We end the year of 2009 with two more endings – one of a popular sitcom and the other of the latest face of one of Britain’s most iconic TV characters.
The aforementioned iconic TV character is obviously Doctor Who with Friday’s episode seeing the departure of David Tennant from the role. Tennant has played The Doctor since 2006 and publicly resigned from the role at last year’s National Television Awards. The episode that aired on Christmas Day reintroduced The Master, who has since placed himself in the body of everybody on Earth, bar Donna’s grandfather Wilf. To restore balance on Earth the Time Lord President, played with incredible vigour by Timothy Dalton, tells us that it’s time for the Time Lords to return. But the president isn’t exactly a stand-up guy and is revealed to be the man who put the constant drumbeats inside The Master’s head. As both The Doctor and The President return to earth it’s clear that the latter wants to destroy the former but The Master ultimately sacrifices himself to keep The Doctor alive. Though The Doctor is temporarily saved, he hears the four knocks that will signal the end of his existence which are coming from the radiation booth that contains Wilfred. The Doctor realises that it’s his time to go and allows Wilf to exit the booth as he absorbs all the radiation himself. As the regeneration process begins, there’s a treat for Doctor Who fans as Tennant’s Doctor revisits all of his allies one last time. Highlights include him surprising Donna on her wedding day by buying her the winning lottery ticket, saving Martha and Mickey from an alien attack and hooking Captain Jack up with Russell Tovey’s shipman from 2007′s Christmas Special. The Doctor finally reunites with Rose, on New Years Day of 2005, telling her she’ll have a fantastic year which, as we know, she does. The episode’s final scenes show us the long awaited regeneration and give us the first glimpse of Matt Smith’s Doctor as he we hear him exclaiming ‘Geronimo!’, which may well be the catchphrase we get to look forward to when Doctor Who returns in the spring.
As someone who’s had mixed feelings about Tennant’s incarnation of The Doctor I felt his final episode was a fitting tribute to the character. In addition to Tennant’s departure, Russell T Davies is handing over the creative rains to Steven Moffatt, and so it was great to briefly see some of his most-loved creations briefly return. The Doctor’s death had to be a sacrifice of some kind and I think I like the character a little bit more after he realised he had to save the loveable Wilfred. To their credit, both Tennant and Davies amped up the tension by bringing in The Master to create one of the biggest catastrophes that the show has ever seen. The fact the episode also linked in plenty of the mythology of Doctor Who probably satisfied older fans, though I’m sure some will bring up issues with the continuity of certain elements of the story. For me the episode provided plenty of the action Doctor Who has always been known for, while adding the emotional edge that Davies has brought to the show over the past five years. The performances from Tennant and Simm were both fantastic while Timothy Dalton chewed the scenery as Time Lord President Rassilon. The brief reunions that The Doctor had with his former companions made me tear up a little bit and Tennant’s ‘I Don’t Want to Go’ almost had me sobbing. But now we must look to the future as Matt Smith takes centre stage and I for one am looking forward to seeing what he can do with the role. Though some criticised putting a relative newcomer into the role, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and I’m greatly anticipating the Smith/Moffat era which will hopefully give us as many highlights as Tennant and Davies have provided.
Shortly after Tennant regenerated, we got another end of an era with the final episode of Gavin and Stacey. The sitcom is certainly one of those great success stories as it came from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful comedies of the last five years. From starting on BBC3, the sitcom has become a word-of-mouth hit and has ended its run by airing on BBC1 over the Christmas fortnight. Though the episodes have not been in the least bit Christmassy, last week’s was primarily set on a beach, I feel it’s the right time of year to air these final two instalments. For me this finale, headlined by Nessa’s wedding to Dave Coaches, had everything we’ve come to expect from Gavin and Stacey namely a few big laughs but also plenty of character to back it up. The majority of the laughs came from the wedding itself which included Nessa’s extravagant Viking dress, Mick’s recital of ‘Stop all the Clocks’ and the use of Angry Anderson’s ‘Suddenly’ over the scene itself. Meanwhile the main story saw Smithy considering his options and ultimately deciding to stop the wedding claiming that Nessa didn’t really love Dave. Dave eventually called off the wedding but we got an ambitious answer to whether Nessa and Smithy did finally get together. Elsewhere, our titular couple found out they were to be parents and the final scene featured the four central characters now based in Wales. I feel this episode was a strong finish for Gavin and Stacey, and I feel its time to end the show as it became a little difficult to get the characters to meet up every week. Ruth Jones and James Corden have perfectly constructed this series and I feel it will be fondly remembered as a funny and sweet romantic comedy. Whether it will return for a Christmas special somewhere down the line is still up for debate, but I think, for the most part, we did get the perfect ending.
In addition to Gavin and Stacey, we had more sitcom japes courtesy of Outnumbered. As the sitcom has become more popular, a Christmas special was definitely the right move, even if this Boxing Day instalment wasn’t up to scratch with previous episodes. Here we returned to the Brockman household on Boxing Day to find that burglars have stolen a lot of the family’s presents. Karen in particular is upset with what has been stolen, while parents Pete and Sue consider making a false claim to the insurance company. Though the burglary plot does run throughout the episode, it is sort of side-lined as the second half of the piece centres on two other stories. The first being the continuation of Sue’s worry about putting her father into an old folks’ home. When she and Jake arrived at the home they find that Granddad has escaped with another resident, Mack. Sue is increasingly worried about the quality of service at the home when she hears the old men referring to the residence as ‘Colditz’. Eventually her fears are allayed and she even allows the questionable Mack to return to the house along with her dad. Elsewhere, the awful Jane arrives early for lunch at the Brockmans house meaning that Pete is forced to make conversation with her. However, Pete begins to sympathise with Jane when she talks about not being able to spend the holidays with her daughter. While Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton’s script continues to feature realistic storylines and characters that feel authentic, I felt the laughs were somewhat missing throughout this Christmas special. Maybe it was the pressure to write a Christmas Special, but I felt this was lacking some of the humour that I normally find in the show. Only the brilliant Ramona Marquez as Karen was on form in this instalment as she worried about her missing hamster. The series will be returning later this year so it will be interesting to see if this was just a momentary blip, or if Outnumbered has lost some of its magic now the child actors are slightly older.
As well as including a few festive specials, the week between Christmas and New Year also offers up a few interesting dramas. ITV gave us two such dramas the first being An Englishman in New York, the follow-up to The Naked Civil Servant which explores the life of Quentin Crisp following the success of the film about his life. The action starts in the late 1970s when Crisp moves to New York and finds fame reviewing films and giving public speeches about being gay. However, Crisp’s life is soon turned upside down when he describes the AIDS epidemic as ‘a fad’ and ends up losing a lot of the work that he’d had. Thankfully Crisp finds a friend in young artist Patrick Angus, whose work he helps to promote and who ultimately dies of AIDS-related complications. The final part of the drama concentrates on Crisp’s return to the stage with help from performance artist Penny Arcade. His and Penny’s act becomes a hit, though he continues to live in squalor and eventually decides to move back to England where he ultimately dies. From a narrative point of view I wasn’t a massive fan of An Englishman in New York, as I found Brian Fillis’ script to be incredibly episodic. The story hurtled through the decades picking out certain important events from Crisp’s autumn years without really informing the audience what period we were in. Thankfully this didn’t matter too much due to John Hurt’s fantastic performance as Crisp, a part that put him on the map in the first place. Hurt is truly captivating as a man who doesn’t want to march in Gay Rights Parades but at the same time sees himself as a pioneering homosexual. He is ably supported by Cynthia Nixon as Penny and Jonathan Tucker who gives a heart-breaking turn as tragic artist Patrick. Richard Laxton’s direction captures the changing face of America perfectly especially in regards to how gay men were treated. Ultimately, by the end of the drama, I was emotionally invested in the characters which I feel has a lot more to do with Hurt’s performance than it does with Fillis’ script.
Andrew Davies is best known for his work adapting Victorian novels from Pride and Prejudice to his most recent success, Little Dorrit. However, this week we saw him adapt a more contemporary story in Joanna Briscoe’s Sleep with Me. The drama focuses on a loving suburban couple – literary reviewer Richard and his long-time girlfriend Lelia. The opening scene, in which we see the couple in bed together, perfectly sets up the sexually charged events that engulf the programme. As the couple journey to a party at Richard’s friends’ house, Richard meets Sylvie a quite French girl who takes an instant shine to him. With Richard acting as the initial narrator of the drama, I was convinced that the plot would be about his affair with his new French love. But there was a twist in the tale as Lelia soon became another storyteller as we learnt about a secret she’d been keeping since she was a teenager. Soon both Lelia and Richard are contemplating having affairs with Sylvie, who seemingly isn’t as innocent as she once seemed. Events are later complicated when Lelia finds out she’s pregnant, a revelation that leads Richard to propose to her. But once again Sylvie throws a spanner in the works which main ruin everything for both members of this once happy couple. Though it had an intriguing plot with some interesting twists, I found it hard to engage with Sleep with Me. It had nothing to do with the lead performances with both Adrian Lester and Jodhi May excelling as the lead couple. Meanwhile Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca was absolutely enchanting as the enigmatic Sylvie who casts a spell on all of the major characters. However, for all of its plus points, Sleep with Me had no likeable characters and the majority of its dialogue was unrealistic. While I liked the idea of the story, Sleep with Me was ultimately a hollow endeavour which, when I look back on it, was fairly unremarkable.
Finally, as this is a TV website, I should briefly past comment on Channel 4′s list of The Greatest TV Shows of the Noughties. Before the show started, I thought of all the great programmes we’ve seen over the past decade which have included classics like The Wire, Deadwood and Six Feet Under. Imagine my surprise then when there were only two American shows in this Top 20 countdown and surprisingly they were both programmes that Channel 4 has the rights to. The first was Friends, a programme that finished in 2004 and whose best years were definitely in the late 1990s. The second was The Simpsons which has only provided a handful of memorable episodes over the last ten years and has mainly survived due to its name value alone. While I haven’t necessarily got a problem with British TV shows, in fact I love them occasionally, those included in this list was laughable. There were only six from this countdown that I would consider putting in a list of worthy candidates those being Life on Mars, Planet Earth, Gavin and Stacey, Doctor Who, Spooks and The Office. Personally I felt there was far too much of a focus on reality shows such as The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Apprentice which appeared at number 2 on the list. But the worst thing about the list was that the programme at number one, which apparently is the best show of the past ten years, is Top Gear. Yes, a programme where three grown me act like children and drive a lot of cars is considered better than some of the best written dramas of all time. Though I know lists like this are meant to be annoying, the fact that this is so poorly put-together made me believe that those compiling the list only watched about two hours of TV a week. I really believe that this programme should have been put together by people who knew what they were talking about, rather than those who feel that a driving programme should even be considered as one of the best programmes of the last decade.