The Body Farm with Tara Fitzgerald PREVIEW

Tara Fitzgerald and Keith Allen. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★½

BBC1 starts Tuesday, 13 September, 9pm

Story: In this new series, leading forensic pathologist Dr Eve Lockhart runs a state-of-the-art  research lab. She gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking for help at an unusual crime scene, an offer that could bring badly needed funding to the Body Farm.

Lovely – a series about rotting, putrid corpses.

With plenty of dialogue about ‘fungi colonies’, ‘flesh flies’ and ‘major maggot mass’. If you love a drama that’s up to its elbows in entrails and blood, then you’re in yuck, so to speak.

Top gore scientist Dr Eve Lockhart is, of course, a fugitive from Waking the Dead, the Trevor Eve series that recently shuffled off its television coil. And it’s Eve’s production company, Projector, that brings us Lockhart’s new adventures on the not-so-funny farm.

‘Nice crime’
Along with her business partner Mike Phillips, she runs the Body Farm, a research facility where they and their team of two scientists watch human remains as they putrefy. Times are tight – it’s the cuts – and so when Lockhart gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking her to help him investigate a pretty horrendous crime scene, it’s a chance to get out of the lab and generate some cash for her facility.

The murder scene is in a derelict high-rise that has human remains all over the walls, ceiling and floors. Lockhart’s thrilled – ‘Should prove pretty interesting,’ she purrs. ‘Nice crime,’ says her partner.

Using all the slick technology at their disposal, Lockhart and her team – Rosa and Oggy making up the quartet – quickly work out that there are two corpses plastered around like wallpaper. The crime turns out to be connected to the attempted suicide of a young woman weeks before.

Away from the mayhem – Eve Lockhart

Tara Fitzgerald as Lockhart
It’s a grim and obviously messy story, and by the end turns out to stretch plausibility beyond snapping point. Tara Fitzgerald is good in her comeback as the ciggie-puffing Lockhart, though whether her character would be allowed to question witnesses and suspects is very doubtful.

Keith Allen’s detective is enjoyable. Hale is the team’s ‘arsehole problem’, as Mike puts it, but while he can be crude, he is not the cardboard police cretin so often placed in crime dramas.

The real mystery is why there is an audience for this level of visceral action. Once upon a time, people went to the cinema to watch a Hammer horror or The Exorcist for a bit of gore. These days television shows far more graphic scenes of dismemberment dressed up as forsenic investigation.

Who’s that on the operating table?
Shows such as CSI and Waking the Dead imply that by delving into a victim’s tissue samples that the mystery of their life and death can be uncovered. But surely forensics is rarely, if ever, quite so revelatory about a person’s life and death as these dramas pretend.

Shortly before his death, the author JG Ballard wrote about why he thought CSI was so compelling – ‘I suspect that the cadavers waiting their turn on the tables are surrogates for ourselves, the viewers. The real crime the CSI team is investigating, weighing every tear, every drop of blood, every smear of semen, is the crime of being alive. I fear that we watch, entranced, because we feel an almost holy pity for ourselves and the oblivion patiently waiting for us.’

So that’s us covered in flies and maggots. As Mike Phillips would say, ‘Nice.’

Cast: Tara Fitzgerald Dr Eve Lockhart, Keith Allen DI Hale, Mark Bazeley Mike, Wunmi Mosaku Rosa,  Finlay Robertson Oggy

Waking the Dead series 9 PREVIEW

Grace, Spence, Boyd, Eve and Sarah. Pic: BBC

Rating ★★★

BBC1,  Harbinger Part 1 Sunday, 13 March, 9pm; Part 2 Monday, 14 March 9pm

This is the final series for Det Supt Peter Boyd and his Cold Case Unit. They were at the cutting edge of the boom in the genre of forensic crime shows when the series launched in 2000, the same year as CSI in the US. Since then, there has been 92 hours of primetime viewing, with the highest viewed episode bagging 9.5 million viewers. 2004 was its finest hour, with Waking the Dead taking an International Emmy for the Multi-storey episode, starring Sean Pertwee.

Harbinger is a typically opaque two-parter, sparked by the discovery of a wrecked car, found in woods, that once belonged to a banker called Donald Rees. He went missing in 2007. Boyd, as ever played by Trevor Eve, takes the case to help a family that seems cursed. Having lost a daughter to cancer and suffered Donald’s disappearance, the mother, Julie, then developed cancer too. Despite DI Jordan being told by Julie’s son that his mother also thinks he has a mystery illness, it takes the team a long time to work out what’s going on.

Ghostly red-herrings
Written by Ed Whitmore, who’s had some major dramas on ITV recently, including The Little House with Francesca Annis and Identity with Keeley Hawes, this episode throws in some near-supernatural moments among the red-herrings, with the family seeing what appear to have been ghostly apparitions.

An old couple, the Geigers, are suspected of blackmailing Rees, and perhaps murdering him. There’s a mysterious nurse and the murder of a WPC to deal with before Boyd and co start to see the pattern in what is a satisfactory opening mystery.

Tara Fitzgerald’s new series, The Body Farm
So will Waking the Dead be missed? Well, die-hard fans  have the spin-off forensic six-part drama The Body Farm to look forward to. Tara Fitzgerald’s character, Eve Lockhart, will return to conduct experimental procedures on dead bodies, the trend for cop shows morphing into Hammer Horrors showing no signs of fading out yet. Trevor Eve will not appear, but will co-produce.

As for the current series, this has probably run its course. It’s a shame Waking the Dead never used the fine actors it has to portray beefier characters. Boyd’s ‘character’ is that he can be rude and shouts a bit. Most of the time he and the team just mouth plot summaries, with Tara Fitzgerald having a really dry time reciting lines about ‘polymeric forms of paint additive’.

Good cast wasted
Harbinger introduces a promising new character, Sarah Cavendish (Eva Birthistle), who is foisted on Boyd. The same rank as Boyd, she was a brilliant counter-intell officer who has issues, but after some early sparks between her and the team, this storyline is forgotten and it’s back to murder and mayhem.

Her character may be developed later, but Waking the Dead is the kind of show where the mystery is always the star. And there’s a lot of plot and mystery to keep our attention – with seven grim murders in Harbinger – but the characters once again rarely grab us.

It’s been lurid and fun at times, but it’s unlikely there will be many wailing mourners for Waking the Dead.

Trevor Eve (Det Supt Peter Boyd), Sue Johnston (Dr Grace Foley), Tara FitzGerald (Eve Lockhart), Wil Johnson (DI Spencer Jordan), Eva Birthistle (Det Supt Sarah Cavendish), Charles Edwards (Donald Rees), Genevieve O’Reilly (Julie Rees), Amelda Brown (Elsa Geiger), Ian Hanmore (Ernst Geiger), Stacey Sampson (WPC Gina Allen)

U Be Dead, ITV1 PREVIEW

Morrissey and
Fitzgerald
(Pics: ©ITV)

Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, Sunday 5 Sept, 9pm

David Morrissey and Tara Fitzgerald go through the emotional mincer in ITV1’s U Be Dead.

It’s the disturbing true tale of the psychiatrist and his fiancée viciously stalked by Maria Marchese, who was jailed for nine years in 2007 for what the Met called ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have ever had to investigate’.

So often the manly hero, Morrissey (soon to be DI Thorne in Sky1’s new take on Mark Billingham’s detective) faced a delicate acting challenge as Dr Jan Falkowski, who goes from glamorous professional to stalker’s victim, to love rat and back to sympathetic victim.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ 
Fitzgerald, who is usually able to coast it in Waking the Dead, here reduces a courtroom – and surely a few front rooms when this goes out – to stunned, sympathetic silence as the fiancée forced to contemplate suicide by the vast and terrifying campaign of intimidation waged via mobile phone, email and written notes.

We first see Jan and Debbie Pemberton as a happy-go-lucky, dashing couple (he’s a power boat racer in his leisure hours). They are planning their wedding when the texts from hell arrive, and a two-year vendetta begins.

‘Prepare for your funeral, not your wedding’ is one to Debbie, and ‘U be dead’ another. Jan wants to be strong about it all and the police are informed. But the psychological horror of being targeted with death threats by someone who’s invisible starts to shred everyone’s nerves.

Sham wedding to flush out the stalker
It’s impossible to watch without thinking, Well, what would I do? Throwing away the mobile phones, the stalker’s main weapon of persecution, is no use because there are the emails, the written notes under the door, the twenty-odd calls to parents in one day, the stalker’s cancellation of the wedding reception, the bomb threat…

Their tormentor goes round with a bagful of change using dozens of public call boxes that can’t be traced. Friends, relatives and colleagues are obsessively badgered. This is stalking on a near industrial scale.

The couple and their families are under huge stress. Jan eventually starts a secret affair with a younger woman, Bethan Ancell (Lucy Griffiths, seen recently in Collision and Robin Hood).

Despite this, he goes through with a sham wedding to Debbie to flush out the stalker. In a bitingly tense scene, the police finally nab the woman, 45-year-old Argentinian-born Maria Marchese (played by Monica Dolan).

Accused of rape
But as the writer, Gwyneth Hughes, says, the twisting events are barely credible and could never be sold as fiction. So we are stunned but believe it when the Crown Prosecution Service decides there is not enough evidence to prosecute Marchese. She then accuses Jan of raping her.

Jan is a cold character, who has demanded Debbie should have been stronger. But it is to Morrissey’s acting credit that we come round to empathising with him again as the victim of a living torment.

Hughes, whose writing credits include Miss Austen Regrets and Five Days, had input from Jan, Debbie and Bethan and has created a powerhouse drama that will haunt you for days. Over two hours she builds a chilling portrait of two people stripped of their identities by years of lies and threats.

One question not resolved is what made Maria Marchese, who will be eligible for parole in 2012, the malevolent stalker she was.

Great scene: Tara Fitzgerald breaking down and reducing the courtroom to stunned silence

David Morrissey’s heavy caseload

Morrissey as
Dr Falkowski ©ITV)

Speaking of David Morrissey (Watching the new detectives this autumn – below), Sky1’s Tom Thorne dramas are not his only new outing in coming weeks.

He also gives a stand-out performance in U Be Dead on ITV1 in September, the harrowing true story of the London psychiatrist and his fiancée who were viciously stalked by Maria Marchese.

Morrissey is very good as the not-always-sympathetic Dr Jan Falkowski, while Tara Fitzgerald is moving as the fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, whom he cheats on during the dark days of their persecution.

I can’t give too much away about the drama – it’s is embargoed for a few weeks yet – but I would say the jaw-dropping horror this couple endured, along with the fine acting and writing (by Gwyneth Hughes), make U Be Dead compulsive and unforgettable. Marchese was sentenced to nine years in 2007 and the Met called it ‘one of the worst cases of stalking we have had to investigate’.

In terms of crime output, this has been a stunning year for Morrissey. We’ve already seen him as a detective in the BBC’s Five Days (also penned by Gwyneth Hughes), he squeezed in a role in Agatha Christie: Poirot for ITV (Murder on the Orient Express), and then there are the Thorne films, Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat, looming on Sky1.

Somehow, he also put a shift in on Blitz, a movie version of Ken Bruen’s novel, starring Jason Statham, Aidan Gillen and Paddy Considine, which apparently is coming out sometime soon.

No one could accuse this guy of not being much cop.

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