Deadwater Fell episode 1 sees David Tennant on our screens as the doctor again. Jodie Whitaker fans needn’t worry too much, though. The Yorkshire-born actress hasn’t been forced to hand her sonic screwdriver back to her Scottish predecessor, though, because this time he’s Doctor Kendrick. At least he is in Channel 4’s newest crime drama Deadwater Fell, anyway.
Dr Tom Kendrick is a man with a seemingly perfect life. He’s successful, well off, happy and surrounded by charming friends, a loving wife and three cute daughters. He even lives in an idyllic – albeit fictional – Scottish coastal village with a name like a sixty quid bottle of whiskey, Kirkdarroch.
All is well until one night a fire ravages the Kendrick family home, leaving Tom the only survivor. A fire which later turns out to have been started deliberately by someone…
…but who? Well, that’s the central question here.
Like the Time Lord, let’s travel back in time quickly. Before the fire, Tom and his primary school teacher wife Kate (Anna Madeley, Patrick Melrose) spent their days looking after their trio of daughters, attending barn dances, having picnics on the beach and enjoying the company of their best pals Jess and Steve Campbell (Cush Jumbo, Vera and Matthew McNulty, Cleaning Up). All very lovely. At least on the surface, that is.
Grantchester’s Daisy Coulam is on writing duties here and while the source material is entirely original, there is a rather famous/infamous case which influenced Deadwater Fell… The death of Kathleen Peterson. If you recognise the name, it may be because you’re familiar with the successful and widely seen Netflix documentary series based on the case, The Staircase.
Soon, we learn via flashback that Kate battled with depression. The door to the kids’ bedrooms were padlocked from the outside and she was seen in a hardware shop buying locks before the fire, which is more than a little suspicious. Yet given The Staircase is the primary inspiration for Deadwater Fell, it can’t be long until everyone starts believing that husband Tom is responsible.
The finger of blame only points very briefly at Tom here in this opening episode – when the headteacher of Kate’s school drunkenly suggests that he was behind the fire. We’ve a sneaking suspicion that he may well be in the frame slightly more next week, however.
Will David Tennant’s Tom turn out to be the bad guy…? A man capable of killing his whole family? With the obvious pleasure taken in his roles as the antagonist in Jessica Jones and an actual demon in Good Omens, there’s every chance. Plus let’s not forget about Des – an upcoming three-part ITV series starring Tennant as notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen. The 48-year-old certainly has a bad turn up his sleeve.
This is a crime drama on the surface, but at its heart it’s a story about people. Of course, we’re looking forward to finding out who killed 75% of the Kendricks – but the real enjoyment looks like it’ll come from learning about the characters of Kirkdarroch.
This opening episode took its time, which is no bad thing. The plot never meanders, yet there’s obvious depth to the very realistic characters and their relatable motivations.
With only four episodes of Deadwater Fell in total, don’t expect it to remain a slow burner. Things will no doubt spark to life next Friday night.
Did you catch Deadwater Fell episode 1? If so, what did you make of it? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on Deadwater Fell episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Last week’s opening episode of Channel 4’s melancholic yet gripping new four-part series Deadwater Fell left us with a rather clear picture of who burned down the Kendrick home. We were led to believe, rather pointedly, that the depressed Kate had drugged her three daughters, locked them in their room and set ablaze to the family home.
Not so, however. At least not according to this second instalment of Daisy Coulam’s involving thriller, anyway.
Don’t dismiss the idea that Kate may have been responsible for the fire, though. Only we get the distinct impression that Coulam is playing with us a little here. Deadwater Fell feels like it’s very subtly manipulating our expectations and making us rely on our prejudices and presumptions to solve the puzzle. There are a few twists in the road ahead, we’re sure of it.
We begin this week’s episode with a brace of funerals – both held on the same day, yet poles apart in tone. First, only a handful of people attend a very stilted, quick and sombre cremation for Kate. Her assumed responsibility for her three children’s deaths left few members of Kirkdarroch’s small community overly keen to attend.
The second service saw the entire town turn out and bereaved father Dr Tom Kendrick (David Tennant) give an impassioned speech about his sadly departed daughters. Kate’s name wasn’t even mentioned. Her part of a freshly-planted memorial rose garden was later vandalised. The town had decided: Kate Kendrick killed the kids.
Jess (Cush Jumbo, Vera), however, is not convinced. Connected to Tom and Kate in a variety of ways, the more she hears and sees, the more suspicious she is that it’s the family patriarch behind the fire.
When she meets an old pal of Kate’s from their days at teacher training called Sasha (Seline Hizli, Grantchester) and finds out that Tom also seduced her as some kind of twisted power move, it seemingly cements the idea in her head. Tom was responsible.
Jumbo is outstanding here as a very personally involved Jess who inadvertently finds herself in something of a Sherlock Holmes role. She holds up this second instalment, allowing Tennant to dip in and out of the picture almost like a ghost. Or is he more like a werewolf? He’s lean, hairy and seemingly capable of two different states – one calm, friendly and reassuring, the other cunning, snarling and perhaps even murderous.
What’s clever about Deadwater Fell is that it keeps you guessing about David Tennant’s performance. Are we watching a grieving man, broken by the death of his wife and three infant children? Or a dead-eyed sociopath plotting to get away with murder?
We’re thrown a curve-ball in the final moments of this second episode which suggests that perhaps Tom isn’t a secret monster. Troubled troublemaker Dylan’s statement to the police seems to waver at the end, his whisky and nitrous oxide-blighted memory of the night of the blaze seeming to put Kate back in the frame…
We’re halfway through this rather mournful but engaging series. Where is it heading? We’re not quite certain yet, but we’re eager to find out.
Did you watch Deadwater Fell episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Deadwater Fell episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
It’s been a busy and rather stressful time of late for Deadwater Fell’s Sergeant Steve Campbell. After seeing a house fire devastate his closest friends’ house – killing four of them, including three young girls – he then had to investigate the possibility that pal Kate – and then Tom – killed the three children before setting the fire.
And that was just the start of it.
He then found out that his girlfriend Jess had slept with best friend Tom. So he decided to coerce an eyewitness into lying in order to put David Tennant’s character firmly in the frame for the murders. All this before finding out that his children’s smarmy new stepdad and his ex-wife are expecting a child.
In between all that he’s somehow found time to (rather awkwardly, drunkenly and unsuccessfully) hit on his boss as well as hit the bottle, attend therapy sessions, develop panic attacks, beat up the aforementioned eyewitness when he changes his story and even take an ecstasy-fuelled barefoot trip to the woods.
Last week’s second episode belonged to Jess, played by Cush Jumbo. We saw everything through her eyes, gaining a new perspective on the events surrounding the fire. This third slice of Deadwater Fell is all about Steve, played brilliantly here by The Bay’s Matthew McNulty.
Jumbo was superb last week and David Tennant has played his Jekyll and Hyde part well, but McNulty is the standout performer here. His Steve is racked with anger, resentment and guilt and utterly convinces.
It had looked as though the case against Tom was strong. So strong that he was charged and imprisoned. There was circumstantial evidence, motive and even a witness. Soon enough though, the case fell apart. Mostly because Steve’s coercion of Dylan came to light. Tom was then released from police custody.
Throughout the course of this tense hour of drama, it’s confirmed via flashback that Tennant’s character is really quite despicable. Controlling, cruel, manipulative and abusive, he drove his wife to many things – wine, drugs, depression. But did he drive her to murder? Or is the blank-eyed figure of Tom behind it all, just as the police suspect? Was framing Kate one final act of cruelty on his part?
There could well be even more evil up Tom’s sleeve given he’s out now and staying with his mother Carol. Especially since she seemingly turned her back on him when he was inside because of his abusive and bullying behaviour, refusing to visit him and pay for a more expensive brief as he’d demanded. It might be a smart idea for Carol to keep the matches hidden from her bairn just in case.
This penultimate instalment made for compelling drama and – let’s be honest – no one likes a pedant… but having Steve quiz Tom in the interview room must surely be a breach of protocol. The pair are/were best mates, which is undoubtedly a conflict of interests. It turned out it was, but for very different reasons.
The tension was built nicely here for next Friday’s fourth and final quarter of Deadwater Fell. The big question will be who killed the girls and set the blaze. But that’s not quite the same question as who was to blame for it all.
We’ll no doubt get the full story in episode 4.
Did you watch Deadwater Fell episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up on Deadwater Fell episode 4? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
It started innocently enough with some good ol’ fashioned murders. A house fire killing a mother and her three children; the father narrowly escaping with his life. At first the mother is suspected. Then the father. A few sub-plots swirl around and we’re briefly steered to wonder if there might’ve been someone else because the arson. For all intents and purposes, this was classic crime drama stuff. A whodunnit. A Scottish Broadchurch.
This was, ultimately, not to be the case.
The set-up led us down a road that had an unexpected fork in it. As we watched the first three quarters, we did so knowing there were some heavy themes being explored, but all within the confines of a murder mystery. This fourth and final episode disposed of all pretence and revealed that Deadwater Fell was no ‘guess the killer’ potboiler. It merely knew how to look a little like one.
Writer Daisy Coulam had no desire to pull an Agatha Christie on us. What she wanted to do was present an unsuspecting audience with a hard-hitting and thought-provoking drama about emotional abuse and coercive control. And she managed to do so quite brilliantly. Giving us just that, but in the guise of a murder mystery, was a real stroke of genius.
For anyone yet to catch this final instalment of this Channel 4 drama, we won’t go into too finer detail here as to what happened. We will say, however, that the twist is that there is no twist. There’s no great reveal, no big shock. We find out what happened and we’re shown how the situation built up. The camera focuses in on the slim, bearded face of David Tennant here more than ever as we realise beyond a doubt that he’s not a victim, but an extremely unpleasant man.
Tennant’s guile as an actor is on show here. He doesn’t play Dr Tom Kendrick here as evil, or even as a cardboard cutout abusive husband. His weakness and limitations as an emotional human being are beautifully drawn here. His actions weren’t those of a plotting and evil psychopath, they were those of an arrogant, weak and – as Cush Jumbo’s Jess levels at him during this final part’s standout scene – ‘banal’ man.
Another way in which Deadwater Fell distinguishes itself from its peers is the manner in which it left us. There was no final schlocky violence or grimness. The story ends on a hopeful note. Justice may still be done and the surviving characters are all shown paths to recovery and happiness. These four hours showed us the dark side of family life, but also the light.
What it did beyond all else, though, was show us that a crime drama can do more than just parade a few corpses in front of us and make us guess a killer.
It wasn’t always a pleasurable watch, but with thoughtful and realistic writing and four incredibly strong central performances from Tenant, Jumbo, Matthew McNulty and Anna Madeley, it was a vital one.
Did you watch Deadwater Fell episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…