24 January 2014

Don't mind me, I'm just here for Peter Capaldi (Review: 'The Musketeers' 1.1, "Friends and Enemies")

Actually, that's not quite true. While the presence of the Twelfth Doctor in this (and it was rather interesting that I also watched Peter Davison guest in Death in Paradise tonight as well) was definitely something that brought me to this, the chances were that I'd be here anyway, whether I'd read the Dumas novel or not.

(I have; where do you think Marie Athos in Wing Commander: From the Ashes got her name from?)

So, let us go back to Paris in 1630, where three Musketeers and a bloke named D'Artagnan work together to fight for their drippy King against the machinations of his First Minister.

First impressions; this seems to be very much from the same stable as Merlin, Atlantis et. al, except this differs in a number of regards:
  • It's an in-house production, not from Kudos or Shine.
  • This is a Sunday 9pm hour-long (i.e. 58 minutes or so run time) with ten episodes, not a 13x45' one for Saturday evening,
  • While there is very little blood, there is some scenes of a sexual nature (nothing explicit) and some themes a bit too adult for a Doctor Who audience.

However, the general style; a rollicking swash-buckling adventure adapted from a classic work of literature, with added jokes, remains strongly present.

Speaking of jokes; the show isn't one to take itself too seriously; there are one-liners a plenty and a general wit about the work. The bit about the badger intestines is a particular gem and the four leads (ironically for a novel called The Three Musketeers, the group goes to four very quickly) are clearly playing it with a degree of humour in their performances; Porthos comes across as a bit of a Dave Lister sort of character and if Craig Charles was a) younger and b) not committed to Corrie, you could see him in this role.

This opener, an "everyone meets everyone" sort of episode that sees the Musketeers framed for murder-robbery (including of d'Artagnan's dad) wheels out a number of the tropes of the action-adventure genre and some associated with it; including the old one involving getting a lover out of a room before someone else finds out. These get their own twists though - a pistol kicked under the bed ends up being a Chekhov's gun in the literal sense and the old "semi-undressed woman distracts a guard" shtick gets a comic twist when the guard starts negotiating the fee for sex.

Capaldi is a major draw here - even before his casting as the Doctor (he learned he'd got the gig, which will limit his role in a second season if this gets renewed, on set in the Czech Republic when his agent called with the words "Hello, Doctor"), he was a big enough name to attract attention - playing the goatee-packing Cardinal Richelieu, a RL historical figure of some note in French history, but far better known for his presence in this novel. We've yet to see his Doctor in full, but his performance here is likely to be very different from that. He resists the temptation to ham it up and uses an English accent - but frequently steals scenes.

Those of you who have read the novel (or novels, there's five) will be able to get extra layers of enjoyment out of it; the characters are very well realised here - Maimie McMoy's Milady being a notable vamp who really needs to see her dressmaker to get proper shoulder coverage... and has a rather interesting bit in a confessional booth.

(Best scene involving one of those - For Your Eyes Only).

Drawbacks? The 60-minute slot is a bit long for my personal taste and was a bit padded at times (as I suspect were some of the costumes... it looked cold out there). I'd also say this isn't the best theme Murray Gold has ever done, but it might be a grower.


A series with a degree of promise; a great cast (not just Capaldi), strong source material and as always for the BBC, superb millinery. But can it sustain that?

Also at the moment, it's better than the other series I watch based on a Dumas novel... come on Amanda Clarke, get on with your Revenge already!


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