchet landlord

Stop it. There’s no living puddles or weird robots, big fish. It’s just a new house, and people you don’t know. Not scary at all.

The problem with promising “the ultimate haunted house” is that it has to then do something to be ultimate.

Going into Knock Knock, I had quite high hopes – it was combining the big name celebrity actor with the big name celebrity writer, giving us an episode that promised to be the apotheosis of a particular genre within Doctor Who. Admittedly I did have a few concerns there; I’ve let my hopes get too high before, and then been let down accordingly. Even though I did find this one disappointing, it wasn’t because my hopes were too high. Generally speaking, it’s simply that it failed with what it set out to do – give us the ultimate haunted house story.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem for Doctor Who to repeat itself or return to the same well multiple times; it’s just that when it does, it has to be able to bring something new to the table. You can do another haunted house story – why not? It’s a great archetype, and I don’t know that anyone could really point to a definitive example of the genre within Doctor Who. (Night Terrors? Hide? Both decent entries, but also both offer potential to improve upon.) But when you do this haunted house story again, there has to be something to it that makes it meaningfully different from the previous iterations of the idea.

Sadly, Knock Knock doesn’t manage this – indeed, it almost goes out of its way to feel derivative. There’s very little here that we haven’t seen before. Obviously, there’s the haunted house structure itself, but let’s take it further – there’s the wood monster from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, for example, in a reveal that’s utterly stunted because of how proliferated the trailers and suchlike have been with shots of the Dryad. Equally, there’s also the twist ending from The Doctor Dances, though of course it fails to actually imitate what made the twist work in that instance. Nothing changes as a result of the knowledge the Landlord is actually the Dryad’s son, rather than her father – it’s just a throwaway little detail, seemingly included for the sake of having a twist.

None of this is awful, exactly. There’s something entirely competent in its execution of the haunted house format. It’s just that it doesn’t actually do anything particularly interesting with the tropes, or do anything that’s hugely engrossing. While rewatching it for this review, I found it quite difficult to actually pay much attention – devoid of the marginal interest it commanded simply by virtue of being new, it’s just a bit boring.

But not just because it’s a rehash of what we’ve seen before.

doctor who review knock knock mike bartlett mandeep dhillon shireen bill potts pearl mackie david suchet landlord

The other big issue with this episode is the supporting cast. Principally, it’s because they’re just painfully generic – and at times, veer into being a bit irritating as a result. There’s not a great deal of substance to any of them. I’m not sure whether that’s a result of the writing, or down to the acting – certainly, the one that come across with the most personality (Shireen, played by Mandeep Dhillon) manages to primarily as a result of the actress’ own talent rather than the material she got particularly. But even then, these aren’t characters who feel meaningfully real in any sense. You can do better in the time you’ve got – and if not, it’d be more effective to cut the size of the cast down rather than to grapple poorly with a lot of them. Part of the point of the large cast is to be able to gradually pick them off, yes – but that only works if we care about them.

(As a slight aside – when watching this, I was reminded of Russell T Davies’ worries about Donna being too far removed from children’s lives, basically because she was living an adult life and so on. Is the same not true of these students, with their house hunting and freshers parties and whatnot? That’s not a slight against the episode, just something that caught my attention and got me wondering.)

The problem gets worse when it starts to extent to Bill, though, as Pearl Mackie is given some of the most generic companion material here so far. It’s her reaction to death that’s a problem primarily – in that she doesn’t really have one. Part of the success of Thin Ice was its absolutely fantastic material surrounding Bill’s response to seeing someone die in front of her – Knock Knock largely ignores this, and has her watch someone who’s supposed to have been a lifelong best friend die with nary a tear.

You could argue that Knock Knock shouldn’t try to repeat the ideas other episodes advanced, but if you look at the story as a whole, that’s clearly nonsense. So why doesn’t Bill respond more significantly to the deaths of her friends? It’s a bit like Rose not reacting to Jackie’s death, or Martha shrugging off Tish being eaten. It just doesn’t work for the character.

The eventual return of the supporting cast hampers the episode somewhat too. I’m loathe to suggest that characters need to die for a drama to have consequences, but it’s clear this was a throwaway return to deliberately avoid consequence to what happened. It leaves the episode without any real lasting impact – though given Bill’s initial reaction to Shireen’s apparent death, it’s not clear we would have seen one anyway.

doctor who review knock knock mike bartlett david suchet landlord peter capaldi twelfth doctor wester drumlins binaural sound

Is there anything good in this episode?

Yes, actually. I recognise that I likely seem quite negative here, but that’s simply because I’ve front weighted my complaints. It’s not so much that the episode is bad, it’s just that there’s a lot about that doesn’t reach beyond just okay – it’s not a hugely ambitious episode. But still – it’s a competently executed piece of television that was, at least on first watch, reasonably entertaining. So what’s in there to like?

Well, even if the celebrity writer disappoints, our celebrity actor certainly doesn’t – David Suchet does a great job as the Landlord, as you’d expect from an actor of his stature. Does the part make a lick of sense? No, not really. But Suchet does a great job with the role, and even comes close to making that ‘twist’ at the end make sense, transitioning seamlessly into a child’s understanding of an authority figure. It’s still a mess of a part, because it’s not really written very consistently across the episode… but still.

There’s also something quite intriguing about the sound mixing on this episode. I didn’t listen to the binaural version of the episode – I’d planned to, but never really found the time in the end – but it was clear watching throughout that it’d be quite impressive. It’s nice to see them pursuing these idiosyncratic little details, and pushing what the show can and does do – although admittedly only on a technical level.

But, even then, it’s almost like actively searching for something to celebrate. There’s just not a lot of substance to Knock Knock – it’s possibly the most emphatically ‘whatever’ episode of Doctor Who that we’ve had in a long time.

In a sense, it’s a bit like an empty house; the foundations were there, but there’s nothing inside.

6/10

Related:

Doctor Who Series 10 Reviews

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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