‘Oliver Twist’ (1985) (TV)

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Please feel free to comment on my review.

Oliver Twist by Terrance Dicks

This is the 1985 BBC TV adaptation of ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens. This is a 12 episode epic that I’ve immensely enjoyed. It was dramatised by Alexander Baron, it was produced by Terrance Dicks (former script-editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for the Jon Pertwee era) and it was directed by Gareth Davies.

For me, ‘Oliver Twist’ is a story that I’m very familiar with from having learnt about the story at primary school. I’ve seen many version of ‘Oliver Twist’ over the years, including the unashamedly musical version of ‘Oliver!’ made in 1968. The version in this box-set is the best one I’ve seen so far!

I was surprised that this BBC TV adaptation of ‘Oliver Twist’ was a 12-part episode story. I wondered how they could fit in a story like ‘Oliver Twist’ by fleshing it out into 12 episodes. It seemed unlikely, as I’ve been spoilt from watching the film versions of ‘Oliver Twist’ that were shown at the cinemas.

It was interesting to discover that there was more to the story of ‘Oliver Twist’ than I’d originally first thought. It seems that this BBC TV adaptation of the classic by Charles Dickens is one that follows more closely to the book than any other version. This pleased me and it gives the story a richer feel.


It did make me wonder why the other film versions of ‘Oliver Twist’ had left so much out from the book to be incorporated into the film. Also there were a lot more differences in the characters in the 1985 TV version of ‘Oliver Twist’ compared to the film versions that made it realistic and even gritty.

The highlight of this version of ‘Oliver Twist’ is that it is produced by Terrance Dicks. I felt in safe hands with the story produced by Terrance, as he was the script-editor of ‘Doctor Who’ in the 70s and had written many ‘Doctor Who’ novels. He seems to care about the story of ‘Oliver Twist’ in this.

It was interesting to have Terrance Dicks be a producer of a classic drama compared to being a script-editor. Of course Terrance and producer Barry Letts worked a lot in the classic drama department after ‘Doctor Who’. It was so refreshing Terrance produced the classic by Dickens for TV.

As I’m sure you know ‘Oliver Twist’, the story is about a young pauper boy who struggles in the workhouse at a very young age in the 1800s. Very soon, Oliver finds himself in the streets of London and caught up in the thieving pranks of Fagan and his gang. But Oliver is set for high things than that!


I liked that this wasn’t just a story about a boy in the workhouse who said, “Please sir, I want some more!” and you know the rest. There was a lot more to this story as there was another character added in the mix as well as Fagin, Bill Sykes and Nancy who threatened Oliver’s existence in society.

That character was Monks, a mysterious man that appears in the story who seems interested in Oliver Twist for some strange reason. It was interesting watching Monks as we as the audience don’t know whether he’s good or bad. Later on in the story, he shows traits that aren’t entirely favourable.

From watching the story, it does seem like the second half was rather padded out and the whole Monks story arc was added to flesh the story. But it was part of the original book by Charles Dickens and it helps to make sense of the story, which is something the film versions of the story never did.

The star of the show is Ben Rodska as Oliver. I enjoyed Ben’s performance as Oliver, as he gives an honest interpretation of the boy. It was interesting to see how Oliver copes journeying from the country to London and how he mixes in with Fagin’s lot before finding the company of good people.


As well as Ben Rodska, there’s also Scott Funnell who plays a young Oliver Twist when he’s working at the workhouse. I found it sweet when young Oliver asked for some more during mealtime and when he pleaded not to go with a chimney sweep man as his apprentice, which angers Mr Bumble.

Eric Porter stars as Fagin in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I like Eric Porter’s performance as Fagin, as he looks very convincing in his hair and make-up for the story. He also comes across as more convincing as a character compared to the other versions, as he seems very crafty and manipulative.

Michael Attwell stars as Bill Sykes in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I’ve seen Michael Attwell before since he appeared in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ with Colin Baker. His performance as Sykes is spot on and stupendous as he plays superbly as the violent and angry rogue.

Amanda Harris stars as Nancy, the long-suffering wife of Bill Sykes. I like Amanda Harris as Nancy and I don’t know why, but she seems to have an air of Rose Tyler about her. Nancy is bitter and has a rough exterior in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. But she still shows a soft side when protecting Oliver.


David Garlick stars as the Artful Dodger in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. I enjoyed David Garlick’s version of the Artful Dodger. He’s not much of a friend to Oliver as he seemed to be in other film adaptations of ‘Oliver Twist’. The Artful Dodger is also so cocky and good-humoured in this version.

Godfrey James stars as Mr Bumble in this version of ‘Oliver Twist’. Godfrey James’ performance as Mr. Bumble is stupendous in this TV version. I also found how more was developed with Bumbles’ character, especially when he married Mrs. Corney and was in some dodgy dealings with Mr. Monks.

Miriam Margolyes stars as Mrs. Corney, the woman who Bumble falls in love with and eventually marries. Mrs. Corney (later Mrs. Bumble) is a nasty woman who leads the maids at the workhouse. She steals a locket belonging to Oliver Twist’s mother and she treats Bumble so badly when married.

Pip Donaghy stars as Monks, the mysterious man who is looking for Oliver Twist. It was interesting to see what Monks does, especially as he enters into dodgy deals with Fagin. Sometimes he’s calm and cool-talking, but at other times he goes into fits and sounds like Gollum at times when he goes mad.


Lysette Anthony stars as Rose Maylie, a young woman who takes kindly to Oliver when he turns up at the Maylie’s house. I found it interesting and enjoyable how Oliver forms a good brotherly-sisterly relationship with Rose and it was tense when Rose contracts a fever and seemed like she might die.

Dominic Jephcott stars as Harry Maylie. Harry is another interesting character that I knew little about from other versions of ‘Oliver Twist’. There’s a romance between Rose and Harry, but the mother won’t allow the marriage since Rose is illegitimate. Harry forms a good friendship with Oliver in this.

Frank Middlemass stars as Mr. Brownlow, the kind man who Oliver meets when after mistakenly accused for stealing some of his books. I liked it when Brownlow doesn’t lose faith with Oliver when reuniting with him for a second time and he is determined to solve the mystery of Oliver’s identity.

The cast also includes Gillian Martell as Mrs. Maylie, David King as Giles, Edward Burnham (who I’ve seen in ‘Doctor Who’) as Mr. Grimwig, Julian Firth (who I’ve seen in ‘Jeeves & Wooster’) as Noah Claypole; Terry Molloy (Davros in ‘Doctor Who’) as Brittles and there’s Christian Rodska as Barney.


This is a wonderful version of ‘Oliver Twist’ that’s truthful to the original book and is the one I most prefer. It’s a 12-part epic and it’s great that Terrance Dicks produced this classic drama and makes a nice ‘Doctor Who’ connection for me. This is a version of ‘Oliver Twist’ you really need to check out!

‘Oliver Twist’ (1985) rating – 10/10

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