WHEN the BBC announced that Doctor Foster (BBC1, Tuesday) was coming back for a second series I groaned. There was no need; the first had been neatly concluded and I hate the idea of dragging a story beyond its natural end-point.

But I groaned mainly because the first series was a bit silly at times. Telling of a woman’s revenge on her cheating husband, it often shot to mad extremes and threw up outlandish plot twists. Be honest: it was rather daft.

And so, months ago, when I learned of its return, I grumbled – but by the time I watched it, my attitude had changed completely. I positively welcomed the return of Doctor Foster and I think I know why. Some people can’t drink espresso on an empty stomach. They need a nice bit of sensible toast in the morning before they can handle the strong stuff.

Loading article content

I’m one of those weaklings – I need my Warburton’s, and it seems I’ve developed the same approach to the BBC’s midweek dramas.

If Doctor Foster, with its storylines of lust, adultery and revenge, and its frequent use of risqué dialogue (“c*ck” and “f*ck” on a Tuesday night? Mercy!), is a strong black coffee, then I’m glad I’ve had dramas like Trust Me and Top Of The Lake to act as my sensible brown bread.

Now, this must be the first time that anyone has ever described those daft dramas as “sensible”, and if you’ve read my previous reviews here, you’ll know I was driven demented by their silly plot lines and comedy characters, but I can see now that they were merely lining my stomach for the wicked espresso that is Doctor Foster.

Our main character, Gemma, is prowling the screen, actively looking for trouble and mischief, and when she finds it, she will revel in it. Doctor Foster is here to be enjoyed, like a 1970s slasher flick or a really suggestive panto: just shriek and gasp and go with it!

In the last series, Gemma wrought a terrible revenge on her cheating husband: bankrupting him, divorcing him, and banishing him from the town. Now he’s back, having married his young mistress and had a baby. He has also, mysteriously, regained his wealth and bought a luxurious house (which has lots of vast, gaping windows so that vengeful ex-wives can peer in). He has strolled back into town as though Gemma had never inflicted any pain on him. He is smarmy and sure of himself, and is keen to win back his friends, his social position and, worst of all, their son.

We can expect a replay, then, of the first series, where Gemma will be driven into jealous rages and vicious retaliation.

She’s initially shocked at his casual return. She’d imagined him pitiful, chastened and ruined, not full of energy, togged up in sharp suits, and swimming in cash, but when she gets over her horror, the hatred starts to set in. Just who does he think he is, to come swanning back here? Soon they’re both circling each another, sizing the other up, and dishing out snarly flirtations and poisonous comments.

When the first episode ended with Gemma dissolving her wedding ring in acid and then loading the deadly liquid into some disposable syringes, I didn’t jeer. (Not after all the dramatic brown bread I’ve eaten.) She was in her garden acting out some kind of dark idea of the scorned woman as a witch, casting her spells and brewing her potions. Yes, this is fine … I’ve recently lived through far more implausible, and inferior, dramas, so I’m cool with this strange and giddy finale with its lurid hint of witchcraft.

Doctor Foster may be wild and melodramatic, but it’s gripping and dark and sleek, unlike others we’ve seen who reach for similar levels of hysteria and end up in a tangled heap. Doctor Foster isn’t afraid to mix acidic potions in the back garden because it is gutsy enough to get away with it.

IF the writers of the new sitcom Back (C4, Wednesday) didn’t want it to be compared with Peep Show, they shouldn’t have called it Back, nor should they have had David Mitchell and Robert Webb play characters very similar to their old alter egos. Unless, of course, the idea is to see Back as a kind of alternative Peep Show, where Mark and Jeremy meet in a different universe.

But that idea would only work if Back was of equal brilliance to Peep Show, which it isn’t, so it makes no sense to deliberately invite the viewer to draw comparisons.

David Mitchell plays Stephen – or you could say he plays his old Peep Show character, Mark. He’s trying to arrange his father’s funeral, sorting out the sausage rolls while making feeble plans to take over the family pub. Into the funeral preparations comes brash Andrew (Webb) who likewise plays his old character, Jeremy – if Jeremy had a sharp suit and a bit of dosh.

There were some funny moments, such as Stephen imagining himself as a tubby schoolboy whenever he’s engaged in an adult conversation, but unless Back picks up very quickly it’ll never get out of Peep Show’s shadow.