For many people, including myself, a big part of the British Christmas is sitting down with a highlighter and the bumper edition of the Radio Times and applying one to the other in a flurry of enthusiasm and anticipation. As ’tis still the season (and because I’m a bit stuck for blog ideas at the moment), I thought I’d do a rundown of the shows I watched this Christmas.
Oh, Doctor Who. I used to get so excited about watching you. I’ve already blogged (twice, in fact) about the increasingly headdesky amount of misogyny in the show, while many other bloggers have written about problematic tropes and a lack of diversity in the show, but I haven’t said much about the writing itself – and the writing, and plotting, is one of the biggest issues I’ve had with the show lately.
In recent years, Doctor Who has been great at setting up exciting, flashy plot threads that grab your attention and make your heart beat faster…and then doing absolutely nothing with them. Silence Will Fall when the Question is asked!…nah, that plotline will just fizzle out instead. The Name of the Doctor will be revealed!…oh no it won’t. On the fields of Trenzilore at the Fall of the Eleventh!…not much will happen, really. Gallifrey Stands!…but no-one knows where it is, and it’s had absolutely no effect on the Whoniverse so far. (Also, did we ever find out why the Tardis exploded, beyond “The Silence done it”?)
So, I wasn’t holding out great hopes for the Christmas episode, and as it turned out, that was the best approach. The episode was an odd mishmash of brittle Christmassy cheer (the whole Santa plotline felt incredibly forced, like a teacher trying to drum up enthusiasm in a bored primary school class) and alien horror, with a side of wallowing in the emotional shallows (I can’t say depths – we’ve been through Clara and Danny’s romantic angst so many times before, and their relationship is so poorly written that it’s just not interesting to watch).
A concise summary of the Clara-Danny relationship
The ‘alien horror’ aspect made the show just about watchable (the Killer Walnuts were fairly scary), but it was a plot that Who has done already, in the Dream Lord episode. And it didn’t just borrow from its own history. As my best dude and co-conspirator Emily Brady commented, “So, taking inspiration from trendy geek T-shirts, Doctor Who has given up on creativity altogether and just mashed together several popular sci-fi things to make episodes…This show was pretty good, for a T-shirt – in the same way that Suckerpunch is a pretty good music video.”
There were a few good things about the episode – Capaldi and Coleman’s acting is still compelling, and the misdirection “ending” was great (I wish it’d been the real one, it would’ve had a lot more impact). But a couple of good moments isn’t enough to save a distinctly lacklustre episode. I’d made my grandma promise not to talk through the show, but frankly, it wouldn’t have made much difference if she had. I’ve seen so many long-term fans give up on Doctor Who recently, and I’m getting very tempted to join them.
The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm
From ‘something that should have been good, but was disappointing’, let’s go to ‘something I thought would be disappointing, but was incredibly good’. I was fully expecting The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm to be silly to the point of cringey, the kind of show where ‘man falls over’ is considered to be the joke of the century.
It was extremely silly, no doubt about that – but in such a joyful and exuberant way that I couldn’t help but find it charming and great fun. The cast was brilliant. David Mitchell and Harry Hill played to their strengths as, respectively, a fussy councillor and the eponymous madcap scientist. Ben Miller was a deliciously hateful villain. And Miranda Richardson’s character turned out to be surprisingly complex and interesting – she could so easily have been a pantomime baddie, but instead, she played a brilliant role as a frustrated scientist who’d tried to squash who she was in order to fit in with sexist stereotypes.
This, too, was something I loved about the show. I’m a sucker for any story with a young girl inventor as the heroine, an admission that probably won’t come as a shock to anyone. But Professor Branestawm didn’t just give us a girl scientist – it pointed out that a) there’s a lot of hostility to women in science, and b) that this is something which should be challenged – maybe not with a literal punch to the face, but certainly with a metaphorical one. The subtle dismissal of cooking as inferior to chemistry rankled a bit (devaluing activities traditionally seen as “feminine” means devaluing all people, of any gender, who like those things – which is why I love Brave, where the day is saved by warrior skills and sewing) – but overall, the show balanced fun, light and entertaining with a thoughtful and interesting story.
This last one is cheating slightly, because I listened to it rather than watching it, Good Omens being a radio play and all. (Hey, radio and TV are practically siblings, right? Cousins, anyway).
I first read Good Omens years ago, and instantly loved it, even if I didn’t quite get all the references. As far as I know, it was the first story to realise the weird, dissonant humour of having blockbuster-action-movie events occurring in a quiet English village (an idea also executed brilliantly by Hot Fuzz). I wasn’t sure how it would translate to radio, but remembering how much I loved the recent adaptation of Neverwhere, I was optimistic.
This time, my expectations were right. Despite the total lack of a visual element, I could see the story as it unfolded, event after apocalyptic event. How the producers managed to perfectly show a demon getting trapped in an answerphone tape using only screaming and sound effects, I’ll never know, but they did. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s cameos as unlucky traffic police officers made me hug myself with nerdy glee, as did hearing Colin Morgan play a witchfinder (which makes me wonder, who would win in a ‘Clueless Anti-Magical Zealot’ contest, Shadwell or Uther?) And Mark Heap and Peter Serafinowicz made a perfect Aziraphale and Crowley.
Although I would consider alternatives
Despite a few disappointments, plenty of good stories were delivered this Christmas. I’ll be interested to see what the New Year brings.
Alice’s books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Her webcomic, co-created and illustrated by Emily Brady, can be found at the Footloose website. Ally rambles about writing, feminism, and odd questions that cross her mind on Twitter and Facebook.