Archives for posts with tag: Victorian

Historical comedy is probably one of the hardest to get right. The balance needs to be found between mocking our ancestors’ beliefs on a subject without making it a history lesson, whilst also spearing some of our modern-day pre-occupations. Blackadder did it near perfectly, particularly season 3, but it is easy to see why it has often been avoided. For every hit there is a Let Them Eat Cake.

Still, one crops up now and again, and recently we have seen the launch of Quacks. This is a sitcom based around three Victorian medicine men – surgeon Robert, William the alienist (psychologist) and John, a dentist. There is also Robert’s wife, Caroline, who is keen to become a medical professional herself, and Dr Hendricks, the head of a medical school.

Naturally, most of the humour is about how backwards medical practice was: the high mortality rate of surgery, the dangerousness of early anaesthetics, the lack of any psychological understanding at all. Many of these are used as set ups to the plots of the episode, rather than the plot itself, which is a relief, as this is the weakest strand. Which is awkward, as this should be where a historical sitcom shines.

Instead, it is the surreal pin-wheeling off that is driving force behind the humour. Take episode two, where William and Caroline take a drug-addicted Charles Dickens to John’s shop to try his drugs, leading to Caroline and Charles being locked in a cupboard with a comatose boy who suddenly comes round.

Which brings to me another strength of the show, which is the guest characters. Andrew Scott was delightfully horrid as the attention seeking and sex obsessed Dickens, playing the character exactly as his worst critics had written him. Of course, the problem with guest appearances being the root of a show’s success is that if an episode has a duff one or not one at all, then you are left with a central cast that offers little.

This is the show’s biggest weakness. Everybody feels a little underdeveloped as characters. For example, John is rarely stretched beyond being a drug-loving dentist. There is also a cloying subplot of William’s love of Caroline while Robert ignores her. I do wish someone could make a sitcom where men and women are just friends and stay that way. I doubt this plot will add to anymore laughs to the show – it hasn’t done so far anyway.

Despite this, I want the show to find its feet. It is too easy for channels to ditch sitcoms after one season if they don’t quite work nowadays, rather than letting them adjust as time goes on. Blackadder only really worked series 2 onwards, for example. There is a kernel of something good here, but rather than labouring how terrible medicine was back then, it needs to focus on the more surrealist elements. Don’t just raise a smile, make me laugh. It’s what I’m paying a licence for.

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*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

 

One of the most anticipated treats of this festive season was the one-off episode of Sherlock. This was further stoked by the lack of information about the plot – bar it being set in the Victorian era and being called The Abominable Bride, we were given next to no information. Such mysterious and evasive marketing works up to a point with the right shows, but thankfully Sherlock is one of them.

It turned out, in my opinion at least, to be a decent 90 minute romp with enough twists to compensate for what, on the face of it, was a lack of actual development. Because, let’s face it, all that really happened was that Sherlock got off a plane and into a car, having decided, thanks to an overdose, that Moriarty can’t be back from the dead.

Of course, it was more complicated than that. The overdose was designed to allow Holmes to unlock his mind palace and explore whether it was feasible that, having seen Jim Moriarty shoot himself, he could have somehow survived the experience. To do this, he riddled through a previously unsolved case about a Victorian bride coming back from the dead to kill her cruel husband, which itself was part of a wider scheme of suffragettes and feminists avenging themselves on the tyrannies of men.

Of course, this leaves us with a number of unanswered questions that will keep us anticipating the new series, whenever that will be. Firstly, the case of the bride itself is never fully solved. Sherlock never convincingly proves his thesis, although admittedly he is still in a dream state whilst trying to do so. Is this, as his Victorian self at the end says, one of his few failures? Readers of the original story, please do enlighten me on to what extent this follows Doyle’s original plot.

Also, what to make of Moriarty’s comeback? A lot of this episode was geared towards Sherlock reaching the conclusion that Moriarty could not have survived what went off on the rooftop. So are we to believe that he isn’t really back, or rather that he is back in that schemes he laid down before he died are beginning to come to fruition and he planned before his death to send everyone paranoid that he had returned? Or did he, like Holmes, fake his own death?

I fully expect, in full Moffatt style, for none of these questions to be properly answered when the series returns in full. There are still story arcs from Doctor Who, Moffatt’s other pet project, that have left me utterly bewildered to the point of incomprehension. Or maybe I’m just a bit dense.

Still, overall, this was a joyful triumph. The whole cast, from Cumberbatch to Una Stubbs to Mark Gatiss, delight in their roles. There is a beautiful balance of playfulness and tension, the latter building nicely. Yes, there were nay-sayers, but these people are professional complainers. Most of us just enjoyed the ride. Now it is up to Moffatt to take us somewhere fantastic next.