Towards the end of the first episode in the eighth series of the school drama Deputy Head Tom Clarkson turns to head Michael Byrne and says ‘this really is Waterloo Road.’ That’s because despite a move to Scotland the stories are very much the same a troubled new student, bullying issues, teachers who really shouldn’t be teaching and Grantly Budgen spouting witty one-liners. As anybody who saw the last series knows the original Waterloo Road in Rochdale was shut down however thanks to Michael’s former pupil Lorraine being a multi-millionaire she agreed to fund a new school for him and any staff or students that wanted to join. The location she eventually found was in Greenock, Scotland but the majority of the staff decided to up sticks and move as did the students however most of them had very few family commitments back in Rochdale. The last series also finished on a cliff-hanger as the students and staff were hit by a truck while all posing for a photo without us knowing who lived and who died so if you don’t know what happened after this look away now.
We start our first episode with a rather arty nightmare vision of the accident seen through the consciousness of Tariq Siddiqui who survived though as we learn early on is trying to survive in a wheelchair. Tariq’s failure to cope with his disability makes up a small portion of this episode though Josh, who now seems to have got his psychiatric problems under control, tries to show him that his life isn’t over but he is yet to be convinced. Tariq is at least alive which is more than can be said for poor old Denzil Kelley a character who hadn’t done much since his sister died so the writers obviously thought there was little reason not to sacrifice him for this story.
As for the rest of the pupils they’re now living in a school house run by former dinnerlady Maggie and her husband-to-be Grantly the latter of whom is currently living in his idea of hell sharing a house with a bunch of teenagers. Scout is having problems of her own as she is the target of the bullying Rhiannon, a character who has moved from Rochdale but one we’ve never seen before, there’s obviously a reason that this new girl has so much hatred towards her but for now this plot has been put on the back-burner. Other returns include Phoenix and Harley Taylor as well as the majority of the staff room where it seems that Janeece has finally fallen for Chalky’s charms as the two go on a date towards the end of the episode. New editions to the staff room come in the form of Georgie Glen’s formidable history teacher Audrey McFall and Laurie Brett’s alcoholic English teacher Christine Mulgrew whose son Connor is also a new edition to the autumn intake.
Aside from the opening of the school though this week’s big story is the introduction of Jade Fleming and Drew Kelly a couple of runaways who pose as brother and sister in order to be enrolled in the school. It is clear from the outset that Drew has a strangle hold on Jade who fears leaving him as he’s very mentally unstable and she tells him that he needs to control himself. Drew gets increasingly paranoid as he feels that various members of staff are trying to steal Jade away from him however as the staff learn later they were lucky that they hadn’t intervened more. As Michael tries to help Jade, as he did the Taylor brothers in his very first episode, he discovers several shocking truths however at the end of the day he and Tom are able to sort things out while Lorraine learns to butt out of situations after being the one to champion Drew in the first place. It seems though that Michael will have other issues this series namely a feud with Havelock High headmaster Gerard Finlay as well as family issues that were bought up briefly here.
Though the views are nicer than they were in Rochdale not a lot seems to have changed in the writing or characterisation as far as Waterloo Road is concerned. I felt like I’d seen the Drew and Jade storyline done several different ways on the show before as children struggle to cope with adult situations on their own before the teachers of Waterloo Road intervene while none of the subplots really got a look-in. The pay-off though is that one of these characters is staying on for the rest of the series and this episode seems to have set up a problem that they will have to deal with however it is again one that this programme has had to deal with before. Having said that I’m enjoying it more than the majority of the last season which was set around the unconvincing gang wars storyline where Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson played the leader of his own crew. Laurie Brett, best known as Jane Beale in Eastenders, is a welcome addition to the cast as she is convincing as the alcoholic single-mother whose relationship with her son seems constantly strained while I’m guessing it’ll take a few weeks for the rest of the staff to wise up to what she’s really drinking in those coffee cups. As well as Christine’s story this opener set up stories for the next nine weeks namely Tariq’s struggle with his disability, Michael’s feud with Finlay, Rhiannon’s bullying of Scout, Maggie and Grantly’s impending wedding and the relationship between Chalky and Janeece which will obviously end on a sour note due to actress Chelsee Healey quitting the show halfway through this run.
Though some may criticise Waterloo Road for me it’s mainstream drama done well and seems able to combine larger and smaller issues with ease because I certainly didn’t lose interest once within the hour. While I’m not sold as much on the current crop of students as I have been in previous years there’s enough promise in the new cast members that they’ll improve as they go on while both of the debuting teachers got off to a fine start. So despite the change in location there’s very little difference this term than there was last term so ultimately I do agree with Tom this is definitely Waterloo Road and I for one am glad of that.