Before River Song, Trenzalore and his take on The Doctor, before Sherlock fell off a building and provided multiple explanations, before James Nesbitt flipped out in a zoo in Jekyll, before Coupling, Joking Apart, and Chalk, maybe even before he was known as The Moff, before all that came the quite brilliant Press Gang.
Steven Moffat’s first TV series, which he wrote all 42 episodes of, was based on an idea by his father, Bill Moffat. At its center, it had a brilliant will they/won’t they relationship, and the epitome of a strong female character in Lynda Day. After five seasons, it ended, but left behind so many quality episodes.
It has been nigh impossible to choose the standout mind-blowers, but for Jolting, Shocking, They’d Never Get Away With That These Days moments, and for heartbreak, and for pure wondrous, intricate Moffat moments, these are the episodes you need to watch. (Although I would also advise starting at the beginning and working your way through every episode, it’s really worth the time.)
Season 1, Episode 11: Monday-Tuesday
One day you can look at things one way, and by the next day it can all change. Is this why they say to sleep on things because everything will be better in the morning?
That’s not the case for this episode which splits the action between the two titular days in the Press Gang office; a normal Monday in the office where a new member of the team, David, is pushing to be a member of the writing team and Lynda stands her ground against giving in to his blackmail, cut together with the aftermath where Tuesday has been canceled. Yes, the whole of Tuesday is cancelled. What’s caused this is an extremely shocking event. David, after getting a dressing down from Lynda, kills himself with a shotgun.
I can’t imagine this storyline being made for TV nowadays, especially not in the time slot and for the audience Press Gang was aimed at. It’s a hard hitting episode which affects all the characters deeply, and is a plot point which comes back to haunt the characters, quite literally.
Season 2, Episodes 7 & 8: Something Terrible
This two-parter was the darkest that the show ever got. It’s a really brave pair of episodes that has to be applauded for facing the issues presented head on. It utilises Colin, often thought of as comic relief only, and makes him the center of unearthing this story. The episode focuses on a case of child abuse. It is unflinching in its depiction, the first part ending on a soul crushingly devastating cliffhanger. By focusing the story on the comical Colin, it heightens the impact by disarming the viewer.
It begins comically with Spike and Lynda avoiding each other only for Spike to have to shimmy up a drainpipe to meet in secret, and Colin running his dating agency and having to find a date for a trainspotter. The geeky trainspotter turns out to save Colin from being beaten up, unveiling that he is a black belt. The beating up was arranged by Cindy, a young girl who pretends Colin is her brother, and seems to idolise him. It’s not until the end of the episode when she reveals she doesn’t want to go home because her Mum isn’t home that Colin twigs. Her Dad makes her do things she doesn’t want to do. At the moment this occurs Cindy’s Dad comes to collect her. She asks if Mum is home and he replies no. The something terrible from the title is revealed. It’s a devastating end to the first part of this story.
Episode 2 sees Lynda helping Colin as he tries to help Cindy tell someone about what her Dad is doing to her. They launch a last minute Junior Gazette special on child abuse with the help of the NSPCC. The episode never gets preachy, and tell its hard hitting story with tension and pathos to create something rarely seen in TV of this genre. Not just something terrible, but something important.
Season 3, Episode 2: Killer On The Line
A great episode that plays over the phone line between a man in a shop which contains a body lying prone next to him, and his call to the Junior Gazette office where Sarah pieces together the puzzle to work out what has happened at the shop, and its location to track down the perpetrator.
It’s intricately plotted, almost like a sleuth deducting a case. You can see Moffat’s signature all over the episode, structured to hold back all the information and string the audience along making them ask all the right questions at the right time. It’s like a conductor playing everything note perfect.
Season 4, Episode 2: UnXpected
This episode is almost a map for the future of Moffat’s writing career. Packed full of comedy moments, a reference to Sherlock Holmes and a story based around the idea of a cult sci-fi TV show character that may bear some similarities to Doctor Who. This stands out as a Frazz centric episode which was not done all that often on the show. It’s a brilliant episode on its own, with a surprising and emotional denouement. One thing it’ll leave you with is a desire to watch the show within the show.
Season 5, Episode 6: There Are Crocodiles
The climax to the series as a whole. With a lot of the main questions answered, this episode chooses to focus on the conscience of Lynda Day. There is another shocking death in this, once again showing how the series was completely unafraid to explore really dark moments. A member of the team is found dead in the toilets having overdosed on heroin, this brings back memories for Lynda as she is interviewed by an unseen presence. The interview turns out to be taking place in a strange setting, maybe purgatory, after Lynda is trapped in a fire in the offices of the Junior Gazette. The interviewer is revealed to be David from Season 1 (told you he comes back to haunt the characters).
The episode is a strange but fitting finale, as one of the themes of the show is how really clever people cope with the stupidity around them. Lynda’s character reminds me of Sherlock in so many ways, and in this episode her brashness with people is examined. Is it her fault, or should you protect yourself from stupidity because there are crocodiles?
The series explores so much more than I’ve been able to cover here in these mind-blowing episodes. There’s plenty of humour, thrills, and poignant moments as we follow these characters, grow up, discover stories and discover themselves. And you may laugh at me but I never realised Dexter Fletcher wasn’t American when I first watched this. Lynda Day would never have suffered a fool like me.