Yes, apologies. It has been over twelve months since I last posted something here, and in that time, I’ve experienced my second trip to Bali (Seminyak, naturally) and my first trip to Europe (London, Cardiff, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Venice). Work fortunes have fluctuated and yes, I have seen plenty of theatre, comedy, exhibitions and films – most of it good, some of it questionable, but that’s the way it goes, really. I’ll be seeing some Melbourne Cabaret Festival shows this week too, so more of that later this week. But in the meantime, here are some thoughts about television, in particular new Australian drama and classic Doctor Who.
We’re being spoilt for choice with new Australian drama on TV, especially on Sunday nights. ABC1, after treating us with the two-part miniseries Paper Giants: Magazine Wars last month, is now indulging us with The Time of Our Lives at 8.30pm, a new series from the creators of The Secret Life of Us, Judi McCrossin and Amanda Higgs, all those years ago. It’s new territory, but familiar ground for them; it’s wonderfully recognisably Melbourne, mostly around the bayside suburbs, and is about an extended family of siblings in their 30s, maybe a little older, and the hurdles they face in their domestic lives. That of course includes being left at the altar, infidelity, separations, ex-wives and children, and it certainly has a ring of truth about it.
There’s also some fine acting talent here: William McInness and Claudia Karvan as the central couple Matt and Caroline, struggling with a dead marriage and a son who is developmentally challenged. Karvan as the uptight, controlling mother who believes her son is ‘gifted’, and isn’t dealing with her husband’s departure, plays her with just enough detachment and obsession for us to be able to sit back and comment on her self-delusion, but adds enough vulnerability to truly elicit sympathy. McInnes has his spent and callous, if not selfish, character down pat. Justine Clarke is a delight as Bernadette, new partner to Shane Jacobson’s Luce and stepmother to his 11-year-old daughter, and Anita Hegh is perfect as his slightly bitter ex-wife. I get the feeling that Stephen Curry’s character, the unofficial adopted son to the family Herb, still has some development coming, and it seems we’ll be seeing more of Michael Dornan as the jilter of real adoptive daughter Chai Li (Michelle Vergara Moore).
There’s more family drama on Seven in the same timeslot but from a different era in A Place to Call Home. Set in 1953 on a wealthy country property just outside Sydney, it’s dealing with privilege, racism and homosexuality in post-war Australia, and while it’s unashamedly in soap opera territory, terrific performances from Marta Dusseldorp, Noni Hazlehurst Brett Climo, Craig Hall and David Berry make it great Sunday night viewing. Oh, and some hot topless masculinity in the shape of the gay farmer/object of desire doesn’t go astray either.
Just two channels away on Nine is House Husbands, a surprise hit for the network, especially since it features a gay couple very prominently in the mix. In many ways, House Husbands is very safe viewing, with its focus on more Melbourne domestic scenarios and popular names such as Gary Sweet. Julia Morris, Rhys Muldoon and Firass Dirani, and that’s why it’s both a surprise and a delight to see the gay couple Kane and Tom, played by Gyton Grantley and Tim Campbell (read my interview with Tim for Time Out Melbourne), as such an important part of the show without being tokenistic or stereotyped.
Wednesday nights is Offspring night again, and continues its slightly heightened treatment of its familial dramas to great effect. Witty, well-written and wonderfully performed, it’s encouraging to see Australian drama can do this sort of programme well. And I guess all of these shows have a debt to Packed to the Rafters, which is calling it a day. Maybe it should have pulled the plug about a year ago, but it’s still sad to see it finish.
I’ve also been celebrating Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary by re-watching stories from its Classic days (1963-1989) in a random fashion. Covering all seven Doctors and all 26 seasons (The 1996 TV Movie will get its own one-off viewing soon), I’ve been selecting stories least watched and remembered, and that’s provided some very interesting viewing indeed. From the remastered Hartnell story, The Reign of Terror, now with animated missing episodes, to the unfortunately dull and earnest Colony in Space, Pertwee;s first trip in the TARDIS, the camp double-dealings of Tom Baker’s The Androids of Tara, and the slightly homoerotic Davison story, Planet of Fire.
Homoerotic not just because Mark Strickson strips down to Speedos as Turlough rescues a drowning Peri (Nicola Bryant in a very brief bright pink bikini) off the coast of Lanzarote, and subsequently spends the rest of the story in short 80’s shorts, but because the not unattractive, for once, male natives of the planet Sarn run around in even shorter shorts and their leader Timanov, played by Peter Wyngarde, wears heavy eyeliner, and new companion Peri’s stepfather Howard’s first appearance is topless, in tight denim shorts and a fetching bandana around his neck (this is 1984, after all). Howard was played by Dallas Adams, who was 37 at the time, and is best known, it seems, for receiving the then-biggest palimony payout from his former boyfriend. He also died, apparently from AIDS, in 1991, aged 44.
Eye candy aside, Planet of Fire isn’t a great story. It had a lot to do, what with introducing Peri as the new companion, writing out Turlough, while explaining his murky past, and getting rid of failed robot companion, Kamelion. Oh, it also killed off the Master – again; something of a habit in the 1980’s Master stories. But that’s no excuse for wooden acting, bad dialogue and that old ‘alien visitor worshipped as a god’ scenario.
Which, strangely enough, rears its head again in the story I’m watching now: The Trial of a Time Lord parts 1-4, also known as The Mysterious Planet. While the whole concept of an on-screen trial to mirror its off-screen troubles must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and there are some astute self-aware asides about censorship and screen violence, it does feel forced and very contrived as an umbrella for this 14-part, four-story 1986 season.
It’s also sad to remember that this is Robert Holmes’ last full story for Doctor Who – he died not long after writing this and before he finished the last episode of the season (that confused mess was penned by Pip and Jane Baker, desperately trying to pull everything together), and it’s not one of his best efforts. The galactic criminal duo Glitz and Dibber give the story some much-needed relief from the clunky robots and unmemorable supporting characters (apart from a dreadfully over-acting Joan Sims), and Colin Baker, who is trying way too hard. He is, I’m afraid, still my least favourite Doctor, and while it’s good to see he and Peri aren’t bickering as they were in their previous season, his brashness still grates.
Anyway, I’ll keep you updated with other developments and reviews soon. Or I’ll try to…