Saturday, 30 May 2020

COMEDIANS: HOME ALONE + CITIZENS OF BOOMTOWN: THE STORY OF THE BOOMTOWN RATS


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 30th May 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

COMEDIANS: HOME ALONE
Monday, BBC Two, 10pm


I wouldn’t blame you for being utterly sick of the sight of well-meaning celebrities broadcasting from their homes during lockdown, but this new series of fifteen-minute programmes is a cheerful distraction. A compendium of self-isolated sketches from various comedians, episode one features Kerry Godliman (who deserves a ticker tape parade for managing to escape from Ricky Gervais’ dire Derek and After Life with her dignity intact) playing a bored mum who’s getting through this by drinking white wine to excess, and Bob Mortimer as ‘Train Guy’, a beautifully observed parody of an obnoxious businessman conducting Facetime conversations with his colleagues: “We need a Zoom womb to incubate initiatives with potential going-forwardness.” Bob also provides some daft names for cats. Nice.

CARDINAL
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


Series four of this frostbitten Canadian crime drama begins with detectives John Cardinal (not, alas, played by a man called John Actor) and Lise Delorme investigating the sudden disappearance of a local politician’s husband. I don’t have much time for sombre police procedurals; it’s a genre sculpted almost entirely from clichés. Cardinal is typical in that it’s well-shot and atmospheric - a show so thickly mired in snow, it makes Fargo look like the Club Tropicana video – and benefits from nicely understated central performances, but we’ve seen it all before. The sonorous score, the sad detectives with boringly complicated private lives, the never-ending trudge from plot point A to plot point Z. You know the snore.

THE OTHER ONE
Friday, BBC One, 9pm


The great Rebecca Front stars in this promising new sitcom about a middle-class widow who gains a bitter lease of life when she discovers that her late husband was a philanderer with a secret working-class family. Co-written by Holly Walsh (check out Dead Boss, an unjustly forgotten sitcom she wrote with Sharon Horgan), The Other One is populated by mildly dysfunctional characters who are gently ribbed but never sneered at. It’s warm, benign, well-observed and contains actual proper jokes. Walsh stirs echoes of Victoria Wood with lines such as this one from Front’s character: “Can you ask Marcus to Sky + Masterchef: The Professionals for me, please?” The banal specificity of that really tickled me. It’s very good, folks. You should watch it.

LAST WEEK’S TV

CITIZENS OF BOOMTOWN: THE STORY OF THE BOOMTOWN RATS
Saturday 23rd May, BBC Two


A mediocre bunch of absolute chancers fronted by an insufferable shabby narcissist, The Boomtown Rats were unique in that they somehow managed to convince The Youth that naff sub-Springsteen pomp had anything whatsoever to do with punk and new wave. This laughably self-regarding documentary was founded on the false premise of Geldof and co being somehow important; a hollow piece of brand management packed with enabling buffoons such as Bono and Sting making absurdly extravagant claims on the band’s behalf. It was undeniably interesting, but only because all pop stories are interesting. Geldof, contrary to his posturing self-image, came across as a charmless opportunist who conveniently organised Live Aid when his moment in the sun was beginning to fade. Still, the piano arrangement on I Don’t Like Mondays is nice, isn’t it? Geldof didn’t write that.

BAKE OFF: THE PROFESSIONALS
Tuesday 26th May, Channel 4

The latest series of this pointless spin-off may as well have launched with a repeat. No one would’ve noticed. The mildly amusing contributions from camp co-host Tom Allen fail to rescue a format which fundamentally misunderstands the Bake Off mothership’s appeal: viewers enjoy watching ordinary people messing about with pastry and cream, it’s no fun at all when everyone involved is tediously skilled.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

HORIZON: WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH TONY SLATTERY? + PETER SELLERS: A STATE OF COMIC ECSTASY


This article was originally published in The Courier on 16th May 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

HORIZON: WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH TONY SLATTERY?
Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm


The comedian Tony Slattery was once one of the biggest stars on British television. A handsome sprite with a rare gift for inspired improvisation, he was ubiquitous. And then, suddenly, he disappeared. Last year, an interview with The Guardian in which he talked openly about his mental health and substance abuse issues, returned him to the spotlight. In this raw, candid, moving documentary, Slattery and his wonderful partner Mark go in search of an official diagnosis as well as the harrowing root cause of some of his issues. A terribly sweet, vulnerable man, Slattery is in a bad way. But he hopes that, by choosing to expose the ravages of his illness, he might encourage others to seek help too.

THE CHANGIN’ TIMES OF IKE WHITE
Monday, BBC Four, 10pm


Ike White is a gifted soul musician whose only album, Changin’ Times, was recorded in 1976 under highly unusual circumstances: White was serving a life sentence for murder at the time. This absorbing Arena documentary follows a classic mystery formula: introduce the viewer to a forgotten cult artist, then gradually reveal what happened to them. White has always maintained that, while guilty of robbing a grocery store, he shot and killed the owner by accident. The Changin’ Times project was a chance to turn his life around, yet despite the patronage of Stevie Wonder and a release from prison in 1978, he more or less chose to fade into obscurity. Following a diligent search, Arena tracked him down to find out why.

OUR LIVES: SOUL BOY
Wednesday, BBC One, 7:30pm


Meet Anthony Flavin, a Nottingham teenager who has been in care since he was six. This uplifting half hour documentary follows him as he prepares to branch out on his own for the first time. Anthony has discovered a passionate sense of purpose within the local Northern Soul community. It has boosted his confidence and changed his life completely. The programme is a sweet celebration of the transcendent succour of music and companionship. The Northern Soul scene is quite rightly presented as an utterly positive working class subculture, an egalitarian escape route from the pressures of everyday life. We could all do with a little hope at the moment; you’ll find some here. Come on feet, start movin’.

CLIMBING BLIND
Wednesday, BBC Four, 9pm


This remarkable documentary follows lifelong climber Jesse Dufton, who is almost completely blind, as he attempts to conquer the Old Man of Hoy. No one has ever made a ‘non-sight’ lead of the famous Scottish sea stack before, but Dufton is confident that he can do it. Accompanied by his sight guide and fiancée, Molly, and rock-climbing filmmaker Alastair Lee, he first of all explains his technique: “I’m not really using my eyes, to be honest. They don’t really give me any useful information. All the information will be what I feel through my hands and through my feet as well.” The Old Man of Hoy is a sheer rock face, 449-foot high. In a word: yikes.

LAST WEEK’S TV

PETER SELLERS: A STATE OF COMIC ECSTASY
Saturday 9th May, BBC Two


This occasionally interesting yet rather peculiar and frustrating profile of the late comic genius was, more by accident than design, perfectly in keeping with the man’s inconsistent personality. It struck me as a programme with honest intentions, albeit one that lost its thread in the editing room. 

It borrowed heavily from The Peter Sellers Story, a stellar Arena documentary from 1995. That’s forgivable to an extent, as some of the key contributors have passed away since then, but it still felt like a piecemeal compromise. 

Sellers was, to say the least, a tremendously difficult man with undiagnosed mental health issues. He treated his many wives and children appallingly (Britt Ekland spoke about their relationship for the first time on camera, and came across with dignity). He wasn’t very good at being human. But this programme implied that, as an artist, he peaked with Dr Strangelove and never recovered his mojo until Being There, fifteen years later. Utterly misleading nonsense. 

It was an honest profile insomuch as it didn’t shy away from how utterly awful he could be, but it didn’t have much to say about the state of comic ecstasy he was best known for. The Arena documentary is much better; you can watch it all on YouTube.   

Saturday, 2 May 2020

ISOLATION STORIES + VAN DER VALK


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 2nd May 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

ISOLATION STORIES
Monday to Thursday, STV, 9pm


These short standalone dramas were still in post-production when I wrote this, but given the talent involved they’ll probably be worth watching. Produced by the estimable Jeff Pope (Philomena; Stan & Ollie), they’re vignettes featuring characters in lockdown. Mel (Sheridan Smith) is heavily pregnant and at home all alone; the father of her child has elected to stay elsewhere with his wife and children. Ron (Robert Glenister) is ill with the virus, which has put added strain on his relationship with one of his sons (played by Glenister’s son, Tom). Anxious Mike (Darren Boyd) insists on an online therapy session with Rochelle (Angela Griffin), and a grandad (David Threlfall) attempts to entertain his family (Eddie Marsan and his actual sons) from afar.

THE A WORD
Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm


Peter Bowker’s sensitive drama about a family coping with a child who has autism is marred by the continuing presence of an embarrassingly miscast Christopher Eccleston. A fine dramatic actor, Eccleston simply cannot handle the demands of playing light comedy. It’s beyond his stern capabilities. That’s a shame, as the rest of the cast, including the entirely natural Max Vento as nine-year-old Joe, is excellent. As series three begins, the family’s situation has become even more complicated. Alison (Morven Christie) and Paul (Lee Ingleby) are divorced, which means that Joe has to cope with living in two places at once. When he angrily discards his beloved headphones, usually a permanent fixture around his neck, you know he’s struggling.

I’LL GET THIS
Tuesday, BBC Two, 10pm

Here’s a bit of harmless fun to while away those hours in lockdown. Now in its second series, each episode involves five celebrities attending a swanky restaurant, placing their credit cards in a bowl in the centre of the table and proceeding to play a series of simple yet revealing games. If they win a game, they get to retrieve their card. If not, they have to pay for the meal at the end of the night (hardly a tragic sacrifice for such well-heeled people, but let's keep it light). The celebs in this week’s episode are the old smoothie’s old smoothie Nigel Havers, Made in Chelsea star and pro-fox hunting young Conservative Georgia Toffolo, Alex Brooker from The Last Leg, comedian Desiree Burch and former Coronation Street star Sally Lindsay.

LAST WEEK’S TV

VAN DER VALK
Sunday 26th April, STV


Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: the minimalist rearrangement of that once triumphant theme tune is simply unacceptable. Even the John Lewis Christmas publicity team would reject it for being too weak and twee. A travesty. Otherwise, this handsomely produced contemporary take on the adventures of Amsterdam’s most famous detective is serviceably generic cop show fare. The role will forever by associated with the late Barry Foster, but Marc Warren does a pretty good job of slipping into his caustic brogues. It's nothing, though, a Sunday night time-passer. Still, nice canals.

STACEY DOOLEY: COSTA DEL NARCOS
Sunday 26th April, BBC Two

Dooley’s latest investigation revealed how southern Spain has, in recent years, become the main turf-warring gateway for drugs into Europe. She met some heavily disguised dealers and smugglers, as well as some of the police officers tasked with seizing back control of the region. Dooley may not be the world’s greatest investigative journalist, but her reports are always clear-eyed and informative. This was no exception.

ABSOLUTELY INDIA: MANCS IN MUMBAI
Wednesday 29th April, STV

The Thomas brothers, Ryan, Scott and Adam, are familiar to millions for their respective roles in Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Love Island. But did you know they’re of Indian descent? Accompanied by their dad, the singer Dougie James of Soul Train minor fame, they explore their heritage in this lively travelogue which also doubles as a family therapy session. They’re amiable tour guides.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

NOSTALGIC LOCKDOWN TV ANTICS

For want of anything better to do during lockdown, I decided to compile a fantasy single day schedule of programmes shown on BBC One during the week I was born. I completed this futile task by referencing the invaluable BBC Genome site.

All of the programme lengths are correct, I didn't cheat. That would really be pointless. Obviously it resembles no BBC One schedule in history, but I did try to make it look vaguely realistic in terms of when these programmes would be shown on this made-up day.

Anyway, it whiled away an hour or so. You might enjoy trying it too.

One Day in October 1974

6am             Election ’74: Where Are We Now?

9:30am        Weather

9:35am        Fingerbobs

9:50am        Trumpton

10:15am      You and Me

10:30am      Tom and Jerry

10:40am      The Sound of Laughter

11:10am      Huckleberry Hound

11:15am      Deputy Dawg

11:20pm      Barnaby

11:35pm      Ragtime

11:50am      Interval

12pm           News

12:25pm      Weather

12:30pm      Star Trek (animated series)

12:55pm      Interval

1pm             Pebble Mill

1:45pm        Bewitched

2:15pm        Chico and the Man

2:40pm        The Forsyte Saga

3:35pm        Interval

3:40pm        The Long Chase

4:05pm        Play School

4:30pm        Blue Peter

5pm             Screen Test

5:20pm        The Wombles

5:25pm        Clangers

5:30pm        News

5:35pm        Weather

5:40pm        The Generation Game

6:30pm        Tom and Jerry (double-bill)

6:50pm        Top of the Pops

7:30pm        Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

8pm             Film: Carry On Cleo

9:30pm        Porridge

10pm           News

10:20pm     Weather

10:25pm     Kojak 

11:15pm     Parkinson

12:15am      Weather/Closedown

Saturday, 25 April 2020

NORMAL PEOPLE + KILLING EVE

A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 25th April 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

NORMAL PEOPLE
Monday, BBC One, 9pm


This adaptation of Sally Rooney’s critically acclaimed novel is a beautiful, tender drama about adolescent agony and self-discovery. It explores the complex relationship between Marianne and Connell as they navigate their way through high school and college. Marianne is an intelligent rebel who’s regarded by her classmates as a weirdo. Connell is highly intelligent too, but he’s sporty and popular. When they become romantically involved, Connell asks Marianne to keep it between themselves. She agrees, as he’s the only person in school who has ever shown any interest in her. Sensitively written, directed and performed, Normal People aches, quietly, with soulful honesty and insight. It touches a raw nerve. All twelve episodes will be available on iPlayer from Sunday.

PAUL HOLLYWOOD EATS JAPAN
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm


Seldom has a title promised so much while delivering so little. I was hoping for a show in which the azure-eyed dough botherer embarks on a Godzilla-style rampage through the streets of Tokyo, but instead it’s just a standard grub-munching travelogue in which he visits Japan for the first time in his life. He wants to find out why food plays such an important role in Japanese culture. His mission involves a crash-course in restaurant etiquette, a visit to a solo dining eatery and eating some bread from a can. Hollywood isn’t a worldly-wise man. He’s never heard of the word ‘sayonara’ before. But he’s keen to learn and his amiable show proves fairly informative.

FIRST DATES HOTEL
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm


Pretty much every single programme on television right now reminds us of that time, not so long ago, when we could freely go outside and meet people. The arrival of a new series of First Dates Hotel feels especially cruel. Thanks, Channel 4, for reminding all the lonely people of their crushing loveless solitude. Fred Sirieix is a nice fella, but he comes across as a sadistic French taunter in this unfortunate context. Anyway, if you can ignore all of that, it’s sweet-natured business as usual. In a luxury hotel on the beauteous Amalfi Coast we meet a bohemian ‘60s counterculture survivor who’s been single for 35 years, a trumpet-playing Sean Connery lookalike and a lobster-obsessed hippie.

THE SHADOWS AT SIXTY
Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm


The sultans of twang receive their due in this enjoyable profile. Surviving members Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett come across as humble souls who are justifiably proud of their achievements. They led the first wave of legit British rock and rollers. Marvin is a bona fide axe hero with a unique sound. Bennett is a stellar drummer. They’re influential, but they’ve never been cool. As Bennett bemoans: “I wanted to be a musician, and suddenly I’m being pushed through a mangle by Arthur Askey.” That’s not a metaphor. The Beatles appeared in panto too, but they quickly transcended that old-fashioned world of light entertainment. The Shads never did. The programme does a good job of reassessing their legacy.

LAST WEEK’S TV

KILLING EVE
Sunday 19th April, BBC One


A textbook example of a show that only needed to exist for one series, Killing Eve continues to run around in circles. It should’ve been an entertaining one and done deal, as it clearly had nowhere left to go after that. Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh are great, they just about hold the show together with their appealing screen presence, but no amount of stylish direction and OTT cartoon violence can disguise the fact that everything after series one has been utterly superfluous.

LIFE AND BIRTH
Tuesday 21st April, BBC One

This uplifting series has arrived with perfect timing. An observational documentary based in Birmingham Women’s Hospital, it follows several pregnant mothers-to-be as they undergo a life-changing experience. Warm insight into the everyday human condition ensued. As obvious as this may sound given our current situation, we must never ever take our NHS for granted.

ELLA: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS
Friday 24th April, BBC Four

Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz genius, a scatting cat par excellence. This elegant documentary traced her story. She rose above racism and poverty in the sense that she was an immensely talented black woman who conquered show business, but those wounds don’t automatically heal just because you’ve headlined the Albert Hall. BBC iPlayer, folks. Absorb and enjoy.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

CELEBRITY SAS: WHO DARES WINS + LIMMY'S HOMEMADE SHOW


This article was originally published in The Courier on 18th April 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

CELEBRITY SAS: WHO DARES WINS
Monday, Channel 4, 9pm


Escapist rubbish. Mindless entertainment. Risible macho nonsense. Call it what you will. This is the sort of silliness we need right now. You presumably know the drill: a team of ex-Special Forces soldiers led by classic bearded Action Man ™ Ant Middleton put twelve celebrities through a condensed yet gruelling version of SAS selection. This time around, in conjunction with Stand Up to Cancer, those trembling famous faces include Anthea Turner, John Fashanu, Katie Price, Strictly dancer Brendan Cole, former boxing champ Tony Bellew and some wazzock from TOWIE (there is always some wazzock from TOWIE in these shows). Pantomime aggression, facile motivational profundities, gruff soldiers dispensing unqualified advice to troubled souls with various issues, this show has it all.

A VERY BRITISH LOCKDOWN: DIARIES FROM THE FRONTLINE
Tuesday, STV, 8pm


I’m writing these words on Saturday 11th April. Or it might be Sunday 12th, I honestly can’t tell the days apart anymore. Time means nothing at the moment, does it? We’re all adrift in a disorientating existential limbo. That’s a roundabout way of telling you that, for obvious reasons, preview copies of this recently compiled programme weren’t available in time (whatever that is) for my weekly deadline. It does, however, sound like something we can all get behind. Filmed via camera phones, it involves members of the public sharing their Coronavirus lockdown stories. Participants include two middle-aged grocers who continue to serve the needs of their vulnerable customers, plus a pair of expectant parents whose baby is due soon.

OUR QUEEN AT WAR
Wednesday, STV, 9pm

Not, alas, a gossipy expose of the intra-band frictions between Messrs Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon, but a documentary examining the role of young Princess Liz during WWII. She was, famously, the only female member of the Royal Family to join the armed forces during wartime, an act of national duty which strengthened her character and public image. It’s an eventful saga solidly told via forelock-tugging Royal biographers and a vivid fiesta of photographs, letters, archive radio broadcasts and newsreel footage, plus some tasteful animated inserts. The war encouraged the Windsors to adopt a more informal way of dealing with the masses; the Princess played an integral role in bringing some relative comfort and cheer to her shattered subjects.

THE BIG NIGHT IN
Thursday, BBC One, 7pm


Comic Relief and Children in Need have united for the first time to present this three-hour charity extravaganza, in which stars provide entertainment from the safety of their own homes. The money raised will go towards those partaking in the frontline fight against Covid-19, as well as some unsung heroes who are going that extra mile to support their local communities. Lenny Henry and Matt Baker will, while staying safely apart, present contributions from the likes of Peter Kay, Catherine Tate and the stars of Strictly. We’ll also be treated to some classic comedy moments, as voted for by you. It would be churlish, under the circumstances, to complain about seeing Del Boy fall through the bar again.

LAST WEEK’S TV

LIMMY’S HOMEMADE SHOW
Sunday 12th April, BBC Two


Limmy’s latest series is inadvertently topical. A DIY sketch show filmed almost entirely within the confines of his house, it’s a masterclass in self-isolation. It reduces his previous series, Limmy’s Show!, to its bare essence: just Limmy all alone with his daft, morbid, overactive thoughts. Some bits work, some bits don’t, but it’s never boring, never predictable. He’s one of the few contemporary comedians who can make me cackle out loud. Undoubted highlight: Limmy’s guide to creating the ultimate crowd-pleasing DJ set.

DOLLY: 50 YEARS AT THE OPRY
Monday 13th April, BBC Two

This was everything you’d expect from a glitzy celebration of the great Dolly Parton. A slick package combining anniversary concert footage plus archive clips, it found her on typically charming form. While I appreciate that the recently departed Kenny Rogers was presumably too ill to duet on Islands in the Stream when the show was recorded last October, I could’ve done without Dolly’s bland contemporary Country guests performing karaoke versions of her hits. Nevertheless, time in Lady Rhinestone’s company is always well-spent.

INSIDE THE FACTORY
Tuesday 14th April, BBC Two

One feared for Gregg Wallace’s blood pressure when he visited a French cast-iron kitchenware foundry. His enthusiasm reached almost combustible levels. I hope he’s currently enjoying some emergency relaxation time.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

MIRIAM'S BIG FAT ADVENTURE + FIVE GUYS A WEEK + DOCTOR WHO


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 7th March 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

MIRIAM’S BIG FAT ADVENTURE
Monday and Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm


The redoubtable Miriam Margolyes is, by her own admission, morbidly obese. She’s four foot eleven and weighs just over fourteen stone. In this frank report she attempts to come to terms with her weight while confronting the UK’s obesity problem. “I’m disgusted by my body,” she declares, “I loathe it.” Her first stop is a strict military-inspired health farm, where she meets people who’ve succeeded in changing their unhealthy lifestyles. But it’s not been easy for them. She also chats to a plus-size body confidence activist and a behavioural psychologist in charge of research into how being overweight can affect a person’s mental health. It’s a non-judgemental, ruminative essay delivered in Margolyes’ characteristically twinkly and erudite style.

JOANNA LUMLEY’S HIDDEN CARIBBEAN: HAVANA TO HAITI
Tuesday, STV, 9pm


La Lumley’s travelogues are usually a cut above most Famous Person Takes a Subsidised Holiday confections, and this series is no exception. Lumley is impeccably charming, genuinely inquisitive and entirely comfortable around people she’s only just met, hence why she’s a natural fit for this overpopulated subgenre. Her 15,000 mile Caribbean adventure begins, as per the title, in the Cuban capital of Havana. While admiring the architecture and vintage automobiles, she checks in with a traditional rhumba group, a tobacco farmer, a luxury hotel magnate, and an old lady who lives in a beautifully faded house frozen in time. It’s a picturesque programme driven by Lumley’s fundamentally sincere interest in finding out about the troubling complexities underpinning a society that's lived through six decades of Communist rule. Granted, it could hardly be mistaken for a probing political tract, but at least it actually bothers to engage with the issue.

FIVE GUYS A WEEK
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9:15pm


It’s a dating show, folks, but with a difference! Here’s the concept: a single woman invites five competing men into her home. Every day, one of them is asked to leave and never darken her towels again. In the end – voila – a couple finds everlasting happiness. Yes, it’s just another piece of voyeuristic Channel 4 nonsense, something to occupy your time while staring into the abyss: Big Brother meets First Dates. A bunch of men moving into a single woman’s house sounds dodgy in theory, but the results are harmless. It’s a fairly entertaining 'social experiment', vaguely embarrassing and sporadically funny. Channel 4 have got a minor cult hit on their hands here, i.e. it will trend on Twitter for an hour every week. Lightweight job done.

CHILD OF OUR TIME: TURNING 20
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


In 1999 the BBC’s Horizon strand began an ambitious project: filming 25 children from birth to adulthood. The chosen ones came from all walks of life, the idea being to chart how their upbringings and social environments shaped them. Now young adults, they’ve invited the Child of Our Time team back into their lives to reveal what it’s like to be part of Britain’s first generation of the 21st Century. They also reflect on the project itself while discussing the challenges they’ve faced throughout their lives so far. It is, in effect, a variation on Michael Apted’s seminal 7 Up endeavour, but undeniably interesting in its own right. A candid group of guinea pigs, they provide some valuable insight.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 1st March, BBC One


As expected, Chris Chibnall failed to adequately resolve his Timeless Child arc in this mechanically eventful finale, which was basically a 70-minute info dump. It contained some nice, nutty ideas – the Master creating a breed of Time Lord/Cybermen hybrids; the Doctor being revealed as the original Time Lord with an entire hidden lifecycle before the one she’s aware of – but it never scaled the dramatic heights you’d expect from such a continuity-warping episode.

However, it was superficially entertaining in the way that most wham-bam Chibnall episodes are, and I’ve come to terms with what this era of my favourite programme is: a deeply flawed, two-dimensional sideshow. Sigh.

On the plus side, at least Jodie Whittaker has been allowed to show off her acting chops this year – it’s as if Chibnall suddenly remembered that the Doctor is supposed to get angry sometimes - and Sacha Dhawan makes for an entertainingly berserk Master. It’s testament to his abilities that he managed to pull off the utterly thankless task of standing around and explaining the plot for half an episode.

McDONALD & DODDS
Sunday 1st March, STV
                                                                                                

Who devised this, Alan Partridge? An odd-couple detective drama starring Jason Watkins and Tala Gouveia – good actors both, they deserve better – McDonald & Dodds is an absurdly generic stockpile of nothing; Sunday night clue-sniffing futility incarnate. It’s whimsical, arch and soporific. TV Horlicks, the drug of a nation.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

THE TROUBLE WITH MAGGIE COLE + JIMMY McGOVERN'S MOVING ON


This article was originally published in The Courier on 29th February 2019.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

THE TROUBLE WITH MAGGIE COLE
Wednesday, STV, 9pm


Dawn French stars in this likeable comedy-drama set, like 98% of all ITV dramas ever, in a picturesque English coastal village. She plays a local historian and cheerful chatterbox who inadvertently harms her close-knit community during a tipsy interview with an unscrupulous regional radio journalist. Maggie isn’t a bad person, but her fondness for gossip proves disastrous. Appearing in bittersweet confections such as this appears to be the fate of every major ‘80s alternative comedian, but there are worse ways to spend the autumn of one’s career. The Trouble with Maggie Cole is a watchable piece of fluff buoyed by an engaging performance from French and a solid supporting cast including Mark Heap, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Vicki Pepperdine.

JIMMY McGOVERN’S MOVING ON
Monday to Friday, BBC One, 2:15pm


A series of standalone dramas curated by one of British television’s greatest dramatists, Moving On adds a sprinkling of grit to the lightweight daytime TV schedules. These disparate plays are united by the theme of characters at a turning point in their lives. This time around we meet a recently released ex-con struggling to adapt to life on the outside, a blind woman about to undergo surgery to restore her sight, a young mother dealing with bereavement, a middle-aged woman being threatened with redundancy, and a retired rugby hero who’s hidden his homosexuality from the public for decades (not all at the same time, of course). A valuable breeding ground for emerging writers, Moving On reflects the compassion and humanity that define their mentor’s work.

AGE OF THE IMAGE
Monday, BBC Four, 9pm


This expansive essay from art historian James Fox begins with the dispiriting spectacle of Louvre visitors taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa. “Why do we feel compelled to do this?” Fox asks. “The answer, I think, lies in a revolution in visual culture that has turned us into a population of image addicts.” This obsession began over one hundred years ago. Fox, in his slightly sinister yet oddly captivating way, examines the history of visual language throughout the ages. He begins with the early 20th century pioneers who captured and manipulated the space-time continuum. The starry cast includes Edison, Dali and Buster Keaton, but Fox also pays enthusiastic tribute to some unsung geniuses. This is what BBC Four is for.

TIGERS: HUNTING THE TRAFFICKERS
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


Tigers are on the verge of extinction. “They’re being hunted because people in China and Vietnam want to consume them,” explains former Royal Marines commando Aldo Kane, who presents this grim frontline/undercover report. Kane trains anti-poaching units in South East Asia, where wine made from tiger bones is a popular libation. It’s a growth industry with dwindling resources, but certain governments, zoos and farms in that part of the world provide support. I’m always wary of righteous westerners barging into foreign cultures and wagging their fingers, but that, thankfully, isn’t what happens here. Kane draws attention to a dedicated South East Asian movement set up in opposition to an appalling animal rights atrocity.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 23rd February, BBC One


This year’s two-part finale got off to a decent, if unevenly paced, start with an apocalyptic Cyberman epic. Chibnall’s clunky ‘say what you see’ dialogue is something we just have to begrudgingly accept, but he does know how to throw a superficially entertaining, action-packed yarn together. There’s an awful lot to wrap up in episode 10, though. If he pulls it off, I’ll be flabbergasted.

FLESH AND BLOOD
Monday 24th February to Thursday 27th, STV


This generically titled drama turned out to be a serviceable potboiler about an extended middle-class family dealing with the standard everyday miasma of secrets, lies and murder. Imelda Staunton and Stephen Rea added more class than it deserved.

THE WINDSORS
Tuesday 25th February, Channel 4


The latest series of this agreeably disrespectful sitcom/soap pastiche about the Royal Family has more to deal with than usual. Harry and Meghan’s abdication is a mere amuse bouche compared to the sordid details of Andrew’s private life. Apart from a brief mention of Epstein – presumably a last-minute addition – episode one side-lined the sweat-challenged monarch. The Windsors always tries to remain topical, and they’ve promised to tackle him in future episodes, but God only knows how they’ll handle it. The severity of that scandal won’t mix comfortably with the cartoony, knockabout tone of the show.