‘Waterloo Road’ – Episode 8.1

The immensely popular BBC school drama series Waterloo Road returned to our screens last night, this time having relocated to Scotland – both in the show and in reality.

JUMPING SHIP

I must admit that I haven’t watched Waterloo Road since 2009. Up until then I was a devout fan – and still have the first two series on DVD – but found a lot of the fourth series to be extremely far-fetched and difficult to believe, hence why the final episode of the series was the last I watched. However, I have decided to forgive the team and give what used to be a gripping drama another chance.

I must admit, I’m impressed.

ALL CHANGE

Obviously, in three years teachers and pupils have come and gone from the school, resulting in me only recognising Janeece (Chelsee Healey), Tom Clarkson (Jason Done) and Grantly Budgeon (the brilliant Phillip Martin Brown). Therefore, for me watching this episode was like watching a whole new programme. Gone are the days of Messrs Rimmer and Treneman and Miss Redpath – this is the eighth series!

From what I understand, at the end of the last series, Headteacher Michael Byrne received the news that the school was closing down in Rochdale but was lured by Lorraine Donnegan to the new school in Scotland. This paved the way for lots of new – mainly Scottish – characters, and they seem quite intriguing.

DREW AND JADE

Immediately, the Drew and Jade storyline interested me. One of a couple on the run, living in squalor, Jade was desperate to attend Waterloo Road and gain some qualifications, with her jealous – and clearly disturbed – boyfriend Drew only following suit in order to monitor her. I thought Paige Meade and in particular Max Fowler performed their scenes brilliantly, I emotionally invested in their characters. I mean, granted, there was quite a bit of dramatic licence where Drew was concerned especially. For instance, he would never have been allowed into the school without first enrolling – he could have been anyone: he wasn’t even in uniform! Likewise, there is no way all staff would have just stood by and let him run into the open kitchen in an enraged state, where they knew full well there was a cleaver lying on the table for him to pick up and wield…just like he did.

Max Fowler was also responsible for my favourite scene of the whole episode, though. I thought he and Alec Newman (playing Headteacher Michael) were fantastic in the scene in which their characters had a confrontation in the Head’s office towards the end of the episode. It was tense and dramatic, as mentally unstable Drew threatened Michael with the cleaver he had stolen from the kitchen, and Michael tried to calm him down. The whole scene was perfectly and masterfully directed, filmed and performed.

STRONG CAST

It was also great to see Phillip Martin Brown – along with Jason Done the only actor to play the same character since the show began in 2006 – reprise his role as disgruntled English teacher Grantly Budgeon. Grantly is pretty much a permanent fixture in Waterloo Road now and is still his old pessimistic, whining, fabulous self. The scene which saw him and new English teacher Christine Mulgrew (ex-EastEnder Laurie Brett) return to the schoolhouse completely drunk proved Brown to be an excellent comic actor, too (something hinted at previously when he hilariously break danced for his pupils).

Plus, I’m over the moon to see that Daniela Denby-Ashe has joined the cast as investor Lorraine Donnegan – it’s good to see her in something other than repeats of My Family. Then there’s Grantly’s fiancée, Maggie Croft, played by the brilliant Melanie Hill – best known as Aveline in sitcom Bread from the fifth series onwards. Having hailed from Sunderland, like myself, I’m a particular fan.

It’ll be great to see alcoholic English teacher Christine Mulgrew (Laurie Brett) and her son’s (Shane O’Meara) relationship progress – they could provide quite a bit of drama!

I enjoyed Waterloo Road. It didn’t grip me like the first couple of series did though, so it’s fair to say that the script quality has deteriorated somewhat. I didn’t think about switching off, however, and I was entertained. Plus, the next episode looks even better, so it must be great!

Twitter – @UKTVReviewer

Also, keep up-to-date with the latest TV news, reviews and interviews at www.thecustardtv.com, where some of my articles will also appear.

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