DVD Review: Waterloo Road Series 5 – Spring Term

Created By Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick
Starring Eva Pope, Angela Griffin, William Ash, Philip Martin Brown and Denise Welch



Do you love Grange Hill but are too old for watching CBBC to be socially acceptable? Not to worry, guys and gals – Waterloo Road should be right up your street. Essentially Grange Hill for grown-ups (and starring a bunch of teen GH alumni), the show follows the daily drama-filled lives of the staff, students and sixth-formers at Waterloo Road Comprehensive School. In this, the second half of Series 5, Kim Campbell (Angela Griffin) is pregnant with former headmaster Max Tyler’s child, science teacher Chris Meade (William Ash) is struggling to find a method of dealing with troublesome rebel Finn Sharkey (Jack McMullen), food technology teacher Ruby Fry (Elizabeth Berrington) is dealing with her financial stresses by stealing from the school, while headmistress Rachel Mason is struggling with successfully juggling the responsibilities of being head with those of a teacher and her burgeoning romance with new school chef Adam Fleet (Steven Waddington).

The problem with a long-running school drama is not just the struggle to keep storylines fresh within its own show, but dodging the clichés laid out by decades of previous school-set shows like Grange Hill or Degrassi High, which have exploited every possible hot-button teen issue from suicide to drugs, gun violence to peer pressure. While Waterloo Road might manage the former, sadly it’s not uncommon to find well-worn stereotypes pop out of the woodwork. Stereotypes like Finn Sharkey, a rebellious young wise-ass who struts around causing trouble with a James Dean leather jacket and a name that sounds like it was borrowed from the villain in a Little Mermaid sequel. He’s the token troublemaking bad boy and the focus for much of Series 5, and while he’s undoubtedly popular with teen viewers, it’s a character we’ve seen a bajillion times before in countless teen dramas; actor Jack McMullen even played essentially the exact same character before in Grange Hill.

Of course, the advantage of an ensemble drama is that for every character or storyline that doesn’t click for you, there’s usually one that works infinitely better, and the same is true of Waterloo Road. The balance of focus between students and staff keeps things varied and diverse, and past every overly familiar stereotype and stock bit of plot, there’s a great deal of surprisingly well-developed characters fuelled by talented young actors, or storylines that are carried out with surprising care and impact. Like the handling of Lauren Andrews’ body image issues brought on by a disfiguring birthmark, which could easily devolve into heavy-handed after school special territory, but shockingly manages to be pretty damn effective, gruelling stuff thanks to Darcy Isa’s performance.
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That’s not to say it’s high drama – the show is still only a shade more serious than the average soap, but it’s a great deal more entertaining than most. Those with an affinity for teen melodrama and Brit soaps will find Waterloo Road to be an ideal dose of addictive drama to keep them entertained. It’s far from perfect, but it’s fun, engrossing and packed with more than enough gripping storylines, engaging characters and performances to put it high above the majority of regular BBC programming.



On the DVD:

Sadly, continuing a trend set by previous Waterloo Road DVDs, the episodes present on the DVD set are around 10 minutes shorter than when originally aired on TV. For example, the broadcast version of the third episode on the set is just over 59 minutes including a 40 second ‘Previously on Waterloo Road’ catch-up, while on the DVD it clocks in at 49 minutes, 51 seconds without the recap. The episodes’ original music has been replaced with stock soundtrack cues. While there’s nothing glaringly important missing, it’s certainly a strange choice worth noting. For better or worse, though, they’re the most complete DVD sets of the show likely to be released.
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For fans, the annoyance of missing content should be off-set a little by the special features, which boast the most extras yet for a Waterloo Road DVD set. There are about five minutes worth of line-flubbing outtakes and a selection of seven deleted scenes from the Spring Term episodes (about 5 minutes worth altogether). They’re mostly very minor character moments and nothing especially essential or astonishing, but still a welcome inclusion. Also included are a handful of cast interviews with Eva Pope, Jason Done, John Collins, Jonathan Leather and Sarah Jane Potts, tackling the standard ‘Who’s your character and what are they like?’ fluff, while quizzing them about more interesting subjects, like their own school experiences.

Finally, ‘Waterloo Road Cribs’ offers an 8 minute tour of the show’s set by Thomas Milner, Tachia Newall and Dean Smith, complete with MTV Cribs-style editing and spoof flashy editing. It’s easily the best feature, and the trio have a great time cracking jokes, reminiscing and pointing out locations of famous Waterloo Road moments, while revealing some fun trivia (like Tom Clarkson’s house actually being a smaller set built inside the school gym). It’s unfortunate that the episodes aren’t intact, but undoubtedly fans of the show will plan on snatching it up anyway, and the selection of extras are a great bonus for those that do.

Rating:


Waterloo Road: Series 5 – Spring Term is available to buy on DVD in the UK from today.
Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.co.uk.