TV review: Doctor Who - The Doctor's back, with his snog box
But with a low-kley start to the new series, perhaps it's time for a spot of role reversal
Sunday 31 March 2013
The new season of Doctor Who began last night, introducing his new "assistant". We'll touch on the sexual politics of the Tardis later. In the meantime, I'm happy to report that Jenna-Louise Coleman seems, to me at least, an improvement on the rather stroppy presence of Karen Gillan, who played side-kick Amy Pond. Coleman, so far, plays Clara Oswald as a cutely poised complement to Matt Smith's breathless nerd.
Which is fortunate, because the writers of Coleman's character already seem fidgety. In last night's episode, she was a nanny to a suburban London family, but you might remember that Coleman played a Victorian governess in the show's Christmas special. Indeed, she has popped up in a few other episodes too. As the Doctor said at one point last night: "Right then, Clara Oswald, time to find out who you are." I'm not a regular viewer of the show, which in its increasingly self-referential form can make a Saturday tea-time entertainment more obscure than it needs to be.
As it happens, last night's season opener was less forbidding. Apart from a prologue which found the Doctor holed up in a monastery in the 12th century, it was set in contemporary London, the better, it seemed, to allow the two leads to flirt uninterrupted by any big sci-fi set pieces . Unlike Amy, Clara doesn't come with a boyfriend, and reckoned the Tardis no more than a "snog box". The story was curiously unambitious: a sinister plot to upload human souls via the internet to a virtual cloud. At one point, Matt Smith squared up to a humanoid with a satellite dish where the back of its head should have been, took a deep breath and said: "It's a walking Wi-Fi base station, hoovering up people!" Here and there, citizens were shown logging on and dropping off on trains, in bedrooms, sitting rooms like ... well, like the glass-eyed fictional viewers in the BBC's own recent promotional campaign promoting the virtues of watching its iPlayer device on the hoof.
Perhaps Steven Moffat and his team should focus their creative talents on the show itself. The pairing of an intellectually bright but emotionally dim male with a techno-illiterate but wised up female is a tired old trope of much drama and comedy, not just Doctor Who. It has been pointed out that there are no female writers of the show. There have also been rumours that Smith's days at the controls of the Tardis are numbered. Cue a female Doctor? About time.
The zealots of the Inquisition had many ingenious implements to torment the unfortunates in their grasp. The experience of watching last night's historical drama (concluding tonight) Labyrinth (Channel 4, Saturday *), was, thankfully, unavailable to them. An adaptation of Kate Mosse's novel, it follows the misadventures of two heroines: a young British woman who becomes involved with a clandestine sect in south-west France; and, in the same place only eight centuries earlier, the daughter of an aristocrat who is protecting the local heretical Cathar community. When I say community, I mean a single woman with the sort of pasty-faced dourness that often passes for devout faith in dramas such as this.
It's a pity that in the first hour and a half, the makers couldn't be bothered to explain the nature of the Cathar heresy – a heresy irksome enough, let's remember, to provoke the Catholic Church to get its inaugural Inquisition up and running.
The action staggered back and forth between the streets of 21st- and 13th-century Carcassonne like a dehydrated tour guide lost in one of those medieval fetes that the French have a passion for. John Hurt popped up now and then looking as confused as I felt.
All I can recall now is a lot of smoke bombs going off, someone putting the name Roger through a big Gallic mangle ("Hrrorgerrr!"), and the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, presumably on sabbatical from the uni, declaring: "I'll make honest Christians of these people even if I have to kill every last one of them to do it!"
Revolution (Sky1, Saturday **), an apocalypse drama that Sky has imported from America, did at least open with an arresting image: airliners falling from a night sky over a city whose electricity is cutting out. That's the premise of this series: the battle to restore power – and therefore grab power – 15 years after a mysterious and permanent worldwide blackout. By the looks of its salon-fresh and toothsome cast, though, it would appear that hairdressers and dentists had a few batteries put by.
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