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TV review, Doctor Foster (BBC1): Revenge of the scorned

Plus: ‘The 21st Century Race for Space’ (BBC2)

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 05 September 2017 14:39 BST

Suranne Jones won a Bafta for her vivid portrayal of wronged wife Gemma Foster in the first series of Doctor Foster. Judging by her performance as the wronged now-ex-wife in this sequel series, she ought to be in contention for another one, though she’ll be up against a few old queens this time (in the regal rather than theatrical sense, ie Elizabeth II and Victoria).

Doctor Foster’s problem last time round was that her husband had been cheating on her, and she went about exacting revenge on him through espionage, violence and mental torture, and successfully so in the end. Doctor Foster’s problem this time was that her despised ex-husband, Simon (Bertie Carvel), was back, now with his new younger woman in tow and settling nicely into an enormous house, plainly set on driving Gemma out of town and stealing their teenage son Tom (Tom Taylor) from her. There’s a scene where the pair are alone and try, not that hard, to be all civilised, and when she suggests that it is he who should get lost, he tells her: “There’s only one way I’m leaving here and that’s in a coffin.” That seemed less like a declaration of defiance and more of a premonition, if not an invitation.

Jones has described this modern reworking of the timeless theme of woman scorned as “a brilliant, messed-up, intricate dark story that manages to be shocking, sexy and heart-breaking all at the same time. It’s all the dark thoughts that we’d have about our ex that we hate.”

In any case Mike Bartlett’s script is skillfully rendered, the set pieces – ex-wife meeting new wife; wedding party debacle; surprise Interflora package with the message “Bitch” – were all done stylishly, and the title sequence drew us delicately into this middle class emotional hellhole. Still, it was not perfect, and some sequences made me uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons. For example, it was quite believable that Gemma would take the opportunity to go poking around in the bedroom of her ex and his new bride, and even that she would discover what we might quaintly call a “marital aid” in the top drawer of the bedside cabinet; but did she really have to turn the buzzy little thing on, gazing wondrously upon it as if it was the next iPhone or something?

The other moment when the dramatic spell was fractured was when Doctor Foster examined an attractive-ish young-ish man. But instead of being confronted with, say, a nasty boil on the inside of a nostril, rectal bleeding, or kidney stones, i.e. the sort of complaints that I’ve asked my GP to sort, and with little prospect of any sexual frisson therefore, she got to fondle the muscly chest of a hunky guy with nothing more serious than a slight muscle strain, brought on by his session at the gym, plus tennis, squash, football and goodness what else. He turned out to be a teacher, and I thought they were supposed to be overworked. Mr Mohan (Prasanna Puwanarajah), indeed, was Tom’s teacher, and her dalliance was derided as “desperate” by her son, who is maybe taking a little too much after his dad.

I hate to say it, but Doctor Foster was also a bit compromised by the fact that the older (40 or so) woman is actually at least as attractive, smart and elegant as the younger (25 years old) usurper, Kate, played with well-calibrated naivety by Jodie Comer, who has only chronology on her side.

What drew Kate to Simon was also unclear. Smug, arrogant, manipulative, pathological liar, dangerously eloquent – you know the type – he was a thoroughly loathsome figure. Maybe his new and mysteriously acquired vast wealth has something to do with his appeal… I look forward to seeing him crushed by Gemma and his own vanity. The cad.

In The 21st Century Race for Space, Professor Brian Cox spent what seemed too much BBC licence payers’ money wandering around America asking various super-rich or super-imaginative people about how optimistic they are about space travel, which was a bit like asking Jeff Tracy just how big a boon to humanity his Thunderbirds project is, or Doctor Who how revolutionary time travel is. Something of a leading question for the idealists, then, and the likes of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Robert Zuldin were, unfailingly, very chipper indeed about, variously, space tourism, mining planets and even starting the human colonisation of Mars. Well, they have sunk billions of dollars into their nominally commercial ventures.

Less chirpily we found Branson trying to make excuses for why Virgin Galactic’s 9am service from the New Mexico desert to Space (not calling at Crewe) was running approximately a decade late, and without even free refreshments provided by way of compensation. For $250,000 (£192,000), by the way, you’ll be sent 110km up in the air, experience four minutes of weightlessness, see the curvature of the earth, and “the blackness of space above”. There’ll be six of you on the flight. I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn has reserved a seat on the ram-packed capsule.

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