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Doctor Foster – Season One: The Review

Channel: BBC One

Recurring Cast: Suranne Jones, Bertie Carvel, Tom Taylor, Adam James, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Victoria Hamilton, Thusitha Jayasundera, Jodie Comer

A woman finds a long, blonde hair on her husband’s coat. That simple shot fuels the five episode run of Doctor Foster, one of the hidden gems of the BBC’s current programmes. Perhaps it is the fact Doctor Foster prides itself on feeding into that paranoia that all married couples must have. Is your perfect spouse, no matter how loving, no matter how kind, sleeping with another person? If anything, the show-runners of this programme will have a lot to answer for, as wives all over the country begin meaningless rummaging through their husband’s private lives. But it is that very real fear that makes Doctor Foster far more riveting than the more big budget BBC affairs, like Taboo or Poldark. Each episode sits on the back of your mind and unfolds in ways that might seem small to viewers expecting a more showy thrill, but are wonderfully explosive character beats.

The beautiful thing about Doctor Foster is that it always feels so much more than a show about Suranne Jones wondering if her married life is falling apart. While the story always finds the most gripping way of unfolding (Episode One ends with not one twist, but several surprises being revealed in one single thirty second burst), it escapes the idea of being little more than a mystery writer having a field day. In fact, at times Doctor Foster is an intelligent debate at the world of cheaters. In fiction, especially dramas of these nature, cheaters are always bad people: love rats who takes a perfect relationship and tarnish it for the sake of a quick leg-over. While this show never tries to paint its villains in a good light, it does give you just enough insight into their motives that they are never cardboard cut-out people, waiting for a swift female vengeance. Suranne Jones contemplates her own affair, while digging into her husband’s potential cheating ways. Her husband’s accountant is so acclimatised to cheating on a regular basis that he is able to shrug off the guilt in the blink of an eye. It is just a sad fact of life, not a crime against his marriage. One woman even allows her husband to cheat on her, supposedly behind her back, in order to keep their married lifestyle secure. It creates this wonderful sense of three dimensions to the cheating characters that would usually be absent from proceedings. Doctor Foster is the kind of series that becomes interesting pub ammo in between episodes. As Gemma Foster gets deeper into the murky waters of her husband’s life outside of her own, new debates are thrown open that are sure to be worthy of discussion between fans of the series. There is one point of the show where the series begins questioning what kind of betrayal is worst when it comes to cheating. The show stops being about whether cheating is bad or not, but what kind of cheating is worth breaking apart a marriage for? Without meaning to criticise the show, the coffee chats with friends about the series is almost better than the series itself. What is worse: the affair, or lying about the affair afterwards? Is it better or worse if he is cheating with someone he has genuine feelings for? Is a three month affair more forgiveable than a two year one? It is fascinating trying to figure out where you stand on the moral spectrum. Does your decision on divorce depend on the length of the relationship? Whether there is a child trapped in the middle who will clearly suffer from the split? How far can you be bent before you can break? But as the crime of cheating gets watered down slowly over the course of the season, Gemma Foster remains stubborn. If her husband is cheating, he must be punished. It is a strange thing to watch, as your empathy with Dr Foster slowly drifts away, when, in all honesty, surely she has the right to run a mile for having her lover betray her in such a horrible way?

It leaves this as a show that can be enjoyed from two angles. For one, it is a simple guilty pleasure of watching a woman try to figure out if her husband is cheating on her and then the reign of terror she unleashes as her revenge. There is nothing scarier than a woman scorned after all. As she investigates her husband’s supposed crimes, her acts of bitterness range from the petty: keying his car, tossing his car keys onto the roof of the hospital, to shocking acts of hate. But then there is the other side to the show, where we witness a character study of a woman’s life, crumbling under the weight of this imagined treachery. Gemma Foster is a successful female doctor, in some ways, the perfect career woman feminist icon. However, right from that first moment, where her subconscious begins to wonder if her husband’s faithfulness is straying, her career begins to fall to pieces. I would love to read a feminist reading of this show. In many ways, the gender roles have been reversed with the successful character’s life being unravelled by her lover. Nearer the end, the show even suggests that Gemma Foster’s character is a bit of a bitch. There is one shocking monologue in the show where Gemma Foster takes a man whose partner died in a hospital that her life is worse than his. It is the kind of gut-wrenching delivery that both opens the character up incredibly and proves that Suranne Jones is the perfect casting for the part. From that moment on, we begin debating whether the character deserves to be cheated on; does she have this coming? The final episode will go down in television history as she tears into her husband’s life “Yes, I’m a bitch! But tonight, I’m a wolf!” Some moments are juicy moments of bitter-sweet victory, like a dinner party that will take some time to recover from. However, as Gemma Foster ruthlessly chases down her prey, you wonder if she takes her wraith too far. The ending is a shocking stomach-churner, the kind of conclusion that will set fire to those pub debates. Is Gemma Foster the good guy or the bad guy of the piece? Did the right person win?

Final Verdict: Season One of Doctor Foster is surprisingly emotional drama that will have you questioning your own moral spectrum.

Four Stars