While other TV reviewers use the excuse of a forthcoming week or two off to round off the year with a review of all they’ve watched over the past 12 months, I prefer to just carry on as normal, if only because reviews of the year in any media provoke only slightly less dread in me than the prospect of having to read through yet another bunch of pages devoted to telling us what every person in the review editor’s address book wants us to think they’re reading. So, let’s proceed with what may or not be, depending on how busy I am for the next couple of weeks, the last Sharpener TV review of 2005.
ITV’s Drama department have developed a bit of a reputation in recent years for filming things and then letting them sit on the shelf for a while before broadcasting them. It may be because of a mistaken belief that they’ll improve with age like wine, but it’s more to do with the fact that network executives worry just how to get an audience that has tuned in for Fat Celebrity Neigbours From Hell to sit and watch something that doesn’t feature anyone likely to appear in Heat. So, one can imagine their delight when they discovered that David Tennant had gone from being an up-and-coming Scottish actor who featured in their psychological drama Secret Smile to the new Doctor Who shortly after they finished filming it. Knowing he’d be making his debut in the TARDIS on Christmas Day, delaying the broadcast of it until December so they could piggyback on the BBC’s publicity machine must have made perfect sense.
Luckily for ITV, pitching the advertising around the hook of ‘see David Tennant play a bad guy’ was a good idea, as the rest of it wasn’t really worth watching. Not only was it suffering from the usual problems of ITV drama of being stretched out far too long for the plot, but the plot itself was what’s normally known as an ‘idiot plot’ – one that can only make sense if just about everyone involved in it acts like an idiot. Buolding tension in drama is always a difficult task, and it’s not made any easier when the audience at home are continually asking ‘how can you be so stupid?’ Attempting to be shocking and controversial it ended up being ultimately pointless.
Which is a description you can also apply to Channel 4’s documentary Opus Dei And The Da Vinci Code. There’s an interesting documentary to be made about Opus Dei and it’s seemingly inexorable rise to prominence within the Catholic Church, but this wasn’t it. Revealing that The Da Vinci Code is a fallible work of badly-researched fiction and that Catholic sects have some strange beliefs and practices might seem shocking to people who’d be surprised to learn that the Pope is actually a Catholic. It was the sort of softball material that Jon Ronson could have made amusing, as he discovers that there is a member of Opus Dei called Silas, but that he’s not a psychotic albino, but to include it in a supposedly serious documentary smacks of desperation to fill the time available.
Bizarre scheduling also affected the BBC this week, with Magnificent 7, a drama that seemed to have ‘heartwarming’ surgically attached to it at every point, being shunted off to 9pm on BBC2, when it have been perfect as a relax-and-enjoy piece of the Sunday night BBC1 schedule. While the real-life story of Jacqui Jackson, a single mother of seven children (four of them autistic boys) made an interesting and touching documentary, this took out most of the pieces of potential dramatic conflict and replaced them with tender mush and opportunities for Helena Bonham Carter to emote sympathetically towards any members of the BAFTA jury who happened to be watching. It wasn’t bad by any means, just strangely hollow as if no one had bothered to think up a story and thought a bunch of set piece scenes would do the trick.
And with that, it’s time to abandon you to the parade of Christmas specials that are all lined up and waiting to hit you over the next couple of weeks. I’ll leave you with one final question – if someone had told you last year that Doctor Who would not only be the BBC’s flagship Christmas Day programme, but behind only Eastenders at the bookies to be the most watched programme that day, how insane would you have thought they were?