Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his views on some of the recent festive television.
Back in the television olden days, getting the most out of the Christmas TV bonanza needed planning.
The festive edition of the Radio Times was one of the publishing events of the year and the start of Christmas was marked by the meticulous scrutinising of all three channels and planning the TV binge.
Most of it was missed, of course. When the irresistible force of dinner time crashed into the immovable object of a TV programme before the days of video recorders, iPlayer and internet streaming, then the stuck-in-the-schedule show was lost for ever.
Now, however, everything is always on, every day, all the time. It’s impossible to ‘miss’ anything. But a shiny ‘Christmas special’ sixpence can still enliven the pudding stodge.
Top Gear A-Z (BBC2) provided one last Christmas special fix of Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May, albeit a reheating of leftovers from the glory days. It seemed a strange form of masochistic nostalgia for the BBC to remind us just what the BBC has thrown out in its best and most enduring entertainment show.
The two compilation shows reminded viewers just how many bits of ironic and unforgettable pieces of TV came from Top Gear’s series and specials.
It has been one of those ‘worth the price of the licence fee alone’ programmes. Top Gear’s production, writing, design and all-round creativity is second-to-none. Whatever re-emerges from the BBC for the next version will have to be equally so, or it could be short-lived.
The old gang’s move to Amazon Prime is a logical one, having already a huge global audience reach via BBC Worldwide sales. The DVD is already on my next year’s Christmas list.
The Agatha Christie leftovers got yet another reheating, this time a reworking of arguably her best novel, And Then There Were None (BBC1).
Dramatisations of Christie tend to end up like a caricature of Cluedo. Nice Mrs Can’t-Be-Her, in the drawing room, with the art deco candelabra. Soft and a little fluffy – the sorts of murder plots the WI might hatch in between scones. But this version was sinisterly claustrophobic and chilling.
Previous film versions have tended to lighten the novel’s grim ending with plot changes, but this darkly fascinating adaptation kept the gruesome finale of the last survivor having to contemplate suicide or being innocently hanged as the convicted murderer of the ten others.
The twenty episode postmodern mock epic of Dickensian (BBC1) has begun skipping its way across the author’s cannon, with wit, charm and a subtle, but not too showy, knowledge of the novels.
Dickens’s characters have been reanimated and converged into a time seven years prior to his A Christmas Carol, to loiter and plot around the murder of Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley.
This approach to the Classics is not new: Jane Austen, the Bronte’s, most of the Fin de Siecle writers, have had the postmodern pastiche treatment.
Dickens is a bigger deal though. One of his novels alone has an almost biblical cast of characters, but put them all together and the options are limitless. Each episode plays out like a game of Dickens Top Trumps: I’ll bet you Mrs Gamp against Miss Havisham. Bill Sykes and Nancy trump the Cratchit kids.
Dickensian is a Victorian version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in morning coats and petticoats. And just like MCU, if you don’t get in early, the Dickensian plot is likely to lose you, so watch now – there are twenty episodes in series one, and the second is already being written. There’s also the bonus of being able to blag Dickens once and for all without having to read those tedious tomes.
Miranda (BBC1) got married. Finally. One of the great ‘girlie’ comedies of recent years came to its inevitable end, even if it did jettison all its feminist credentials in doing so. But hey, the ‘wedding reward’ ending motif worked well for Shakespeare, but not even he thought to end with a mass wedding gallop to the Black Beauty music. The funniest moment of Christmas.