Well, after six weeks of eating, sleeping and breathing Noah's Ark, I figure I'm entitled to express an opinion...
I had better start by saying that this was a series I enjoyed. I had the most tremendous fun doing the site (even if I do now feel like I haven't slept for six weeks <grin>). But having said that, I am beginning with some negative points, largely because that's the way the series went - all its weakest moments were in the first half, and all its strongest moments were in the second half. It wasn't nearly as bad at the start as the critics made out, but it was flawed. To be honest, if Peter Wingfield had not been in it, I might not have have watched past the first episode. But he was, and I did, and from the fourth episode onwards, the series would unquestionably have held me anyway.
Some of the accusations levelled by the critics early on were certainly true. To begin with, they did 'over-explain' everything (which left Tom - a fully qualified vet - asking his father some pretty basic-sounding questions). But as time went by, and they began to concentrate on just two or three veterinary stories each week, that labouring of the obvious eased off. One problem that did not go away, on the other hand, was the hodge-podge of different regional accents which were trotted out each week by the rural (supposedly local) denizens of Melton. They may have been trying to avoid alienating segments of their audience by not locating Melton too specifically in any one part of the country - but the results got a bit embarrassing at times.
On the plus side, the landscape and wildlife photography was stunning. (Even without Peter, that might have been enough to keep me watching - just <grin>.) I never had a problem getting a good shot of Clare's latest charge for the webpage: there was always an embarrassment of riches. The veterinary stories - especially once they concentrated on only a few - were fascinating. (My favourite was undoubtedly the horse with chancre - I was completely absorbed in that story, in spite of my own innate squeamishness and some pretty powerful distractions!)
Oh and while we're on the plus side - just an case any of you failed to notice <grin> - the chemistry between Tom and Clare was very strong, and just went on getting stronger. I hope I managed to put it across in my pictures, but some of the best moments were ones that simply didn't work as screen captures, such as the glance that they held for a long moment before not kissing, in their last scene of the last episode.
But the real weakness of the early episodes, from my point of view, was the characterisation of Tom. I'd say that Johnny Byrne probably wrote - or started to write - Noah's Ark primarily as a vehicle for Anton Rodgers' character. Noah Kirby is a great creation, and throughout the series he is consistent, humanly flawed, and interesting. Tom, on the other hand, seems to to have been introduced for the purpose of creating conflict in this rural idyll. And, whether Johnny Byrne had not thought it through properly, or whether he simply wasn't expressing it as well as he might, for the first three episodes it really wasn't clear why there was such a depth of conflict between Tom and Noah. Tom seemed continually called upon to behave in a thoroughly adolescent manner for no very good reason. And as part of that, Peter Wingfield was constrained a lot of the time to speak in a very tight, controlled way, reminiscent of his characterisation of Simon Pemberton <h-s> in The Archers.
But all that changed in Episode 4. The tenderer side of Tom's character bloomed in response to Liza Peters, and as a result, Peter's wonderful voice was set free to express all the range and subtlety of which it is capable. Noah and Tom began to work together like two adults, and the audience is given a glimpse of the logic behind the tensions between them: Tom is stuck in a love-hate relationship with Melton - he cannot quite escape from the adolescent feeling that this is somewhere where he is missing out on things, that here is a bigger, brighter world out there if only he can find his escape route...
I like the fact that they did not make Tom 'grow up' overnight. In Episode 5, he is still fighting the inevitable. He also shows a certain high-handedness towards Clare, an assumption that she will feel the same as he does, that she will be ready to go on to bigger and better things. He perceives Clare as a partner - an equal - and yet unconsciously he still thinks that he can make decisions for her.
The tension between Tom and Clare in the last episode worked much better than the tension between Tom and Noah had earlier - largely because the audience has been given a chance to understand the history behind it. Clare's declaration that she 'came close to falling in love with you, Tom, but not enough to take you on any terms', felt very real - she is strong, but she's hurting, and fighting to maintain her self-command. On the other hand, Tom's sudden revelation over the business plan was less convincing - just what was in those few pages he flicked through that was enough to overturn the convictions of a lifetime? It might have worked better - and made sense of much of the earlier tension - if we had already seen Noah trying to convince Tom of his plans for the practice, but seeming much more shambolic, less business-like, less convincing. One can't help wondering what ended up on the cutting room floor.
I'd say that Tom's smiling 'What have I let myself in for?' at the end, and Clare and Tom's guarded - though sparky - last scene together, show promise. If there is to be another series, all is not to be sweetness and light. Tom and Noah will still have arguments. And Tom has a lot of ground to make up with Clare. She is delighted that he is prepared to stay and make a commitment - but she's not going to let him take her for granted. This is a series with some bite left in it.
So the verdict? All in all, a good series, I would say. A feelgood series. I think it deserves a second chance - and rumour suggests that it will get one. It may even be one of those series which gets better second time round, now that characters other than Noah have been fleshed out and given independent life.
Until next year then. Enjoy your tapes, those of you that have them winging their way towards you. And keep visiting the site. With six hours' worth of material to play with, I'm sure I'll have a few more surprises up my sleeve yet. :-))
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Created by Phillip & Catriona Troth
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Last updated 21/10/1997