Doctor Foster may be horrible and manipulative – but she’s my new TV heroine

Sometimes it’s good to be bad, says Alison Graham

Doctor Foster Series 2 Promo

By Alison Graham

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Dr Gemma Foster, she’s horrible. She lies, manipulates and uses sex to get what she wants. She pushes, emotionally blackmails, manoeuvres people… Er, hang on a tick, doesn’t that make her a TV Drama Man?

Yes, I suppose it does in the rigid terms of television dramas where nuance is as rare as an icicle in August. Men are always Bad, women are always Good.

But Gemma Foster of Doctor Foster (Tuesday BBC1) is my new TV heroine. She’s a captivating monster. There was an amazing, very long scene in last week’s first episode when Gemma (Suranne Jones, who is astounding) snooped around her malevolent ex-husband Simon’s big new house. This was after she gatecrashed the party he was throwing with his new, much younger wife.

Simon (Bertie Carvel) found her and the pair performed the most extraordinary emotional danse macabre, pushing their singular wickednesses back and forth. Gemma emerged triumphant, but it was a bloody few minutes that were incendiary with sexual tension. The two might be divorced, but there’s a pulsing cloud of pheromones that binds them together despite its caustic burns.

What I particularly love about Gemma – and this is in a week that sees the start of Liar, ITV’s second big drama of the year after Broadchurch about a woman who has been raped – is that she isn’t a victim. She drives the drama. She’s not being examined in a rape suite; she’s not running through woods being chased by a serial killer; we don’t see her life in flashbacks because she’s been found dismembered in bin bags. She’s here and very present.

Writer Mike Bartlett usurps every single “strong woman” television character cliché. You know the type. She’s usually a maverick cop who acts tough but who cries in the rain and is emotionally hamstrung by some kind of childhood catastrophe that comes back to haunt her at inopportune moments. But she Gets The Job Done. She’s tough with bad people but sensitive with good people, small children and animals. Boring, isn’t she? Fed up with her, aren’t you?

Gemma Foster drinks too much – she turns up for dinner with a friend in this week’s episode clutching two bottles of wine, which my puritanical soul found quite shocking – and she initiates sex (or at least she tries to). All the things that women aren’t supposed to do.

And she uses people, even her own son, the unfortunate Tom. There’s a pathetic sap of a would-be boyfriend, one of Tom’s teachers, who looks soulfully at her with puppy-dog eyes and who clearly thinks he can find the gentle woman beneath the stroppy bravado. Good luck with that. You’ll be dust shortly, I’m sure of it.

You’d never want Gemma in your house – she’d burn holes in the carpet just by being there. We know from series one that she’s a nightmare dinner guest – remember that car crash of a soiree when she detonated truth bombs and was slapped across the back of the head by her husband’s young lover?

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Throughout Doctor Foster there’s always a brooding sense of “what the hell is she going to do next?” Watching Gemma is like walking along a clifftop path. You need to look where you’re going…