Day saved by Dr Who


TV REVIEW: Dr Who, BBC 1, Christmas Day Mattie/Inside the Crystal Ball, RTÉ 1, Christmas Day and Sunday The Royle Family, BBC1, Christmas Day
Three Men Go To Ireland, BBC2, Wednesday and New Year’s Day Jools’s Annual Hootenanny,BBC 2 New Year’s Eve

The idea of the family gathering around a big movie on Christmas Day has gone out with foil ceiling decorations, but then this was also a year when old reliables such as It’s A Wonderful Lifeand The Wizard of Ozwere nowhere to be seen. All in all it was shaping up to be as meagre and hopeless as a Dickensian tale. But wait. Who is this saviour on the horizon? Why, it’s David Tennant.

Even if you consider yourself Dr Whointolerant, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day it was hard not to tune in to see his final outing as the time-travelling medic in Dr Who: The End of Time.In an opening scene in a church, the Tardis was immortalised in stained glass as an overly earnest verger told Bernard Cribbins that this was “the Legend of the Blue Box”. Indeed.

Meanwhile, across town, The Master (played by John Simm) was being forcefully resurrected by his ex-wife, who was holed up in some Tenko/Prisoner Cell Block H lady prison. This physics-defying process only required the Master’s old ring and his wife’s lipstick-smeared hanky and before you could say “hold on a minute”, there stood a re-birthed John Simm with his shirt off.

Simm’s turn as a classic OTT villain almost stole Tennant’s thunder. When not laughing maniacally, he was devouring whole chickens as his head morphed into the skull from the Megadeath album covers. Timothy Dalton provided a Little Britain-style voiceover and all in all it was a fitting, theatrical way for the trench-coated one to hang up his sonic screwdriver. However, Tennant fans, gasping for more, didn’t have to look far and could have poured a stiff drink and sit through three hours of his Hamleton St Stephen’s Day.

There was more doubling from Pat Shortt, transmogrifying himself, minus the Tardis, into two new characters. First up, was Mattie, a new series about a country police detective transferred to the Big Smoke, which was offered as the jewel in RTÉ’s Christmas TV crown. It opened with a bang, but of the flatulent variety, as Mattie and his partner abandoned their car gasping for air, just as the criminals they were staking out left the scene of a crime.

The air was not just filled with half- digested breakfast roll, but with the stale waft of an Irish comedy stereotype. The bungling, over-eating country cop is alive and well, alongside his clichéd pals the overbearing Irish mammy and the racist taxi driver.

From the predictable opening scene, to the superfluous full stop in the title credits, it didn’t bode well. Created and written by Shortt, there was a serious absence of laughs. Lines such as, “You attract more complaints than Ryanair on a Bank Holiday weekend”, seemed as dated as a tin of USA biscuits. It got to the point where we expected the scene in Copper Face Jacks involving a near- romantic encounter with a nurse from Offaly where he mis-hears her say “look” instead of something else over the loud music. There’s a sense that Shortt – who, with his role in Garagehas proved his competence as an actor and his ability to step out of caricature – isn’t straying far from what people want him to be. We loved his crazy hillbilly wearing the I-shot-JR T-shirt in Father Ted, but Shortt’s parochial characters now seem lame and old. The writing is far from sharp, shoe-horning poor material into the mouths of fine supporting actors such as Joe Taylor and Seán McDonagh, who deserve better. Come to think of it, so does Shortt himself.

Marginally better was Inside The Crystal Ball, a mockumentary about a local radio station. The Officeit wasn’t, and again, it suffered from a script as weak as an Irish blizzard.

Another off-form comedy came in the shape of The Royle FamilyChristmas special. Many a sated family will have huddled around the TV to watch another overly-full family watching the box. It was Barb and Jim’s 50th anniversary (really?), which they celebrated with a trip to a caravan park in Wales. Cabin fever kicked in, which couldn’t be salvaged by Dirty Scrabble, the lack of a chip pan and singing along to Lily Allen tunes. Often a line made you smile and wince – Denise talking of ensuring her kids get their “five-a-day” by eating tomato flavoured crisps; or how she’d like another baby because “the extra child support could pay for a HD telly”. The laughs were sparse from a show that once acutely observed a specific class but is now reduced to parodying itself.

Why does every English-produced programme set in Ireland open with a soundtrack of diddley aye? The answer is as mysterious as to how Three Men In A Boat(and this Irish episode, Three Men Go To Ireland) came about. My guess is that a drunken commissioning editor dreamt it up on a departmental night out. (“We’ll get comedians! And put them in a boat! Yeah!”)

Surprisingly, it works well, mainly because of the relationship and varying comedy styles of Griff Rhys Jones, Rory McGrath and Dara O Briain. Comedy plus travelogue plus the odd scene of them crashing said boat equals engaging and watchable TV.

This time, the boat was the only original working Guinness barge left in Ireland, and the trio were attempting to get to Limerick via the Grand Canal. En route, at a paltry two miles an hour, they raced Dara’s part-owned greyhound in Mullingar, where they were welcomed with a parade.

Dara and Griff fenced at Trinity and took part in a debate, while Rory McGrath seemed to slope off to the pub a lot. O Briain, easily the funniest and most likeable of the three, taught the lads Irish, talked about Joyce and didn’t take kindly to any Paddywhackery.

Much craic and imbibing also took place on Jools’s Annual Hootenanny, with comedians and musicians more than happy to slurp free booze and regale Jools with tales of 2009. It suffered occasionally from blues/boogie- woogie overload, but was still infinitely preferable to The All Ireland Talent Show. Why watch Dana when you can have Dizzee Rascal and Florence and the Machine?

Gruffalo Charming Animation Captures Weary Adults And Restless Kids:

Any parent who has read The Gruffalo, has probably done so around 7,000 times. Your children still love it, but you feel like squaring up to this wart-nosed creature should you meet it in the deep, dark wood and pleading with it to go away so you can read Enid Blyton instead.

Still, thoughts of a TV adaptation inspired some trepidation – what if it was completely Disney-fied, soaked in feel-good music and subliminal messages that scream “buy the merchandise!” in a frequency only under-fives can hear?

It could also have ended up like the recent film of Where The Wild Things Are, whose melancholic philosophising was less Disney and more Woody Allen. Thankfully, the trusty BBC’s version was faithful to the book, both in story terms and in not trying to be Pixar when it came to flashy animation.

James Marsden (of Gavin and Stacey) was the quick-thinking mouse to Robbie Coltrane’s muted monster, while Rob Brydon, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson voiced the snake, owl and fox respectively.

Fun, charming and rather sweet, half an hour was perfect for both weary adults and the short attention span of toddlers.