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A cracker of a ghost story (if you skip the first two episodes)

Deborah Ross

Platform 7 Thursday, ITVX ★★★☆☆ Whale With Steve Backshall Sunday, Sky Nature ★★★☆☆

Platform 7 is based on the novel by Louise Doughty, and that’s your reason to watch, right there, as she’s the one who was behind our favourite kitchen-island knee-trembler, Apple Tree Yard (2017). Has there been a better kitchen-island kneetrembler since?

But this is not a kitchen-island kneetrembler, as it’s a murder mystery. Or is it a psychological thriller? Or revenge drama? Hard to say. It has ghosts in it, I can say that. And it is uneven. The first two episodes (of four) are the weakest, while episode three is a corker and the finale is most satisfying. Maybe you could watch it in reverse?

This stars the formidable Jasmine Jobson (Top Boy) as Lisa Evans, who is wandering around a railway station in her pyjamas. Lisa is a ghost, yes, who died at the station, under a train, but even though it was ruled as suicide she doesn’t remember what happened to her.

Not mad about ghosts, personally. Ghosts in real life, they’re probably fine, but ghosts on TV are so annoying. (See also: the comedy Ghosts.) There needs to be a book of rules, perhaps called The Physics Of Insubstantiality, because otherwise all I’m thinking is: hang on, Lisa Evans passes through walls, and cars pass through her, but she doesn’t slip through the floor? And she can sit on a chair? Is it to do with mass? Gravity?

I suppose it wouldn’t be much of a drama if she kept slipping through the floor or sat on a chair, slipped through that, then slipped through the floor. We wouldn’t get anywhere, although I’d probably watch, to be fair. Later, Lisa will knock over a wine glass and will type emails and even physically fight someone. Until we get that book of rules it’s as if anything goes. Will you write it or shall I?

Where were we? Oh, yes. Lisa, who was a teacher, has no memory until a desperate old fella (played by the great Phil Davis) throws himself in front of a train from Platform 7. This isn’t cheery festive fare. There is death in spades. The old fella comes with a backstory that is horribly disturbing, and I’m still perplexed by its inclusion as it never becomes necessary. (The station may be a kind of purgatory and he’s yet to repent his sins, but even so, it isn’t necessary.)

However, his death does appear to somehow jog Lisa into being able to recall episodes of her life while the force field that has prevented her from leaving the station is somehow lifted. (Go figure.) She starts investigating her own death, as does a local police officer (Yaamin Chowdhury), who is convinced that Lisa didn’t throw herself on the tracks. His bosses say suicide, he says different. You know the drill.

The first couple of episodes, which could have easily been combined into one, have a watchful Lisa observing the people she used to know (her parents, her best friend) as she tries to figure out what on earth went on. It’s all rather plodding initially, but a twist does come, and now I have to be careful what I say because one previewer was not careful so I knew this twist was on its way. Would I have seen it coming anyhow? I don’t know!

All I will say is that Lisa had a ‘perfect’ livein boyfriend, Matty, a handsome A&E doctor. I could now tell you a few things about Matty, the ‘perfect’ doctor. In fact I’m bursting to tell you a few things about Matty (Toby Regbo), the ‘perfect’ doctor. But I respect you too much. What I can tell you is that, in the third episode, when all conceits are ejected, and this is just about Lisa and Matty’s relationship as told in flashback, it is truly gripping, and modern, and tense, and beautifully acted, particularly by Jobson. As for the finale, it’s immensely satisfying if you are a vengeful sort of person, as I am. Lisa is still dead, though. And a ghost. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Did you wonder, as I did, if Whale With Steve Backshall might have been more accurately called Steve Backshall With Whale? A bit harsh, probably, but Backshall’s USP here was that he would free-dive – he can hold his breath for six minutes, apparently – with the whales rather than wear scuba gear, since the bubbles, he told us, can worry them. But if Backshall is free-diving, who is filming Backshall free-diving? Not another free-diver presumably, so what about those bubbles?

Either way, there was considerable footage of Backshall because he was free-diving, and you know what? On a show about whales I just want to see whales. The free-diving felt as necessary as ghosts in dramas sometimes do. However, that said, Backshall was wearing the longest flippers you ever did see, which were strangely hypnotising.

There were plenty of whales, to be fair, and we did see some extraordinary behaviours. Female humpbacks can’t sing, so communicate by slapping their pectoral fins on the surface of the water and, my God, those fins. They’re the largest of any limb on the planet, and even larger than Backshall’s flippers. But was Backshall actually there in this instance? Or had footage been bought in? I can now see that he’s either there too much or not there at all. Poor fella. Can’t win.

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