Monday, 2 March 2015

Angels Series Two : Review

I previously bought, watched and reviewed the first series of Paula Milne's nursing drama Angels and enjoyed it so much I quickly snapped up the second series on DVD too.

Well, I've watched all thirteen episodes of that now as well so I thought I'd write up a review for it as well.

The official press release from DVD distributor, Simply Media describes the second series as...

'"The hard working nurses of St Angela's are back, in the second series of Paula Milne's ground-breaking medical drama.

After the huge success of the first series, the student nurses return to face a new st of challenges, both in their working hospital lives and at home. The show continues to tackle the real-life issues that face the medical profession, and is not afraid to deal with the hard-hitting aspects of hospital care or face up to controversial personal issues" 

What that actually means is it's more or less more of the same thing I'd enjoyed from series one, with each episode focusing specifically on one or two of the main cast of characters. 

Returning to the wards for a second dose are Pat (Fiona Fullerton) Maureen (Erin Geraghty) Jo (Julie Dawn Cole) Shirley (Clare Clifford) and Sita (Karan David) whilst Sandra Ling played by Angela Bruce, fleetingly spotted in a canteen scene in series one, is promoted to regular status here for the second run. The reason for this is obvious; disappearing between the first and second series is Lesley Dunlop who played the bolshie young nurse Ruth. Watching these episodes (and especially the early ones here) it's pretty obvious that Sandra's lines were written specifically for Ruth and changed at the last minute when Dunlop decided to leave. As a result we see that Sandra is sharing a flat with Jo, just as Ruth had previously done, and that she often thinks before she speaks especially when it comes to the thorny issue of the insufficient pay and conditions nurses work in. Later in the series, Sandra moves away from the hospital to become an occupational health nurse at a local factory complex in the community - again something one can easily imagine was planned for Ruth. There's no explanation provided regarding Ruth's whereabouts, but she is mentioned on several occasions by her former colleagues.

Whilst it was clearly deeply commendable of Angels to give a main and regular role for a young Black British actress like Angela Bruce and realistic too given the ethnic diversity within the NHS, the same praise cannot be given to how slipshod they are with Karan David's character Sita Patel who still remains a semi regular in all but name, never getting an episode entirely to herself in the way that her fellow cast members do. By the final episode of this series its revealed that Sita, having passed her SRN alongside Jo, is set to leave both St Angela's and the UK for a life in India and I can't help feel this was a lost opportunity to properly represent the Asian community on primetime TV in 1976.

The main focus of this second series is - much like that of the first - Pat, Maureen, Shirley and to a slightly lesser extent Jo. 

We are again treated to the enjoyable opposites attract dynamic between upper class Pat and Irish girl Maureen and it's interesting to see how they each react to life on the wards now they've left their extensive classroom based training behind them. Perhaps unexpectedly at the close of the last series it was little homesick Maureen who took to the nursing duties like a duck to water, whilst Pat is shown to struggle and continue to butt heads with authority and their rules and regulations which she viewed as petty. As this series progresses we see Pat and Maureen question why they have remained friends long after what bonded them (starting together) has passed given how different they are, as well as seeing Maureen become noticeably harder and less forgiving forcing Pat to intervene and give her something of a wake up call. This takes up much of the final episode and is a little unexpected and not very believable given that, the episode immediately before it, depicts Pat as being very insensitive towards psychiatric patients, uncomplimentary referring to them as 'nutty' and literally giggling at them. As such its a little hard to swallow seeing her, just one episode later, trying to get Maureen to realise that not everyone can help themselves in life. I guess it's just an example of having a different writer per episode but really, some more thought should have been put into the character development here.

The episode regarding psychiatric care is one that focuses primarily on Shirley Brent, the surly officious and deeply lonely first year staff nurse played by Clare Clifford. Again she is one of the show's most interesting characters (perhaps the most truly interesting in this run, given that Lesley Dunlop has now left) and the series depicts her struggling to find a position that suits her in the hospital. In the first episode we see her turning to drink because she's worried about taking her midwifery qualification, a speciality she has no interest in. When she's told she needn't take it, she takes a role on the geriatric ward and seems especially enthusiastic about this branch of medicine before another change of heart takes her to mental health care where its commented that she's there to learn as much about her own psyche as she is to help the patients.

I didn't like the episodes that focused on the geriatric side. They were filmed in a genuine day ward which gave these episodes a completely different and rather flat look to those around it (which are made up of studio sets and filmed exteriors at St James's, Balham) They were enlivened a little by a guest turn from the legendary Irene Handl and Hi-de-Hi's Leslie Dwyer, as well a reappearance from Colin Higgins as the sensitive young male nurse who had previously appeared in the series one episode Saturday Night but I couldn't muster up much enthusiasm overall. 

Celebration, the penultimate episode in the series, focuses on Shirley's move to psychiatric care and was written by Sapphire and Steel creator PJ Hammond, who had previously wrote a very good Shirley centred episode from series one. It's a strange but absorbing episode that walks a tighrope between bleakly and authentically depicting life on a psych ward at the time and delighting in the perverse manifestations that shape our mental health. It's sort of half Roy Minton's Funny Farm and half One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest but not as successful as either, alas. Nevertheless, it's very watchable and has a couple of good guest spots from Alan Lake and Z Cars star Joseph Brady.

Familiar faces are often in attendance in this series of Angels with the likes of the aforementioned Handl, Dwyer, Lake and Brady rubbing shoulders with Maurice Denham, Geoffrey Palmer, Sally Jane Spencer, Don Henderson, Miriam Margolyes, Sheila Keith (the scary old woman from Pete Walker movies!) David Troughton, John Bardon and, as Maureen's younger sister, a very young Pauline Quirke!

Overall, I found this series to be less enjoyable than the first run but still very entertaining. I know I missed Lesley Dunlop, though I have nothing against Angela Bruce, who is very capable - though saddled with one factory based episode that features some terrible overacting from one guest performer during his accident scene. This episode was directed by Julia Smith (Smith was also responsible for Off Duty, one of the weakest episodes of series one, so I don't think I'm a fan of her directing style) who went on to produce the show in later years, turning it into a twice weekly soap before creating EastEnders and Eldorado - but I do think I also missed the student side of it which we got with Pat and Maureen in the first series. With both of them now on the wards, there was no new characters taking their place to explore those first steps into the profession which, in turn, meant there was very little for Faith Brook's character nurse tutor Heather Windrop. There's more of a concentration on the various aspects of nursing in this series, from community nursing through to intensive care and taking in the aforementioned geriatrics, mental health and occupational health. This approach is fascinating enough and shows how adept and flexible a young nurse has to be, but you only really get to dip your toes in each speciality and its hard to get too involved or care too much as a viewer knowing that the characters will move off to something else by the following episode.

As with the first series, the Simply Media DVD release is a no frills package consisting of n extras. They do title each episode in the thirteen part run on the back cover, but neglect to use these titles in the DVD menu, simply numbering each episode as it appears.

So in conclusion, not as good as the first but still an enjoyable 70s programme to sit and watch before bed of an evening and wallow in a bit of nostalgia. Simply Media have subsequently combined both series one and two together in a boxset but if they get around to releasing any further series of Angels I think I probably would buy them.

*The Radio Times cover and article on the second series of Angels is taken from the Angels fan site*

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