I really liked it. It's a lot of fun by the end, despite having had a couple of casting problems.
The good stuff, firstly. There's no supernatural element in this one. Instead it's a journalistic conspiracy investigation, involving among other things a brutal diet farm, two highly dubious undertakers and a clinic. There's more, but obviously I'm not going to spoil it. Not all reviewers are so careful, though. I wouldn't go browsing too much about this episode if I were you. Some people seem to think the hidden dark secret is obvious a mile away and thus will blurt all in their reviews, but personally I didn't guess until I was supposed to and was highly entertained when I did. The episode goes about its reveal with flair and even wit. It's terribly civilised, which makes it twice as delicious.
There's even an Easter Egg for Doctor Who fans, in the form of Kevin Stoney as an evil authority figure. Awesome. Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan, Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion... okay, to be pedantic also Tyrum in Revenge of the Cybermen, but you get my point. He's perfect for this kind of thing. He's got the gravitas and the right level of menace, but furthermore he does it in a way that suggests Stoney enjoys being evil. He's a lot of fun to watch and that would still be true if you'd never seen any Doctor Who.
Richard Pearson's another warhorse and every bit as entertaining as Sir Humphrey Chesterton, by the way. I could imagine rewatching this episode, just to enjoy those two.
There's Warren Clarke. He's made it big since 1980 and is now a well-known face in British film and TV, the star of shows like Dalziel and Pascoe. There's a sequence in this episode that Clarke makes twice as intense as you'd expect, simply with his scary, ugly face. That's a compliment. (At least if he ever reads this, I hope he takes it that way.) Then there's Dinah Sheridan, who's another high-profile name and would play Chancellor Flavia in The Five Doctors, but to normal people is better known for the likes of The Railway Children.
That's the good news in the casting. The bad is the lead actress, Julia Foster, particularly in any scenes she shares with Gerard Kelly. Firstly, she's physically wrong. The character's meant to be fat. This is important for the plot, since her editor sends her undercover to the slimming farm. However I can only think the producers didn't dare cast a lead actress who wasn't blonde and pretty, because Foster is thin and you'll snort in derision whenever the script tries to claim otherwise. She has a thin face. I think she has a thin body, although the costume department have dressed her in loose, floaty clothes and so it's technically possible that she's some kind of head-swapped freak. In summary: she's thin. Naturally I assumed that the episode would take place over several weeks and so later we'd see Foster looking exactly the same but according to the script, three stone lighter... but no. The plot unfolds over only a day or two. She looks wrong from beginning to end.
This could have been rescued. The episode could have turned this into subtext about slim people being bullied and brainwashed into thinking they're fat, which would have been clever in an episode about a slimming farm. Unfortunately no one thought of that. Instead we're simply being expected to accept that Foster's fat.
That's not her fault, but we've barely started on all the different ways she's unconvincing. She tells everyone that she's a journalist, even the people at the slimming farm. "Hello, my name's James Bond, I'm a spy." She's poor in her scenes with Gerard Kelly, the two of them dragging each other down with anti-chemistry and line readings that make them sound like idiots. "What does that prove?" asks Foster in a way that suggests Kelly's deranged, despite the fact that he's already been proved right to the tune of a mutilated corpse.
In fairness though, Foster's usually okay when not sharing screen time with Kelly. She's an actress with a long career, including significant roles, and I'd happily watch her in other things. This though was not her finest moment.
There are predictable story elements. Foster's improvised alternative to a piece of paper when saying goodbye to Clarke is like sending up a signal rocket in this genre. However the episode knows this and I like the way they painstakingly avoid doing a shock twist at the end. Hitchcock would have loved that. Overall, I liked this episode a lot. Its problems are localised, while there's a lot of fun to be had from its misdirection and sense of mischief. It's got character.
"Do you like looking so unattractive, Joyce? Do you enjoy making men turn away in disgust?"