Columnist James Waller-Davies takes a look at this week’s television.
Right ingredients, wrong recipes
You’ve got to be careful with science fiction. There is simply too much opportunity, with its blank canvass and limitless palate. If you go too far with Sci-Fi, doing things just because you can…well, eventually you end up with Jar Jar Binks. All caricature and no substance. And so it was with Doctor Who (BBC1), which returned once again this week.
It’s now ten years since Doctor Who and his TARDIS rematerialised in 2005 and part of the reboot’s successful appeal has been the exploring of Who’s back canon of its own mythology. Storylines with the Master, the ghosts of Gallifrey and the old staples of Cybermen and Daleks have all been winners.
But the latest series’ opener, which heralded Peter Capaldi’s Doctor emerging from the smoke playing rock guitar whilst perched on a tank, was a step too far. Too much camp; too much ham; too many lame gags. It was Vaudeville music hall for the Glam-rock generation.
The series opener struggled to get going – more padding than plot. The writers had clearly decided they wanted to open the new season with a two-part sandwich and a cliff-hanger filling. In doing so, what we ended up with was more time filler than Time Lord.
Davros, however, the evil mastermind of the Daleks looked exactly as he did on his first appearance back in 1975 and had the appropriate lure of menace.
This is now symptomatic of the lacklustre Doctor – which opened to 2 million less viewers than the last series. It is the baddies and the charmingly astute companion, Clara Oswald, which increasingly keep viewers tuning in. It’s a little early to say the current Doctor Who franchise is getting tired – but it’s getting sleepy and is trying desperately to suppress a yawn.
ITV was 60 years old this week and to celebrate Coronation Street broadcast another one-hour live episode. It’s hard to see what extra the live dimension adds to a soap. It seems more fraught with pitfalls and the potential for disaster, than what can be gained from a more immediate and theatrical feel.
However, this hour of live Corrie was pretty much a triumph, with all the ingredients for a tight, tense and trauma-filled hour of drama. Lessons have been learned from the first live attempt and, a few sound issues aside, the only real legacy of this live performance was what appeared to be the dead body of Callum breathing under his soon-to-be burial blanket.
Is Callum going to return from the grave in some sort of Manchester parody of Steven King’s Carrie? Perhaps a clue lies in the zombie form of Sergei the meerkat who punctuated the ad breaks.
Corrie and ITV have walked hand-in-hand for 55 of the channel’s 60 years and the fortunes of the two appear often inextricably linked. Both, to be fair, are in the doldrums at the moment, with falling viewing figures and falling advertising revenues.
But over the years, ITV has been an incredibly positive influence on British television and the BBC has been all the better for the competition provided by its commercial rival. There have many times when the BBC could have learnt a thing or two from a broadcaster that has to think more carefully about spending its own money than too often running free with the money of others. Happy Birthday ITV!
Back on the Beeb, Great British Bake Off (BBC1) marched into the quarter finals with its audience of a whopping 12 million. This week it was patisserie week - and the sort of delicate and difficult baking that separates the skilful from the merely hopeful.
The signature challenge, baking 24 cream horns, provided so much innuendo opportunity for the Ooo-err-missus twins of Sue and Mel, that the first twenty minutes had all the hallmarks of a Carry On revival.
This week’s loser was the gallant Brian, who baked up a series of cream-filled disasters, the type of which we mere baking mortals are all too familiar with. Brian – and his éclair tower – bent in the middle, leaned a little, and slowly, inevitably, took their final bows.
James Waller Davies is on Twitter: @JamesWallerD