CHRISTMAS is all about giving. But sometimes taking can be even more fun.
Boxing Day, STV, 9pm
Thursday and Friday, BBC1, 9pm
Christmas Day, BBC1, 5.15pm
On Boxing Day, when most of us were ruing that extra slice of turkey, STV carved out a juicy prime-time slot for Doors Open, an adaptation of Ian Rankin’s bestselling art heist novel.
The success of such capers usually rests on recruiting the right team of specialists, and Rankin had a strong squad in his corner. As well as Douglas Henshall and Stephen Fry in lead roles, Sandi Toksvig co-scripted, and it was directed by the talented Welsh filmmaker Marc Evans (Fry and Toksvig also executive-produced).
That’s quite a crew, and Doors Open made for some welcome counter-programming amid the garish baubles and endless sleigh bells of the festive schedules. There were some good jokes and Edinburgh held up her end of the deal by looking beautiful, the roving eye of Evans adding an impressionistic, cinematic sheen that was harder to detect in, say, the galumphing John Bishop vehicle Panto!
Some narrative acrobatics akin to cartwheeling through a web of laser sensors were necessary to get you onside with the nominal heroes: an arrogant self-made millionaire (Henshall), a worrywart banker (Kenneth Collard), and a fusspot art expert with a habit of correcting other people’s pronunciation (Fry, as if you hadn’t guessed). By putting them up against an even more unpalatable foe – a fictional Scottish bank in fiscal freefall desperate to liquidate its art collection – you ended up rooting for this ragtag team and their undesirable associates (including Raymond Mearns in a small but wonderful role).
And there was something quite punk rock about staging the burglary on Doors Open Day; the subversive tang of seeing an admirable, civic-minded initiative being exploited for dubious ends. Even the cheeky jazz on the soundtrack – the default musical setting for on-screen heists since The Italian Job – seemed more like a sly in-joke once Henshall and Collard slipped into their CCTV-foiling 1970s disguises. It’s just a shame that for most of the feature-length running time, poor Lenora Crichlow had little more to do than when she was a housebound ghost making endless cups of tea in BBC3’s Being Human.
There were plenty of take-charge female characters to pick up the slack in Restless, William Boyd’s espionage thriller that played out like a particularly action-packed edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Swapping her Downton duds for high-waisted jeans, Michelle Dockery was a Citroën 2CV-driving 1970s flower-child belatedly discovering that her mother was not English rose Sally Gilmartin but actually former spy Eva Delectorskaya. “You mean I’m half-Russian?” said Dockery, mournfully.
Flashing back to 1939, we witnessed Hayley Atwell being recruited into a shady wing of the British secret service by handsome reptile Rufus Sewell, and after a brisk training montage at a Scottish finishing school for plucky agents, she throws herself into a new life of clandestine operations.
After her turn in Captain America, Atwell is a veteran of Second World War action, comfortable with jumping out of windows, clambering through the rubble of Blitz-era London and improvising a silencer out of a feather pillow when necessary. But there was an even greater thrill seeing her character 30 years on: an avenging angel in the mesmerising form of Charlotte Rampling, coolly purchasing a shotgun in order to deliver retribution to the man who betrayed her. The expression on Dockery’s face when she turned out her mum’s bin to discover a sawn-off stock and barrel was priceless.
But in a week where the fawning ITV documentary about a new Spice Girls musical seemed to be on every digital channel within clicking distance, it was comforting that the most convincing display of girl power occurred on the BBC’s flagship Christmas Day ratings-bagger Doctor Who. We’d already met a futuristic, soufflé-loving version of Clara – played by Emmerdale refugee Jenna-Louise Coleman – in the first episode of the current series. That was an intergalactic, Dalek-related fankle that did not end well for our heroine. Yet here she was again, as a feisty Victorian governess amid a smog-bound adventure that consciously evoked Sherlock Holmes and traditional Christmas ghost stories.
We knew Clara was destined to be the Doctor’s new long-term travelling companion, so seeing her snuff it – again – shouldn’t have been that disconcerting. Yet Coleman’s guileless, energised performance seemed to shake both the Doctor and dedicated fans out of their debilitating post-Amy Pond funk.
An exciting new character, especially one with the emotional range of Coleman, can only be good news for a series girding itself for a Bond-like anniversary of 50 years on screen in 2013. Witnessing the Doctor return to the Highlands to check up on Jamie McCrimmon, one of his earliest companions, would just be a bonus.
Graeme Virtue talks about TV on BBC Radio Scotland’s MacAulay and Co show every Wednesday morning. Aidan Smith is away