The Weekend's TV: Doctor Who, Sat, BBC1
When Moyles Met the Radio 1 Breakfast DJs, Sun, BBC2
The Seasons With Alan Titchmarsh, Sun, ITV1
Reality bites for the Time Lord
Monday 10 May 2010
I watched Doctor Who with Terry Pratchett this week. Not literally, obviously. I've never met him, but even so he was sitting by my side all the way through "The Vampires of Venice", thanks to his well-publicised attack last week on the series' indifference to the fundamental laws of narrative.
Curiously, Pratchett also insisted at the time that he was still a "believer" in the show, despite the fact that it was its lack of credibility and "pixel-thin science" that most seemed to rile him. It had its "heart in the right place", he said. Which should perhaps be two hearts in their right places, if my sketchy understanding of Gallifreyan anatomy is correct. Anyway, I thought I'd check out how Matt Smith was settling in and see how cross this week's episode would make Mr Pratchett.
The basic premise was a Hammer Horror wet dream, with a 16th-century Venetian contessa recruiting poutingly nubile young girls to be vampirised and prepared as brides for some kind of alien crayfish creatures. This kind of thing, incidentally, isn't what gets up Mr Pratchett's nose. As a fantasy writer himself he has no problem with wild inventions. It's just that he wants the imaginary cogwork to operate properly. And it wasn't very long before you could see what he's talking about. Personally, I can't get too fussed about the sonic screwdriver myself, a kind of intergalactic Swiss Army penknife that the doctor seems to be able to use to open any lock he wants to, unless that's inconvenient for the plot, in which case he can't. But I did wonder about the subterranean passageway into the basement of the contessa's fortified palazzo. This is supposed to be Venice, after all, where the geography isn't exactly conducive for tunnellers.
Matt Smith seems fine to me, which hardly counts as a recommendation since I can't get very exercised about the nuances of the Doctor's psychology. He's perky in all the right ways and his emergence from a strippogram cake at the beginning of the episode was fun. But Pratchett is surely right to say that a drama in which pretty much anything can happen is less interesting than one on in which the premises are consistent. And here they simply weren't. At one point, the vampire Page 3 babes shrunk from an ultraviolet lamp in classic vampire style. At the next, they were trolling about in the Venetian sunshine baring their lamprey fangs. The contessa's son could wander around in broad daylight munching on passing wenches, but then was blown into slimy smithereens by a sunbeam angled off the sidekick's vanity mirror. And again, I don't give a damn about the inconsistency because I'm probably not going to be watching anyway. But Mr Pratchett was really grumbling by the end.
When Moyles Met the Radio 1 Breakfast DJs involved the current incumbent on the Breakfast Show – a god in his own eyes – touring the country to talk to former occupants of "the biggest gig in radio" about the vital role of bringing pop music and empty banter to the people of Britain. He seemed to imply at one point – while talking to Simon Mayo about the challenges of broadcasting during the first Gulf War – that without this vital prop to national morale our island history might have been very different. Simon Mayo, to his credit, made it clear that he thought Moyles might be taking it all a bit seriously. Mike Smith, who now runs a helicopter company, came out of the exercise with most credit, being candid about his own regrets and politely honest about his distaste for the kind of zoo broadcasting that is Moyles's trademark. But it was Steve Wright who got the best dig in, explaining that his body-clock had never really equipped him to work the early shift. "Like you, Chris, I just can't get up at four in the morning and come in and entertain," he said, absolutely deadpan. Sadly, Dave Lee Travis didn't appear – depriving us of his effortless capacity for self-satire – though as a consolation they played you a clip of his opening words when he took over the job: "I spent most of last night considering my first words for this programme," he said solemnly, "because I realised they had to be quite prolific... so here goes: 'Welcome to the Breakfast Show.'"
The Seasons with Alan Titchmarsh is like a parish calendar, images of primroses and little lambs and fox cubs peering through the shrubbery, all accompanied by that unctuous, ecclesiastical chumminess, like a vicar down the pub. "Spring is a feeling in the pit of your stomach," he said as he rhapsodised about Britain's "rousing wake-up call". The season, he assured us, has "a sweetness on the breeze that's all its own". I was definitely getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach by this point and it didn't dissipate as the programme continued, with its sickly blend of tourist board patriotism and random nature notes. But, still, television is a broad church and I don't doubt that there is a loyal congregation out there that will find all of this wonderful. You may even learn something. I didn't know, for example, that 75 per cent of the world's heather is in the British Isles, an ecosystem rarer than the rainforest. Or that a blackthorn winter is one in which snow on the ground accompanies blossom on the branches. And the pictures are very pretty.
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