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TV review: Doctor Who | Death Comes To Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley. Picture: BBC

Death Comes to Pemberley. Picture: BBC

  • by GRAEME VIRTUE
 

CORPORATE convergence doesn’t sound very Christmassy – or maybe it does – but if the trade-off for getting Kermit, Fozzy and the rest of the Muppet gang back on UK TV screens was a fad romance with Lady Gaga’s slightly underwhelming Artpop album, I was totally OK with that.

The Muppets And Lady Gaga At Christmas - Channel 5, Sunday, 5.25pm

Death Comes To Pemberley - BBC1, Boxing Day, 8.15pm; Friday, Saturday, 9pm

Doctor Who - BBC1, Christmas Day, 7.30pm

The Muppets And Lady Gaga At Christmas may have been yet another US import from Channel 5, but it was worth it just to see two great divas trade barbs between the musical numbers. And that was just Statler and Waldorf; never mind the crackling tension between Gaga and Miss Piggy.

Amid the usual backstage Muppet chaos, Gaga managed to blend in yet still stand out: at one point she wore an enormous furry headpiece that made you want to check that Mr Snuffleupagus was still safe and sound somewhere. There were a few too many Artpop songs ­and not nearly enough sketches with Kristen Bell, but it did at least gift us a Santa Baby performance for the ages, thanks to a certain frog-loving, karate-chopping mega-star. Poker Face, meet porcine face.

As Gaga surely knows, Christmas is the season for nominally festive TV specials and glitzy one-offs. Sadly, they’re often stinkers masquerading as Fabergé eggs.

BBC1 hoped to lure lethargic Boxing Day audiences with Death Comes To Pemberley, an adaptation of PD James’s sequel to Pride And Prejudice that played out over three consecutive nights. If the plan was to discreetly stick two fingers up at ITV’s Downton Abbey and Midsomer Murders Christmas specials by essentially combining them into a handsomely staged, decently acted whole, it pretty much worked. Six years after the events of P&P, Lizzie (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Darcy (Matthew Rhys) were raising sprogs in the impressive family pile of Pemberley. The caddish Wickham (Matthew Goode), a memorable nuisance in the original novel, was again causing trouble – seemingly bludgeoning an army pal to death in the woods while en route to Pemberley’s annual ball.

Casting directors are beginning to realise that Goode is best when he’s being bad, getting the most out of the cruel pinch of his aristocratically handsome features. Trevor Eve was also better than he’s been in ages as the investigating magistrate with a chip on his shoulder not quite concealed by his lovely long hair. This wasn’t an Austen-flavoured Gosford Park or a country house Cluedo, however – the drama soon abandoned the high-ceiling rooms and well-tended grounds of Pemberley for a surprisingly rowdy courthouse in Derby. At times, it felt like an Austen brand extension pulling in two different directions at once, with the methodical uncovering of secrets favouring the PD James marque.

Lizzie and Darcy were shown to be nominally happy, but Austenphiles may have been dismayed that they barely had any scenes together. Thankfully, there was one unexpected, almost plot-capsizingly sensual interlude where Martin was finally allowed to let her hair down and smoulder as convincingly as Rhys did throughout. That passionate embrace, and unexpected flash of milky thigh, could perhaps challenge Colin Firth’s famous soaking-blouson pond egress as Sexiest Austen-Related TV Moment Of All Time.

There was also sexiness, of a sort, in Doctor Who, where Matt Smith cavorted naked in the Tardis in the preamble to his last official outing as the galaxy’s favourite Timelord. That initial cheekiness fell away as showrunner Steven Moffat proceeded to build a monument to Smith’s tenure, a minor-key adventure that uncharacteristically anchored the Doctor in just one place for centuries. As the self-appointed protector of the snowbound village of Christmas, the Doctor was the only thing standing between half the universe’s most evil meanies and a doorway to another dimension packed with unpredictable Gallimaufrians for 300 long and montage-filled years. Moffat’s efficient snipping and braiding of various dangling plot threads was fanboy manna but it sorely needed a dedicated performance from Smith to make it feel meaningful, and the boy did well under increasing amounts of pensioner make-up. His Doctor’s eventual regeneration involved streams of energy spurting out of his arms like a Ghostbuster proton pack, charismatic runoff that proved more than enough to take down a flotilla of attacking Dalek ships. The final transformation, though, happened in an eyeblink. Alas Smith was gone, and there was Peter Capaldi, sounding Scottish and looking demented. “New kidneys!” he exclaimed. An exciting transplant, indeed.

 

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