Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For The Defence

Last week, while Tony Garnett’s email rained down, accusing the BBC of stifling creativity, from inside his White City foxhole, Ben Stephenson, the Corporation’s drama commissioning controller, lobbed back a preview of some of the new dramas coming to BBC1 next year. Whether they go some way to placate the critics we’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime a few sound tempting.

To begin with there’s The Deep by Simon Donald, which takes place onboard an oceanographers submarine trapped beneath the Arctic ice. After a catastrophe leaves them with no power, limited oxygen and the inability to contact the outside world, it soon becomes apparent to the crew that they are not alone. It may be Ten Little Indians meets Das Boot without the torpedoes but his looks good because Donald wrote the award-winning Low Winter Sun. And at least it’s not set in a frigging hospital, so that’s a start. You never know, there may even be a character having a hissy fit to equal Patrick McGoohan’s spectacular turn in Ice Station Zebra.

Because there have to be new crime dramas, Fiona Seres’ Silence focuses on a deaf teenage girl who becomes unwitting the key witness in a murder investigation. Meanwhile, Luther by Neil Cross features a detective going after a new killer each week as he battles his own personal demons. Because that isn’t exactly new – though if it’s anything like Wallander, in which Kenneth Branagh played the title character tipping toward a full–blown nervous breakdown, that’s not a bad thing – to spice it up the drama’s twist is that each killer’s identity will be made apparent to the audience. I suppose that is something new, unless of course you caught the Sunday afternoon repeat of Columbo on ITV1.

Then there’s the return of Sherlock Holmes, this time at the hands of Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis. Conan Doyle’s creation is always welcome on screen, although the BBC should still be deeply ashamed with itself for not renewing Murder Rooms. Yet this time around the new drama, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Holmes and Martin Freeman as the ever–faithful John Watson, is set in contemporary times, which seems an odd thing to do. Wasn’t one of Holmes’ strengths that along with his deductive reason he used methods of detection not available to the police of the time?

Taking place in 2009, where does that leave the character when the Met has fingerprinting and DNA databases? Even if Holmes is driven to prove himself more accomplished than the plod, wouldn’t that simply make him a less benign version of Adrian Monk? Obvious the pair have got it all worked out, but after Jekyll, Moffat’s updating of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, started well before going spectacularly off the rails, maybe he’s got a strange yen for ballsing-up classic literary characters. And anyway, don’t we already have a modern day Holmes in House? Though, of course, that’s set in a hospital.


At 8:26 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

My feeling is that Sexton Blake would more lend himself to updating than Holmes -- reinvention every couple of decades is built into the character, and he was always the action hero that everyone's now trying to make Holmes into.

I must have touted my contemporary SB reboot around for at least five or six years before finally conceding that it was never going to get a hearing.

At 10:28 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

I was watching the revised trailer for Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and the bare-knuckle boxing scenes still seem... decidedly odd.

I’m all for variations on the Conan Doyle stories – after all, the wonderful Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies took great liberties with the source material and I love The Seven Per Cent Solution and Without a Clue – but if it’s two-fisted tales they’re after, Sexton Blake seems the logical alternative.

Blake would have seemed a better choice because although he appeared in films and on radio, his television appearances have been limited at best. Sydney Newman tried to develop a series as competition for The Avengers, but when that failed to materialise after a disagreement with the publishers the basic format was turned into Adam Adamant Lives!.

A year later Associated-Rediffusion ironed out the differences and produced a series in conjunction with Thames. Then later in the 1970s I seem to vaguely remember a BBC serial made for Sunday tea-time viewing, although I could be mistaken.

Then there’s always Bulldog Drummond to consider. A couple of years back at the BFI’s annual Missing Believed Wiped screening they showed The Ludlow Affair, an episode of Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents featuring Robert Beatty as Bulldog Drummond. The real bonus was good old Michael Ripper played his aide.

I suppose we just have to wait and see. When it does appear on screen it would be interesting to hear what your take on the concept was.

At 8:14 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

The 70s serial you remember would be the one with Jeremy Clyde, I think, novelised by John Garforth as Sexton Blake and the Demon God.

That was a period piece... there was an excellent radio series in 1967, with William Franklyn as an updated Blake. The scripts were by Blake veteran Donald Stuart but the tone was very much that of Howard Baker's revamp as featured in the Mayflower paperback series that first hooked me in. Some of the episodes can be found on the Blakiana website at www.sextonblake.co.uk/airwaves.html.

Latest incarnation is, I think, a period spoof radio adventure from Dirk Maggs. My friend Malcolm Brown's in it. Spoofing seems hard to resist with these old heroes. I'm more interested in the idea of tapping into their forgotten power.

At 9:24 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


many thanks for the link to the radio series episodes. They’re terrific. I listened to a good number while I was resting up today (although taking a break to catch Lost Horizon on BBC2 this afternoon).

It’s a shame about the spoofing of classic two-fisted heroes rather than trusting in the material to attract an audience as it is. I’d prefer to see characters using brains and brawn rather than a surfeit of gadgets. And they’re a whole lot more interesting than robots beating the hell out of each other.


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