Waking the Dead: Magdalene 26 (season eight, episodes one and two)


WARNING: This review contains a major spoiler and should not be read if you have not watched it and you have any intention to do so.

Rating 2½

Created by Barbara Machin

Written by Declan Croghan

Directed by Andy Hay

Starring Trevor Eve (Peter Boyd), Sue Johnston (Grace Foley), Tara Fitzgerald (Eve Lockhart), Wil Johnson (Spencer Jordan),
Félicité du Jeu (Stella Goodman), Stacey Roca (Katrina Howard), Sharon Maughan (Elizabeth), Cian Barry (Michael O’Hare), Bosco Hogan (Father Quinn), Lynda Rooke (Sister Rooke), Adam Best (Young Father Quinn), Alki David (Coban), Tam Mutu (Zafer), Sam Vincenti (Olgac), Daniel Lapaine (Samuel Knight), Danial Pirrie (Tony Muller), Denise Gough (Kathleen), Lisa Hogg (Teenage Elizabeth) and Elizabeth Barrett (Young Elizabeth)

A woman is found wondering naked and bloody along a country road. She seems to be suffering from amnesia. DNA tests places her at the scene of an unsolved crime that took place in a Soho club in 1966. When a crashed and abandoned car is discovered close to where she was found, it is traced back to her home, where her husband has been brutally tortured and murdered.

‘Magdalene 26’ is the opening story of the eighth season of the BBC police drama series. In keeping with previous seasons, it is told across two one-hour episodes broadcast on consecutive evenings. The series began with a pilot story broadcast at the beginning of September 2000. The first season began in June 2001.

The main cast from seasons six and seven all return here, but not for long. Stella Goodman (played by the French actress Félicité du Jeu), who had been first introduced into the series during season five in 2005, had been noticeably underused during season seven and the same thing seemed to happen again in this opening story of the eighth season. In fact, it was referenced that Stella had become something of a spare part, rather ignored by her boss, the perpetually angry Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd. It also seemed odd that another character, Katrina Howard, was introduced into the story, appearing to fill a space already occupied by Stella, although she was not actually a part of the team. All was revealed in the closing scene when we learned, somewhat unexpectedly, that Stella had died following what had earlier seemed to be a fairly innocuous gunshot wound to the leg. I like this character and feel they really didn’t make the most of her, in season seven especially. Whatever the reason for her departure, it is a shame to see her go.

The story itself drew on themes already familiar from previous episodes, including a less than positive depiction of Catholics nuns, something Declan Croghan, the writer here, had delved into in the season six opener ‘Wren Boys’. Although initially quite typical of the long established style of the series, somewhat far-fetched but diverting, the story does become increasingly ludicrous during the second episode and ends up being completely barmy – involving long lost twins, barbaric nuns, Soho brothels, Turkish gangsters, as well as commentary about Britain’s less than flattering role in Iraq and the unregulated widespread greed that led to the worldwide financial crash in 2007. However, the real joy of watching ‘Waking the Dead’ is the interaction between Boyd and the team’s psychological profiler Dr Grace Foley – and the performances of Trevor Eve and Sue Johnson in these two roles. That hasn’t changed.

The series has, I suspect, long since past its best days, but it’s good to see it back and I am looking forward to the remaining three stories in this latest season.

Review posted 14 September 2009

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