You, Me and the Apocalypse – TV Review

With a fresh commitment to upping its output of high-quality drama, You, Me and the Apocalypse, an epic new sitcom which focuses on the final 34 days on Earth before a humanity-wiping comet strikes, is a resounding statement of intent from Sky1.

A clever and ambitious show from Iain Hollands, creator of E4’s absurdist summer camp comedy Beaver Falls, Sky has pulled out all the stops to mimic the American sense of scale resulting in a globe-trotting series that takes in such glamorous locations as the Vatican, Arizona and, erm, Slough, not to mention a TV supergroup-style cast including former West Wing heartthrob Rob Lowe, Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally and our very own Pauline Quirke.

Yet, for all its star-spangled glamour, this is still an unashamedly British show: a witty, heartfelt comedy-drama that never takes itself too seriously – even if it does eventually run out of steam.

While most shows may choose to focus on the high-stakes drama of the world facing destruction, Apocalypse takes a refreshingly low-key approach, starting with its eclectic group of survivors watching the end unfold from a bunker before rewinding back to a time before the apocalypse was even news when their lives first start to intersect in unexpected ways.

Yonderland’s Mathew Baynton stars as Jamie, a meek bank manager whose rigidly regimented existence suddenly descends into chaos when he finds himself arrested for cyber-terrorism based on what appears to be indisputable DNA evidence.

But that’s just one strand. As well as Jamie, we also follow how the end of the world affects the lives of Lowe’s potty-mouthed, chain-smoking priest Father Jude and his sainthood-busting crusade, and Jenna Fischer’s (The American Office) fish-out-of-water inmate Rhonda whose arrival in an Arizonan prison attracts the unwanted attention of fierce white supremacist Leanne, played by a superbly twisted Mullally who regularly competes with Lowe for the best lines (the latter just about comes out on top here with “The ecclesiastical turd in the swimming pool.”).

At first Hollands expertly interweaves these continent-hopping stories, swiftly introducing each character whilst also keeping the action racing along during a well-paced opening.

This frenetic rhythm quickly fades, however, with the plot becoming bogged down in relentless set-ups as Hollands tries to drag out the start of everyone’s adventures for the episode’s entire hour-long duration. What’s more, surely the story strands involving Jamie’s search for his missing wife, Rhonda’s prison sentence and Jude’s new Vatican posting become mute as soon as news of the asteroid breaks?

Still, even if the story isn’t really going anywhere at this stage, it’s uproariously funny all the same. Apocalypse is closest in tone to The Wrong Mans, which also starred Baynton alongside James Corden, in the way it juxtaposes suburban drudgery with action adventure, such as the moment Jamie tries to usher his embarrassing mother out the door as the cops storm in to haul him into custody.

The jokes are so very British, Holland’s script loaded with absurd sight gags, awkward encounters and deflatory comments (Jamie being mercilessly mocked by a slack-jawed work experience kid, for example); but it also has a disarming sense of pathos, from the revelation that Rhonda is taking the fall for her hacker son to Jamie’s mournful video messages to his missing wife. These recall Slough’s most famous sitcom The Office in encouraging us to laugh at these characters’ antics whilst also making us care deeply about their lives.

Despite running out of steam as the episode wears on – though there are signs of the plot picking up as Rhonda breaks out of prison and Jamie sets off in search of his evil twin brother – You, Me and the Apocalypse is a quick-witted, tender sitcom filled with charmingly endearing characters. Even if it’s not immediately clear where it’s all headed, with such a winning combination, it’s worth tagging along for the journey.

Click here to watch a trailer for You, Me and the Apocalypse

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Things you might have missed: Doctor Foster

In its desperation to raid the archives for films it can rework into small screen success, Paramount TV recently announced it is cooking up (or should that be boiling?) a Fatal Attraction ‘event series’ with Mad Men writers Maria and Andre Jacquemetton.

Imagine the infuriation, then, when the studio’s creative bigwigs realised that, with Doctor Foster (Wednesdays, BBC1, 9pm), the BBC has already beaten them to it. With its edgy thrills and domestic noir tone, which has been oh-so popular since the release of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Doctor Foster is a Fatal Attraction TV reboot in all but name.

Like Adrian Lynne’s seminal psychosexual thriller, which saw Glenn Close’s jilted one-night stand becoming frighteningly obsessed with Michael Douglas (well, the adulterous married man he played, at least), BBC1’s nail-biting drama spins the tale of a highly successful woman whose seemingly perfect life is exposed as a deception in the aftermath of an affair.

The delicious twist here is that, rather than that of the jilted lover, the story is told from the point of view of the wronged wife, played with convincing menace by Suranne Jones. It’s a clever tweak on the formula; assuring viewers are always fully understanding of the wife’s actions, even as they gradually become more disturbing.

Jones is Gemma Foster, a high-flying GP living an enviable lifestyle. She’s successful, stylish and happily married to sweet, ambitious, charmingly handsome Simon (an equally charming Bertie Carvel). Together they live in one of those gleaming middle class homes that only seem to exist in the pristine land of television, along with their adorable son, Tom (Tom Taylor). Her biggest problem, you’d think, is keeping up with all the appointments on her jam-packed social calendar.

Naturally, it’s all too perfect to be true.

The drama’s early goings on see Jones channel the baser aspects of Glenn Close’s bunny-boiling icon by appearing to fall completely off her rocker. It starts with the discovery of a pink lip balm in Simon’s pocket and a long blonde hair on his scarf, tiny discrepancies that nevertheless plant the seeds of doubt about her husband’s fidelity. From there Gemma’s paranoia escalates rapidly to the point where she’s secretly scrolling through Simon’s phone in search of clues and trading sleeping pills in return for a patient’s help in tracking his every move.

Tantalizingly, we’re kept guessing throughout the first episode as to whether Gemma’s creeping suspicions are justified or just the sign of a woman who is slowly losing her mind.

Such a plot could easily swerve too far in melodrama – indeed it sometimes does with writer Mike Bartlett crowbarring William Congreve quotes into the dialogue – but instead the series heads in a tensely intriguing direction with the gut-wrenching revelation that Simon really is having it away with a local waitress half his age, spurring Gemma to stop playing the victim and start planning how she’s going to gain the upper hand.

It might sound unconvincing at first, but Gemma swiftly transforms into a cold, calculating femme fatale, carefully scheming to suit her own ends by continuing to play the dutiful wife, and all the while she’s accumulating evidence of Simon’s adulterous misdeeds. Oh, and she also seduces Simon’s smarmy best mate Neil (Adam James) and then blackmails him into handing over her husband’s financial records, just to really stick the boot in.

Not that it’s all revenge plots or marital misery; Doctor Foster also takes the time to examine the realities of uncovering your husband is a cheat. The de facto mindset may be to lob off the offending partner’s unmentionables and kick him to the curb while his belongings burn on the front lawn, but as the series makes clear, that’s not always the easiest option.

For all her planning, Gemma still can’t bring herself to pull the trigger on her marriage, partly because she’s aware of the untold destruction it could bring to her son’s life, but also because, in spite all of his shithousery, she is still hopelessly in love with Simon. And even if she does ultimately decide to chuck him out, there’s no guarantee she’ll be the one to come out on top. As her lawyer pointedly highlights: “The wife may get the house and all the money, but that doesn’t mean she’s won.”

There are, of course, some minor foibles – Bartlett is prone to the odd narrative contrivance and there’s always the vague feeling that events will suddenly spiral out of all logical control – but right now it’s fabulously absorbing and entirely gripping. The performances are all uniformly excellent, with Jones convincing as both a measured professional and an erratic spouse while Carvel ably hides a duplicitous liar beneath the veneer of the perfect husband, and the simmering tension ensures there’s never a dull moment as the stakes are slowly raised.

Will Simon come clean? Will Kate reveal the truth? Will Gemma’s frequent medical malpractice finally catch up with her? With so many questions still unanswered, there’s no telling what direction the drama will head next. The only certainty is that I will be making another appointment with Doctor Foster. Will you?

Click here to watch Doctor Foster on BBC iPlayer

Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar – TV Review

After last week’s underwhelming series opener, The Witch’s Familiar scales back on the planet-hopping shenanigans and brings its brilliantly written characters to the fore to deliver a tighter, darker and far more thrilling episode that proves to be a satisfying pay-off to the series’ first two-parter.

The Magician’s Apprentice ended on a triple cliff-hanger with Missy and Clara being exterminated by the Daleks, the TARDIS being destroyed and the Doctor back on ancient Skaro threatening the boy Davros with a Dalek gun. While all three elements are not immediately resolved, with Steven Moffat wisely saving some revelations for the electrifying conclusion, this episode plunges straight back into the action with the Doctor in deep, deep trouble.

With no TARDIS, no sonic screwdriver and no friends to help him, Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord finds himself alone at the heart of the Dalek empire. With seemingly no hope of escape, the Doctor is left with no other choice but to face-off against a vengeful and ailing Davros if he’s going to have any chance of saving Clara.

In contrast to last week’s episode, which zipped around several locations often at the expense of character development, The Witch’s Familiar is a self-contained affair with the action limited to just a few areas on Skaro. This scaled-back approach may not bring about the increase in excitement many fans were hoping for, but it does make for a tighter story with Moffat opting for a more character-driven piece as the Doctor confronts his dying archenemy for what may be the final time.

And why wouldn’t Moffat focus on his characters when he has such sublime performers as Capaldi and Julian Bleach at his disposal? With the Doctor and Davros at the centre of the story, these veteran performers are allowed to play out a tense two-hander that could easily fill an entire episode on its own.

Bleach is utterly superb as Davros, exploring a radically different side to the maniacal leader, as he appears gentler and more vulnerable in his final moments, warmly congratulating the Doctor for saving Gallifrey whilst also mourning the loss of his own people.

Capaldi is equally brilliant as the twelfth Doctor, showcasing a whole gamut of emotions – rage, despair, whimsy and, yes, compassion – as Davros challenges him with big questions about his morality. It’s great to see the return of a more conflicted, ambiguous Doctor – Capaldi just never looks comfortable as a care-free Time Lord – and the revelations that he may have had ulterior motives for running away from Gallifrey and also had a hand in creating a Time Lord-Dalek hybrid raise fascinating avenues to further explore as the series continues.

It’s not all about the Doctor and Davros, of course. Having escaped the Daleks’ exterminating rays via some teleporter-based jiggery-pokery, Missy and Clara continue their twisted buddy cop adventures this week with a trip through a Dalek graveyard – a vast, slimy cavern lined with decaying Daleks, it’s yet another creepy body horror imagining from Moffat after last week’s disturbing hand mines.

Their shared mistrust and grudging mutual respect makes for a crackling dynamic that is hugely enjoyable to watch with Michelle Gomez’s Missy being her usual bonkers, maniacal self, pushing her “canary” off a cliff and handcuffing her into the path of an on-rushing Dalek, while the scene where she tries to convince the Doctor that a Dalek controlled by Clara is really an enemy is one of the episode’s tensest moments.

(As a side note, this is the third time Clara has found herself inside a Dalek; after Asylum of the Daleks and Into the Dalek – is this a possible clue that Clara is the Dalek hybrid Davros was referring to?)

A few words, too, on the Daleks, who pale close to insignificance in this episode. I mentioned last week that they always seem less of a threat when under the control of an outside force and that proves to be the case here as, though their classic design is a sight to behold, the “trigger-happy mini tanks” essentially stand around waiting for Davros to give them an order, which makes it hard to see them as anything other than comically inept.

It’s a minor flaw that hardly matters once the story reaches its exhilarating conclusion. Ever fond of the double bluff, Moffat outdoes himself here by revealing Davros’ newly-found softer side is nothing more than a vicious ruse designed to trick the Doctor into bestowing his regeneration powers upon himself and his army of Daleks. Naturally, the Doctor is one step ahead, as always, allowing Davros to go through with his plan knowing it will revive the decaying Daleks upon which Skaro was built.

It’s a thrilling and immensely satisfying climax; but while the Doctor gains some form of redemption by returning to save the boy Davros from the hand mines’ clutches, the question of why he left a child there in the first place is left frustratingly unresolved. Of course, there’s plenty of time to return to this issue later in the series, along with the notion that Missy has become the new leader of the Daleks, but it does mean the story feels incomplete in a wider context.

Nevertheless, The Witch’s Familiar is an excellent follow-up to last week’s series opener. By reducing the scope of the action and focusing more on intriguing character moments, Moffat has succeeded in delivering a taut, gripping conclusion to series nine’s first two parter. If the remaining episodes are as good as this, we’re in for one hell of a series.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar on BBC iPlayer

Everest – Film Review

Majestic yet unforgiving, Mount Everest is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. With a summit higher than the cruising altitude of a 747, those brave enough to attempt to scale it must battle blistering winds, freezing temperatures and a fatal lack of oxygen. Unsurprisingly, many fail to make it that far. Given the punishing nature of this environment, it begs the question: why would anyone want to even try? It’s a quandary that isn’t fully answered by Everest, a taut, visually stunning true-life tale that never quite reaches the requisite emotional heights.

With a script by Oscar-winning duo William Nicholson (Gladiator) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty), based on the real events of the 1996 disaster, Everest focuses on the survival attempts of two expedition groups, one led by Jason Clarke’s cautious kiwi Rob Hall and the other by Jake Gyllenhaal’s laid back Scott Fischer, when they’re caught in the path of a violent storm.

Despite the mountain only being first conquered in 1953, by 1996 ascending the world’s highest peak has become a mini industry, with amateur adrenalin junkies paying hefty fees for a guided tour to the top of the world. Everest takes place on the tipping point of this unregulated business, with base camp overrun by twenty different teams each attempting to scale the mountain at the same time, creating a chaos that will eventually lead to disaster.

And that’s exactly what happens when Rob and Scott’s teams are unexpectedly engulfed by a fierce blizzard as they make their final assault on the summit. With oxygen running low and the storm refusing to subside, the beleaguered adventurers make a desperate bid to make it down the mountain before it takes their lives.

As you might expect of a movie set on one of the most spectacular places on the planet, Everest is visually astounding. Director Baltasar Kormákur skilfully combines flawless digital imagery with practical effects to place us firmly on the mountain. From the shaky camerawork during a mini avalanche to the dizzying shots of a climber dangling over a seemingly endless crevasse, Kormákur evokes the stomach churning reality of Everest’s unforgiving terrain, rivalling Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity for immersive intensity.

The story is slow to get going with the setup in particular feeling over-wrought due to the sheer number of characters involved. Multiple teams may have taken part in the ill-fated expedition, but by trying to focus on so many people, Nicholson and Beaufoy don’t have enough time to fully explore them all. The best survival stories are personal journeys where an individual battles impossible odds, but with Everest we don’t gain enough insight into the characters’ private lives to fully invest in their survival.

That said, when the storm does finally strike, it’s one hell of a spectacle. As the body count rises and climbers succumb to the numbing temperatures, Kormákur swaps wide shots of the gorgeous horizons for tight angles where vision is almost entirely lost to the engulfing blizzard, creating a claustrophobic intensity that really ratchets up the tension. The director also does exceptional work in juggling everyone’s stories without letting the momentum drop for even a second.

One further downside of having so many faces vying for attention is that most of the talented cast struggle to standout. Given we spend most of our time following their characters, it’s no surprise the most affecting, emotional-wrought performances comes from Clarke, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes. Everyone else, though, comes across as one note, with Gyllenhaal especially wasted as a grating, carefree hipster, when his performance hints at a character with unexplored depths.

Boasting striking cinematography, tight direction and a star-studded line-up of capable performers, from a distance Everest looks set to be an extraordinary adventure. Yet, much like the mountain at the centre of the story, it’s when you venture further that difficulties emerge, with an overloaded cast making it hard to feel much for any one individual.

It’s still a gripping, exhilarating journey, just one that will ultimately leave you colder than the icy temperatures atop the world’s highest peak.

Runtime: 121 min; Genre: Thriller; Released: 18 September 2015;

Director: Baltasar Kormákur; Writers: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy;

Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes

Click here to watch the trailer for Everest

Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice – TV Review

The Doctor is back! Hang on, he’s gone missing. Again. Which is a pretty big problem, what with Earth’s skies being mysteriously frozen by an unknown force. So where is the Doctor, and what is he hiding from?

Having overcome the dastardly mechanisations of Missy and her Cyber army and survived a Christmas adventure with old Saint Nick himself, Peter Capaldi’s second run as the Doctor began last night with The Magician’s Apprentice, a bold and imaginative two-parter that’s all intrigue and no action.

The start is particularly magnificent, opening on a fog-wreathed future battlefield where young soldiers flee through the sodden mud as laser cannon-mounted Spitfires swoop down from above to pick them off. In amongst all this chaos is where we find the Doctor, doing what he does best by trying to save a frightened boy who is trapped within a hand-mine field. One of Steven Moffat’s most disturbing imaginings, these are literal hands that rise up from the earth, Evil Dead-style, to snatch their victims down into a waiting abyss. But then suddenly, the Doctor is gone, vanishing in the mist upon the very mention of the boy’s name: Davros. Yes, the megalomaniac genius who created the Daleks is back to torment the Time Lord once again.

The Doctor’s disappearance means Clara has to fend for herself when she is called to assist UNIT in solving the mystery of why all of the world’s aircraft have frozen in the sky. Fortunately for her, it turns out to be one of Doctor Who’s easier conundrums, with the culprit swiftly revealed to be Missy (yes she’s back, get over it) as part of an audacious ploy to attract Clara’s attention.

Fans who have been baying for an early return for Michelle Gomez’s gender-swapped Master will be pleased to see she is as devilishly bonkers as ever. Breezing in with a well-stocked supply of killer one-liners and an itchy trigger finger, Missy instantly livens up proceedings with her twisted antics.

Interestingly, this time she’s on the side of the angels as she joins forces with Clara to track down the Doctor after she receives a sign indicating he only has one day left to live. Moffat, who wrote the episode, has lots of fun playing with this Time Lady-team up, writing some crackling dialogue as Clara and Missy bicker which one of them is the Doctor’s true best friend. If Jenna Coleman hadn’t left the show to focus on other projects, I’d be campaigning for these two to star in their very own buddy cop-style spinoff.

It’s not just the Doctor’s friends who are searching for him, however. Also on the Time Lord’s tail is a mysterious cloaked figure who appears to slither along the ground with a disturbing determination. A new creation of Moffat’s, the unidentified tracker is eventually exposed as a giant snake masquerading in human-like form – an effect superbly realised with some impressive special effects – who has been sent to enquire about the Doctor’s whereabouts on behalf of an ailing Davros. The only trouble is no one seems to know where to find him.

All this searching means viewers are treated to a multitude of spacey-wacey locations, from a seedy alien dive bar cheekily reminiscent of the Star Wars cantina, to the fortress of intergalactic space police the Shadow Proclamation, all the way to the desolate plains of Karn. Director Hettie McDonald takes full advantage of this epic scope to deliver some truly jaw-dropping visuals, giving a palpable reality to the alien landscapes. While nothing quite matches the breath-taking opening sequence, the scene where Clara and Missy seemingly walk across the cosmos is both magical and flawless in its use of CGI.

As dazzling as these locations are, the constant planet-hopping does have a negative impact on the plot. Despite attempts to thrill viewers with shock revelations and call-backs to past episodes (this is one of the most self-referential episodes in a long while), not much actually happens in The Magician’s Apprentice. There’s almost no action to speak of, meaning the drama essentially amounts to a series of conversations set against changing backdrops. Even when the Doctor resurfaces, the plot still struggles to gain momentum, with the stakes rarely high enough to raise the tension and the entire thing ultimately feels like a 50-minute setup for next week’s episode.

With so little going on, the characters don’t have much opportunity to make an impact. Capaldi has clearly settled into his role, swapping doubts about his morality for a more reckless cheerfulness, and he even gets to fulfil his self-given ‘Rebel Time Lord’ moniker by riding into a medieval arena atop an armoured tank while shredding his guitar. The Doctor does like to make an entrance, after all. Yet, because we don’t really see him in action here, it’s difficult to gauge just how much he has changed since his first series.

This also affects the Doctor’s relationship with Clara as the friends are kept frustratingly apart for most of the episode. It’s disappointing partly because Capaldi and Coleman have such a fizzing chemistry together, but also because there no longer seems to be any conflict between them, which doesn’t make for an exciting dynamic.

Likewise, the villains here are seriously lacklustre. Davros may be one of the Doctor’s most formidable foes, but he spends all of his time in this episode merely wheezing in his life-support chair waiting for the Time Lord to arrive, which is hardly compelling. Meanwhile, the arrivals of the Daleks is understandably delayed until the final moments, but the fact that they are under the control of an outside party always makes them feel less threatening, even when they do their Daleky-thing to Missy and Clara.

The joy of series nine’s revival of the two-parter format should’ve been the return of big, epic cliff-hangers, but by failing to ramp up the desperation of the Doctor’s predicament, the end of this episode is flat and unconvincing, especially as the promotional trailers reveal Clara almost certainly survives her run in with the Daleks’ vaporising gizmos.

There’s plenty of Moffat magic in the opening half, with the show’s trademark playfulness and McDonald’s stunning visuals particularly impressing, but its promising start quickly dissipates to an underwhelming conclusion. That said, The Magician’s Apprentice is still Doctor Who at its most bold and ambitious, and that makes it more than worthy of your attention. Welcome back, Doctor.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice on BBC iPlayer

Five Stars Who Could be the New Doctor Who Companion

It’s official: Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman has announced she is leaving the show during the upcoming series to star in a regal new drama about Queen Victoria for ITV. While there are still a few episodes to go before her character Clara Oswald exits the TARDIS for the last time – Coleman would confirm only that it will happen at some point this series – attention has already turned to who will replace her as the Doctor’s travelling companion. Here are five suggestions for showrunner Stephen Moffat.

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Maisie Williams

An obvious first pick, you might say, but that’s because the move just makes a lot of sense. As Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, Williams has proven she can play strong, resourceful, feisty characters, while her Twitter feed shows she also has a cheeky side, all of which are requisite traits for any fledging companion.

She’s also already set to appear in series nine as a guest character so shrouded in mystery that the internet has rarely been able to talk about anything else, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Moffat is using the episode as a secret introduction for the Doctor’s new companion as he did with Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks.

Admittedly, her commitment to all things Westeros probably means Williams will be reluctant to tie herself down to another long-term contract, but she’d be great in the role all the same.

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Michelle Gomez

Her arrival as crimson-Mary Poppins Missy, who turned out to be the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s Gallifreyan archenemy The Master, was the unquestionable highlight of the last series, with Gomez’s menacingly bonkers performance vaporising those foolish complaints about a woman occupying a man’s role.

Her teasing, borderline flirtatious repartee with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor brought an extra layer of intrigue to a relationship as old as time itself and it would be fun to see this dynamic play out on a regular basis. Her re-appearance in Saturday’s series opener, The Magician’s Apprentice, also presents Moffat with the perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork for Missy’s transition from foe to friend, as the episode could perhaps see the Doctor giving his enemy one last chance to return to the side of the good.

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Jovian Wade

Another guest star from Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor, Wade won rapid praise for his endearing turn as kind-hearted graffiti artist Rigsy in Flatline.

A YouTube sensation thanks to his hit online comedy Mandem on the Wall, Wade certainly has the talent and the creative juices to develop his promising first appearance into a fully-fledged leading role, whilst his casting would also offer a refreshing change from the traditional man and woman pairing for the Doctor and his companion.

We already know that Rigsy is set to return in the upcoming series, but how and why he finds himself once again mixed up with his time travelling heroes is still under wraps – could his reappearance be linked to Clara’s impending departure?

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Jodie Comer

Doctor Who loves a rising star and Jodie Comer is certainly that, having successfully stepped out of the shadow of My Mad Fat Diary, where she played Rae’s popular best friend Chloe, appearing alongside Michael Palin in BBC2’s chilling horror Remember Me and making a memorable turn as a young mistress in Doctor Foster for BBC1.

Her next job will be to head up a brand new BBC3 drama, Thirteen, as a 26 year-old woman who returns home after spending 13 years held captive in a cellar, giving Comer an even bigger platform to showcase her talents – surely a leading role in one of the country’s most popular show’s is the next logical step?

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 Frank Skinner

An outside bet, given his casting would understandably draw complaints about both the show’s leads being played by middle-aged white men, but that doesn’t mean a return of Frank Skinner’s loveable train engineer Perkins wouldn’t be a lot of fun.

The comedian’s guest appearance in last series’ Mummy on the Orient Express showed the comedian has what it takes to be a companion, as Perkins stepped in to be the Doctor’s moral compass whilst Clara was trapped in a separate carriage, and he proved to be so effective in the role the Doctor ended up offering him a job maintaining the TARDIS. While Perkins politely declined the offer the first time, could the Doctor persuade him to reconsider?

The Gamechangers – TV Review

Aside from the occasional underwhelming adaptation of a much-loved title, video gaming is a rarely seen subject in films. But with Grand Theft Auto becoming the world’s fastest-selling entertainment product in 2013, it was only a matter of time before producers started fluttering their eyelashes in the story’s direction.

The result is BBC Two’s one-off film, The Gamechangers, which follows an intense period for game-maker Rockstar as they raced to develop San Andreas in 2002. It’s a gripping, thought-provoking subject, but the execution of the story is disappointingly nibbling rather than biting.

Sporting some rather impressive facial fuzz, Daniel Radcliffe stars as the game’s pioneering mastermind Sam Houser, a British expat who built GTA into a juggernaut franchise by wowing gamers with a sprawling virtual underworld that mixed criminal characters, lethal weapons and outrageous storylines into a high-octane concoction.

This extravagant violence unsurprisingly provokes the ire of American parents and politicians, who are convinced the game’s championing of law-breaking is having a corrosive influence on their children’s morality. Their cause is led by crusading lawyer Jack Thompson (Bill Paxman), a self-styled Batman who becomes determined to halt the game’s relentless rise after he meets a young boy in Alabama who blames the game for his bloody killing spree.

The Gamechangers is beautifully shot by director Owen Harris, who evokes the bleak techie tone of The Social Network to lend the action a cinematic sheen. Harris also cleverly uses elements from the game to exhilarating effect, including visualising gameplay as a flashing haze around the player’s field of vision and a breathless sequence, in which a boy shoots his way out of a police station, that mimics the game by taking place as one swivelling tracking shot.

Both Paxman and Radcliffe are superb in the lead roles, with the latter particularly impressing as an abrasive and ambitious young man, giving Houser an empathetic centre rather than simply sticking to the social outcast stereotype.

The story focuses mainly on the court battles surrounding the game’s violent influence on children, but writer James Wood deftly weaves between Thompson and Houser’s personal lives to highlight the surprising similarities between the seemingly opposing figureheads. Both are so fiercely determined to succeed in their goals – Thompson to have the sale of violent games banned; Houser to create an game that can rival the immersive escapism of film – that they become blinded to the damage they are causing their friends and families.

Even though his film doesn’t have the backing of Rockstar, Wood is still careful to tackle the story’s moral issue with balance and sensitivity, respecting both sides of the debate by showing the scientific research that supports Thompson’s claims as well as emphasising the lack of concrete proof around the game’s ability to inspire violence.

The problem with trying to cover all the facts, however, is that it doesn’t leave much room to develop the drama. While Woods clearly wants to explore the devastating effects of obsession with this film, as Thompson’s family come under attack and Houser’s team crack under the pressure of producing a game to match his exacting standards, he spends so much time trying to cram three years of history into 90 minutes there’s very little time left for the character drama to take shape.

Maybe it would’ve worked better as a TV series, but as it is, the story frequently loses momentum and then struggles to pick it back up again, leading to a flat and rather clunky conclusion. But while the storytelling may be flawed, the subject matter is fascinating; and with its bold direction and fantastic performances, The Gamechangers is a definite much watch, whether you play video games or not.

Click here to watch The Gamechangers on BBC iPlayer