This article was originally published in The Courier on 28th December 2019.
NEXT WEEK’S TV
New Year’s Day to Friday, BBC One, 9pm
If, like me, you eventually grew tired of Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis’ unbearably self-indulgent Sherlock, you might be pleasantly surprised by their muscular take on Dracula. A 19th century period piece, it borrows heavily from Bram Stoker’s novel while going its own freewheeling way (e.g. traumatised solicitor Jonathan Harker recounts his terrible tale to a drolly straight-talking, Godless nun). Despite containing flashes of slyly affectionate meta-commentary on established vampire lore, this Dracula isn’t a send-up. It’s witty, yes, but it’s also grimly atmospheric and unabashedly horrific. It may be one of the goriest dramas ever made by the BBC. Main selling point: a commanding performance from saturnine Danish actor Claes Bang as an utterly ruthless, cocksure Count.
DAME EDNA RULES THE WAVES
Hogmanay, BBC One, 9:05pm
The great Dame emerges from semi-retirement to host this one-off special from her enormous luxury yacht (it’s three times the size of Wales). Her celebrity shipmates include Sharon Osbourne, Judge Rinder, Emily Atack and Anita Rani, all of them eager to be insulted in inimitable passive-aggressive Edna fashion. Now aged 85, Edna’s material isn’t quite what it was. Her opening monologue falls flat, sadly, although it does contain this touching tribute to her late sidekick Madge Allsop: “She went peacefully… she died in my sleep.” All is not lost, however: once the guests come out, traces of her sharp improvisatory wit can still be detected. She can’t help being naturally funny, that gift never disappears completely.
New Year’s Day, BBC One, 6:55pm
The Doctor returns with a skittish two-part Bond pastiche called Spyfall (like Skyfall; such wit), featuring guest-stars Stephen Fry as a Q-style MI6 official and Lenny Henry (more of whom below) as a villainous billionaire businessman. I’m no fan of tin-eared showrunner Chris Chibnall; he is, at best, a competent hack. Spyfall is Chibnall at his best. It’s a fairly enjoyable run-around in which a mysterious race of aliens launch an attack on international intelligence agents. Chibnall pulls off a couple of decent set-pieces, Ryan and Yaz actually get to do something for once, and Jodie Whittaker makes her mark whenever the script allows her to. Things can only get better?
IMAGINE… LENNY HENRY: YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK
Thursday, BBC One, 12am
This thoughtful profile of Sir Lenworth has, for some mystifying reason, been buried at midnight. So what if you can watch it whenever on iPlayer? He deserves better. It’s a poignant companion piece to his recently published autobiography, in which he focuses, not on his years of fame and fortune, but on his early struggle to make a name for himself on the ‘70s working men’s club and television circuit: a seemingly insurmountable task for a black teenager in a predominantly white - and covertly racist - environment. He reflects upon the importance of delivering race-based jokes before the audience got there first. It was a defence mechanism, he had no choice. Today he’s a figurehead for the diversity movement.
LAST WEEK’S TV
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
22nd December to Christmas Eve, BBC One
The zillionth adaptation of Dickens’ festive classic starred Guy Pearce as Scrooge and Stephen Graham as Marley. It was written by Steven ‘Peaky Blinders’ Knight, hence the knowingly mannered, sooty charcoal aesthetic and salty language. Knight was obviously more interested in exploring Scrooge’s eloquent nihilism than his eventual redemption, but it was the resolutely dark Christmas Carol we deserved this year. An enjoyably nasty addition to the canon.
Christmas Eve, BBC Four
Mark Gatiss – that man again – wrote and directed this boring adaptation of an M.R. James ghost story about a 17th century nobleman accused of murdering a young woman with learning difficulties. I admire Gatiss’ commitment to reviving the BBC’s Christmas tradition of supernatural yarns, but his efforts tend to be little more than fanboy homages. They lack the haunting impact of the adaptations he adores. RIP Jonathan Miller.
GAVIN & STACEY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
Christmas Day, BBC One
There are few things worse than a reunion with people you didn’t much care for in the first place. This unnecessary comeback confirmed the wisdom of that stone-clad sitcom edict: don’t bother. Have Corden and Jones learned nothing from Only Fools and Horses and David Brent: Life On The Road? It’s a nice enough show, fairly well-observed, but leave it where it belongs: somewhat fondly remembered in the third tier.