Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That end of Christmas TV review (2013)

Let's take these in order of broadcast even though they weren't necessarily watched in order.

Raised by Wolves
Caitlin Moran is awesome and always has been.  Her book 'How to be a Woman' is by turns hilarious, painful and angry.  If you can cope with the language (typically Moran-esque) then do read it.  It sits on the shelf alongside the equally wonderful Hadley Freeman's 'Be Awesome', which is another book that is hilarious, painful and angry.  Both should be recommended reading for any young woman who can cope with the swearing.

Anyway, all that is by extension a way in to discussing the pilot episode of a fictionalised drama by the Moran sisters Caitlin and Caroline about growing up in Wolverhampton - updated to the present day.  If anything that settng is actually its only downfall, as it makes it too much like Shameless for people who hated Shameless (me and he), when it could have been the equivalent of 'Everybody Hates Chris'.  But then again, Moran is nothing if not against faux-nostalgia, so why not update things? The two leads - the equivalent of Caitlin and her elder sister - are brilliant, the other kids in the large family are suitably adorable/kooky, and mum (played by versatile Rebekah Staton) uses 'David Cameron' as a swear-word.  Brilliant.  Okay, it was WEIRD seeing Inspector Japp from Poirot turn up as weed-smoking Grampy, but hey...

Worth a commission, but more Wolverhampton please. (Actresses Helen Monks and Alexa Davies are far left and right, with the Moran sisters in the centre of the image)


Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
As we were out on Christmas Day(and what a wonderful day it was!), there was a frantic drive to make it back in time for this and we made it by the skin of our skin.  The second that the TV went on and came to life, that was the second that the voice-over and episode started.  Cutting a bit fine.  Rather like the episode.

It would be hard to top the excess of emotions that came with the 50th anniversary episode (The Day of the Doctor), or even the season finale earlier in the summer (The Name of the Doctor), so this episode - carrying the weight as it did of being both Christmas episode and Matt Smith's farewell to the role AND being lumbered with a 'how-will-they-resolve-the-regeneration-problem?' - was always destined to be weighed down with more expectations than could reasonably be managed.  Tennant got two hours of farewell and got to leave on New Year's Day so he didn't have to have his departure carry the same weight as a 'jolly' Christmas episode.

As it was, the episode still managed to be lovely and charming and thrilling, just not in the proportions it probably should have been.  The Christmas bits were charming - even the madness of recognisable actors in blink and miss roles - and the Town called Christmas looked beautiful.  Moffat tied up a good number of the threads marked 'Later' - Silents, cracks, the Question - and Smith got a stunning farewell speech and a moment with Amy. Stuart quoted it:
His final speech is sheer poetry, good enough to put in an upmarket Christmas cracker. Here it is in full. “It’s started. I can’t stop it now, this is just the reset. A whole new regeneration cycle. Taking a bit longer. Just breaking it in. It all just disappears doesn’t it, everything you are gone in a moment like breath on a mirror? Any moment now, he’s a comin’ … The Doctor …. And I always will be. But times change and so must I. Amelia! The first face this face saw. We all change when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that’s ok, you gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” Then his actual final line. “Hey.” Sob again.

There were funny moments in 'The Time of the Doctor' (yes, damn me, I did chuckle at the naked/clothes bit, but not half as much as the line about Ten being vain) but the episode was undeniably unbalanced in trying to juggle Christmas with the end of the Doctor.  It just felt.. rushed, pushed, cramped... it needed space to breathe.  It needed BUDGET not just in terms of money - though what was spent, looked well-spent - but also time within the schedule.  (I've forgotten where I read it, but someone repeatedly kept reminding us, 'budget, budget, budget'.)

What saved it?  Re-watching helps enormously.  Like several broadcasts that could charm enough first time around but benefit from the extra thoughtfulness of re-watching, this is a grower.  The love and mixed emotions of first time around glow brighter with each re-watch. But there was already so much there to love and cherish. Well, Matt Smith was pretty damn awesome, and not just when he was pretending that Caitlin Blackwood hadn't inevitably grown up a damn lot since being Amelia four years ago and he was having to fantasise about another young actress with red hair being the 'first face he ever saw'.  Nice touch to have grown-up Amy back though for one last goodnight for the Raggedy Man. Smith also aged well, bringing a Hartnell-esque presence to the final days of the Doctor protecting Christmas.

Jenna Coleman had to do a lot with little - and a turkey, and being reminded again that "the Doctor always lies" - and had to cope with having a rather wonderful gran and a difficult pairing of (not)dad and step-mother. But she did it well and I really want her to stay around a while with the new incomer (if only in the hope that Idris/TARDIS doesn't throw a complete hissy at not having anyone who knows how to fly her around). Orla Brady - beautiful, delectable Natasha Tem (an alt River Song - see Allyn Gibson's comment after Stuart's review) for the end of Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen's days) - brought her usual grace, elegance and mischief to the proceedings and proves again why she is gorgeous in everything (the angel housekeeper Mrs Sheringham in Eternal Law, a lovely guilt pleasure from last year, and especially as Peter Bishop's mother Elizabeth in Fringe). And that's before we get to weeping angels in the snow, a wooden cyberman, Handles the talking cabbage, Daleks being taken down in a flame of semi-controlled regenerative energy, and children's drawings.  Phew.... and breathe...


So, there was a lot to take in, at the end of this Doctor's time, and a lot of emotion to be caught and distilled.  In the end, it was what we probably needed to expect with some glorious extras to sweeten the pill.  Raggedy Man, Goodnight.

Downton Abbey - Christmas Special
What can I say?  Mother-in-law had coped with me harassing us home in time (just) for Doctor Who, so we let her watch Downton.  We have never watched Downton before.  We almost certainly won't again.  But 1923 is a VERY good year for frocks and hats and the narrative was sufficiently self-contained (with some 'you-couldn't-avoid-knowing-that' stuff) to be watchable for a pair of novices like Neil and I.

Did I mention I like the clothes?



Death Comes to Pemberley
I think that in some ways Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did greater justice to Austenesque writing, but this was an enjoyable period romp/murder mystery with a suitably utterly irksome Lydia (Jenna Coleman, paired again with Matthew Goode from Dancing on the Edge, one of the year's broadcasting highlights).  Of course, one key reason for me and Neil watching was to as ever worship at the feet of adorable Anna Maxwell Martin.  She made a wonderful older Lizzie Bennet, and Matthew Rhys a dark Darcy (he also made a fine John Jasper in the Edwin Drood adaptation of early 2012). Pemberley divided opinions apparently.  A shame, I think, as I rather agree with the Telegraph reviewer Sarah Crompton:
They weren’t Austen’s creations, they weren’t the characters conjured up by PD James – and they certainly weren’t Ehle and Firth. But they stayed in my mind as the credits rolled, as honourable incarnations of a great literary couple.


The Thirteenth Tale
Hokum.  But superior hokum in the style of Virginia Andrews.  Great cast - the thankfully ubiquitous Olivia Coleman (may she keep being everywhere when she's this good) and the once again flame-haired Vanessa Redgrave.  Lucy Mangan does a good non-spoilery review which captures the insane twisty tale which waved flags at its explanation from relatively early on.  Who cares?  It was very watchable.


I suspect that all of these will turn up on Masterpiece (which seems to be co-credited on just about everything these days!) if it hasn't already been broadcast - Doctor Who breaks records now in the USA, even if it is just on BBC America.

Enjoy and happy new year!

2 comments:

Persephone said...

Oh thank goodness. Someone who feels the same way about Downton Abbey. (Actually, the first season was bearable, but it plummeted from there.)

Fell asleep during The Time of the Doctor. Not a good sign. Did wake up for Matt Smith's final moments and Peter Capaldi's startling entrance (looking much like a bird of prey).

I'm not sure if "Wolves" will make it over here; I'd love to have a look as I have generations of my family born there. The rest, I'm sure will either hit PBS, BBC Canada, or one of the specialty or education channels. I can wait.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Much as I love Edwardian frockery, it's only once they hit the 1920s party season in London I was ever going to tolerate DA. sorry you fell asleep for the Doctor. It warrants rewatching (tho not as much as Day of the Doctor). Yes, I suspect limited travel for Caitlin and co which is a shame. Happy of the new new year to all of you too!