2010 – Drama At The BBC

One of the many things that sent waves of anxiety around Britain upon the Conservatives taking power was the fate of the BBC.

The ostensible enmity between the two dates back to the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. Now whether the BBC truly loathe the Conservative Party, or whether the Conservative Party is itching for the day that it can scrap the licence fee and end the channel as we know it is a separate debate.

What is clear however, is that with David Cameron ensconced in Number 10, the BBC is under increasing scrutiny to make sure it gives its licence fee payers value for money. And while programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Eastenders and Match Of The Day are firm fixtures in the schedules, it’s the BBC’s reputation for strong dramas which is its best shield against those who would rather the channel become reliant on advertising to garner revenue. And in 2010, they gave us some superb stuff to keep the wolves from the door. Bear in mind the following reviews will be free of plot spoilers but not tonal ones. So if you’ve missed these dramas and want to experience them as fresh as possible, note down the titles, stop reading this and get purchasing yourself some DVD’s:

LUTHER:
Despite its setting, ‘The Wire’ proved a fertile ground for some of the UK’s best acting talent. And it was one of said talent, Idris Elba, who was given a starring role in the cop drama, Luther.

As a show itself, there’s not a great deal new about Luther. But it’s a style of police show that we hadn’t seen for a while in this country. It was commonplace back in the 1990’s, with shows like ‘Cracker’ and ‘Prime Suspect’. And maybe this will begat a new slew of British crime drama that's been missing from our screens.

Elba proves himself to be a star as the eponymous anti-hero, and was ably supported by Steven Mackintosh, Ruth Wilson and Dermot Crowley.

What was most pleasing about this six-part series is that as it was in danger of veering into anodyne predictability, it takes a sharp turn that grabs you by the lapels, just to make sure it has your full attention. Well ‘Luther’ had my full attention, and returns with two episodes (maybe the last two) in 2011. And it seems that the show wasn’t ratings focused as it was on at the same time as ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on ITV1. This is how it should be - leave the cultural trash on the commercial channels, but make sure there’s a more nourishing alternative elsewhere. I look forward to being nourished even more next year.

DIVE:
The surprise of the year for me. And an extremely pleasant one. This was a drama about teenagers that was...well, good. Aisling Loftus & Jack O’Connell (who is better known from the show ‘Skins’) star opposite each other. I have to be careful what I write here as to avoid spoilers. Most teenagers in British TV are cookie-cutter caricatures - the slutty one, the nerdy one, the one who self-harms, the one who’s still a virgin, the one who...yawn, yawn, yawn! I think I’ll end up self-harming if I continue.

‘Dive’ eschews all of this. You don’t watch caricatures, you watch people. The script is quite stark and simple, and trusts its actors to tell the story with nuance. Imagine that, treating teenagers with responsibility? Well it works. Both Loftus & O’Connell are excellent (what O’Connell is doing on Skins is beyond me). It also takes the time to tell the story from the perspectives of both leads.

‘Dive’ is a drama about young people, but is unlike the shows aimed at the demographic that assume that they have the attention span of a goldfish. I only hope that this is first of many programmes of this ilk.

DOCTOR WHO:
This is the show that remains the one of the strongest arguments for the licence fee. Whether you’re a fan or not, ‘Doctor Who’ brings in large audience figures, is liked by a large proportion of TV critics, and I can tell you from first-hand experience, it also inflames the imagination of our nation’s children in the most joyful way (although I feel for the parents who had to deal with their kids demanding a dish of fish fingers & custard for their dinner from now on).

It seems absurd now, but Doctor Who was in real danger of losing its place in the hearts of many this spring. Russell T Davies, who performed the most miraculous piece of televisual CPR to bring the show back, was now gone. As was David Tennant, who was possibly the most beloved Time Lord of them all.

And while many agreed that the show was in safe hands with Steven Moffat, he seemed to have taken a punt on an unknown in Matt Smith. Well Mr Smith is an unknown no longer. My younger sisters were devastated when Tennant left. But now they could not imagine anyone other than the man with the bow-tie in charge of the TARDIS.

From the scriptwriting, to the casting, to the decision to turn the show into a fairy-tale that whizzes through time and space, Series 5 of re-booted ‘Who’ barely missed a step. Enthralling, vibrant and just a little bit bonkers - much like The Doctor - Gallifrey’s most famous resident thrilled both children and adults alike. And this may only be the start.

Early indications are that Moffat was just easing us into his era as the showrunner. A bit like a step-father who’s now been accepted into the family home by the kids, he and Smith have earned sufficient grace to take the character places we haven’t seen before. After all, they have an entire universe to explore.

SHERLOCK:
If ‘Doctor Who’ is the jewel in the BBC’s crown, then ‘Sherlock’ may actually be the crown.

When working on Doctor Who, Moffat and Mark Gatiss discussed their love of Sherlock Holmes. This discussion evolved into an idea to do a contemporary version of the character for television. Now in any sensible universe, the conversation would have ended like this, “Yeah, it’s a good idea but I’m busy with Doctor Who, it’s pretty much a full-time job. Not to mention being a husband and father. And you’re busy with that horror documentary Mark, let’s not bother.”

Well it's clear that they don’t live in a sensible universe. And what a good thing for us that they don’t.

They took one of the most iconic characters in fiction, and had to go against the newly re-booted movie franchise, but it seems that Moffat and Gatiss's mindset is “why” rather than “why not”.

Simply put, ‘Sherlock’ was magnificent. For me, it was the finest piece of television Britain produced in 2010. Bristling with sardonicism, wit and gripping storylines, it’s clear that Moffat and Gatiss are at the top of their game. It also goes some way to explaining why Gatiss’s episode of ‘Doctor Who’ was a let-down. His effort on Sherlock was as brilliant as his effort on Doctor Who was ropey.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock is now one of the biggest stars in the UK, while Martin Freeman is no longer “Tim from The Office”.

In an interview to promote the show, Moffat explained the fundamental difference between writing for Sherlock and writing for Doctor Who, “The Doctor is an angel who aspires to be human, where Sherlock is a human who aspires to be a god.”

It’s an altar that I’ll be back to worship at when Series 2 returns in 2011.

SINGLE FATHER:
While no longer behind the controls of the TARDIS, David Tennant hasn’t been idle. He stars as the titular single father, coping to keep his children together after their mother and his partner dies (I know I promised no spoilers but come on, look at the title of the show).

Throughout this four-part mini-series, I was struck by how much I have accepted Tennant as one of the safest pairs of hands in the acting fraternity. From being unsure about this floppy-haired, gurning exhibitionist who first uttered the word, “Barcelona” back in 2005, he's now one of the most accomplished actors currently working.

While ‘Single Father’ was guilty of lapsing into mawkishness on occasion, it had a lot more good to show for it than bad. It’s never easy to find child actors who come across as genuine rather than annoying, but the programme's casting director managed to find four. Also, it’s extremely common to have families that contain step-children due to vagaries such as parental separation and adoption, which these days mean that family trees contain branches leading off branches. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. But it’s a facet of life that is nowhere near on our screens enough, and when it is, it tends to be a precursor to child abuse.

At its core, ‘Single Father’ is a simple story, held together by the skill of its actors.

And what links all of these strong shows together is that the BBC have empowered writers to tell rich and entertaining stories. Television has always been a writers medium, and it’s now increasingly important that they receive this creative freedom. It’s shows such as the ones above that are the best defence against the increasingly diversified television market, the Sauron-like eye of the Conservative Party, and the juggernaut of Simon Cowell carpet-bombing the public with his reality TV dross.

While some people will not have enjoyed the programmes I’ve focused on, their impact cannot be ignored. Yes, this year the BBC also gave us fantastic comedy like ‘The Trip’ and the brilliantly informative ‘Wonders Of The Solar System’.

But if they can keep their standard of drama as high as it was this year, then it’ll go a long way to us keeping our most famous television corporation for many years to come.

Shane Thomas – Greatest Events In Sporting History