Doctor Foster was a treat of a show, perfectly scheduled - and hopefully a harbinger of things to come, writes Duncan Greive.

January is normally a dead zone for television - a time when we're fed a steady diet of second-tier shows and repeats, based on the assumption we're all off working on our tans.

But lengthy summer breaks exist mainly in our memory, so TV One has smartly tossed that idea for the second year running by debuting a dynamite piece of television when you'd least expect it.

Last year the superb second season of Broadchurch emerged in mid-January; this year it's Doctor Foster. The shows share some characteristics - a small, pretty English town, where everyone seems to know one another, an element which drives a sense of claustrophobia as much as community; each is beautifully shot and directed, creating a visual idyll; and each counters that with a central trauma which provides the narrative arc.

The similarities run only so far, though. Because behind the Tudor houses and garden parties Doctor Foster is completely berserk.


The show centres on the relationship between the titular doctor, Gemma Foster, a GP, and her husband Simon, an aspirant property developer on the verge of his first big break. They have a winsome teenage son, a large and pretty home and a close circle of good-hearted friends.

Gemma begins to suspect her husband of having an affair. She finds a strawberry chapstick in his pocket, then a mysterious blonde hair on his scarf. There could be innocent explanations, yet her instincts drive her to pursue the clues.

This section of the show is brilliantly handled, her hyper-vigilance and unerring focus conveyed with sound warping and vision blurring; there is room for nothing else in her mind.

It is domestic drama as psychological thriller and it is riveting.


In time she expands her investigation, coercing others into joining, starting to fray at the edges and transgress professional boundaries.

It is domestic drama as psychological thriller and it is riveting.

To this point the show presents as another fine piece of English drama - excellent, but part of an established tradition. But by the second episode it begins to reveal itself as something else, something strange, something new: a hybrid of Broadchurch and, of all things, Death Wish, the terrifying 70s revenge film starring Charles Bronson.

Sounds unlikely I know, but the show really is its own special brew.

Doctor Foster starts Sunday at 8.30pm!

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.... The unmissable Doctor Foster begins tonight at 8.30pm.... #doctorfostertv1

Posted by TV One on Saturday, January 16, 2016

Gemma starts to become something like an angel of truth; utilising any piece of knowledge at her disposal to effect change in people's lives, even if it involves setting alight every tenet of medical ethics along the way. She forcibly evicts the abusive boyfriend of a patient by threatening to alter his medical records, stops an aged doctor's grief-stricken suicide attempt and forces a lawyer to reveal a secret to his pregnant wife. It sounds a little preposterous, and it is. But enjoyably so, thanks to both the high-gloss production and the behavioural fuel provided by her husband's affair. What it conveys so successfully is the way a shock of this magnitude - her husband really is a grade-A ass - rises to consume everything in your life, altering thoughts and responses and creating an entirely new personality inhabiting the same body.

It is a perfect show to be binged, which is why TVNZ's decision to play it on consecutive nights, starting last Sunday, was so brave and commendable. It's the bold thinking this era demands from big media companies, and one I hope it persists with.

This week my wife and I found ourselves counting down the minutes until 8.30pm, drawn back by the pop and the culture: the soapy qualities conveyed by high-brow drama stylings.

Doctor Foster was a treat of a show, perfectly scheduled - and hopefully a harbinger of things to come.

* Watch full episodes of Doctor Foster here.