‘Dickensian’ Episodes 10-11 review: Too much filler, where’s Marley’s killer?

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Ever heard of Parkinson’s Law?

No, no, it’s not the law of celebrity chat shows. It goes like this: ‘work expands to fill the time it takes to complete it’. You know, like when you have a week to write a review of Dickensian and somehow manage to take all week to write it, when normally you do it in an hour. I mean, that’s what I hear from other reviewers…

We’re now just past the halfway point of Dickensian, and it feels like we’re watching a televised example of Parkinson’s Law – a show which seems to be telling ten episodes’ worth of story in twenty. Did it need to be as long as it is? God no. Not unless you deeply care about The Bumble’s Come Dine With Me spread for Mr Gradgrind, every moment of which is so hammy that they could’ve eaten the script instead of their ‘transparent soup’ and ‘SPOTTED DICK pudding’.

And in case you’re wondering why SPOTTED DICK is in capitals, it’s because Caroline Quentin delivers the line SPOTTED DICK in verbal caps lock, with all the subtlety of a panto dame’s petticoats, as though it’s meant to be cheeky joke about genitals and custard. And yes, I know, it’s all meant to be background colour for the show, and it’s much appreciated, but it should stay as that, background, not a Crayola-drawn plot point filling up space. Hopefully the Bumbles’ job offer will see them shoving off none too soon.


Episodes 10 & 11 see series creator Tony Jordan back on writing duties to make sure things are ticking over, and that’s all things really do – tick over, giving us a fair but unremarkable prequel to characters in about five different Dickens books, and keeping us on the hook only because we want to see who killed Marley.

I’m also in it for #justiceforJip, but the way Miss Havisham has fallen head over heels for dog-killer Compeyson that doesn’t look like it’ll happen.

Not even a sozzled Arthur (Joseph Quinn plays ‘whiny drunk’ well enough to redeem his character’s place in the show) bursting in and threatening to blab Compeyson’s plan seems to cool her passion for him. For his indiscretion Compeyson later takes his belt to Arthur and gives him a thrashing. Ouch. But really Arthur’s getting off lightly – he’s lucky he wasn’t put in a sack and thrown in the river.

Dickensian 10 Arthur Havisham (JOSEPH QUINN)

Meanwhile, in the strongest storyline of the two episodes, the Barbary sisters’ struggle to release their father from debtor’s prison. Honoria begs Scrooge for help and sells her pearls at The Old Curiosity Shop (speaking of, where’s Grandfather? Did he find a better show and leave?), but it’s all to no avail. In an ‘it’s not you, it’s money’ break-up, she’s forced to dump her bae, Captain James. All so she can find a suitor with enough cash to bail out her papa.

Turns out one’s arrived, and it’s no surprise to Bleak House’s readers. Nursing home pillow made human, Sir Leicester Dedlock, bails Barbary out and uses it as an excuse to call on Honoria again. Insert your own ‘winking face Emoji’ after that last sentence. He’s essentially bought his way into a relationship and Honoria’s face says it all. Good job Sophie Rundle’s good at looking quietly horrified as Honoria’s face is going to be set like that for the rest of the series.

That’s provided you’re going to stick with Dickensian to the end.

Dickensian Jacob Marley (PETER FIRTH)

You’d be forgiven if you gave up now and checked back here in a couple of weeks to see who killed Marley. This is a drama that has clearly had a lot of thought and effort put into it, both in front and behind the camera, but which is currently not living up to the sum of its parts.

That may be because we’re at the risky mid-point, where momentum is trickier to maintain, especially in a 30 character cast. Or it may be because Parkinson’s Law is kicking in: too much filler, not enough catching Marley’s killer.

At least good ol’ Bucket’s still on the case. Stephen Rea’s delightfully sanguine detective is unshakeable in his resolve to see this thing through to the end. I know how he feels. For better or worse, some of us are in it with him all the way, and right now it’s only how Dickensian ends that will determine whether it was all worth the time.


Aired at 8pm on Thursday 21 January 2016 and at 8.30pm on Friday 22 January 2016 on BBC One.

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