Welcome again to another instalment of the glorious This Week in TV
In early January last year there was a load of hoohah made over one certain bit of news that being the announcement that someone called Matt Smith was to take over as Doctor Who. A lot of people were horrified that a person as young as Smith (26 at the time) could be considered for such an iconic role, but I think a lot of people had an issue because he was a bit of an unknown really, if it had been a youngster that some people recognised (someone from Skins perhaps) then there would’ve been less resistance. I personally remember him from BBC2′s comedy drama Party Animals kind of This Life but with junior politicians rather than lawyers, and thought he was great in playing a character who was older than his years. As well as Smith’s casting head honcho Russell T Davies has also departed and left Steven Moffat in charge. Moffatt was already infamous to fans of the Whoineverse for writing some of the most recent scary episodes including The Empty Child and Blink. Moffat also writes the first episode of Matt Smith’s era ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (as he’s the Eleventh Doctor). The story begins with The Doctor just regenerated as he tries to tussle with the Tardis he ends up at a house in a small village where a young girl takes him in and asks him to help her with the crack in her wall. The Doctor then tells the girl, Amelia, that he will be straight back to her but arrives back twelve years in the future where Amelia is now known as Amy and is a Kissagram. Amy and The Doctor find out that the crack in the wall is being caused by a certain ‘Prisoner Zero’ who is being tracked by the Atraxi who threaten to destroy the Earth unless Prisoner Zero is given to them within 20 minutes. Thus begins a usual Doctor Who mission where he must use all the resources available to him in order to defeat the monster. After the world is inevitably saved The Doctor leaves in his Tardis and returns but again gets the timing wrong and it is two years later and although reluctant Amy decides to join The Doctor despite it being her wedding day.
Overall I think that this series of Doctor Who started on a high note, I think all the criticism of Matt Smith has been unfounded I feel that he’s made the role his own. He’s combined some of the traits of the two more recent Doctors – Christopher Ecclestone’s gravitas and David Tennant’s over-excitemennt as well as using some of the mannerisms of the Doctor Number Two Patrick Troughton and combining them with his own youthful exuberance. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops as he encounters more and more aliens. Meanwhile I did really like Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, although only 22 she is someone who is wise beyond her years. It may be that she is very tall or that she can do a really good stare (and she seems to be perfecting it as the weeks go on) but she is more than a match for The Doc and it didn’t hurt that she spent most of the episode in a very short skirt. It’s also nice that there’s a little bit of history between Doctor and companion before the pretty girl goes into a police box with a strange alien man it was also nice to see a little resistance from Amy before she actually decided to join The Doctor, but this may be because she is getting married. At this time I’m not sure if the relationship will be strictly platonic or more of a romantic angle like they did with Billie Piper and Tennant. The story itself was very slight but I think that helped as it was used to build up the characters and examine their relationships. There was also a plethora of comedy actresses there was Annette Crosbie, Olivia Coleman and Nina Wadia. However one of my criticisms has to be that for an actress of Wadia’s ability she was wasted in a small role as a Doctor. Another criticism has to be the new theme tune which I find a little jarring, I know that the new regime want to put their stamp on the series but I personally don’t find it that welcoming. The only niggle is that Amy’s boyfriend Rory is another very weak character, as they’ve explored this already it would be nice to see a boyfriend who was more than a match for The Doctor either via his intelligence or his looks. At the end of the day the pros more than outweigh the cons and this was a very good start to another new era aboard the Tardis.
Continuing the strange man and young girl companion combination, Jonathan Creek also returned to our screens for a one-off special. The last time we saw the curly haired magic trick inventor was on New Years’ Day of 2009 where Creek solved a mystery alongside new companion Joey Ross played by Sheridan Smith. Smith returns as paranormal investigator Joey once again as she offers to be the assistant for Creek’s magician friend Adam. The main supernatural story sees Joey contacted by a woman who has just started working as a housekeeper for a famous mystery writer and his wife. The house is famous for an incident that happened in the 19th century where a housekeeper but a spell on the master of the house when he ended their affair, now the girl is experiencing strange things herself. While there the wife dies and implicates the girl, Emily who is made out to be having an affair with Hugo the mystery writer. As the story continues Jonathan is able to solve the mystery of the 19th century affair as well as the incident in which Emily saw a house disappear but he finds it harder to prove Emily’s innocence. I for one am a fan of anything David Renwick writes so I was pleased to see Jonathan Creek back on the TV once again. However I found the central mystery lacking somewhat and the explanations for each plot strand a little flimsy. Saying that I think Creek still has some of its magic, pardon the pun, and still pays homage to the old Gothic horror stories of old. Alan Davies is on top form as always and I do enjoy the chemistry between he and Sheridan Smith, who surely has to be kept on if the show does a whole new series. The secondary actors all did sterling work Paul McGann must have a good agent, because as Hugo he got to writhe around in a bed with a young woman in her underwear, similarly to his role in Collision where he embarked on a relationship with a much younger girl, meanwhile Doreen ‘Mrs. Warboys’ Mantle and Ian McNeice were also excellent as the older housekeeper and local priest respectively. But something makes me think that Renwick much enjoyed writing the subplot in which Adam is portrayed to be a bigot and his image edited on YouTube so he is dressed as a Nazi while he is doing his magic acts. The banter between Joey and Jonathan and Jonathan and Adam was for me, what made this episode, everything else I found a little weak.
The third in a parade of strange, excitable men is Heston Blumenthal who, after successfully saving Little Chef, is back to doing what he loves making ridiculously looking food that tastes really good. Last time his Heston’s Feasts series concentrated on old historical periods such as Tudor or Medieval but this seires see him look at more literary sources like his first show in which he based some of his dishes on Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and others from the 1960s in general. As ever Heston caters for minor celebrities who here include Ben Shepherd Mica Paris, host of the excellent Something Weekend Tim Lovejoy and most surprising of all American singer and entertainer Patty Boulet. It seems that Heston is starting all of his meals with an Amuse Bouche which, in this episode, was the famous lickable wallpaper from the Willy Wonka story. From there his starter and main course were both inspired by the 1960s, he created drug-free Magic Mushrooms as a starter which came complete with a funky pipe which had the opposite effect of helium as it made everyone’s voices much lower but I have to say I didn’t notice much of a difference when Mica Paris used it. Heston then wanted to reinvent Duck L’Organge from something that used Robinson’s Squash to something revolutionary. In the end he created an orange jelly with duck wrapped inside it which he then put in a kind of Chocolate Orange box to serve to his guests. Being the Chocolate Factory this had to end with something from the book and indeed Heston recreated the legendary chocolate waterfall but made it somewhat alcoholic. I always enjoy watching Heston Blumenthal as he’s an engaging presence and clearly loves his food and he also has a kind of mad scientist element about him which is great. While this isn’t strictly a cooking programme (none of these recipes are available on the Channel 4 website) it’s still a programme about a man passionate about his food, I just wish he’d make a likeable TV screen so I could experience what his ‘celebrity’ guests are eating.
Next up comedy time, I say comedy but Channel 4′ s three night series of Comedy Roasts weren’t particularly funny unless you’re you like both your humour and your language very coarse. For those who aren’t in the know a ‘Roast’ is where a lot of comics and friends come on stage and take the mick out of a certain famous person. It started in the 1960s with Dean Martin and more recently has been revived with such roastees as William Shatner and Pamela Anderson. Our equivalents though were Bruce Forsyth, Chris Tarrant and bizarrely Sharon Osbourne. I say bizarrely because both Forsyth and Tarrant are largely regarded as national institutions with Tarrant being a TV fixture since the 1970s and Brucie since the 1950s, while Sharon has only recently entered the public eye proper in the last ten years. This was obviously filmed on the same night and saw basically the comics and the roastees supplied with copious amounts of alcohol, both Sean Lock and Jack Dee popped up twice and Jimmy Car compered on all three, with a running joke seeming to be who could make the cleverest insult about the compere. While I found the Osbourne one over-indulgent and the Tarrant one just plain vulgar (although it was nice to see Tarrant’s ex Tiswas co-host Sally James) I did chuckle a couple of times at the Bruce Forstyth one. I suppose because there’s plenty of material when it comes to Forsyth – his age, his chin, his younger wife, his many catchphrases and Bruce is someone who doesn’t mind a laugh at his own expense. The moment of all three was when Forsyth launched an attack of his own on Jonathan Ross – ‘not even forty and already over-the-hill’ but other than that all three seemed to be a waste of air time. I wonder what Channel 4 were thinking when they commissioned this evening of roasts, they weren’t particularly funny or entertaining and I’m not sure who the audience for them was, so all in all a complete waste of everybody’s time.
But don’t despair with this week’s comedy just yet as the brilliant Outnumbered is back. In my eyes it just trumps shows like The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey and Peep Show as funniest programme of the last five years. It came second in my shows of the year in 2007 and 2008 and although it only produced a Christmas Special in 2009 it still found its way into the list. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two and a half years, Outnumbered is about the Brockman family – parents Pete and Sue and their three children stroppy teenager Jake, troublesome ten year old Ben and wise beyond her years 7 year old Karen. The basic premise is that the parents are unable to deal with all three children at once Karen asks too many obscure questions, Ben misbehaves and Jake answers back. The first episode saw mishap and mayhem as the family along with Pete’s mum embarked on a trip around London so Karen could learn about World War 2 for her project. The main plot strands for this series seem to be the breakdown of Pete’s parents’ marriage and Pete’s health as he is worried about possibly having cancer. But the main joy of Outnumbered is the interaction between the parents and the children as often the younger actors are asked to ad lib which often creates hilarious situations meanwhile the adult dialogue is just as good as it comes from Guy Jenkins and Andy Hamilton who gave us the wonderful Drop the Dead Donkey. The problem is though as Ben and Karen get older their cuteness will start to wain and the material that makes them funny now won’t in years to come so for me Outnumbered is a hilarious show but definitely one with an expiry date. So enjoy it while you can.
Next Time: The Election Debate, A Passionate Woman and Facejacker