TV COLUMN: Fearless, Doctor Who, BBC pay

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television...

Fearless (ITV) wound up its loose plot threads this week in what turned out to be a rather hackneyed and unsatisfying conclusion.

Six weeks ago when it began, Fearless looked to have potential, with an excellent opening performance by Helen McCrory as investigative lawyer Emma Banville.

It was also noted here six weeks ago that such plot complexities sink or swim on how well they all knit together at the end, and on such criteria, Fearless sank, ultimately replying on the clumsiest of all plot devices, coincidence. And not one coincidence, but two. It was a lazy end.

The initial premise was good, but having built up momentum, Fearless ran out of steam. There just wasn’t enough plot for six one-hour episodes. The editors should have taken a pair of scissors to it in the editing room and cut it down to a single, feature-length, two-hour special.

McCrory aside, casting was also a bit hit ‘n’ miss. Michael Gambon was ridiculously underused and barely had the screen time to develop even the smallest of meaningful cameos.

John Bishop, the Liverpudlian comedian, was hopelessly mis-cast as Banville’s domestic partner, leaving it unclear whether he can act anything other than himself. His agent should be less ambitious for future dramatic roles.

Doctor Who is a woman. Who knew? The announcement earlier this week that Jodie Whittaker will replace Peter Capaldi came as small surprise. The latest series saw Capaldi’s Who drop more than enough clues to give the game away. Who knew.

The decision fits into the BBC’s push towards greater diversity and fairness of representation across its networks. Social media responded as it usually does with not a single shade of grey in sight. Whittaker as the Doctor either signals the end of civilisation as we know it in the eyes of traditionalists and un-reconstructed males. Or a breath of fresh air and ‘about time’.

Whittaker won’t be alone in assuming previously male roles. In 2019, Brie Larson will adopt the Captain Marvel costume as part of the MCU franchise and Tony Stark’s Ironman replacement is also rumoured to be a woman.

Which all, rather ironically, appear to suggest than if women are to succeed, then they need to do it in previously male roles. Surely the better solution would be more quality writing for female roles? This year’s Wonder Woman proved it can be done and be hugely successful.

Unfortunately for the BBC, the Jodie Whittaker announcement didn’t provide a sufficiently large ‘dead cat bounce’ to avert its much wider issues of equality when it comes to the pay of its employees with the release of the BBC’s higher wage earners.

On the list of those earning in excess of £150,000 a year, just one third are women. Of the 96 top-earners named, a mere ten were non-white.

Away from the very top of the tree, where Chris Evans and Gary Lineker sit on their millions, some of the more noticeable gender pay-gaps came in BBC news output.

Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis didn’t make the list at all, while fellow Newsnight co-presenter, Evan Davis, earns up to £299,000.

Similarly, on Radio 4’s Today programme, the men earn more than the women. A case might be made for John Humphrey’s greater experience – and his Mastermind presenting – to justify his up to £650,000 annual pay cheque.

What his harder to grasp is how the relative new boy, Nick Robinson, earns £50,000 more than his more-experienced co-presenter, Mishal Husain. The other female presenter, Sarah Montague, didn’t even make the list.

Still, there’s going to be a female Doctor Who, which I’m sure is of great comfort to all those women at the BBC earning less than their male counterparts.