‘Doctor Foster’ Episode 1 review: Edgy and intriguing

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Former Coronation Street actress Suranne Jones headlines BBC One’s Doctor Foster, an edgy and intriguing new five-part nail-biter from Laurence Olivier and BAFTA Award-winning playwright, Mike Bartlett.

Jones plays GP Gemma Foster, who falls into an unsteady path of confusion and paranoia when she finds evidence that her husband, Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) may be cheating on her with another woman. The real story in this first instalment of this drama was, is this possible?

Gemma has an (almost too) idyllic lifestyle, as set up quickly in the well-paced opening sequence. A beautiful house with two cars parked outside. A well-behaved, mannerly child of two well earning, professional, attractive thirty-somethings who still find time for good sex inbetween the school run and the dinner party. It all seems too good to be true.

“My mate Bromley threw her boyfriend out because he lied about where he was one afternoon,” explains a young barmaid to Gemma. “Only thing was he was shopping for her birthday present. Two weeks later they split up. Couldn’t trust each other after that.”

Doctor Foster Simon (BERTIE CARVEL)

To its credit, where this episode is strongest is the duality it creates in the mind of the viewer. Is Gemma justified in her overwhelming desire to uncover her husband’s infidelity or is she just simply unhinged at the thought and trying to force together a thinly held scenario that justifies her invasive behaviour and increasing suspicion?

There are plenty of red herrings to keep us going as well. As soon as we see the hair, every blonde woman Simon acknowledges is fair game as his potential new mistress. Despite telling his wife he visits his elderly mother in her nursing home two hours a day, Simon’s name never appears in the necessary ‘sign in’ book?

If Simon’s newly blonde secretary has split up from her husband, why does she have condoms in her bag? The beauty of these revelations is that they support either theory (is he unfaithful or is she mad?) right up until the episode’s final revelatory moments.

The viewer will have no doubt guessed that Simon is in fact having an affair by the middle of the episode, but the eventual reveal is genuinely heartbreaking, with Suranne Jones’s emotive breakdown being a dramatic highlight in the episode. It’s also suitably tense. I genuinely thought that she was going to stab him with those scissors in front of everyone at his own 40th birthday party for a minute there.

Doctor Foster (SURANNE JONES)

However, this was not a completely believable hour of TV and small points left gaping holes. Why would a respected GP trade sleeping pills with a patient for trailing her husband? She clearly has money, why not hire a private investigator? Especially if the patient you’re entrusting with your marriage woes and indeed, your career, has shown you nothing but deceit and mistrust up to this point?

Also, would you risk your career by telling the abusive boyfriend of that patient that you will knowingly alter his medical records to get him sacked? It’s a bit far to go and descends the episode into melodrama.

The use of Congreve’s The Mourning Bride felt somewhat shoe-horned in as well. Mike Bartlett’s stage origins clearly influenced the writing here, but it gave it a certain unnecessary theatricality where the episode’s strength had been its more intimate character studies and moments of very tense human reality.

However, all in this was a promising start to the drama and with the quote that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ we can expect proceedings to develop into some sort of a revenge play as Gemma takes control and exacts revenge on all of those involved in her husband’s infidelity.

Be careful Simon, the Doctor is in.


Aired at 9pm on Wednesday 9 September 2015 on BBC One.

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