Another week in TV so let’s stop messing around and get on with the show.
And show is the operative word as the glitter balls are back and the flowing dresses, sometime too flowing, are returning as Strictly Come Dancing officially begins. Over two nights all fourteen competitors danced the traditional opening number of either a waltz or a cha cha cha. I’ve written two blogs already so I’m not going to talk about all the partnerships and their pros and cons instead I’m just going to talk about the goods and bads of both shows. The debut performance on episode one was from Holly Valance whose VT laboured over the fact that she may not be that good at dancing even though she danced on her videos and then she went out and got 28 for he debut dance. Valance’s top marks were no surprise, she was one of the bookie’s favourite and she demonstrated why, however the other top scorers on Friday night were Anita Dobson and Dan Lobb. I did pick Dobson out as a dark horse and she could well go on to be this year’s Pamela Stevenson while Lobb’s waltz with Katya was a solid effort especially from a male dancer in week one. I was a little surprised as well that it was Lulu who got the lowest scores of the evening as she was forgetting some of the moves and was visibly awful however I feel this was a momentary hitch and she will do better with a ballroom dance. The Scottish singer isn’t in the John Sergeant/Anne Widdicombe category and I’m not sure if this honour will go to Russell Grant who’s trippy spacesuit routine seemed more like an acid trip than part of a Friday night entertainment show. Meanwhile Robbie Savage attacked the floor and Audley Harrison tried his best but unfortunately dancing just isn’t for him.
The story coming out of the second episode was the alleged sabotage of Nancy Dell’Olio’s dress and the feud between her and Edwina Currie. I’m not sure about the Currie feud but certainly Dell’Ollio’s dress and particularly its feathery train dominated her waltz with Anton Du Beke and she tripped on it several times meaning that she was bottom of the overall leaderboard. To be fair Currie didn’t do too much better however her auntie-at-a-wedding routine was hilarious enough to keep her in the contest for a couple of weeks. Harry from McFly has been here before and knows what he’s doing and therefore did well as did Waterloo Road’s Chelsee Healey someone who I wasn’t expecting a lot from but she pulled over an original and gelled well with the newest dancer Pasha. The two surprises were Alex Jones who didn’t do as well as expected and Rory Bremner who performed an admirable waltz, but then John Sergeant was pretty good in Week One also. The show ended with Jason Donovan getting four eights for his cha cha cha and seeing him top the leader-board with a polished and well-taught dance which means that Kristina may actually be getting a decent partner this year and may not be best remembered for being the woman who aided Sergeant’s rise to infamy. Overall it was a good first weekend however nobody particularly wowed me, true there were a couple of pleasant surprises from Bremner and Dobson but there was no danced that registered on either the excellent or awful side of the spectrum. The one thing I noticed the most was Sir Bruce Forsyth’s links which are getting worse his gags are becoming tired and obvious and he seems to actively be talking over the judges’ comments something he should be disallowed from doing perhaps the best thing to do would be have Daly guide the dancers off the floor if Bruce is going to be this unprofessional. But even an entertainment legend like Brucie can’t spoil what has become a Saturday night institution for the autumn and winter season and I’m sure as the weeks go on they’ll be some memorable turns both in a good and an entertainingly awful way.
Also a mainstay of this season’s Saturday night schedules is Merlin, which returned for a fourth season this week, and seems to finally be going somewhere. I initially stopped watching Merlin at the start of season three as everything was repeated over and over again, Merlin had to use his magic secretly while saving Arthur and Uther’s asses every time. However since I stopped watching it seems that Morgana has finally gone a bit evil and aligned herself with her evil sister leaving the castle and making Anthony Head’s Uther lose his head. Arthur has cobbled his knights together into a pretty decent round table not quite twigging that Lancelot is going to steal his woman before they’ve even really hooked up. Linking all this together is Colin Morgan’s Merlin who is still hiding his magic from everybody but Richard Wilson as his mentor but isn’t great as the evil sisters are unleashing CGI skulls on all Camelot’s villagers who are only being saved by the other interchangeable knights. While other Saturday night children’s dramas are being accused of being more complicated, see below, there’s no danger of that happening with Merlin but it is improving. Morgan and Bradley James’ Arthur have both matured as actors and their character’s relationship is the cornerstone of the show. The opening of the gates of evil have also allowed for more impressive graphics and the introduction of Gemma Jones as scary gatekeeper type character. There are also some intriguing storylines involving the knights protecting Camelot, Morgana and Morguese’s quest and the fact that Uther’s brother is betraying him and has just been left in charge of the castle. While Merlin’s magical powers aren’t strong enough to not see it being clobbered in the ratings by X-Factor every week it seems that after four series its finally on track with compelling stories, reliable acting and better effects.
More drama now with Philip Glenister starring in Hidden. I’ve found it quite hard to actually describe the programme as it has many strands and is both a noirish thriller and an almost apocalyptic political drama. Glenister stars as a small time high street lawyer Harry Venn a man who is divorced from his wife and estranged from his teenage son. When a mysterious woman named Gina comes to him representing Stevie Quirke a notorious petty thief and that she wants him to find Joe Collins a witness to the crime and it transpires that Stevie may have information about Harry’s supposedly dead brother. As we see in flashbacks Harry was involved in an armed robbery which saw his brother and another man die however the other man is apparently alive. The questions mount up and their is a mystery around Gina’s identity especially when he finds pictures of him in her room and then the final scene of the show sees his office blow up. Running alongside this story is the downfall of a prime minister struggling to form a coalition and who is accused of financial fraud. This story is usually seen in the background on TV screens or newspapers but then there we see a scene with the Prime Minister’s main rival Alex Wentworth and his new political advisers. I’m sure there is a link between the two stories but it is yet to materialise and it will be an interesting ride along the way. It’s true that after the first episode of Hidden I’m totally baffled to what’s actually going on but there’s certainly a lot of intrigue and enough to keep me tuning in. Glenister plays the brow-beaten everyman with ease struggling to stay away from his ex-wife, to keep a relationship with his stroppy son and to keep his business afloat he is seemingly dragged into a world that he wanted to escape from. Thekla Reuten is also well cast in the role of the mysterious femme fatale who blatantly isn’t what she seems and there are good brief performances from Paul Ritter and Anna Chancellor. Hidden is well-produced and is shot to look as downbeat and gloomy as possible while the story is complicated it is also compelling and by the final bang of the episode I was definitely drawn in and will be tuning in over the next three instalments.
After giving brutal advice to high street retailers, small business owners, estate agents and Lily Allen, Mary Portas is finally putitng her money where her mouth is and opening her own shop in Mary Queen of Frocks. Well actually she’s not opening her own shop but rather bringing in a new range of ladies fashions under the House of Fraser banner however it is on her head whether it will sink or swim. Mary’s vision is to make British women look like Hollywood stars such as Cate Blanchett or Julianne Moore women who are old but still look glamorous, as Portas points out women can either dress like teenagers or wear a lot of beige. When she gets to her new quarters in House of Fraser she is horrified that she is surrounded by lilac fascinators and jackets. But this won’t last for long as House of Fraser is having a refit and a lot of the members of staff are losing their jobs and are relying on Mary to give them a second chance. The woman I really felt for Siobhan who worked for The Austin Reid Group and was looking to Portas to renew her contract however her obsession with fascinators didn’t fit it in with her passionate, happy and stylish vision. Mary’s employment process came almost like a TV talent show audition as hundreds of people queued up and talked of quitting their jobs so they could work for the retail guru in one of the twelve positions she offered. However the person she really needed on her side was Spencer, House of Fraser’s senior sales manager, an old-school gentleman’s outfitter who had one of the best moustaches ever and wouldn’t seem out of place at the Grace Brothers department store alongside Mrs. Slocombe. As well as choosing staff, Mary had to pick designs and got a cross section of women in their late forties and early fifties who all, in her opinion, dressed the wrong way for example one was a cautious co-ordinator, one covered up too much and one shouldn’t dress like her daughter. These women got their own back on Mary when they sent her a bust of one of the women’s torso which revealed that she should be targeting women who maybe weren’t as skinny as her or the actresses she’d based her designs on. Mary Queen of Frocks was an interesting programme but it really only worked if you cared about Mary and her vision for a women’s clothes shop. Being neither a woman, middle-aged or interested in fashion there wasn’t enough to satisfy me in terms of entertainment. I did appreciate Mary’s plight but at the end of the day she wasn’t starting a business herself she had the fact that House of Fraser were backing the project so she didn’t have the problems of finding a space for a shop. I didn’t really warm to Mary’s superior attitude and her treatment of Siobhan a woman who obviously has plenty of retail experience but was dismissed by Mary as a clothing dinosaur. I’m not saying that Queen of Frocks was a particularly bad programme but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me and I really didn’t care one way or the other whether Portas sunk or swam.
Take That did it successfully. East 17 tried it and it didn’t work. All Saints did it and nobody noticed. That’s right the reformation of popular pop combos from the 1990s has been going on for years now mostly due to the phenomenal power of Barlow and the Boys getting back together. Now it’s time for some day-glo choreographed dance routines and annoying songs that are akin to Chinese Water Torture as Steps become the latest group to do the whole return tour. Since their split all the members have appeared on TV – H did a show for E4 where he went to drama school before appearing on Celebrity Big Brother in which his appearance was eclipsed by the Jade Goody racism scandal while Lee tried to rebuild his singing career on Totally Boyband but that all went to pot. Claire put on a load of weight, lost it again, made a programme about it and then was the standout performer on this year’s Popstar to Operastar, Lisa’s MTV show about her family bombed before she put in a self-mocking performance in the final episode of Extras and Faye has been the least active member of the group preferring a quiet family life and only popping up on Celebrity Four Weddings. With this catalogue of catastrophes between them is it any wonder that they want a return to the glory years and Sky Living are more than happy to devote a four part series to their comeback. The first episode was sort of a Behind the Music style affair showing us where Steps came from, how successful they were and why it all went wrong however it was episode two that was totally brilliant TV. All five of Steps sat at a dinner table and instead of eating shot evil looks at each other while chastising H and Claire for quitting the group and quickly reforming as a duo. To me it all seemed like a horror film and soon a mysterious evil-being would enter the room telling them that he’d poison their drinks or maybe the room would start to close in on them and they’d have to get along to survive. But it wasn’t that interesting instead it seemed like a brutal attack on a emotional fragile recovering overeater and a camp Welsh bloke who tried to look mature by wearing glasses. Although I would’ve preferred the entire episode to be this scene the rest of the time saw the sexes split with the girls heading off to Marbella and Lee joining H in his Welsh home. The two stories coming out of these trips were Faye and Lisa admitting that Claire didn’t gel with them as she never wanted to come and explore the towns they toured and Lee confronting H with his resignation letter something the Welsh wonder wouldn’t let be read out loud. At the end of the episode I felt that no wounds were healed however the passive aggressive feelings seemed to be outshone by the want of the fab five to get some more cash. The next duo of episodes will see them in the recording studio and out on tour and maybe just maybe stalked by a crazy serial killer, or maybe I’m just dreaming.
And from one tragedy to a supposed other one as we saw how Doctor Who ended up getting shot in the final episode of this run. As I mentioned in my earlier Merlin review, this series of Doctor Who has been criticised over its over-complicated plots which have increasingly turned of viewers to the extent that Vernon Kay’s Family Fortunes is doing better in the ratings than the Tardis team. I’m finding most of these criticisms are coming from snooty TV critics who only half watch the episodes while the programme’s core young audience are fine with the plotlines. Essentially what the finale, entitled The Wedding of River Song, did was wrap up the stories involving The Doctor’s Death, River Song’s mission and The Silence’s Question. After a brilliant opening scene involving a standstill of time and an appearance by Winston Churchill it was time to witness what we saw from afar – The Doctor being shot by someone in a spacesuit. That someone turned out to be River Song however the Doctor was able to fake his own death by miniaturising himself into one of those roboty things that we saw in the episode set in Nazi Germany. This episode also crammed in the quickie wedding of River and The Doctor and the downfall of Francis Barber’s awesome eye-patched villainess who was dispatched by Amy in kickass style. The fallout sees The Doctor roaming the galaxy alone, for now at least, and The Silence’s question being, Doctor Who? I thought there was something to suit everyone here from the romantics, to the kids who wanted to see the aliens and the fighting to the Doctor purists who got both the sight of a Dalek and the reference to the Brigadier’s death which coincides with the tragic passing of the actor who portrayed him, Nicholas Courtney, earlier this year. Overall a great end to what I think is the better of the two Smith/Moffatt seasons and I can’t wait to see The Doctor tangle with Alexander Armstrong and Bill Bailey when he returns in a war-set episode on Christmas Day.
Next Week: The Comic Strip’s The Hunt for Tony Blair, Harry Hill’s TV Burp and Signed by Katie Price