Christmas tele

An Electric Monk

Douglas Adams once wrote about an Electric Monk. The idea of the Electric Monk was that it was a labour saving device. As Adams put it, just as a dishwasher is there to wash dishes so that you don’t have to, and a video recorder is there to watch TV programmes so that you don’t have to, so the Electric Monk believes things for you, so that you don’t have to.

That was in the 80s, of course. Cross out video recorder and replace it with PVR and you have the 00s truism. Still no Electric Monks though. Curses. I really would like to believe ITV will get better one day – or at least have someone believe it for me.

Sitting on my PVR/Apple TV are the Christmas editions of Extras (I’m a third of the way through it and not enjoying it tremendously) and To the Manor Born (haven’t watched it but I’ve heard terrible things about it) to name but a couple, as well as a multitude of movies that I thought worth watching. I didn’t have to watch much of The Mothman Prophecies to realise it wasn’t, but I’ve still to make that determination on a number of things.

Plus I’m still glad to have Firefox, Quatermass and the Pit and Hawk the Slayer there, even if I’ll never watch them. That’s nostalgia for you.

In part the reason everything’s sitting there unwatched is because some mad fools bought me DVDs for Christmas/birthday, so I had too much to watch. It’s also because I’m not spending all of Christmas watching TV, even if it is the complete box set of Airwolf or Ulysses 31 (or, and don’t go too wild, Artemis 81. I do put some odd things on my Amazon wish list sometimes).

But I did watch a little. And even though it’s a good fortnight on, I thought I’d leave a couple of thoughts for posterity on Christmas with Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Christmas Dinner and Doctor Who‘s Voyage of the Damned (other reviews are available and have been for a good long while now).

So Christmas with the Ramsays. Not exactly what most people would opt for, but that’s what Channel 4 did. It started off with a relative oddity. As well all know, Gordon has a show called Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, which has been running for four or five seasons now. In it, he visits crap restaurants, shouts at the owners and staff, and after a few more days of explaining how businesses run, before you know it, they’re serving decent food.

He recently took the show over to the US. Kitchen Nightmares, as it’s now called, has been airing on Fox for a good number of episodes (10 or so) and is more or less the same formula – except made more American/Foxian. Gordon comes, he shouts, he conquers. Except where the shouting is the first quarter to a third of the UK show, the US version is pretty much two-thirds shouting, followed by a voiceover that proclaims Gordon as a god among men and lists his many deeds that have helped the restaurant – although it doesn’t ever show us much more than an interior make-over.

So for reasons known only to Channel 4 (or those who suspect that imported programming is cheaper than making it yourself, particularly when it’s based on something you already know is a hit), we started Christmas with Gordon Ramsay with the first episode of Kitchen Nightmares. It was pretty much the same as the Fox version, except for two things:

  1. It had Gordon Kennedy narrating it, using almost the exact same script as the US narrator
  2. It had all been passed through a film filter to make it look less cheap than it does in the US

Other than that, no changes. Which is odd. I was hoping for a re-edit, a different voiceover or something approaching greater depth. Instead, it was programming on the cheap. Presumably, Channel 4 are hoping it’s popular enough that they can buy the entire series. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t work in the UK as anything except itself. Start trying to make it into a UK programme and everyone will wonder why Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares has gone downhill, just because they’re filming in the US. Goes to show you though: there’s definitely a skill to this reality television lark that isn’t immediately obvious.

Next up, was The Best of The F-Word. Apparently, that doesn’t include Giles Coren any more, despite the fact Gordon rushed through the highlights (and carnage) of all three series so far.

Then, on Christmas Eve, when all the kids have gone to bed, Gordon settles down to some dodgy gangster films, including Sexy Beast. Bet Santa’s too frightened to come down the chimney in the Ramsay house.

Voyage of the Damned

Erm. Were you drunk? Slightly intoxicated? Maybe you’d been nibbling on granny’s chocolate cherry liqueurs. If you had, you’d have loved Voyage of the Damned, the Christmas episode of Doctor Who, although you (and granny) might have been wondering where that nice Mr Hackman had got to on the poor old Poseidon.

Otherwise, you’d probably have found it a touch on the arse side. Nothing too dreadful. If you’ve been sitting through the likes of Daleks in Manhattan, et al, you’d pretty much have an immunity to the trace levels of toxic RTD awfulness present in Voyage of the Damned, thanks to repeated exposure to more terrifying things such as the Slitheen. But certainly bland and uninteresting with a stupid, unnecessary and galactically over-the-top villain. Wonder how people are going to react once Davros turns up and it turns out all the bad guys who try to kill everyone are disabled? Unless Davros has grown himself some new legs, that is.

The highlight of the show was of course the talented and versatile Bernard Cribbins, shortly to appear as Donna’s grandpa(?) in series four. Some former Neighbours actress was on it as well, I recall. She wasn’t much cop and if she could learn to drive an outer space forklift truck that quickly, she could have learnt about its brakes as well. Stupid girl. Obvious she would have to die, just as soon as she said she wanted to travel with the Doctor, too.

Wonder if they’re going to retcon out alien awareness by UK citizens in series two of Torchwood?

Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Christmas Dinner

As mental as always. “I know let’s make a course out gold, frankincense and myrrh! Let’s have reindeers in it. Let’s have leather and pipesmoke!” Fascinating all the same and as always, as much a travel and science programme as it is a cookery programme. Don’t know why they needed all those celebrities to go to it though: all they did was go “Ooh, a lot”. I could do that and for a lot cheaper.