“I’m better than that. I’m clever.” Doctor Foster episodes 1-3

Hell hath no fury like Suranne Jones scorned! The new BBC One drama, Doctor Foster, about a woman who suspects her husband is having an affair, has attracted much popular acclaim. Does it deserve the praise…?

Episode 1

(still available on BBC iPlayer, at time of writing)

00:00 Hello! This is me, returning to ‘live-blogging’ reviews for the first time since I went episode-by-episode through The White Queen. Unlike your usual, ‘watch and then consider’ analyses, here I’ll be presenting my off-the-cuff critical thoughts as the drama unfolds!

04:13 Oh no – and it was all going so well! After four minutes of joyous morning routine, Gemma Foster finds a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf. The direction was beautifully filmic and the music uplifting, and then it all sours and the drama commences. I must admit, I do have a niggle here: isn’t the hair being found on the husband’s clothes a hackneyed symbol of adultery? Dare I say it… cliché? But it is presented in such minute and loving detail that it feels relatively fresh, so we will forgive it. Perhaps it works because it is storytelling shorthand, as opposed to in spite of that. The jury’s out for now…

04:38 Very inventive, graceful and yet dark opening titles – stuff like this is important. Anyone who remembers the ugly logo of Mike Bartlett’s last TV series The Town will testify to that (just me? Okay then…) This whole production feels very classy, exactly the sort of thing the BBC needs to show off at the moment!

08:53 Jones smoothing down an unruly side of her hair is becoming an interesting motif. The hair symbol may have been cliché but it is used in a full-blooded way – it means there is a great tension whenever a blonde woman comes on screen!

12:37 Dr Foster used to have bright red hair! A nice continuation of the theme… but what does Bertie Carvel (Simon Foster) have against brunettes? While we’re on the subject of hair, Carvel’s hair was much better in his turn in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And as for Victoria Hamilton’s big blonde wig… not even slightly convinced.

15:34 I’m loving this! It’s like we are piecing together the puzzles of a whodunnit, and it’s relatively subtle and clever about it. The fake blonde applying lip salve at the dinner table was a nice clue, or was it a red herring…? Marple’s on the case!

33:29 Here come the negatives… By coincidence, Foster has bumped into two of her patients in the last ten minutes. The series has established we are in a small town but still! That makes it very easy for her to breach patient-doctor codes of conduct (and we just know she’s going to), and smacks slightly of lazy writing.

35:30 I refuse to believe an educated woman would Google Search “cheating husband”. Like she doesn’t understand the concept. How ridiculous! What is she expecting to find? A diagram?

43:20 The mistress is revealed as… Susan Parks! The glamorous older blonde lady? No, my bet is that it is her daughter, the sprightly dyed-blonde. Cheating men don’t go for older women, do they?

46:39 I’m fairly sure Suranne Jones smokes in every single drama she is in. Her character in the olden days of Coronation Street used to go for fag breaks by the factory gates. As Bailey in Scott & Bailey she smokes like a chimney! And now this. Does she have it written into her contract?

50:01 The high-speed camerawork as Foster frantically searches her husband’s car for evidence is really cool. The whole episode is brilliantly directed by Tom Vaughan.

51:00 It was Daughter Parks! My prediction was right.

51:54 Dr Foster uncovers not just the betrayal of her husband… but the betrayal of her friends! That hits harder, like they have a racket against her, for building herself up tall. There is some really interesting character work going on here that gives the whole thing another layer. I loved the moment when Robert Pugh called her arrogant, and then we start to see it… Is she getting her just desserts? Why do narrative shapes seem to dictate strong women should be punished?

54:43 Hold on. It’s cold enough that Suranne needs a scarf, as the catalyst to all this. But warm enough that they can have a sunny birthday BBQ?

And that’s the end of episode one! A brilliant debut, with some moments of genius, and I’m definitely keen for episode two.

Programme Name: Doctor Foster - TX: 09/09/2015 - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Gemma (SURANNE JONES) - (C) Drama Republic - Photographer: Phil Fisk

Episode 2

(also still available on BBC iPlayer)

03:19 I have been saying for years that drama should do more of this! An upbeat song at a dark moment makes the drama feel even darker because of that juxtaposition. In the last ten years, Skins is the only other show I can recall doing it.

06:28 Dr Foster is ripping up her husband’s clothes! Cliché klaxon. Can someone do a survey, I’d be interested to know if scorned women do this in real life? Or is it just the fabrication of TV drama?

07:20 As a child of Oxon/Berkshire, I very much appreciate the “You said it was horrible”/”What, Reading?” joke.

11:55 “I want him to come in and see those suitcases and understand in the second exactly what he’s lost.” Superb writing.

14:33 … But he’s too drunk to notice them! Superb writing (again).

21:33 The Other Woman Katie comes in for an appointment… and Dr Foster sees her! “I’ve been heading to the gym every morning… you should try it,” Katie says, practically swishing her long blonde ponytail in Foster’s face. And seven million people say aloud to their screen, “That bitch!”

32:50 Yet again Dr Foster bumps into a patient! This is getting absurd now. Is this town a hamlet?

The rest of the episode is mostly taken up by subplots, but they’re all ticking over nicely and informing the main story, as they should. Roll on episode 3…


Episode 3

(also still available on BBC iPlayer)

03:06 It feels like there has been a refreshing shift in the series, opening with a sort-of comedy sketch, with Dr Foster concentrating on putting her life back together.

15:25 Woman scratches man’s car with key. Cliché klaxon! What bugs me about this – as with the torn suit – is that it isn’t mentioned again? Does he not notice? Will she confess to it? I’m just not convinced people do that in real life in that situation.

19:21 Simon’s speech in defence of his actions has scumbag written all over it, doesn’t it? It is right that the script considers his side, and shows us, but I just don’t buy it. You can see how it would make sense to him though.

30:07 “It’s biological. Men like sex… I don’t feel guilty.” Thank God Suranne retorted with, “What about women?” because that was what I was shouting at my screen! This episode has gone very feminist-y, which is refreshing.

33:01 Never mind Gloucester, Dr Foster is going to bed with another man! Doesn’t that mean she won’t get the 50/50 split in the divorce that her solicitor promised, now she’s a cheater too?

44:35 A mysterious company called Whitestone is tied up in Simon’s business woes. What is the betting that Whitestone is owned by Mr Parks, father of the floozy? Well I’ve been right before…

54:03 After Simon suffers two deaths – his unborn baby and his mother – Dr Foster changes her mind! It’s a great twist, and one that leaves us clamouring to see the twists and turns in the final two episodes…

Doctor Foster has been very popular in an age when British TV drama’s viewers are in decline, and rightly so. The show isn’t doing anything original (its familiarity probably explains its ratings success) but it is telling that story we have heard before with reinvigorated life and detail.

It has to be said, the best moments come when the story deviates from the received narrative of “a woman scorned”. We just know she will discover the truth, we can predict who the culprit will be, but we don’t have a clue what will happen with her complicated patient relationships, and that feels dangerous and exciting.

It may be slightly disappointing to see yet another TV show about a very middle class, very white family, but that only bothered me for five minutes until the scripts won me over. The clichés are prevalent, but it was such an enjoyable ride, it’s difficult to care.


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