The end of 1996 was The Season Of Peter Capaldi. It began with Neverwhere, which ran for five weeks, and then almost immediately after that, for another four, there was The Crow Road. It looked like he was taking over the world, but instead he vanished from my radar, and I didn't really see him again until Torchwood. Odd, because The Crow Road is the sort of television that ought to put people on maps. It's utterly brilliant in every possible way, and since Capaldi's the new Doctor, this seemed like a good excuse for hauling it out for a rewatch.

I've been thinking about watching it again for some while, but somehow never got around to it. This year has seen the death of writer Iain Banks though, as well as the announcement of Capaldi as Doctor #12, so there really is no time like the present. Hadn't seen it since it came out on DVD back in the Middle Ages sometime (2004). And ouch, I just realised that that's nine years ago now. We had DVDs that long ago? We had colour television that long ago? Apparently.

Anyway. The Crow Road is about a family. The narrator is Prentice (Joseph McFadden) a student with an annoyingly talented, better looking older brother, and an uncle who has been missing for seven years. Alternately baffled by life and tripped over by it, Prentice sets out to discover what happened to his uncle, whilst negotiating the older brother pitfalls and assorted family tragedies. The book that it's based on is beautifully written, funny sometimes and bleak sometimes, and twisted in a very Banksian way. Although adaptations for television don't always work too well, this one does. In fact it's damned close to perfect, in casting, in visuals and in tone. As the missing Uncle Rory, Peter Capaldi drifts in and out of the story, half wise-cracking favourite uncle, and half tragic willo-the-wisp. Inevitably (it aired on BBC2, the channel that 70% of the country never bothers to watch), hardly anybody saw it back in '96, which is a damned shame. Watch it today. Along with Neverwhere and Torchwood, it's the best way to meet your new Doctor. Actually it's a better way than either of them, as he's a git in Torchwood, and Neverwhere does rather emphasise the annoying point that he's not Paterson Joseph. Although he is very good in both.

But yes, The Crow Road. Watch it. It has Bill Paterson being grumpy, it has Dougray Scott being very young, it has Sean Biggerstaff being even younger. More importantly, it's probably the best television that you'll watch this year. Then read the book, too. That doesn't have any of the above in it, but it's still very good. And Iain Banks seemed like a nice bloke, so it's only fair to highlight the fact that he was rather a talented one as well. I must get around to reading more of his stuff. If I manage to find a book even half as good as The Crow Road it will be more than worth the effort.



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