blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Takin’ Over the Asylum (1994) s01e04 – Fool on the Hill

With the radio station seemingly on steady ground for the first time the whole show, “Takin’ Over the Asylum” gets going on some more subplots. This episode gives Angus Macfadyen a spotlight, the station’s de facto engineer who’s about to get released and needs help from someone on the outside to get a job. Luckily, Ken Stott’s willing to give him a good reference, though things at the window company are getting iffy for Stott after boss Roy Hanlon finds out about him volunteering at a mental hospital to run their radio station.

Volunteering isn’t something a salesman should do, Hanlon says. Because salesmen are quite obviously terrible human beings.

But Stott’s also got a lot of other things going on. He takes Katy Murphy on something like a proper date, grandmother Elizabeth Spriggs announces she’s returning to Lithuania to live out her last days and Stott needs to pay for it, and then the small matter of David Tennant getting he and Stott an audition at Radio Scotland.

There’s this great clash of dreams with Stott and Tennant, with Stott getting so close to such an old dream while Tennant’s getting so close so fast. Their success—or nearness to success—comes as Macfadyen clashes with new doctor Kika Markham over his future potential and with hospital administrator Sandra Voe, who refuses to let Macfadyen do technical work in the radio station. And then there’s Ruth McCabe, who’s having to hide from nurse Angela Bruce and the social worker because she’s about to get kicked of the hospital and into a “bed and breakfast” group home because her husband doesn’t want to take her back.

Macfadyen’s got an exceptional arc this episode, with a lot to do at various times, and some excellent support from Murphy. Donna Franceschild’s script once again finds this wonderful way of connecting the characters and subplots, which leads to these profound moments of character development. Really good performance from Macfadyen here; he’s been the most supporting of the radio station “staff” (though maybe it just took until episode four for his spotlight) and he does a fine job scaling up to lead here.

Despite not mentioning him much just because of the nature of the episode structure, Tennant does a great job on his arc too. “Asylum” has its protagonist, Stott, but when Tennant’s on screen you forget he’s not the star. And then Franceschild and director David Blair figure how to spotlight an additional “temporary” lead with Macfadyen. It’s really well-done. This episode’s probably the series’s most impressive so far, if not just the best overall.

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