The week in TV: Born to Kill; Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me; Broadchurch; Doctor Who and more

Channel 4 has a new psycho-killer hit, Kirsty Wark pondered the menopause with wit and sensitivity, and Broadchurch’s detectives bowed out in style

Born to Kill (Channel 4) |
Kirsty Wark: The Menopause and Me (BBC1) | iPlayer
Broadchurch (ITV) |
Doctor Who (BBC1) | iPlayer
Nature’s Weirdest Weapons (BBC2) | iPlayer
Maigret (ITV) |

A handsome young teenager stands before his bedroom mirror, creating an utter fiction. Doesn’t sound so unusual. Even when the fiction’s about his own father – died in Afghanistan, saving a peasant woman and child, didn’t even think about the landmine – and the real father is obviously a welter of uselessness, languishing in pokey: what other teenager wouldn’t prefer the fiction?

Except the puckish grinning Sam is not like other teenagers, as we quickly find out in Born to Kill, the first part of four in a rather gripping Channel 4 drama by Kate Ashfield from Shaun of the Dead and Tracey Malone (Rillington Place), whose title somewhat gives away some of the plot. Jack Rowan, a splendid new find, as Sam, is on the surface a model teen: chummily nice to his mum, rescues the bullied on buses, selflessly reads piratical tales to old folk in piss-and-vinegar care homes. And, um, stalks people, and takes a little too much gimlet-eyed interest in their misery. And tries to drown them. And likes to comb the hair of old dead people.

It’s not going to be a whodunnit, of course, rather a whyhedunnit, as all the best recent thrillers have been, and the nature/nurture debate is again reopened. Does such an entity as “evil” exist in this world? (Obviously no, excluding people who stop with heavy luggage to make a mobile call at the precise top of tube escalators.) Sam is just a broken if unusually severely broken kid, broken surely by some early trauma – it would be so tiresomely predictable, if no less awful, if it turned out to be, yawn, child abuse – and as he enters adolescence he meets the new girl in school, the truculent, equally broken, pyromaniac Chrissy. Love blooms, toxically.

So: a cross between Natural Born Killers and We Need to Talk About Kevin, but with a very singular style: all the cast excel, yet Sam’s mix of naivety and dumb cunning in the concluding hospital scene (spoiler alert: it doesn’t end too well for the old guy) betrays an actor older than his years. Another psychologically spine-tingling winner for Channel 4.

‘A salty peppering of wit’: Kirsty Wark talks to Jennifer Saunders in The Menopause and Me.
‘A salty peppering of wit’: Kirsty Wark talks to Jennifer Saunders in The Menopause and Me. Photograph: BBC Scotland

A remarkably upbeat take on the menopause came from the ever toweringly sane Kirsty Wark, who sought, with a salty peppering of witty and welcomely irreverent women, to open a new chapter of debate on, lest us dinosaur men forget, an entirely natural occurrence. Like being born, and dying, but only half the population will undergo it.

There was, thankfully for my blushes, relatively little air time devoted to men’s shameful lack of empathy down the ages. The Greeks thought it the gateway to death: once a woman could no longer bear children, her life was effectively over. Only last century, doctors would seek to have a woman committed just for menopausing if hubby agreed . The word “hysteria” was bandied about with maddening and casual male randomness, like Trump juggling bombs. Recently (male) doctors have been heard to opine that you can only “get” the menopause when you’re 52. After even a little of this ignorance, I was staunchly reminded of a line from the appallingly funny film Anchorman: “I heard their menstruation attracts… bears.”

Every woman’s menopause, it turns out, is exuberantly different. Hot flushes and mood swings mainly, but symptoms and ages can vary wildly, and Kirsty sensibly directed most of her attention towards why women don’t talk about it more. Social embarrassment, mainly, often exacerbated by a doctor’s cack-handed explanation: most women will suffer in silence, struggle on through those years, which can be long. And ill-timed.

I’ve occasionally thought that there’s towering evidence against a benevolent Creator’s Design in the fact He or She opted to give mothers the menopause at, usually, precisely the same time as their teens are oozing through adolescence. If mood hormones could be converted to energy during those years, the average suburban house would power half of Shropshire.

Kirsty got people talking. Jennifer Saunders was particularly fine: Scots couple Minty and Nick, bravely child-free, laughed with tender honesty about finding alternatives to vaginal sex. At a time when the average life expectancy for a woman is 81, the odds are that the average woman will be living a good high third of her life post-menopausal. There is much research going on, albeit in a surprisingly non-urgent way, into ways to alleviate the symptoms of this temporary twist: this has surely been slowed by the HRT health scare, subsequently found to be less than wholly proven. Perhaps Wark’s own take on it, “We are still strong, vital, creative and capable. We are not in retreat”, spoke even more powerfully than medicine. Women, though whisper it, don’t actually die after they’ve given birth. Turns out the Greeks didn’t have any word for it at all. Ms Wark and her pals had both the words and the phrases. A wise, valuable, oddly life-affirming programme.

Horns of a dilemma: Nature’s Wildest Weapons.
Horns of a dilemma: Nature’s Wildest Weapons. Photograph: Stuart Dunn/BBC

I was saddened, then heartened, that, at the end of Broadchurch, David Tennant decided not to go for a pint with Olivia Coleman’s Ellie. That just would have been too bloody weird, not to say trite, and what might they have to say to each other outside of work, any sexual frisson having been thoroughly hosed through their: a) having just solved a complex rape; b) struggling to remember who, actually, Leo was; c) not having any attraction, despite the intriguing vowel-sounds, and c) mutually wondering why, even with the historical menopause stuff, men came out of Broadchurch so universally badly? They were universal dirt, even the vicar.

Whatever, writer Chris Chibnall goes with grace into showrunning Dr Who. The current (and sadly Peter Capaldi’s last) season of which kicked off with an absolute zinger, mainly thanks to new sidekick Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), a lesbian pottymouth, whom I now adore. Her working-class credentials, sigh, were illustrated by the fact that she “cooks chips”, and I can’t help but hope that Chibnall might elevate that distinction with more nuance. Though not quinoa.

Also, better monsters. I can bravely confess I have never, ever, been the tiniest scared by the “enemies” in Doctor Who – scared in the late 70s by the quality of the acting, certainly – but surely the wonderful Nature’s Wildest Weapons (dung beetles with, basically, Heckler and Koch rifles) would make for weirder, better, happier, scarier, monsters. Wildest Weapons was a thuddingly wonderful piece of television with so many lessons for our own arms race: chiefly, stop it. It doesn’t ever end less than shittily.

Maigret was almost good this time around. Rowan Atkinson has, finally, made the character his own. The sets were superb: one could smell every Belgian fart, every French kiss, touch every drip of rain from border fences. But Simenon obviously wrote the plot in less time than it took to organise transatlantic Facetime chats between set designers. Yet again, it was a 20-minute short story crammed seamlessly into two long hours.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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