Behold! It is indeed a Christmas miracle. For on this yuletide past, TMINE did indeed watch some actual UK TV.
None of it live, of course, all on iPlayer and the like, but nevertheless, UK TV was viewed… and even enjoyed in some cases.
Nevertheless, TMINE is very predictable in its tastes so don’t be surprised when I tell you that one of the shows starred Joanna Page, one of the shows was A Ghost Story For Christmas, one was a horror show written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, one was a sci-fi show about a certain Time Lord/Lady, and one was a reboot of a classic TV show of the 70s.
Full reviews of all of those after the jump. In case you’re wondering, I did watch some other TV as well – all the Netflix shows I’ll be talking about later today while the remaining members of the regular viewing queue will be the subject of tomorrow’s discussions.
But first, watch the Queen like the good patriots you are. It is the afternoon, after all.
Gavin & Stacey – Christmas special (BBC One)
It took nearly 10 years to make and it arrived with but a few days to spare, but the effort was apparently worth it, as this latest episode of Gavin & Stacey proved to be the most popular scripted show of the entire decade. The ‘action’ if it can be called that carries on – as life often does – more or less where we’d expect things to be for a Christmas special/reunion.
Written as usual by James “He’s so big right now” Corden and Ruth Jones, the episode saw virtually all the core cast return – including Matthew Horne, despite his tiff with Corden – to revisit old characters who are only a little bit older and only a little bit wiser and to give old jokes new twists. Dave Coaches wasn’t there (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the last episode’s plot), most of the Essex crew were missing (off being famous, too, I expect, Sheridan Smith and Samuel Anderson), but otherwise, everything was largely intact and familiar.
And also unfamiliar. Sure, we got the same old Ness jokes about her sordid past and we never, of course, quite got to hear what happened on that fishing trip. But somehow it all seemed both fresh and funny, familiar while not pushing things to new extravagances just to up the ante. It was a regular family Christmas, just as the first season was about a regular family wedding.
Gavin and Stacey – or, as Stacey would have it, Stacey and Gavin – got fewer of the jokes, more of the pathos to deal with, while Bryn, Ness, Smithy and co got the big laughs. But that worked as usual, so why tinker with the formula? Interesting, though, was the addition of another invisible Smithy girlfriend – who becomes visible – and her application of Essex standards of beauty to others and how that played to notions of insiders and outsiders.
All in all, a Christmas special as it should be and the ending obviously leaves open the possibility of future episodes. Even if there aren’t, we’ve already rewatched it and made a start again on season one. Because it’s Gavin & Stacey – with Joanna Page.
A Ghost Story For Christmas (BBC Four)
Once upon a time (the 70s), the BBC used to make a ghost story every Christmas, usually based on the works of MR James. And scary things they were. Much treasured they were, particularly when the BBC started repeating them every Christmas during the 80s and 90s – to the extent that petitions were started to have them released on VHS and then DVD. I should know – I signed one.
Then BBC Four started showing them and even making some new ones. Before giving up. But along came Mark Gatiss, with his usual fetishisation of 70s supernatural horror, and BBC Four started making them again, sometimes based on MR James stories.
On the one hand, I guess we should be grateful, as we are getting more additions to A Ghost Story For Christmas. On the other hand, they are very definitely Mark Gatiss’ A Ghost Story For Christmas, which can be a two-edged sword. Sometimes they can be very good.
And sometimes they can be quite bad. As with Martin’s Close, which was ADHD Mark Gatiss at his most meta.
Had the show confined itself entirely to the James story, it would have actually been very good. However, as well as a time-jumping framing device involving Simon Williams as a smirking equivalent to the original’s more pastoral narrator, we got huge injections of humour from Gatiss. Sometimes, humour and horror can mix. Here, it’s like all that Tarantino dialogue about the Silver Surfer that scars Crimson Tide. Even the final potentially scary imagery is ruined by some arm flapping (that makes sesne if you’ve seen it).
So yes, we have another A Ghost Story For Christmas. Hoorah! It even had Peter Capaldi in a somewhat minor role. However, despite its core strengths, this was very much a lesser addition to the roster, whose thrills and chills are squandered on very sub League of Gentlemen jokes.
Worzel Gummidge (BBC One)
The Office‘s Mackenzie Crook wrote, starred in and directed this delightful two-part adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge books thoroughly modernised them and also distanced them from the fondly remembered Jon Pertwee version.
This Gummidge had hints of horror and the supernatural, with airs of Penda’s Fen and notions of The Green Man, as our Worzel becomes a liminal figure, negotiating between nature and humanity in an age of climate change and erosion of the countryside.
All of which was largely sub-text, thankfully, with the show mainly be an enchanting family story about city children becoming countryfied and learning the ways of nature – and scarecrows that come to life. It was often charming, sometimes funny (particularly the opening “health and safety” scene of episode two), with a lovely cast that also included Michael Palin.
Yet there were often times when it was actually scary and disconcerting in its own way, like an empty country field near the woods in a storm.
Very much recommended.
Dracula (BBC One)
Cursed again by the hand of Gatiss! The BBC were hoping for another Sherlock-like updating for a classic piece of literature. What they got was a reasonably faithful adaptation of Stoker’s piece that as well as yet another stupid framing device (cf Martin’s Close) involving some comedy nuns, periodically injects anachronisms and comedy into a piece that really shouldn’t have them. Yes, I’m sure Victorian women always wrote to their prospective husbands informing them of the men (and women) they’d like to shag. That really used to happen.
The production values were great, it’s true, there were intermittent touches of greatness (the fly and the eye) and you couldn’t fault the casting of Dracula himself (Claes Bang). But it was a largely unbearable shredding of the original that should send any discerning viewer off to watch either the Frank Langella movie or the BBC’s own 1970s Louis Jordan version.
Doctor Who (BBC One)
Spyfall – parts one and two
Talking of Christmas miracles, here was an honest-to-goodness excellent Doctor Who story written by Chris Chibnall – a man I suspected of being physically incapable of such a feat. While still suffering a little from the usual issues of both Doctor Who itself and family Christmas shows, with “scenes of mild peril” and the show’s attempts to talk about tradecraft a little on the “slaps forehead against desk” end of the scale, this was by turns thrilling and clever, with genuine surprises.
The casting of (spoiler alert) Sacha Dhawan as the Master was also a great move that mirrored the use of Jodie Whittaker’s female Doctor to explore the additional challenges she faces compared to when she was a he.
Whittaker even got to stretch her acting muscles for a change, which given all she’s usually asked to do is play a village idiot was a nice change. One even begins to wonder, if Peter Davison is Chibnall’s default Doctor and Doctor Who, is Whittaker supposed to be doing a Campion and exhibiting practised stupidity?
I’d actually given up on Doctor Who. I genuinely had. I hadn’t even bothered watching the previous two (or maybe three) episodes. This was purely down to the writing, rather than anything else, since Chibnall does at least have superb production taste, even if he’s typically been unable to write for toffee – until now.
I’d completely forgotten this was on, in fact, and it wasn’t until someone spoilered the end of the first part that I had the slightest inclination to watch it. So I’m glad I did. Okay, it basically took a great big crap on Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who, to reset it back to RTD’s. But I can live with that.
I’ll be back for more. The question is: how many people will end up watching Iron Fist off the back of this?