What have you been watching this Christmas 2010?

John Hurt in Whistle and I'll Come To You

Christmas has come, Christmas has gone. But most people probably spent at least a bit of watching tele. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

I’ve got a load to catch up on – Upstairs Downstairs, the original Swedish Wallanders, The Goodies repeats, Shooting Stars and Agatha Christie’s Marple – but after the jump, Doctor Who, Peep Show, Strictly Come Dancing, Whistle and I’ll Come To You and Zen at least. I’m sure I watched more than that. It’ll come to me.

Doctor Who (iPlayer)
Hmm. Well, obviously it was brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. It looked beautiful etc. There were some really good touches for the kids (the ‘Facespider’? Jesus… You sure know how to frighten them, Strevie). However, way too little Amy/Karen Gillan, way too much Rory, and the first 20 minutes or so plodded. More importantly, the Doctor’s failure to notice the girl in white’s problem, the countdown on the front of her booth and his failure to even see if he could fix that problem all seemed like an attempt to create too much clever plotting without respect for the characters. One thing that I’ve finally (after 20+ years – aren’t I the bright spark?) noticed about Steven Moffat’s writing is that he’s never actually created a truly plausible main character – all his characters are larger than life and big, rather than people you’d actually ever meet.

But many great moments, some big laughs, when Amy was around, she was used well – overall, a glittering Christmas jewel. I’m just not sure that within a few weeks we’re all going to be remembering the episode fondly or much at all.

Peep Show (4oD)
Went off the Christmas boil – and unfortunately, we turned it off when Christmas turned out to be poorly organised, the worst crime possible in my wife’s book. Will try to catch the final episode soon.

Strictly Come Dancing (iPlayer)
So John Barrowman, famous West End musical star, won. Well who saw that coming? At least Vince Cable (noted politician and, ooh, ballroom dancer) gave him a run for his money, but that was the most predictable result ever. Surprisingly, Bruce Forsyth made me laugh at one point.

Whistle and I’ll Come To You (iPlayer)
Thank goodness. A Christmas ghost story that’s actually frightening, and one adapted by the creator of Luther, surprisingly. Adapted once before from the MR James short story by Jonathan Miller and starring Sir Michael Horden, this version stretched to an entire hour and featured the likes of John Hurt, Leslie Sharp and Sophie Thompson. It pretty much follows the plot of the original short story as well as the Miller adaptation but with considerable embellishment. And you know what? I thought it was brilliant. Easily the best thing I saw over Christmas.

Resisting the temptation to go over the top with special effects, this was very much a mood piece, alternating between terrifying quietness and terrifying noise, with the “pursuing creature” incredibly well handled – no longer the strange possessor of bedsheets, but something altogether more frightening. Stylistically, you could see nods to The Ring and Paranormal Activity in the excellent direction, and the plot embellishments not only gave the story some real depth and sadness, it actually gave the story a kind of explanation. I’m not entirely sure I understand the implications of the final few seconds, but wonderful stuff that actually puts to shame the decent adaptations that BBC4 was doing before its controller jumped ship – to BBC2.

Zen (iPlayer)
Watched the first 20 minutes of it and despite the presence of Rufus Sewell, was bored rigid by it. Seemingly inspired by Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander, it involved Sewell as an Italian police detective and was filmed entirely in Italy, yet virtually everyone is British, speaks English and has a British accent. Indeed, it actually becomes odd when an Italian actor turns up with Italian accent speaking English.

In common with Branagh’s Wallander, though, this had about as much to do with police work as The Bell Jar, being more about Zen’s pick-up skills and being blackmailed into covering up a crime (as far as I could work out). So not for me, I’m afraid.

  • Anna

    Happy New Year all!
    Agree completely on Doctor Who – looked lovely, and some fantastic lines but somehow completely failed to kick into gear…
    Christmas telly has been pretty poor really, but the big winners for me have been The Royle Family (back to its absolute best) and Eric and Ernie (a couple of clunk moments, but generally sweet, superbly performed and some brilliant gags).

  • I really rather liked the Doctor Who – it was certainly Christmassy enough for me, but yeah, MORE POND!
    I missed the MR James – or rather it was a case I knew it would TOTALLY freak me out so I couldn’t cope.
    We caught a few of the Rolf Lassgard Wallander episodes: the last one was the best I would say.
    And I like Zen: it looked and sounded (music wise) like a late 60s/early 70s crime drama — very Thomas Crown Affair/Bullitt. It was a bit airy (light) but I can see myself finding time to catch this on Sunday evenings.
    Otherwise, we skipped TV this year (we’re out of practice anyway given that we’ve spent the last two in NZ). Instead we settled in for some Film Noir heaven with The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and (on TV) Farewell My Lovely [aka Murder My Sweet]. Fab.

  • That bit about Abigail’s medical problem bugged me as well. After six seasons of nobody talking about what’s important on ‘Lost’, I’ve come to despise that sort of thing. So they got distracted that first time it almost got mentioned – in all those Christmas Eve trips, it never came up again?
    Otherwise, I loved it a lot. I’ll be curious to see how BBC-A butchers it to fit in an hour for next year’s marathon. (Being curious, I watched the truncated version of “Voyage of the Damned” – wow! So much was cut away – including the rest of Astrid’s and Mr. Copper’s stories!)
    I hope “Whistle And I’ll Come To You” reaches America. I’d love to see Hordern’s version as well…..
    Since American TV mostly took the time off, I cleared out some of the Augean stables I call my DVR queue. Got it back down to below 45%, but still clogged with the final four episodes of ‘Dead Set’ and almost all of ‘Haven’…..

  • Mark Carroll

    I’ll have to wait for Doctor Who.
    Rather boringly, I haven’t been watching much. Some of season three of “In Plain Sight” which has been okay, about what you’d expect. A little “Castle” which seems to have been getting silly enough lately that I can take or leave it. And other things I recall so little I don’t off-hand know what they were. Wow, it’s been a bad week or two for television. Oh, we did make fun of the American New Year’s celebration coverage.
    I’ve started on Foyle’s War. It’s okay, a bit sleepy perhaps, but interestingly different, at least it’s not yet another crime show set in a contemporary American city.
    Oh, I watched THX-1138 again. It bore a rewatching, especially considering how old it now is.
    V’s imminent. Maybe I’ll get to mention that next week. I’d have thought we’d be having more House before long too.

  • TemplarJ

    Happy new year and all that!
    I see Xmas Doctor Who as the BBC’s equivalent of a Pixar family movie. And on those terms it succeeds brilliantly. Matt Smith is just owning the role as well, very funny indeed. But yeah, by next week i’l have forgotten it. Less Amy is a good thingm though.
    My highlight (apart from Toy Story 3 which left me a wreck by the end) was perhaps the adaption of Murder on the Orient Express, which overcome the handicap of being the one murder mystery that Everybody knows the solution by making it an advantage and building a suprisingly dark morality choice. Rather good I thought.
    I wish I could burn Come Fly With Me from my mind though.

  • SK

    That wasn’t what bothered me about Doctor Who actually — I quite like the idea that the Doctor is so focused on using Abigail as a way to solve his problem that he simply doesn’t bother to notice that she might have a few problems herself. It was a nice return of the old manipulative/callous streak in the Doctor’s nature that goes right back to Hartnell’s throwing the Thals at the Daleks just so he can get his fluid link back — indeed, my annoyance with the special was that it didn’t go far enough with that, didn’t really bring out the scariness of a man with a time machine who is willing to go and rewrite bits of your history on a whim, just to make you the kind of person he wants you to be right at that moment. Oh, yes, Gambon got some lines about that, but those lines were put in the mouth of the baddie and the audience sort of got the impression that the Doctor was doing it for his own good as well, so they lacked the punch of the first time Moffat tackled this theme (in a short story published in 1996, but of course everyone knew that).
    The line where Gambon asks the Doctor if he could give up her last day of life to save his friends would have been a nice point to bring this up somehow (but subtlety) — that the Doctor is all about getting people to give up their last day of life, usually by inspiring them to sacrifice themselves for his cause (as Rory put it, ‘you make them want to impress you’) but occasionally rather more directly.
    Basically: it wasn’t scary enough. And the thing that wasn’t scary enough was the Doctor. Because what he does to Gambon’s character is scary, and that just isn’t brought out, and so the Doctor ends up looking like a charming bumbling wannabe-Marley rather than a terrifyingly amoral and ham-fisted personality engineer.
    Watched the James adaptation. Some really nice bits. Not entirely sure what was supposed to be going on at the end (he seemed to be treating his wife well; is she meant to be angry at him? Or is she just reaching out to him, but in a way he can’t handle? I assume she’s already died, which is what the empty chair at the end means?), but I liked the hands under the door (which reminded me of my favourite James moment, in Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book — I’m sure you know the one). Though as part of the point of James is that the occurances don’t ever have an explanation, I thought that was an interesting choice.
    Also watched The Nativity, and was very impressed. surprisingly respectful of the story, very nicely put into modern terms, and Peter Capaldi on a camel. What more can you want at Christmas?
    Finally caught up to Peep Show! Thought the New Year’s episode was great, especially after, yes, a disappointing Christmas one.
    When I got back I caught up on the last two episodes of Community. Almost laughed myself silly at the paintball one. ‘Come with me if you don’t want paint on your clothes! Though there was a little part of me that couldn’t get comfortable as it spent the whole time screaming ‘They should be wearing visors!’ Am I boring and unfun to Britta-esque dimensions?
    My parents made me watch some Medium with them. It’s still awful.
    Last episode of Misfits series two continued the general not-being-great trend of this series, being, as before, not great, because it was all about the plot and the mechanics of dairy-based death rather than being about something. The Christmas episode managed to actually have something to say about the nature of power and responsibility, but as it was basically a straight retelling of Superman II — which they even mentioned — without the subversion we had come to expect from series one, my hopes are not high for the promised third series.
    Just watched the last episode of Accused last night. Goodness, what a story with no likeable characters whatsoever. Every single person was utterly awful. It’s the children I feel sorry for.
    … and that’s all I can think of right at the moment. I hope everyone’s having a good new year so far.

  • bob

    Adored Doctor Who (though it needed less Amy and more Rory). Adored Peep Show’s Christmas episode (my mum got a cross-cut paper shredder too) but was underwhelmed by the New Year one. Was bored by “Whistle” and as confused as SK for the same reasons.
    Mainly have been catching up on Chuck which has been fun on the whole. And rewatching Sarah Connor which is just awesome.
    “Come with me if you don’t want to get paint on your clothes” may just be my favourite line from 2010. Nice to see the Community love spreading.

  • Happy New Year and belated Happy Christmas Rob. I was just too busy Christmas week to send festive greetings to my online friends. (That will teach me not to clean the house three days before Christmas(-:)
    Missed a lot of TV as was out/with family, but we did make sure we watched Dr Who. I & children really loved it, but husband hated it. As family viewing it certainly worked, but I take your point, Rob, and yes more Amy would have been good. Also is it me, or do carols work better when they’re not sung operatically? I know Katherine Jenkins has an amazing voice ‘n’ all but I prefer the normal version of In the Bleak Midwinter. I am probably a philistine tho(-:
    Otherwise, caught a couple of Marples which are great for cross-generational watching & have interested the kids in Agatha Christie, which can only be a good thing in my book, but am not really convinced by Julia McKenzie’s Miss Marple somehow. I did love Joanna Lumley in The Mirror Crack’d though, she was so wonderfully OTT and just like the character as I remember her from the book.
    My favourite Christmas viewing was Upstairs Downstairs. Am a big fan of Heidi Thomas anyway, but thought her writing here was spot on. The last episode had me in pieces. I’ve watched it twice and cried both times, though the children couldn’t understand why. I keep telling them it’s a grown up thing. It was nice to see Claire Foy playing a baddie too, & I loved Eileen Atkins. Great stuff.
    I did catch the MR James thing, Rob, but fell asleep, so I have no idea whether it was any good or not. Spouse thought it wasn’t scary at all, but he’s not so hot on subtle horror, so I may have liked it had I stayed awake(-:
    Otherwise we’ve been watching the DVDs we bought the kids, so Toy Story 3 has obviously been a hit, as has Night and Day which is silly fun. My favourite though has to be Nativity, which I saw when it came out at the cinema last year. Very funny & touching and the kids are amazing.
    Oh, and we haven’t seen Eclipse, which we bought for the eldest as she “forgot” to tell us she’s not into Twilight anymore(-:
    Seemed to me they put better films on TV over the New Year bank holiday weekend (except for yesterday which had 3 Men and a Little Lady on BBC1 AND 3 Men and a Baby on Channel 4 at the same time), as we felt spoilt for choice over the weekend, when we’ve been scratching around for things to watch at other points. Oh well, maybe the TV guys have done as a favour. We played more scrabble and talked to each other(-:
    Oh and of course we watched the return of Primeval. Daft as ever, but silly family fun. I love it, even without Cutter (sorry Lisa!)

  • SK

    Oh, yes, Prineval is back and is, well, Primeval — though I think it does lack something without Henshall to ground it — he gave a bit of weight to stop it all spinning off under its own silliness.
    But. I will forgive it a lot for the S Club 7 song.

  • stu-n

    We have to start with Doctor Who, don’t we?
    For my money, it’s the best Christmas Special since Christmas Invasion. I liked its relatively small scale: proves you can do a big, spectacular Who story without Earth being under threat yet again. Loved Smith, Gambon and the kid playing the youngest version of Sardick. Warbling Barbie was perfectly bearable. I liked the Doctor and Amy being separate for most of the story (although more Amy would have been nice). But I do agree that not enough was made of the darkness of the story. Maybe Moffat soft-pedalled it because it was Christmas – he hasn’t shied away from it before, and it was definitely there.
    Nobody’s mentioned Murder on the Orient Express, which was very interesting. Everyone knows the story so well, and the Albert Finney film is repeated regularly, so they had to do something different — and making it about guilt and justice, and about Poirot’s motive for solving crimes, was probably the best way it could have been done. But it did make for a very dark story (which it is, of course — a whole load of tortured, haunted people, a very nasty, even sadistic murder, and Poirot, not even wanting to be there, pretty much being emotionally blackmailed into handling the case). Lots of brooding. My mum, who’s a big Poirot fan, hated it — she said his character went completely against all the other adaptations.
    I liked it, but it was hardly Christmassy. Looked fantastic, though, and all the acting was brilliant, but particularly David Suchet, Eileen Atkins and Toby Jones.
    (By the way, someone told me I sound exactly like Toby Jones recently. I’m not sure how to take that. But having rewatched Amy’s Choice and repeated some of TJ’s lines back to my girlfriend, it appears that yes, I do.)
    Whistle and I’ll Come To You was very good and very James, and John Hurt was incredible. But it wasn’t Whistle and I’ll Come To You. Parkin’s character was too changed too much; it was almost like a sequel to the original story, where the same spirit haunts a different man for a different reason. But big tick for properly scary, atmospheric and non-camp ghost story.
    Really enjoyed Upstairs, Downstairs. Punching the air for Pritchard at the end. Though I don’t believe they’d have invited the long-lost Down’s Syndrome sister to the house for Christmas. Not at all appropriate; they might have gone to visit her, but not the other way around.
    Very interested in seeing what they do with the Duke of Kent in the forthcoming series. He was an interesting chap.
    And Eric and Ernie was an absolute joy, even if it was a great big ego-trip for Victoria Wood.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, I liked T:TSCC a lot too, especially the Cameron-heavy episodes. Me much liking something is typically a series’ death knell.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yes, I liked T:TSCC a lot too, especially the Cameron-heavy episodes. Me much liking something is typically a series’ death knell.

  • @Stu_n have a feeling I may have seen the boy from Dr Who in a local talent show. He’s certainly local and sits next to my friend’s son at school – if he’s the kid I think he is, he is very talented and has done lots of tv/theatre already. He was great I thought.
    Damn, wish I’d seen Murder on the Orient Express now. It’s one of my favourites. And I agree with you about the sister, I don’t think that would have happened, although maybe the idea is to show just how enlightened Hallam is.
    Poor old DofK won’t have too many years to spend at Eton Square though, will he, depending on how far in the future the next series is(-: I loved his & Hallam’s relationship. Thought that was one of many excellent things about it.
    @SK I agree Dougie added gravitas to Primeval, but even with him it was silly. But half the fun is shouting at the characters when they are (inevitably) being stupid. And SClub song was GENIUS.

  • SK

    With him it was silly; without him, it’s very very very silly indeed.
    Also his character had a real personal connection to the sci-fi gubbins, what with his initially missing, later mad wife (and the affair she had with the first military guy); they knew what they were doing there and I feel they are really lacking it, now: wibbly special effects and dinosaurs are just too abstract a threat, really. And yes there’s that mysterious guy the Ulsterman keeps talking to, who is presumably representing some faction or organisation with plans for the rifts, but that still positions all the actual character antagonists on one side of the rifts, and the rifts themselves as a sort of rather boring plot-pumping-out mechanism. Which they weren’t as much when there was always the possibility of madwife hiding behind one of them.
    If that makes sense.

  • My heart just won’t let me watch Primeval without Henshall: sigh. But there is South Riding to look forward to. No dinosaurs there (I hope)

  • @SK Even the children have noticed how silly it is, which is when you know a kid’s show is in trouble(-: I think your description of it makes perfect sense, but I still quite enjoy it even if in the main I am shouting at Conor You stupid prat!! I shall miss Mrs Mad, she was soo much fun. Am hoping she has managed to clone herself somewhere in the future and can come back. It maybe that they build up a more effective scenario as the series goes on, cos it is really good family viewing, and such A RELIEF after the months of poxy X Factor we had to endure before Christmas!

  • MediumRob

    @Toby: Original Whistle And I’ll Come To You is on YouTube
    @SK: No, that’s what confused me. Wasn’t sure if “I’m still here” referred to the hotel or that she was still mentally okay, even if it didn’t seem like it. And why the empty chair? If she’s dead already, how come the nurse can see her, respond to her, etc. Or does her body just disappear when he dies? Very confusing.
    And as for Misfits, I thought the death-by-milk episode was pretty much an exercise in taking a single line/joke (“that has to be the shittest power ever”) and proving that line wrong. That’s really all the episode was.
    @bob/mark: Really didn’t like T:TSCC. Basically just badly acted Terminator fan fiction. Never saw why anyone liked it.

  • SK

    Ah, I assumed ‘I’m still here’ meant that her mind was still okay but trapped inside her body, but in that case why was she haunting him? He was obviously devoted to her, it’s not like he stuck her in a home to get rid of her and deserved to be scared to death. And the rest of it, yes, no idea, especially the empty chair.
    James stories are terribly hard to adapt, being as they tend not to be stories so much as collections of scenes, usually fairly static — almost tableaux — which build a mood. And mostly have only one character. ‘Casting the Runes’ being the obvious exception; apart from that, any adaptation is going to be a case of trying to do something which is going to be a fairly impressionistic attempt to generate something of the same effect form a totally different medium, even more so than most adaptations.
    Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles was awful, but I watched (almost) every episode — it’s still one of the things I use to point out the difference between ‘This is good’ and ‘I like this’.
    I was astonished once when an episode was actually good (others made lunges for adequacy, but this one was actually good) and even more when I noticed it was written by someone with no previous credits. I keep occasionally checking back on her career, and this reminded me to do that again — unfortunately she seems to have been sucked into Medium

  • Mark Carroll

    T:TSCC: I think SK’s good/like distinction is relevant here. Like with watching V’s season opener last night: I certainly don’t like it as much as I did T:TSCC, but it is also rather less good than even that.
    T:TSCC did seem to have non-trivial arc that wasn’t quite as sillily pulled out of people’s bottoms as they went along as, say, that in Lost or new-BSG seemed to me to be, it did hang together fairly well, especially a near-the-end twist that made sense and put earlier events in a different light. It also had the virtue of diversity: a fair few non-incidental characters where focus came and went, and various kinds of episode that didn’t all fall into one of a couple of narrative formulas.
    For me, irrationally, it also had the advantage of Cameron’s character: I have a weakness for cute, resourceful, confident, skilful women who have odd mental issues! More objectively, she was quite interesting, having both the will and the ability to get up to stuff.
    It helped a little that I quite like Garret Dillahunt. The show did have its tedious parts, admittedly, most commonly those involving Sarah herself; I think the Sarah-centric mid-season-two stuff may have helped to kill it.
    Fan fiction: by the way, I think the movies have gone monotonically downhill since the first, the fourth strikingly so. The TV series was well above that.

  • Mark Carroll

    Watched the Christmas Doctor Who in the end. It was good, I was quite impressed. I thought the stuff on the imperilled spacecraft a bit remote, serving largely just as plot device to cause the need, but the working in of the plot of A Christmas Carol went well and the flying fish a nicely strange touch. There did seem to be some plot questions large enough to drive a barge through, mostly related to time-travel-related things, but I am probably not supposed to think about it too hard, I should remember it’s children’s entertainment.

  • The other David

    A little late in commenting on this thread, but I thought I’d add my 2 cents.
    While I liked the Doctor Who episode, the majority consensus about there not being enough Amy I think is spot on. The ending was a little to sweet for my tastes, but a good adaptation of the Dickens story.
    Contrary to Rob’s opinion, I thought the Peep Show‘s Christmas episode was brilliant. Seeing Mark stand up to his tyrannical father (however late in the episode) was great. The New Year’s episode, while it was heartening to see Mark go for Dobby (or Dauby as I prefer to think it should be spelled) and was especially tickled to watch Super Han’s shocked reaction and description on what he was going to do to cleanse his flat was classic, but on the whole I thought it was not especially that great (although, it was great to see Big Sues and Johnson again).
    On the other hand, Eric and Ernie was brilliant. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Have Upstairs, Downstairs queued up to watch, but haven’t heard good comparisons of it in contrast to Downton Abbey.
    Otherwise, onwards to 2011!

  • @the other David, go to Upstairs Downstairs with the mindset that it is a different beast from Downton. One was more measured, and deftly teased out, the other plays straight for the heart, both brilliant in their own ways. Was in bits in the last epsiode of Upstairs Downstairs, to the great amusement of my offspring(-:

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