It’s the unspoken dilemma that has dogged the major broadcasters since the beginning of daytime TV: should they pump money into afternoon drama knowing that only the retired, the unemployed and students will watch it? Sporadically, it’s decided that yes-they-jolly-well-should. This is one of those rare high spots where afternoon viewers can look forward to more than just staring into the gaping black hole between Tim Wonnacott’s front teeth.
Last week, 32 Brinkburn Street, the story of two generations of one family living in the same house in 1931 and 2011, provided a pleasant daylight distraction. And this week, Justice airs. Like Brinkburn, it’s in five parts stripped across the week (BBC1, 2.15pm) and, as the mild hype suggests, it punches above its slot. We meet Judge Paddy Coburn (Robert Pugh) as he returns to his neglected hometown of Doverfield, near Liverpool, having spent 40 years elsewhere getting posh and liberal.
He’s come home to open a public justice centre (a Crown Court without the pomp and dusty wigs). Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. The community are having none of it, or him, and a pesky local journalist is sniffing out his unsavoury past. Only probation officer Joe Gateacre (Gary Mavers), with his double-hard reputation, can begin to persuade folk to trust their friendly neighbourhood judge.
So will Justice brighten up daytime? Yep. It’s nicely written and well acted. Pugh is plausible as the maverick judge and I enjoyed watching him whoosh about on a BMX. But it’s only on for a week. When it’s over, it’ll be down to Doctors to provide all our dramatic afternoon kicks. And while the daily medical serial isn’t unwatchably dreadful, Doctors simply isn’t worthy of flagship daytime drama status.
It’s good news, then, that both of BBC1’s recent afternoon period pieces have been recommissioned. Indian Doctor, starring Sanjeev Bhaskar as a medic who relocates to Wales in the 1960s, will get a second series, while World War II series Land Girls will get its third. Though transmission isn’t likely before early next year, it does speak well of daytime controller Liam Keelan, who seems genuinely devoted to rolling out as much decent daytime fiction as his budget will allow. But this stripping across the week business is a drag. If your programming is good enough then give us a tension-building breather between episodes. Viewers will remember to tune in this time next week, even if they are permanently hung-over undergraduates.