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Years and Years - Episode 1 - Review

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From the mind of Russell T. Davies, the showrunner responsible for the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005 - comes one of the best and most confident new series of the year so far, with a nightmarish look at the far future in 2024, several years from now. We open with a quick news montage that Davies was so fond of in his Who days, keeping us up to date with all the current happenings in the world in 2019. There is an introduction for politician Vivienne Rook, whose televised scandal creates shockwaves around the UK, and there is even a cameo for BBC talkshow Have I Got News For You, which reinforces just how despicable Rook is when hosts Ian Hislop and Paul Merton look aghast at her comments. Rook is played by Emma Thompson, who echoes the hate-mongering of Nigel Farage frighteningly well, in a desperate bid to profit off the xenophobia. Even the scenes set in 2019 feel all too real thanks to very recent radio news reports, and as a result, Years and Years somehow feels even scarier than shows like Black Mirror. Pretty much everything presented here could happen.

The 2019 introduction doesn't just spend time with Rook, as we meet the ordinary Lyons family who end up coming together as one of their members, Rosie - gives birth to a son. It's a difficult moment for anyone to be brought into the world and the group gather around Rosie's bedside, along with grandmother Muriel, wondering what life will be like for Lincoln in the future. It's something that is on everybody's minds right now with the likes of Brexit and Trump's policy of hatred all being on everyone's minds and in the news on a near constant level, and with topics like this being parodied in TV by shows like Veep which recently ended its seventh series run, it's interesting to see this tackled dramatically for a change. Nothing here feels forced, and few things feel far fetched. Everything feels believable.

Davies has been known for his brilliant world building especially in Doctor Who and his confident creation of family dynamics. The Lyons family is fascinating - brothers Stephen and Daniel are clearly defined, and every member has their flaws and strengths touched upon quickly. It isn't long before we flash forward to 2024 where we spend much of the episode, not far enough in the future to be in Blade Runner or The Expanse territory but just far enough so there is enough significant change, and it's tackled very well by director Simon Cellan Jones. A quick look at the cast beyond the incredible Emma Thompson shows just how good they are, with Russell Tovey being as brilliant as ever as Daniel Lyons, who ends up married to Ralph but has a dilemma of his own, falling for a Ukranian refugee, Viktor, creating a possible love triangle that comes to a tipping point in the final act. Despite the major political events that are happening in 2024 - the end of Trump's second-term presidency being one of them, the focus never leaves the Lyons family, who find themselves gathering once again for Muriel's 90th birthday.

All is going comparatively well until Edith, the long-absent sister of Daniel and Stephen, calls the family with news that will change their world forever. Edith being absent for much of the episode to turn up at the end was a clever move and a big game changer, especially as any Doctor Who fan will know by now Davies is really good with creating emotional stakes in his cliffhangers and this was one of the most tense and tightly written ending that I've seen in a while. I won't spoil anything here as I'm aware Years and Years hasn't debuted in America yet (it's currently airing on BBC One in the UK), but there will be spoilers in reviews of future episodes. Just think of this episode as the calm before the storm, and then that should give you a good idea about what to expect.

Ideas range from big to small, with a price hike of coffee in London to £12 per cup to the idea of the trans-human concepts of technology combining with humans (that turns out, is actually a real thing and not sci-fi) all being tackled in in Years and Years and out of everything here it's one of the few things that doesn't quite work at this early stage. It seems a bit too early for 2024 to have this concept in wide use, but with science advancing as quickly as it has been, anything's possible. I'm not sure myself what the world will look like in 2024, but I hope it's not as bleak a future as this one, which is just one possible vision of the future presented by Davies who reportedly has big plans for the transhumans in future episodes, and it wouldn't be a RTD show without an excuse for a potential bit of technobabble. It's certainly one of the more ambitious ideas at the heart of this episode, and it gives plenty of material for Lydia West to handle. But like with everything on the episode, what's at the core of the matter isn't the effects that the concept has on world affairs, it's something that effects the family, personal and small in scale, allowing for a grounded approach with more impact than it would have done if presented in a different manner.

In a world that has seen both the cultural phenomenons of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones air at the same time it is somewhat refreshing to see a concept as high as this brought back down to Earth on a comparatively smaller scale, opening with a familiar setting of a family around the television set. But by the episode, you'll be asking yourself, much like the characters, "What happens now?" and it's very much one that best sums up the hour. But what has already happened makes a strong contender for one of the best first episodes of 2019, a near-perfect debut. England having a new King and Ukranian refugees fleeing the country are all concepts that could lead to a chaotic mess of an episode, but Davies is an experienced enough writer who can meld them all together with precision and care. Who fans will recognise long term Davies collaborator Murray Gold on the score, which will no doubt lead to bombastic music cues in the future. And something that's good to see about the show is that even in its bleaker moments, it does manage to incorporate humour very effectively, conducting a fine balancing act.

What did you think of the first episode? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to stay tuned for next week's follow up.

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