Rather than settling in for some festive programming, it’s a safe bet that most students spent their Christmas break stressing about the exams and deadlines waiting for them in January. Well, that dreaded month is finally here and the only silver lining is that soon many of us will actually be able to enjoy our lives again. Just in case you want to catch up on some Christmas telly in your newly-discovered free time, here’s a look at some of the biggest shows to hit screens over the break, and whether they were actually any good…
Doctor Who – ‘Twice Upon a Time’
Outgoing lead writer Steven Moffat doesn’t do things by halves. In conceiving ‘Twice Upon a Time’, Moffat gave himself the unenviable task of writing a fun Christmas adventure to please hardcore fans and casuals alike. The episode represents the first full appearance of the original Doctor since 1983, along with a satisfying conclusion to the adventures of the 12th Doctor and a final chance to do justice to Moffat’s own remarkable era in charge. With some relief, it seems he has succeeded on most of these counts with a lovely tale of two Doctors having to confront their own mortality.
Starting with a notable misjudgement that has caused anger in fan circles, the First Doctor’s return (played by David Bradley, substituting for the late William Hartnell) is a missed opportunity. Rather than properly paying homage to the much loved character and his pioneering era, here he makes a series of off colour and sexist remarks that would make your grandparents blush. It’s a shame, because the First Doctor wasn’t like that. Bradley nevertheless does an excellent job and has shrewdly been signed up to play the part in a series of audio plays. Thankfully, aside from slightly staid pacing at times, this is the only major flaw in the special.
It’s a mark of the strength of the episode that such a mistake can be forgiven. The cast are on top form here as ever with Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Mark Gatiss as the 12th Doctor, Bill and The Captain respectively delivering some of their best work on the show. Capaldi in particular has seen his time as the Doctor greeted with much less enthusiasm than some of his recent predecessors, but there is no argument that he isn’t a fantastic actor playing a very good incarnation of the character. His final twenty minutes are at times sublime television, with one of the most affecting scenes in recent memory wrapping up the main story. Following this, his inevitable regeneration manages to be sad, funny, heart warming and wise all in one.
As we wave goodbye to not only a brilliant Doctor, but a head writer responsible for more Doctor Who than anyone else, it is very pleasing to say they’ve both ended on a high.
With The Miniaturist novel having so much buzz around it, many tuned in to the BBC’s two-part adaptation ready to see what all the fuss was about: quite frankly that remains a mystery.
The Miniaturist is set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam and follows Nella, a young woman from the countryside married off to a wealthy merchant in exchange for the clearing of her family’s debts. Once at the merchant’s house, she is greeted by a horribly Puritan sister-in-law and a husband who frequently ignores her.
The first episode involves a lot of setup. The act of tension-building teeters between gripping and downright boring, but there is just enough to keep you around for the hour-and-a-half runtime. The props are brilliantly made, and the costumes and set design are faultless. However, a lot of the time the characters don’t act believably; in particular, they moved from indifference to each other to inseparable friendships in the blink of an eye.
After an hour and a half of slow-cooked tension, abundant references to sugar and plot twists that offer nothing that hasn’t been done in thousands of stories before, it’s time for episode two. We hope to discover who the Miniaturist is, a mystery that teases intriguingly throughout the first episode.
But alas, this is where the real let-down comes in the form of a seriously anticlimactic ending. If you are hoping for an exciting mystery with an answer that’ll make you jump off the sofa in shock, The Miniaturist is not for you. Spend those saved two and a half hours watching something better than this noble-but-disappointing attempt at a supernatural thriller.
Miranda Does Christmas
Those expecting a new episode of Miranda Hart’s self-titled sitcom will be surprised by what is actually a 20-minute chat show strung over an hour. The special is hosted by Hart on Channel 4 and features such A-list guests as Susan Calman (clearly still basking in a Strictly Come Dancing career boost) and Prue Leith (drafted in from the Great British Bake Off’s gingham altar to spa rather awkwardly here with Hart).
In fairness, it is a largely enjoyable hour of television mainly because of the hostess herself, who, in the nicest possible way, bounces off guests like David Tennant far better than she does with Sam Smith, the biggest (only?) star of the show. Hart has always played to her strengths as a comedienne; her comedy isn’t cutting edge but it is warm and often very funny, perfect for a setup like this in which she leisurely debates such incisive topics as favourite Christmas songs, the whys and wherefores of sending Christmas cards, and what to do if you run out of bacon for your pigs in blankets. By contrast, and although Smith was a good sport, when she was required to fill the role of a more conventional chat show host by promoting Smith and his music, things felt far more forced.
That isn’t to say, however, that there wouldn’t be merits in giving her a full series. There are certainly teething problems, but Channel 4 could well have struck gold in giving Hart this platform to be herself. She remains one of the funniest comedians around and simply spending time in her company, which was one of this first episode’s biggest strengths, would keep viewers coming back.
Victoria – ‘Comfort and Joy’
Comfort and Joy is an episode of firsts: the first Victoria Christmas special, the first episode over sixty minutes, and Victoria’s first Christmas without Baroness Lehzen. Change is the main theme; the good, the bad and the bizarre.
The episode begins far from the Victorian Christmas you initially imagine the episode would pull you into. Taking viewers on an emotional journey, it diverges from the main season’s plot lines by beginning in Africa where a young girl named Sara is gifted by King Gezo to Queen Victoria.
While being a festive episode, it also serves another purpose in tying up all the loose ends from the second season. Comfort and Joy focuses on the pairings of Francateli and Skerret, Wilhelmina and Lord Alfred and Harriet and Prince Ernest.
The episode highlights some of the negative aspects of the Victorian era, albeit with a huge sugar-coating. The rawness of incurable disease and its knock-on effects, as well as the prevalence of slavery in a subplot involving Mrs Skerrett inheriting ‘property’ in the form of slaves, both resolve in unrealistic-feeling happy endings. Perhaps the writers didn’t find it appropriate to highlight the harsh realities of the Victorian era via a festive-themed family show.
Prince Albert surmises Christmas as “a time where everything is perfect.” But this isn’t the case even for the royals and holidays filled with family quarrels, indulgence and tradition is something we can all relate to.
After a Christmas binge of Victoria you may feel slightly exhausted, but generally the episode strikes all the right notes and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling. ‘Comfort and Joy’ will have you sitting comfortably, prepared for the oncoming joy series creator Daisy Goodwin has produced here.