BBC1 - 20th March 2008 - 9.00pm
'Well, the mind's an amazing organ'
'I've got an amazing organ'
'It's capable of far more than you'd imagine'
An emotionally complex episode from Matthew Graham which begins with low comedy and spirals into dark tragedy. It's an unsettling episode that shifts our willingness to identify with the lead characters, dangerously messing with our allegiances to both Alex and Gene.
Forget the central plot for a moment then which just concerns a charity worker helping himself to the funds he's raised and just concern yourself with the power struggle going on at the Met. This is a clash of ideologies between Gene and Alex with each ultimately paying the price in indulging the suggestions of each other. What is interesting to note is that as Alex asserts herself here, to 'get control', to force Gene into her strategies, he is weakened, loses his authority, his power, his control. This is borne out by initially the Police 5 reconstruction. Not only is it an hilarious meta-textual riff on the series characters (the fat 'Ray' trying to get back in the police car) where it restates the 'constructed' nature of Gene, Ray and Chris in Alex's mind within another television programme but later, in the interview with the venerable Shaw Taylor, Gene is thoroughly humiliated by Alex. He only does the interview for her because he's willing to give her ideas a chance and because by now we know he's vulnerable to her charms. And he suffers because of it.
As humiliation piles up with the failure to nail the charity worker Gill Hollis, a similarly emasculated male character played with great bitterness by Matthew McFadyean, Gene goes off the deep end. He arrests and beats up a gang of black youths and Alex shops him to his superiors. This again is a gutting experience, both Glenister and Hawes sensitively capturing Alex's palpable regret at what has happened and Gene's wounded male pride. This escalates into that final sequence with the near death of Shaz where he totally loses control and allows his men to beat up Gill. It is very uncomfortable viewing and is in stark contrast to our often blase acceptance of Gene's tactics back in 1973. 1981 is a bit closer to home to us as viewers and we know Gene shouldn't be lowering himself to use violence and that his methods are wrong.
Gene's emasculation ties in with a number of subtexts - the child Alex being read 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe', which strangely echoes quite a bit of this series, posits Gene as the lion Aslan (his referral to being the Manc Lion is surely a deliberate symbol) wherein Aslan is humiliated, his mane is shorn and he loses his power as protector of the children in the book. This is also reinforced by the scene in the TV studio where the hairdresser tries to cut his hair and the scene in the Met where Caroline Price (the White Witch?) verbally dresses Gene down. Aslan, as a protector figure has his powers removed but then dies and is resurrected. Is this Gene's fate? When Gene asks Alex out on a date, the Christian symbolism is highlighted again, where Alex asks for Dover Sole, Gene replies 'I can give you Sole' but did he mean 'soul' there? This builds on the intriguing notion that Alex and Gene are linked and power is shared between them. Evan White, who gets Alex to report Gene to his superiors and effectively gets him off the case, is obviously trying to drive a wedge between them. When Alex is left in the flat at the end of the story and someone knocks on the door, we hope it is Gene, but it isn't - it's Evan - and yet during their get together Alex 'sees' Gene in her mind's eye.
There is an awful lot going on in this episode and it makes the tone often feel uneven because of the accumulation of dramatic, comedic and symbolic elements. A good episode but one that does strip away a lot of the loyalties built up towards Alex and Gene. It is supplemented by some great visual comedy - notably the Little And Large poster that Chris and Ray lean against, the Roger de Courcey moment, the boy band bad puns, the Police 5 scene - and there are plenty of Gene's politically incorrect wisecracks. The plot by Gill to steal the money is fairly obvious and the solution to the crime is almost superfluous to all the other grand narratives going on which obviously culminates in Gill stabbing Shaz. It's an emotionally powerful scene as Shaz ebbs away with heartfelt. moving performances from Marshall Lancaster and Montserrat Lombard. And of course, with Shaz seeing the death figure of the clown does this question that '1981' is real or a construct? And there is real desperation now for Alex with Keeley Hawes toying with our sympathies one minute and then shocking us with her undermining of Gene. Glenister does brooding Gene exceptionally well and the partly tamed Gene apologising to Viv shows us a character who really is out of his time and like 'The Sweeney's Jack Regan, finds his methods successful only at a price to himself, his colleagues and his victims.
One more to go. Will Alex prevent the death of her parents? Just what is the connection between Evan and the Prices? Does Gene save the young Alex from the car bomb? It'll be a pleasure to try and find out in a series that has steadily gone from strength to strength.
Episode Six review
Episode Five review
Episode Four review
Episode Three review
Episode Two review
Episode One review
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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