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Cult Spy: 2008 Review

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2008 was a year packed full of cult shows, with the quality of them definitely variable. Here's our summary of how the new and returning programmes fared over the last twelve months.

Primeval

Primeval veered from the dire to the daring during its second season, often hamstrung by the bland nature of the lead male characters Nick Cutter and Stephen. The females were far more exciting, with Abby often at her butt-kicking best and the duplicitous Caroline a pleasure to behold as she cunningly manipulated Connor's affections.

The year's Big Bad Oliver Leek wasn't very convincing and came across as a stereotypical villain. The monsters on show generally looked impressive, although they suffered from being placed in similar scenarios as they appeared to have a particular fondness for attacking those indulging in leisurely pursuits. Raptors kicked off the series by invading a bowling alley, followed by a sabre-toothed cat pursuing paintballers, underwater creatures from the future attacking a basketball player and sand-dwelling Silurian scorpions attacking both a girl walking her dog and beach dwellers. Some more imagination is needed for the third season, along with a return to the gratuitous shots of Abby in her underwear - sorely missed this year.

Click here for our full review of the second season of Primeval

Torchwood

"Bloody Torchwood?" Bloody amazing Torchwood more like! Blatantly using classic Buffy as it's model (not a bad thing at all), the series vastly improved on its patchy first year with a remarkable sequence of outstanding episodes that foregrounded all of the central characters and veered from the hilarious attempts of Gwen to get married to the heartaching bereavement suffered by Owen in the past. The occasional presence of James Marsters as Captain John also helped to give the season a pleasing structure and plenty of swagger, although the less said about the casting of Jack's brother Gray the better.

The tragic demises of Owen and Tosh in the finale bore incredible impact and emotional intensity. It takes some quality writing, acting and directing to make us care and believe in these characters, given that they exist in a world full of Weevils, Sleeper Agents, Grim Reapers and where Jim Robinson from Neighbours has been reincarnated as a pharmaceutical boss. Let's pray that the impending move to BBC One won't lead to any elements being toned down.

Click here for our full review of the second season of Torchwood

Battlestar Galactica

Thanks to the fracking writers' strike, the brilliant show's final season was cut into two parts, meaning that we still don't know the identity of the Final Cylon. The ten episodes that were screened contained plenty of gritty, well-executed bloodshed such as the shocking murder of Cally in the airlock, plus one of the great cliffhangers of all time when Earth was finally found in a less than habitable state.

Sadly, Starbuck was marginalised for a lot of the episodes, although the increasing Admiral Adama-Laura Roslin romance helped to compensate for her absences by providing an interesting emotional spark. Best of all was the gripping performance of Michael Hogan as the Cylon Tigh, whose fractured psyche and haunted memory cracks under the strain of his newly discovered Toaster persona. Overall, the series continued to transcend the sci-fi genre and bring out real emotions, social issues and breathtaking conflict.

Click here for our full review of the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica

Doctor Who

The returns of a redhead temp called Donna, Dalek creator Davros, the spudfaced Sontarans and a lisping Rose resulted in an excellent fourth season of the time-travelling drama. At the core was Catherine Tate's excellent performance as Donna Noble, epitomising the intricate fusion of fun, adventure, sadness and a desire to belong.

Russell T. Davies also deserves great praise for assembling such a diverse range of stories. Look how we found ourselves immersed in a cosy 1920s murder mystery packed full of laughs and lead piping, followed up the next week by an eerie and visually expansive trip to an outer space library in the distant future. A fantastic finale brought together the themes and companions of the RTD era, although the subsequent Christmas Special (featuring some woefully mishandled and non-scary Cybermen) again made one wonder why these festive episodes don't work as well as the normal ones.

Click here for our full review of the fourth season of Doctor Who

Lost

In the latter half of its fourth year, Lost hit its stride in spectacular fashion, recalling the outrageously addictive nature of its debut season. The show benefited from the masterful use of flashforwards, giving us tantalising glimpses into the future and sending our imaginations into a frenzy as we scrambled to figure out the missing pieces in the grand puzzle. Just who are the Oceanic Six, why has Hurley gone mad, and what led the polar bear to the desert?

Fortunately, Lost avoided a serious case of X-Filesitis by actually answering all these questions and avoiding terminal frustration for the audience. The emergence of Charles Widmore's Kahana freighter ensured that Lost provided as many thrills in the present as it did when peeking at the past or future. It allowed a new bunch of people to hit the island and cause conflict by posing as benevolent rescuers, while the ensuing onslaught of the mercenaries featured the shocking execution of Ben Linus's daughter in front of his own eyes. Also, the fourth season cleverly manipulated our opinion of several key characters, most notably Linus. We'd come to accept him as the Big Bad of the show, but could he actually be a force of good acting against the real baddie Widmore?

Click here for our full review of the fourth season of Lost

Heroes

The shortened second season suffered at the hands of the striking writers, although this anguish seemed to be passed onto the viewers who had to endure a procession of tedious and ponderous episodes. The trip of Hiro into Feudal Japan was a particular low point. A cracking quartet of episodes at the end of the season wasn't quite enough to make us forget just how dull everything was beforehand. Only The Haitian could do that.

Heroes creator Tim Kring subsequently apologised and redressed the balance by turning the third season into an action-packed romp that barely paused for breath. It was great fun until the eclipse came along, as the painfully bad two-parter appeared to drain power away from the show as well as the characters. How many times can characters be supposedly killed off only to return? Plenty of changes have been made to the writing staff in recent times, so let's hope the show can untangle some of the plotting mess its got itself into in recent episodes.

Click here for our full review of the second season of Heroes

Ashes To Ashes

Following the sublime Life On Mars was always going to be pretty darn tricky, but Ashes To Ashes made a bold attempt to live up to its hallowed heritage - with mixed results. The series was packed full of memorable moments of comedy. Who can forget homophobic Ray Carling's undercover mission as a predatory gay or Chris Skelton's mascara-laden turn as a New Romantic clubber to woo Shaz?

Gene Hunt came out with plenty of his trademark one-liners and thank God he did too, for it often helped to lighten the mood after one of Alex Drake's unbearably conceited, all-knowing outbursts that did little to win the audience over. Keeley Hawes fared well in the role, particularly when overwhelmed with sadness at the discovery of her family's past. However, the characterisation of Alex Drake frequently left a lot to be desired. At times she became so unappealing that it was hard to muster any feelings towards her plight to save her parents and return to her daughter, which was the essential dramatic crux at the core of the show. Still, as long as Gene is nearby doing some hymen-twanging then the show is never less than watchable.

Click here for our full review of the first season of Ashes To Ashes

The Sarah Jane Adventures

The second outing of Sarah Jane failed to match the invention and excitement of its debut year, relying too much on returning faces and failing to adequately replace the departure of Maria and her family. The stories largely seemed to focus on some human becoming possessed by an alien force and doing evil things while under control, which quickly became tiresome.

Elisabeth Sladen did her best to hold things together, with Sarah Jane's bond with adopted son Luke an endearing theme throughout the episodes. The guest stars, such as Bradley Walsh and Russ Abbot, fared well in their roles, although the same cannot be said for Anjli Mohindra's wooden turn as Rani. There were many crowdpleasing moments as the show heralded the welcome return of The Brigadier, The Trickster and one lone Sontaran, although this did also highlight the lack of new characters and monsters in the second year.

Click here for our full review of the second season of Sarah Jane

Merlin

Despite some early problems and too many formulaic plots, Merlin grew in strength and confidence throughout the course of the first season. Ratings were admirably consistent, despite being scandalously shifted around in the schedules on a weekly basis, as the series provided fantastic family viewing once it found its feet.

A lot of credit should go to the cast, especially Colin Morgan and Bradley James as Merlin and Arthur, whose burgeoning friendship put smiles on many faces - and gave rise to a few homoerotic theories as well! The youngsters were nicely balanced with the veteran acting talent, with Richard Wilson and Anthony Head always dependable and giving much depth to their roles. Some tweaks do need to be made to ensure the second season is more consistent - ditch the Dragon unless he serves more purpose, give Morgana more screen time, resurrect Nimueh, and scrap the dodgy CGI monsters unless they look better. Above all, keep us guessing about Arthur and Merlin!

Click here for our full review of the first season of Merlin

Survivors

The BBC's reimagining of Terry Nation's 1970s drama about a world ravaged by a killer virus was a patchy affair that failed to capitalise on a brilliant season premiere. The middle episodes saw the show lose a lot of grit and turn into more of a soap opera that centred too much on Julie Graham's character Abby. While there was a distinct lack of streets packed full of rotting corpses, the wonderfully ambiguous performance of Max Beesley as convict Tom Price helped to compensate for this.

There were also some scarily plausible scenarios, such as mobs taking over supermarkets and a father being dangerously overprotective of his children. The interaction between the central characters provided plenty of intrigue, particularly with Tom's treatment of the females around him. Survivors managed to earn a second season after some solid viewing figures, although the final reveal of Abby's son Peter doesn't bode too well for the future.

Click here for our full review of the first season of Survivors

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