Random, Channel 4
Doctor Who, BBC1
The singular power of a poetic monologue is lost in its transfer from the London stage
Sunday 28 August 2011
Call me dogmatic, but there are some things TV producers should leave well alone.
Kerry Katona. Arthurian legend. Travelogues, when not presented by Michael Palin. And, I would contend, poetry. Don't get me wrong – some of my best friends are bardic. But the art form's imaginative scope is easily compromised by the visual demands of the small screen.
Such was the case with Random, an adaptation of Debbie Tucker Green's poetic monologue. Charting an extraordinary day in the life of an Afro-Caribbean family shattered by street violence, it was staged at the Royal Court in 2008 to general acclaim. That production's actress, Nadine Marshall, was back on board for a tale whose dramatic crux could not help but acquire extra resonance in the wake of riotous events.
You could see how this would make arresting theatre. Performing in a spotlit studio, the laser-eyed Marshall flicked back and forth between the various members of the household with quicksilver ease – from the sternly exasperated mum burning the porridge to the languidly self-assured son swaggering off to school, and his disaffected sister, full of bilious life musings. Each with their own distinctive patois patter, they were brought to life with astounding physical and vocal precision.
But, oh, the annoying embellishments. There were snippets of location scenes, featuring other actors. Camerawork that was both restlessly edited and relentlessly off-kilter. And selected phrases flashing up on screen as emotional bullet points. Tucker Green's sinuous verse desperately needed some room to manoeuvre; instead, come the tragic bombshell, I was rather too muddled to be moved. Not so with the final scene, however, which panned around the dead boy's bedroom as his sister lamented its obsolete contents: poetry in appropriate motion, for once.
Back on lighter ground, Wilfred flew under most critical radars when it launched last week. Was its misfortune to be on BBC3? After all, recent news of BBC4 budget-slashing has prompted the lip-smacking middle-aged culturati to heap ever more righteous indignation upon its youth-oriented cousin – so blithe to their patently worthier tastes as it happens to be.
It's a shame, anyway, because this silly dog story is assuredly great stuff, whatever your demographic. Emerging from his post-Tolkien lull, Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a fretful ex-lawyer cum quarter-life drifter. Coming off a failed suicide attempt, he finds solace in his interaction with his neighbour's pooch – though one that appears to him not as a bona-fide Fido but as an obnoxious Australian man (Jason Gann) in a floppy-eared suit.
But forget the delusional conceit: a trenchant study of male psychosis this is not. Rather, the premise is a launchpad for a buddy comedy that matches salty wit with sly sentimentality. Indeed, their cross-species comradeship most readily brings to mind the sweet boy-tiger pairing of Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes – albeit with pot trumping peanut butter on their list of dietary choices.
Gann, meanwhile, is a bit of a revelation. Lewd, puckish and yet somehow completely loveable, he invests Wilfred with an acerbic humanity that plays to every pet owner's anthropomorphic fantasies. I especially liked his reaction to the gift of a bone in this week's episode. "That's like giving a basketball to a black guy," he griped.
Finally, to the good Doctor Who, which returned from a mid-season hiatus to the usual fanboy fervour. I say that because I know a couple of addicts, Argos-bought Sonic Screwdrivers, Tardis phone covers and all, even though, until this week I hadn't watched a single, full episode of Russell T Davies's revival. Blame it on contrariness, and feel free to revoke my critical licence forthwith.
Anyway, having made the belated plunge, I was expecting to be thoroughly lost by "Let's Kill Hitler" and I was, joyfully so. Confusion, after all, seems woven into its very fabric, the Doctor and his gang hamming up their constant bemusement while serving up knowingly indigestible exposition.
Take this sojourn to the Third Reich, in which the Führer was swiftly despatched to a cupboard to make way for a byzantine tale, involving mini time-travellers dishing out retrospective justice, a robot of assistant Amy Pond, and Alex Kingston on wickedly flirty form as the Doctor's love interest River Song/Amy's daughter Melody. Utterly charming as both script and performers are – and really, how does Matt Smith make that 28-going-on-68 thing so sexy? – I think I'm converted. Six years too late, mind you. Now, where's that TV reviewer's Tardis?
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