The Sarah Jane Adventures, Series 3 (BBC, 2009) Series Three maintains a good mix of serious and silly SF, shifting the focus slightly away from Sarah Jane and towards her young companions. The stories are imaginative but at their weakest where mainstream Doctor Who elements (K9, the Tenth Doctor) feature.
Unforgotten, Series 1 by Chris Lang (ITV, 2015) A crime drama based more on genuine human interactions than manufactured confrontation. The cold case premise allows for plot entanglements that aren’t too far-fetched, while the police detectives—Nicola Walker’s character in particular—are scripted and portrayed as real people at work.
Doctor Who: The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn (Big Finish, 2018) Leela is attacked during one of her adventures with the Doctor, and wakes up in a research institute for implanted dream consciousness. Which of her realities is genuine? Perfectly pitched performances by Louise Jameson and Tom Baker. A nice idea cleverly executed.
Frozen II dir. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (2019) A sequel that manages to start anew and tell a heartfelt, epic tale. Like many Disney musicals, however, the plot is weighed down by songs with simplistic lyrics and unmemorable arrangements sung as if each is the dramatic high-point of the movie.
How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K J Parker (Orbit, 2020); audiobook read by Ray Sawyer (Isis, 2020) The besieged stalemate that Parker envisages evokes Hannibal’s 15-year occupation of Italy, only with sardonic observational humour and a cynical, world-weary thespian placed in charge of the defence. Sawyer’s audiobook reading matches the protagonist’s pessimism a little…
Salt dir. Phillip Noyce (2010) Angelina Jolie handles the lead role with more aplomb than is evident in analogous male characters of the political action thriller genre. The laws of physics still buckle but the direction is tight and the indestructible hero paradigm shifts slightly towards quick-wittedness.
Cas & Dylan dir. Jason Priestly (2013) Richard Dreyfuss (Cas) and Tatiana Maslany (Dylan) make the most of two larger-than-life characters pitched together on an improbable road trip across Canada. Beneath its patter, the film is gently amusing rather than out-and-out funny, and trends towards heartfelt at the end.
Destroyer dir. Karyn Kusama (2018) Destroyer moves fast for its 2-hour running time, and features a standout performance by Nicole Kidman (virtually unrecognisable, swimming with assurance well outside her comfort zone). The choreographed interplay between past and present scenes proves particularly artful in playing with genre expectations.
Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) Broken teens living broken lives and finding hope in each other. Blake comes dangerously close to stereotypes and tropes in this YA romance, yet layers her story—the scenario and its characters—with depth and nuance enough to create something achingly genuine.
Dracula (NBC, 2013-2014) Victorian London comes to life in a Dracula re-imagining full of dark intrigue, rising nemesis and rather too much gore; also high production values and an unimpeachable cast (though some viewers may find Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ huskiness a bit much to take).