Christmas viewing reviewed: Doctor Who, Christmas Day, BBC1
The Snowman and the Snowdog, Christmas Eve Channel 4
Call the Midwife, Christmas Day, BBC1
So who had the best snow? It’s the time of year, after all, when television traditionally turns itself into a snow globe, no Christmas Day special being complete without a thorough application of the white stuff. But the quality of the final product varies, to be frank. Call the Midwife, having a quite sizeable square footage of Poplar to cover, had clearly settled for a budget version – a kind of dusty white paint that covers everything up to about waist level.
It doesn’t look remotely like snow but it signifies snow, or at least that someone has gone through the motions of winterising the standard product. The Snowman and the Snowdog (Channel 4’s Christmas Eve sequel to what has become a fixture in the schedules) was disqualified since all its animators had to do to get snow was do less colouring-in. So, with Downton Abbey boldly sidestepping genre expectations by giving its Christmas Day special a summer setting, the gold medal went – once again – to Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat had at least ironised his ersatz blizzard, enlisting it not just as seasonal set-dressing but as the centrepiece villain – a kind of crystalline life-form that parasitically fed on human fear and had, as its most preposterous avatar, a set of carnivorous snowmen, complete with Great White Shark overbites. They were a bit like what the John Lewis snowman might have looked like if he’d gone all that way only to find the doors closed, and they were manipulated by some kind of sentient snow flurry with the assistance of Richard E Grant, as glacially sepulchral as he’s ever been. Even for a Doctor Who sceptic like me, there were some nice touches: a clever bit of dialogue in which the Companion-Elect, Clara, had to answer some complicated questions with one-word answers and a lovely variation on the Tardis’s invisibility, with the Doctor climbing up to its parking spot in the clouds by means of a towering spiral staircase. But some younger viewers may have felt the Doctor’s interaction with his new sidekick was a just a bit too snoggy.
I don’t entirely envy parents whose children saw both Who and The Snowman and the Snowdog, since placating childish terrors in this case (“Of course snowman can’t come alive”) would inevitably undermine the charm of Channel 4’s animated fairytale. They also have a bit of a problem with metaphors too: in Doctor Who, melting was a thoroughly good thing, since it represented the thawing of the stiff Victorian values that were identified as the problem in, the first place. But in The Snowman and the Snowdog, melting is death, the sadly inevitable end to all earthly relationships. Quite why this pendant to Raymond Briggs’s original story was made, I’m not sure. It apparently had his blessing and it looked lovely – in its crayonny way– but Andy Burrows’ replacement flying song wasn’t a patch on “Walking in the Air” and most of the action simply seemed to occur to give the animators something to draw.
I’m afraid pretty much the only thing I can bear in Call the Midwife is the baroque diction of cake-snaffling Sister Monica Joan, who this week explained the disappearance of some macaroons with “almonds are mercurial and likely to be consumed into the ether”. Honesty also compels me to admit that I leaked a grudging tear during the scene in which a ragged old derelict was gently bathed to the sound of “Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel”, a moment at which the drama simply showed you Christian charity at work, rather than sermonising about it. Elsewhere, though, the designing sentimentality of the series was as strong as ever, exemplified by the voice over homilies of Vanessa Redgrave. Birth, she told us at one point, is the most commonplace of miracles, “an event at once familiar and phenomenal, timeless and immediate, briefly making angels of us all.” Oh Lord, deliver us.
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