Monday, January 04, 2010

TV Viewing Diary: Christmas

While the best programmes on American TV seem to take a break for the 'holidays', Christmas is celebrated in the UK with a host of big ticket productions.

Foremost amongst these perhaps was the Beeb's showing of a digitally-animated adaptation of The Gruffalo on Christmas Day. Featuring the voice talents of John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Helena Bonham-Carter, this 30-minute film was utterly charming and helped dispel the notion I once had that the story was a kind of poor man's Where The Wild Things Are. (It also helps to know that Julia Donaldson penned the text some time before Axel Scheffler came up with his design for the eponymous beastie.)

David Tennant appeared in the RSC's production of Hamlet as the titular Danish procrastinator, and in his more familiar role as maverick Time Lord in Russell T. Davies's final production of Doctor Who. This special was split in two and broadcast on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, and encapsulated many of the reasons we've been sad to see Tennant go, but perhaps a little less tristes to see the back of the series's erstwhile re-inventor. Having twice the time to deliver one of his at once over-sentimental and histrionic finales, Davies appeared unable to consistently maintain plot momentum and coherence, and part one of The End of Time was filled with plenty of the pointless running around waste-land environments which so characterised the original series.

He then had viewers craving for an definitive end in a stuttering epilogue sequence reminiscent of The Return of the King. Still, it was enjoyable in places, especially for the way John Simms's The Master morphed himself onto the entire human race with a twsited juvenile grin and for Timothy Dalton's turn as the very un-Obama-like President of Gallifrey.

Jumping back on the twin zeitgeist bandwagons of poular sci-fi and global apocalypse the BBC also gave a festive showing to a stinky new adaptation of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. Back in the 60s the plot had holes big enough to drive a Mini through. You might have thought an updated re-telling would involve a form of modernisation geared to bolstering believability, but no, writer Patrick Harbinson has gone the other way, expanding the plot holes to the point that you could drive a whole herd of cattle through them...let alone an (?) of triffids. (He seems especially keen to dodge the question of how these killer plants move around concrete urban spaces.)

To wit, Eddie Izzard's character Torrance enters the story as the only passenger on a jumbo to have kept his sight by sleeping through the cosmic light show and then survives the plane's coming down in the middle of W1 by locking himself in the loo protected only by a few inflated life-vests. (Is the first action of blind airline crew to turn off the autopilot?)

Do Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Joely Richardson now always come as a two-for-one deal? Anyway, not since her strops in Nip/Tuck has the latter given such excrutiatingly dire renditions of sharp emotion. And, as if to emphasise the problem of her acting ability Harbinson has given her some of the drama's most idiotic lines.

Considerably more bearable was the Sandy Welch adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw starring Michelle Dockery aired last Wednesday. Re-located to good effect in 1921 as Britain recovered from the 'death' of the Edwardian era in the trenches of the Great War, it showed considerable promise until the rather too lifelike figure of Peter Quint started popping out from behind trees. James's ambiguity is for me almost impossible to render accurately on screen, but that's never stopped people from trying over and over again. This version clearly wanted to have its postmodern cake and eat it: yes the ghosts are there and yes the governess is sex-starved and bonkers.

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