The end is nigh. Of Christmas viewing that is, not the world as we know it, despite indications to the contrary fuelled by the Apocalyptic weather we’ve been having over the last week or two. It was Nollaig na mBan (or Little Christmas, whichever you subscribe to) on Monday so the festive season is officially over, but there’s still a drip and a drab of holiday cheer to mull over, a Muppet Christmas Carol here, a pre-recorded Christmas special there. I didn’t get to watch many of the programmes designed for cosy evening viewing as they were broadcast, due to previous commitments (eating, drinking, being merry), but the awe-inspiring accomplishments of the Sky + Box has given me the opportunity to watch the holiday specials right into the New Year.
Amongst them was Dr. Who, which I foisted upon the unsuspecting family on Christmas Day. Often the Dr Who specials are stand-alone affairs with alternate companions, usually played by a well-known face, but this one was different. It was the culmination of the run of Matt Smith, who has played the Doctor for four years, and so wrapped up a story-arc so complicated I had no idea what was going on, despite dipping into the good Doctor’s adventures semi-regularly. Pity then the rest of the family whose eyes soon glazed over as realisation struck that they’d be utterly confused for the following 60 minutes. But being that time of year they gamely stuck it out, with only a few minutes of closed eyes and internet scanning to speak of.
As far as I could gather Smith’s Doctor bowed out in a fashion most unusual to his particular strain of Time Lord – he took himself off to a distant planet for 600 years and allowed himself to die of old age. It was a poignant ending to a revitalising run which gained a whole new audience thanks to Smith’s youthful charm and cheerful charisma, and the introduction of his successor Peter Capaldi – at 55 the oldest actor to take on the role, in direct contrast to Smith – was brief but effective, offering a glimpse of what’s to come when the next series airs late next year.
In recent years it has been decided that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a schmaltzy offering from Downton Abbey, and this year we were duly served up a dish best served with as much fuss and bother as possible by Mrs Patmore. There was a bit of huffing and puffing from my viewing partner that the episode took place in summer, but as the Crawley’s tend to avoid the daylight to protect their delicate aristocratic skin from the common old sun it turns out the setting wasn’t of any great significance, apart from the staff’s visit to the beach at the end of the episode (and a daring glimpse at Carson’s knobbly knees). There was a requisite amount of glamour in any case, offered up in the form of Cousin Rose’s coming out into society, in which she fraternised with the Prince of Wales and his mistress and foiled an attempt by a gambler down on his luck to sell evidence of the affair.
The family was up to all manner of espionage in fact, from Edith conspiring to bring her illegitimate baby home from Switzerland to live secretly with a family on the estate to Lady Mary burning the ticket stub placing Bates in London at the time of the killing of an old foe. Bates is always getting away with murder, with different people covering it up for him every time, as a direct result of the loyalty he shows his employers and because everyone loves his lovely wife. I wonder if his next killing spree will be conveniently explained away by Lord Grantham because his trusty valet did such a stand up job of dressing him that morning.
A much anticipated addition to the cast came in the form of award winning actor Paul Giamatti in the role of Cora’s playboy brother from America with an aversion to English food and manners and an eye for heiresses in need of a fortune. There were so many storylines being strung along (not unlike Mary’s three suitors) that Giamatti’s seemed superfluous but it gave us the opportunity to gaze upon the gowns and jewellery of yet another pretty debutante so it wasn’t all bad. If the last season is anything to go by, however, backed up by the special the Abbey, though having regained its luxury is losing its lustre.
Another of one of the most famous great houses in fiction got an audience when we followed Lizzie and Darcy’s marriage seven years after Pride and Prejudice in Death Comes to Pemberley. An adaptation of the book of the same name by PD James, which in itself was a sequel spun 300 years after Austen’s well loved novel, it started with the sighting of an alleged ghost by two scullery maids, a spectre well known for bringing about misfortune if happened upon. Even though it soon becomes clear that the figure is flesh and blood misfortune indeed befalls the Darcys and their extended family, with Lizzie’s cad of a brother in law, Wickham, being implicated in the murder of his best friend.
I always enjoy a different take on a beloved classic, and it was certainly a little thrill to see Elizabeth and Darcy in wedded bliss, her family just as bothersome as usual. The casting of the former Miss Bennett was spot on, with accomplished actor Anna Maxwell Martin taking on the role and perfectly embodying the spirited and intelligent young woman. The other parts were also filled very well, particularly Mathew Rhys as Mr. Darcy, but despite some comic moments courtesy of the Bennetts I found that the three-parter overall lacked the spirit and wit of the original, venturing into darker territories than we are used to and not particularly any the better for it.
I never got round to watching Sherlock, as highly anticipated its return was. The first of season three was broadcast on New Year’s Day with another the following Sunday and saw the Holmes arrive back on the scene after his assumed shuffle of this mortal coil. Now that I have the two recorded, with just one left to go my idea is to settle in for a marathon some Sunday. The joys of the Sky+ Box know no ends – it’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving long after the last mince pie is munched.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald 09.01.14