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Takin’ Over the Asylum – again – the DVD

I shall come back to the Harrogate experience in a later post.  But these last couple of weeks have seen me retreating from the sitting position (and hence the PC for posting here) due to a fall on my backside at Harrogate.  It hurt.  It still does.  Less so now, but not enough to say “Whoopee!” yet.

I read for a while – not crime – and then I hit the sofa and some long-held DVDs worthy of a look.  I preferred the visual for a few days and I started with my recent purchase of the recent but late release on DVD (never video – why for this great series?) of the whole series of “Takin’ Over The Asylum” originally aired in 1994, by the BBC.

TOTA The acting was brilliant: by all concerned.  Had I viewed the whole back in ’94 when this series was controversial and cutting-edge, I think I’d have enjoyed it even more.  Today, time has passed and you need to remember the era and its constraints built on existing prejudice and ignorance.  We are talking pre-Prozac and very much pre-Amy Winehouse here. It’s a series that pays due respect to TV drama but it is not devoid of the odd cliché or more.  The story may have a little left to be desired in today’s world – soppy and corny at the ultimate moments, and so 80s in its own unique way – but the series stands as a great one, because of the wonderful acting from all in the cast and because of what they made of the story at the time, which was cutting-edge then.  And let’s not forget the script.  For its time, these actors had the best fillet steak to take to screen.

I’d love to serve up the credits for Stott and Tennant in the main, but that is an injustice to others.  All who appeared, even with no speaking parts, were fantastic and you just have to watch it.  Do make the most of the availability of this DVD.  You will not be disappointed; you might be pleasantly (and joyfully) surprised.  I’ve waited a decade and a half to see this.  It was worth it.  “Takin’ Over The Asylum” is a classic.

Stott But I will come back to Stott and Tennant, as they had lead roles.  For both, this series proved a springboard in terms of launching acting careers and deservedly so.  Both are impeccably real in their characters.  Katie Murphy was also excellent as Francine, the self-harmer.  Ditto Ruth McCabe as Rosalie the obsessive-compulsive.  Elizabeth Spriggs as the immigrant “Grandma” to Stott’s Eddie was a class act, as was Liz Smith as Harriet, the old woman with a dog who was initially a pest to Eddie, but then became his guardian angel.  Angela Bruce, who later played alongside Stott in Messiah as the somewhat dour forensic pathologist to his (mainly dour) police detective Red Matcalfe, was brilliant as the nurse who obeyed the rules and followed procedures, but not without evidence of humanity and empathy for those caught within the system.

This is an excellent series and if you choose to watch the best of British acting talent, you can see it here.  I’ve no doubt that I will watch this series again.  I waited so long to catch the whole of it and it delivered more than I expected.  Clichés can be brushed aside.  This is – as I thought all those years ago when I caught a bit of an episode – the Brits at their best.

I suspect that the BBC finally put this out on the wave of Tennant euphoria due to Dr Who, especially due to inclusion of his original audition on the DVD. That aside, they made a good decision.  And about time.  This is series not to be missed; even 14 years later.  Don’t miss it – that’s all I can say.


4 comments on “Takin’ Over the Asylum – again – the DVD

  1. david
    August 9, 2008

    I am really looking forward to this, and hope it has not dated too much. It is about to go out later this month on BBC4 as well.
    Saw and loved it first time round, and I have seen most of the cast on various stages in Scotland through the years, including David Tennant in his early days at Dundee Rep – clearly a star in the making even back then.
    It is good to see ‘TV actors’ getting back to treading the boards from time to time.

  2. crimeficreader
    August 9, 2008

    David: Thanks for noting that this series is about to go out on BBC4 later this month. Wonderful that it’s being repeated on the TV.
    You may have missed something I said in an earlier post on this, but I only saw part of one epi when it was aired, then walked the streets of London trying to find a video later…
    This was the first time I saw the series and I don’t think you’ll find it dated too much. If anything, it’s of a quality that it could have been made now, set at that time.
    Tennant certainly shows his potential in this; the maturity he took to portraying a manic-depressive is quite staggering. I have not seen him on stage, but I did see Stott in the original cast of Yasmina Reza’s Art at the Wyndam’s in London, where he was superb. Unfortunately, I missed him in another of her plays earlier this year. I ought to pay more attention!
    Scotland has produced some fine actors.

  3. Anne
    August 13, 2008

    Thanks for the heads-up on BBC4 showing it again. I started on prozac in 94 – so not exactly pre-prozac. I remember other mental health service users who had tellies (I didn’t) raving about this series and I look forward to seeing it for the first time.

  4. Sarah
    February 9, 2009

    Watching this, I was pretty staggered that it has taken a relatively long time for Tennant to become a household name, but it is also a great performance surrounded by other great performances.
    I agree, not one single bad performance to spoil the series, and some incredibly moving ones.
    Having waited a long time to see it (though not as long as you, I confess!) it was well worth the wait!

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This entry was posted on August 3, 2008 by in Film.