These truths are sourced from Poliakoff’s own family, with the chief character Samuel Petrukin (Toby Stephens) being based on his father, a Jewish Russian émigré who made hearing aids and invented the Pager. He also crafted Winston Churchill's hearing aid, don't you know?
The clichés come from Poliakoff’s direction, the characters mostly artificial, unsurprising, and functional. And when those tiring, metallic opening titles rise up, it's easy to predict the wave of post-war tedium that follows.
Samuel Petrukin (Toby Stephens) and his family
This may be a consequence of being the first episode – perhaps the action will step up, eventually, through the series. But for now, prepare for long meditations on the year 1958. It’s certainly a fascinating year, as Poliakoff reveals: the start of the Space Race, the last time the debutantes were hosted by the Queen, and the Cold War coming in full, paranoid swing.
During this time of change, the Petrukin patriarch Samuel tries to ingratiate himself, desperately, into higher society. He attends upmarket events with his family, makes his daughter Hannah (Lily Sarcofsky) take Etiquette Class, and sends his son Sasha (Toby Woolf), based on Poliakoff himself, away to boarding school.
Hannah (Lily Sarcofsky) hates attending Etiquette Class
Burrowing underneath is a suspicion around Samuel's Russian heritage and his making Churchill's hearing aid. Cold War nerves make hooded figures in prowling cars follow this clueless inventor.
But this is left to conclude the episode, rather than start it. Settings and worlds are engaging to experience, especially if they hint at current times, but it’s like Poliakoff’s focus is lost. There’s rarely a moment of jeopardy, and, often, it’s jeopardy that’s not worth caring about.
However, there are a few mysteries that promise to grow in further episodes – namely the intriguing figure of Kathleen Shaw (Keeley Hawes), an upper-class politician’s wife who’s rather taken with Samuel. But these occasional shadows are mostly tedious, executed with such a dull sense of vision. Aside from Hawes, who’s absorbing in everything she does, Summer of Rockets hasn’t much to show or thrill.
Summer of Rockets starts Wednesday 22nd May at 9pm on BBC Two. The entire series will be available on BBC iPlayer after the first episode airs.
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22 May 19 – 22 May 20, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM