Christmas TV was the WORST. I hate to start New Year with a rant, but it’s bubbling up in me and I fear it’s starting to spoil 2014 TV so I figured, hey, maybe I should get it out.
The first and, perhaps, saddest offender was the Christmas Top of the Pops. I have always, always insisted on the watching of this in my house, regardless of my feelings on the Top 40 or the State of UK Music. I’ve just always watched it. With TOTP no longer existing, Christmas TOTP is my only chance to have some Christmas continuity, and a bit of a retrospective and a moan/laugh/listen to whatever I’d forgotten was out in January. But this year, it was the WORST. There was a lot of fantastic music this year, most of which, thanks to the download chart being a rather more reasonable reflection of what people are truly listening to than it reflecting whatever 12-year-olds lined up to buy in HMV. Precisely none of this was shown on Top of the Pops. Every single act was something a record company had pestered the BBC to feature. “Oh, this mediocre piece of crap ought to offend no-one and appeal to the sort of people who buy things because if they hear something on Strictly, BBC Breakfast, and Radio 2 they’ll forget that it’s tripe and buy it out of robotic familiarity…” I don’t want to be specifically offended on Christmas Day, don’t mistake me. But I do want to see Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry and any number of those spangly, indistinguishable, ageless beardy blokes who’ve made singalongapophit this year for more than a split second where you ’round up’ everything you should’ve had on the show but didn’t. If you’re not going to make something that actually involves the TOP of the POPS, then don’t bloody bother at all. It’s the saddest let down of all. And on Christmas Day, at that.
And that’s the thing. I accept mediocre most days, but not on Christmas Day. Not on the day you should’ve been making the biggest effort of all to delight.
Which brings me to Doctor Who. I differ from a great swathe of people I know in that I adored the latest series. Truly, there was a lot to love in the sense that it gave me simple, episodic, near-capery, with a touch of lore that reminded you that it was made by people who had seen the show before, but not enough of it to make my mind start wondering and wandering into when the last time I watched the Douglas Adams episodes was (way, way too long ago, incidentally). I’ve stuck up for Matt Smith from the first moment he appeared, which surprised me, and he’s continued to surprise and delight me throughout. There’s a darkness and a fear he gives me that, as someone who grew up terrified of Eight, I find very fitting. I’ve enjoyed Clara, as the sort of companion that reminds me of how I viewed Doctor Who when I was little – capable, confident, curious, and like there was more to know about her. I liked that it was proper, uncomplicated, Saturday teatime viewing. Good effort. Good enough. A light TV meal. Excellent.
I liked the last special well enough. I thought it was a bit daft, but it reminded me that it was, actually, quite nice to see Tennant back again. But I didn’t think it was all that and a box of chocolates, as some people seemed to. I did love John Hurt. But when has anyone ever not loved John Hurt? I loved seeing Billie Piper again as well. It was definitely worth watching. But it wasn’t…quite…everything.
There was a point somewhere around those episodes where Amy and Rory had epic feelings, and where the Doctor seemed completely lost, and where the world – or another world, or time and the universe itself – seemed truly in jeopardy, where I’d never seen TV so thrilling and complete as the Matt Smith episodes. But, as time passes, I haven’t rewatched them all that much.
And back to Christmas Day…Matt Smith, evolved from a good theatre/TV actor-type into someone with all the acting potential in the universe leaking out of him, seemed to regenerate before the Doctor did, seemed bigger than the show, seemed trapped, to me, in wonky lines and poor, near-slapstick humour that jarred from scene to scene, with the story much like the last batch of biscuits, when you get all your shreds of pastry together and mush them up and cut out whatever fits and shove it on the tray any old how. Only, unlike the last batch of biscuits, this was not a surprisingly tasty dish. Bad metaphor, I realise. Whatever. I’m not writing a Christmas Day TV show here, so it can stay. For me, the Christmas episode was a terrible waste of costume, villainry, talent, and belief. For the first twenty minutes, I went with it. I was excited. I don’t mind a voiceover. I don’t mind a bit of nonsense. I don’t mind skipping time and being rushed through something.
But I do mind if it comes to nothing. I really mind if my suspension of logic and belief is for nothing. (And keep all this rant in mind for when I get to Sherlock, later…) I mind even more if a Doctor I’ve invested in, been so grateful for, goes out in a shower of rubbish. “His name is Doctor…” NO IT BLOODY ISN’T AND EVEN IF IT IS JUST DON’T IF YOU CAN’T THINK OF A DECENT PAYOFF (keep this in mind for Sherlock…). The moment with Amy should’ve been a delight, and as it happened, it was, but it disappeared in seconds, as people randomly came in and out of the TARDIS for no real reason, as the plot abandoned itself in a series of purest stupidity. The magic ffffffffd out of it like an old, wrinkly, sticky balloon. By the time Capaldi rocked up I was sad with how bad it was, and his appearance didn’t help.
Far be it from me to complain about something which hasn’t happened yet, and may my fears be ungrounded and wrong, but I have no interest in Capaldi as the Doctor. I don’t know why everyone is flailing and raving about him. I don’t like The Thick of It, which might be part of it, because everyone I know seems to think it’s super hyper clever and funny, and I think it’s a bunch of nonsense made by people who could do so much better, but hey. I don’t want another terrifying Doctor. I want the warmth back, I think. The heart. Two hearts. Whatever. I don’t see where the show can go that I’ll feel for it, about it, inside it. Where I’ll want to feel anything about it. That Christmas episode felt like a soggy kick in the shins, an over-glossed attempt at something where everyone I could see knew how bad it was, and everyone I couldn’t see didn’t care how bad it was.
You don’t earn the right to drop the ball. I’m not going to start on anything about how Moffat treats female characters or anything like that, because goodness knows a) the internet’s got that covered and b) I’ve loved plenty of shows with terrible female characters, no female characters at all, or those that perpetuate the very worst stereotypes about women, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t, over the years, before the internet drilled it into me to watch TV differently. I don’t need to start on that, though. That episode, that end to a Doctor I’ve loved, that entire sagging mess of a show is bad in many ways, but most importantly, in its smugness, in its “We’ve made this, so it must be wonderful, it cost a lot of money and took ages and here it is now be grateful.” I’m not grateful; I’m angry.
But, I do really want to watch Waters of Mars again, which, I have been reminded, in my quest to feel something, anything, or, rather, everything, whilst watching Doctor Who, is the best episode of the entire rebooteded series. And that wasn’t even Matt Smith. I’m excited for that. And I’m going to take my massively, massively disappointed self and go back instead, to that, and then back before that to the Douglas Adams, and probably back before that too to watch the first seasons, to catch up on the Doctors I never knew well, because I deserve that, and I don’t want the misery of where the show is right now to percolate into the entire thing. And I do want to pick it up again when it comes back, and to try. I want, as another show that had its dramatic ups and downs in quality put it so well, to believe…
Believing was much less important to me when it came to Downton Abbey. I don’t need to believe. I’m not vastly invested in anyone in the show because there’s not much point in massively investing in anyone in Downton in case they decide they don’t want to be in Downton any more, but I do want to enjoy myself. I do want to thoroughly enjoy myself, as well, not like last year’s Christmas special where, for all the cricket and jollity, there was a bloody miserable crashing death-based end to things ON CHRISTMAS DAY in a slot which is probably, for most people, the last thing you watch on Christmas Day. So that was awful. At least this didn’t happen this year.
But then…did anything at all happen in this year’s? Oh yes, yes. Mary and Mrs. Hughes behaved in the most completely inconsistent OOC ways ever, and Edith got all upset about things that all happened off screen whilst we weren’t looking, and there was a lot of faffing about absolutely nothing and Thomas was reduced to a glowering toady little presence in the corner who made absolutely bugger all contribution to anything and lost any semblance of character growth he’d ever had.
Maggie Smith was glorious, as Maggie Smith always is, but a cutting put-down and wry observation interspersed with genuine touches of heart and humanity is curious, as if one character spouted only gold dust whilst everyone else choked on their porridge.
The greatest show of how nothing it was was that even my mother abandoned concentrating purely on it for wondering about something else entirely on her laptop, which I’ve never ever seen her do before, and she had really been looking forward to it. The whole thing was a strain, a bore, and a confusing mess, and I sort of wish I’d stopped watching altogether somewhere around series two.
So that was Christmas Day on telly, and it was, as you can see, the WORST. For me, anyway. And it’s especially bad that I found it the worst because I’m your ultimate devil’s advocate in most cases. I like to make excuses for things I like. But, crucially, I also like to like the things I like. I really want to love the things I like, though. And to be greeted with a rising hatred for all the things you like, and on Christmas bloody Day at that, is utterly, absolutely lamentable. Hear my cries.
And so to New Year’s Day. Welcome, 2014. Time for Sherlock to return! Sherlock! Beloved Sherlock! Benedict Cumberbatch in all his levelled-up Khan/Smaug muscle-having glory! I’m very fond of Cumberbatch. I have been since he was but a voice on Radio 4, reading me detective things and, indeed, Sherlock Holmes stories, and, of course, in Cabin Pressure (it was the strangest thing when everyone fell for Cabin Pressure, almost as confusing when Hut 33, which I thought I was the only person to listen to ever turned up as a reasonably popular Yuletide request one year). Anyway. Do I fancy Benedict Cumberbatch? That’s probably a whole other blog. I’ll stick that in my list of blogs-I-mean-to-write post. I meant to do that one yesterday, but I’ll have to do it tomorrow instead. I’m not wholly sure why I’m wondering that here – it’s not really that relevant. I definitely didn’t when I first saw Sherlock, and my, was that first episode one of the very greatest pieces of television I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. What a masterful piece of storytelling that was.
And the subsequent episodes. I thought the Hound of the Baskervilles version, however they so-titled it, was a bit off in places, and there were definitely points that were very silly in other places, but I never minded, because the story, always the story, and this wonderful character dynamic that was so tight, so neat, so clever. And genuinely clever, not smug or self-gratified, the sort of thing that made you smile with appreciation. I’m thinking things like the scene from that first episode, the double-hander with the taxi driver character. The scene in the swimming pool with Moriarty. The I am Sherlocked, or, as I like to call it, the all-time greatest ever TV facepalm moment. So many wonderful moments, and comments, and so much fun.
So why am I adding the latest episode to my rant? Because it made me really bloody annoyed. And I wasn’t expecting that. And, really, I am so, so confused by the way that a good 80% of people on my Twitter feed and so on seem to have loved it, or at least rather liked it.
I don’t understand.
It was silly.
Sherlock is not silly. I don’t care if he’s spent his last two years in sodding circus school, he’s not a clown. He’s not got that sense of humour, and don’t tell me he’s trying to imitate that sense of humour and that actually that’s all pathos and sweetness because that is the sort of thing that happens in Sherlock fanfic and I don’t want this to become, like far too many shows of old have, something where the fandom is better at the show than the actual writers of it.
Moriarty warranted comedic use of pop music and buffoonery because he was BONKERS. Brilliantly, terrifyingly bonkers. Sherlock might be those things, but not with an upbeat soundtrack. And whilst I’m at it, what the hell with the entire, lengthy and bizarre music video-style montage segments? I’m not railing against the progressive nature of TV here. It’s not that I was pushed out of my comfort zone by speshul nu trix that are too challenging for my ageing self. It’s that real wit and plot were replaced by set pieces and slapstick.
It’s that Cumberbatch, capable of acting his socks off in anything, seemed to be, as I was complaining about Matt Smith being, completely constrained by the weight of the gloss on the show. Where his own body and pacing would have been more than enough, there seemed constant over/under-focusing, slowing, over-enhancing. And Martin Freeman, always so effortless and brilliant and capable of thoroughly inhabiting even the smallest moment to make it defining and enlightening, was perpetually written into emotional, literal and metaphorical corners, flattened and muted by odd script and plot choices, constantly stripped from fulfilling the very role that the episode seemed to want to claim he defined.
And don’t get me started on the complete inability to resolve the plot. HIS NAME IS NOT THE DOCTOR. Same bloody thing. Don’t give a cliffhanger and then mock people’s desire to resolve it. Sure, mock it a bit. Sure, that was a cracking and most amusing opening, which I greatly enjoyed, especially Derren Brown. Sure, I liked the fanfic version (I’m sure I’ve read that one, and I’d be quite happy to read it again, preferably in place of rewatching last night’s). But it became as if the writers themselves were displaying how unresolvably ridiculous their cliffhanger was, and if you set yourself up that way, then, no, sorry, you have to cop it when you don’t finish what you started.
I’ll take it back gladly if it comes later, next episode, final episode. Gladly. Because this is a series, and it’s okay to have arcs. But that needs to be resolved by the third part, and if it isn’t, then oh my, that’s just incompetent smugness, to think that you can do whatever you like and not actually need to abide by the rules of plausibility. When you’re writing about humans and grounding them as human and keeping their powers strictly to deductiveness, then you do, actually, have to keep them grounded constantly. It isn’t impressive if no-one knows the answer, and all I got from last night’s episode is the sense that the makers it would be a really great way to keep the buzz going until they could get the next episode out on telly.
Mary was fine, sure, I’m not sure why she had to be Watson’s secretary, or why that whole sequence had to be flogged to boredom, just as, whilst I’m at it, so many of the scenes which were rammed together to constitute the episode had to be verbally or visually done to death. The fighting in multiple eating establishments (really? REALLY?). The “There’s always an off switch!” “I can’t believe there was an off switch!” “I’ve turned it off with the off switch!” which in isolation is okay if you haven’t already abandoned one potentially solvable situation by mocking the attempt to solve it and substituted plot with a drawn-out, suddenly faux-emotional, exceptionally unfunny “This was never all that stressful after all!” scenario.
Honestly, I’m surprised by how unsatisfying I found that. How something that has delighted and awed me so much suddenly infuriated me, and, really, I felt, let me down.
Is it just that Christmas TV left me in a bad way, letting me only see the grim in all? Is it just me? Because the desperate fail of festive TV, no fewer than four things I like very much and was really looking forward to, is just a bit too much for me.
I hope things pick up. I’m still excited for Sherlock on Sunday. Of course I am. Of course, of course I am. And I don’t deny I found things to laugh and and to enjoy in that episode. But the sum of its parts was far, far less than it ought to have been. Too many things didn’t add up, and, worse, so much worse, the makers either couldn’t see or didn’t care that they didn’t add up. It felt like at least Sherlock and Doctor Who needed a good, hard edit, all the darlings had to be killed and all the layers of colour and saturation stripped right back so that the bones of the show – plot, continuity, character and heart – could be seen and felt.
I need an antidote to all the bad TV. I need not to be let down any more. Perhaps I’ll catch up with Elementary, now…