Downton delivers the one present its devotees wanted
Christmas TV review
I'm beginning to wonder if the Earl of Grantham is a bit dim. He lost his dog in the Downton Abbey Christmas special – because Thomas the sneak-thief footman had locked him away in the garden shed, hoping to curry favour with his Lordship with a miraculous restoration. Sadly for Thomas one of the village urchins got there first but his dastardly scheme worked anyway. Meeting Thomas returning from the woods dishevelled and empty-handed, Lord Grantham is touched by his servant's selfless diligence. "There's more true kindness in him than I'd given him credit for," he says to Carson. Might I respectfully suggest, your Lordship, that the £10 reward you promised was a more plausible motive for this blackguard's actions? And, less respectfully, that you will be putty in Thomas's scheming hands if he does actually pull off his plan to become your valet.
There's a vacancy, of course, only because poor saintly Mr Bates is languishing in chokey on a charge of murder – and helpfully providing a cliffhanger to which Julian Fellowes can cut away when any of his other storylines flag a little.
There were all kinds of little stocking-fillers for Downton devotees, with healed rifts, babies, and minor scandals. A couple of outsiders popped in to pay their respects, Nigel Havers appearing as a fortune-hunting charmer who very nearly bagged Lady Rosamund (before he was caught in flagrante with her maid) and Robert Bathurst returning as Sir Anthony, winged in the war and nobly sparing Lady Edith a commitment she has absolutely no desire to be released from. But, fittingly, Fellowes kept his really big gift until the very end, having tantalised us for months with Mary and Matthew's hopeless love. There were, naturally, a few final obstacles to clear: "I'm Tess of the d'Urbervilles to your Angel Clare," Mary said bitterly, after the exact details of her imbroglio with the Turkish attaché had been revealed. For a moment all seemed hopeless. But then Sir Richard got his marching orders and the planchette in the servant's quarters spelled out a mysterious message – "May they be happy" – and we all got what we'd wanted all along.
Christmas is a time for meeting up with friends you haven't seen for ages – but if it's been a really long time there's always a bit of anxiety about whether you'll feel the same way about them. Edina in Absolutely Fabulous was showing some signs of middle-age spread ("Every fat cell I've ever lost or gained has come back for the Fat Cell Reunion of the Year," she wailed) and the comedy itself was a little baggy too, leaning quite heavily on our fondness for the characters. Some very good gags though – including Edina's very funny attempt to talk "street" and a guest appearance by The Killing's Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) who turned up in an Edina nightmare, complete with sweater and subtitles.
Last year Stephen Moffat rewrote A Christmas Carol for his Doctor Who Christmas special; this year he borrowed from C.S. Lewis, with a story that alluded to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Doctor Who very rarely makes me cry because its emotions of grief always seem falsely earned (you know for sure that any unbearable death will eventually be reversed). So although the Doctor himself wiped away a tear when he was reunited with the Ponds at the very end, I stayed stony. My eyes did prick a bit at the late arrival of a real Lancaster bomber, though. That was a lovely present.
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