By John Ruberry

Much well-deserved criticism has been leveled at the BBC for compelling Doctor Who to go transgender by having, after 41 years, a woman take the lead role. Not because, as DaTechGuy himself noted two months ago, the best performer was hired, but because the Doctor Who franchise apparently needs more diversity.

Keep in mind that the most recent companion of the Doctor was a black lesbian with a Colin Kaepernick-style afro. Oh, I am not automatically opposed to a female Doctor. Let’s say Judi Dench wanted the role. Would I watch? Sure, I would. It would be the same for me if Meryl Streep grabbed the controls of the TARDIS. But that last one can never happen. An American playing the Doctor? And one from New Jersey? Imagine the uproar!

But I’m here to review a different TV show.

Y Gwyll, which is Welsh for The Dusk, is called Hinterland in English. It’s a production of S4C, a Welsh-language public television network in Britain. So far three seasons have been released. Hinterland is also broadcast on BBC Wales–which ironically produces Doctor Whoas part of its commitment to provide more Welsh cultural offerings there. And BBC One offers the show too.

So does a political agenda and enjoyable television viewing mix? In this case, yes, they do.

Hinterland is a noir crime drama, a genre that is very popular in Scandinavia, where some of the funding for the program comes from. It’s an expensive series to shoot as every scene with dialogue is filmed twice, once in Welsh and then in English. And there is much outdoor filming which costs more than controlled studio shots.

After ten years working for the London Metropolitan Police, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) relocates to the coastal town of Aberystwyth in western Wales after a family tragedy. The laconic and brooding character lives in a caravan, what the Brits call a trailer home, in front of the stone ruins of presumably an old farmhouse. Does this symbolism mean that Mathias cannot rebuild his life?

In the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, which is set in Cardiff, we see a gleaming modern city, which is not surprising as the Torchwood alien-hunting team is led by a post-American time traveler from the 51st century. The Wales of Hinterland is one of collapsing old homes, crumbling walls, and failing farms. Yes, I love the cinematography here, but remember, I’m someone vacationed in Detroit two years ago to snap urban exploration photos. And in every Hinterland episode it seems to be early March–a stillborn spring. The countryside is gorgeous, reminiscent, to me at least, of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Detective Inspector Mared Rhys (Mali Harries), a single mother is also burdened by a complicated past, is Mathias’ primary assistant; he is also ably aided by Siân Owens (Hannah Daniel) and Lloyd Elis (Alex Harris).

Hinterland is a slow-moving program–if car chases and gun battles are your Jones, then move along, there is little here for you. And it takes a while for the series plot to play out as a murder in the first episode of season one doesn’t begin to expand into other crimes until the end of that season. It builds from there as Mathias confronts Iwan Thomas (Geraint Morgan) who used to hold his job in Aberystwyth and whose past is as troubled as his own. Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes), Mathias’ recondite boss, discourages him from pursuing the Thomas angle in his investigations.

Season three was my favorite, as many loose ends are tied up. There are no plans for a fourth Hinterland batch–but the series hasn’t been cancelled either. But as Hinterland also receives funding from the European Union, politics could push the show out of its stillborn spring and into permanent winter.

Ah, politics. It really does ruin everything.

All three seasons of Hinterland are available on Netflix in the United States and in DVD form on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Characters in Broadchurch

By John Ruberry

A few days ago I finished watching season three of Broadchurch, a British mystery series which is broadcast in the United Kingdom on ITV–and here on BBC America–starring David Tennant as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman as Detective Inspector Ellie Miller.

Tennant of course is best known as the Tenth Doctor–and the second one of after its revival–in Doctor Who. Except for the first half of the “Tooth and Claw” episode, Tennant uses an English accent as the Doctor, here his natural Scottish accent is utilized for his Hardy character. One of the supporting characters in Broadchurch is Jodie Whittaker, who will accede to the Doctor’s role in the next Christmas episode of Doctor Who and become the first female Doctor, to the horror of some longtime fans, including the founder of the blog you are reading now.

The creator–and sole screenplay writer, save for one episode that he had a co-writer for–of Broadchurch is Chris Chibnall, who has been executive producer of Doctor Who since last year and who will be showrunner for the feminized edition next season. Chibnall was a co-producer and screenwriter for Torchwood, the sexualized “grown-up” spinoff of Doctor Who.

The fictional town of Broadchurch is where this particular show is set, it sits on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset in southwestern England. Broadchurch is a tightly knit–perhaps too much so–small town that, in season one, is wracked by the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara). Whittaker portrays his mother, Beth, and Andrew Buchan plays his father, Mark. The suspects are numerous and there are plenty of plot twists to keep you on the edge of your couch for all eight episodes. Season two, which also consists of eight episodes, splits time between being a courtroom drama and the re-opening of the investigation of a murder and disappearance in Sandbrook, which presumably is near Broadchurch. The botched handling of that investigation is what led Hardy to take the DI position in Broadchurch, which Miller assumed was already hers.

In the third season, which is said to be the final one, Hardy after time away from Broadchurch, returns and again is teamed with Miller. Their relationship has always been tense–but by this time they carry on like elderly spouses, albeit there is no physical side of it. When Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) calls the police a few days after being raped at the 50th birthday party of a friend and co-worker, Hardy and Miller oversee another investigation that tears the town apart. This season is just six episodes long.

There are many fabulous performances in Broadchurch, beginning of course with Tennant and Colman, but also by Hesmondhalgh, Eva Myles (Gwen Cooper in Torchwood), David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones and the new First Doctor in Doctor Who), Arthur Darvill (a onetime Doctor Who companion), who portrays a vicar attempting to heal the town of its wounds while preaching to mostly empty pews, as well as Carolyn Pickles. She plays a rarity–an honest journalist searching for the truth who goes out of her way not to hurt anyone.

I didn’t include Whittaker in that list, but perhaps not much was asked for her by directors of Broadchurch, although as the mother of a murdered child, that doesn’t make very much sense. Based on what I saw in the program, all the performers listed in the previous paragraph would have been better choices as the Thirteenth Doctor, not that I would expect Tennant to return to Doctor Who. My choice would have been Bradley as the next–the first shall be the latest–Doctor. But perhaps a septuagenarian as a lead character in a classic television show is too broad of a bridge to cross for our youth-worshipping culture to cross.

All three seasons are top-notch, but I’ll give my nod to the first one, which was re-done as Gracepoint for Fox in the United States. I haven’t seen that one and from what I’ve heard, it isn’t worth my time or yours, despite Tennant reprising his role as Hardy and Chibnall’s involvement.

Broadchurch is available on DVD, on Amazon, and Xfinity On Demand. Seasons one and two can be viewed on Netflix.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

p12079367_b_v9_acBy John Ruberry

Without the phenomenal box office success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, HBO’s Game of Thrones series may not have ever launched. And without GoT’s ongoing critical and audience raves, The Last Kingdom would almost certainly never have been giving the green light by the BBC.

I just finished binge-watching the first season of The Last Kingdom, which like Game of Thrones is a television version of a series of books, in this case Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories. I might not have ever heard of the BBC series had not the ninth season of the Doctor Who reboot had been bombarded with Last Kingdom trailers. I guess that’s the point of promos.

Season two of The Last Kingdom is currently in production.

So how is it? Well, in a few words, LK is pretty good. After all, I kept watching, didn’t I?

Here’s how the series is set up–with spoilers for the most part that cover only the first half of the first episode:

The action begins in the late ninth century as Danish invaders–the word “vikings” is never used–have transformed themselves from coastal raiders into a disciplined army who have conquered each English kingdom save Wessex. The lead character is Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), the son of a Northumberland noblemen who as a child witnesses his father fall in a battle against the invaders. After he humorously attacks a Dane, Uhtred is taken as a slave. Losing his Christian faith, Uhtred the Godless, much in the matter of white characters captured by Indians in Old West movies, seems unsure of his loyalties, but he’s determined to reclaim his family castle from his duplicitous uncle.

An adult Uhtred, after his Danish family is killed by other Danes, makes his way to Wessex where he pledges loyalty to King Alfred and joins the Saxon cause.

Attractive in a Jon Snow sort of way, Uhtred doesn’t have a vow of chastity to hamper his romantic pursuits.

Religion greatly drives the plot, The priest who baptizes the young Uhtred–twice–has also made his way to Wessex, where he serves as a counselor to Alfred. Refreshingly, the Christians in The Last Kingdom are pious, but not portrayed as foolishly pious. The only religious character treated with disdain is a Danish sorcerer.

Alfred (David Dawson), the devout king, doesn’t let his sickliness damper his resolve to save his realm and drive the Danes out of England.

Besides Alfred, other historical characters who appear in The Last Kingdom are the Danish chieftains Ubba and Guthrum, Saxons Odda the Elder, King Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold, and Welsh monk Asser, the biographer of the Wessex ruler. A glaring oversight is the omission of Ivor the Boneless, the Dane whose name still perplexes historians. Ivor was the half-brother of Ubba.

The show plays homage to the legend that Alfred, asked by a woman to keep an eye on loaves of bread being baked, allows them to burn as his mind wanders to pressing matters of kingship.

The cinematography is superb although the filming of the series in Hungary, rather than England, might be the catalyst of one of LK’s noticeable shortcomings, cheap-looking wardrobes and crowns that appear to be plastic. If the series was shot in Britain, or even Northern Ireland where some of Game of Thrones is filmed, I’m sure the costume department of The Last Kingdom could have scrounged up more convincing crowns some better period clothes from a regional Shakespeare company.

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

If you are looking for one more Game of Thrones comparison, then I won’t let you down. While gratuitous nudity is absent from The Last Kingdom, the brief glimpses of bare flesh amid the armor and swords appear forced as if someone is screaming at the directors, “We need naked bums for better ratings!”

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit
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