This article was originally published in The Scotsman on Saturday 30th March 2013.
Today, BBC1, 6:15pm
THE VOICE UK
Today, BBC1, 7pm
Sunday, BBC1, 9pm
LIFE'S TOO SHORT
Today, BBC2, 10pm
The problem with previewing new episodes of DOCTOR WHO is that, because it thrives on shock and surprise, you're left with little to say beyond a few gentle hints. To go into any more detail would be like telling a child what it's getting for Christmas. Which I might actually do one day as a social experiment, but that's another story.
So, what I can tell you is that as series seven resumes, the Doctor is brooding over the bizarre ongoing mystery of Clara Oswald, a young woman who, on the two occasions they've met, has died in different periods in history. How can this be? This being Steven Moffat's Doctor Who, the eventual answer will probably be convoluted and disappointing, but I'll gladly be proven wrong.
In any case, the Doctor is now obsessed with tracking down yet another version of Clara, only this time with a view to keeping her alive. And sure enough, as anyone with even a passing interest in Doctor Who already knows, he meets Clara Mark III in Moffat'sThe Bells of Saint John. It's one of those purely entertaining episodes best described as a romp, as the Doctor sets himself up as Clara's galactic guardian while struggling to save humankind from being enslaved by alien Wi-Fi.
This, of course, is a standard Moffat trick: take an everyday facet of existence and invest it with horror. He must spend his days wandering around thinking of ways to make door knobs and carpets scary. Here he takes our real-world concerns about internet identity theft, chucks in one of his other favourite tropes, the creepy child, adds a possible reference to The Exorcist and a fan-pleasing nod to a former companion, and voila! 45 minutes of fun, pacy Moffat Doctor Who.
Matt Smith is a note-perfect delight as usual, although the day he stops being a note-perfect delight as the Doctor is the day he regenerates into the unfortunate thesp who has to follow him. After Clara's introduction in last year's Asylum of the Daleks and the most recent Christmas special, Jenna Louise-Coleman continues to impress with her likeable, charming, understated performance (she's far less annoying than she was in her sass-talking début). She and Smith make for an endearing team.
Also, watch out for a surprise cameo from John Simm's Master and classic series baddies the Zygons.
Dear internet forums and fellow media outlets: please note that this last statement is an outright lie, humorously pertaining to the dilemma established in my opening paragraph. Thanks.
Also returning to BBC1's Saturday night line-up is THE VOICE UK, the torpid X Factor clone that drew flack last year for its repetitive, drawn-out format and excessive overuse of Jessie J doing that thing with her head. But the producers have apparently made some game-changing improvements to the format, despite retaining the same set of judges. So expect another billion weeks of Tom Jones looking like he'd rather be at home having a nap, and will.i.am standing on his chair whenever he feels he's not getting enough attention.
A big week for TV dramatists called Moffat continues with THE VILLAGE, in which Peter Moffat (Criminal Justice; Silk) abandons his usual peregrinations around the legal system for an epic trek across the entire 20th century. Or at least, that's the plan. Moffat has declared that The Village, which is entirely set within a rural community in the North of England, will unfold over 42 episodes. So that's seven series in as many years.
This ambitious concept automatically confers upon The Village the sort of “event TV” buzz one doesn't normally associate with Sunday night period dramas. It's frustrating, then, that episode one feels like little more than a flat, silly parody.
Leaving no trope unturned, it begins in 1914 by introducing a sadistic farmer (John Simm – genuinely this time – glowering for all his worth) who brutally torments his cowering wife (Maxine Peake) and children, one of whom tops and tails each episode as a centenarian reflecting over his life. There's also a sadistic schoolteacher who is, of course, directly countermanded by a kindly schoolteacher. Meanwhile, up at the Downton-esque big house, the conversation at dinner is preoccupied with the suffragette movement and dark rumblings about war with Germany. It practically writes itself.
Although it's clear that Moffat is trying to do something interesting here, he struggles to settle on the right tone. The unrelenting misery actually becomes funny after a while, a problem hardly alleviated by the persistently mournful brass and harmonium soundtrack. It feels at times like a deranged Hovis advert. However, the more idiosyncratic elements of The Village begin to click into place in part two, with part one feeling in retrospect like a formally self-conscious introduction. So it may be worth sticking with. Over seven years, if need be.
Finally, Gervais & Merchant's dismal sitcom LIFE'S TOO SHORT returns unbidden for a one-off finale. Drab and mean-spirited, it sidelines its nominal star, Warwick Davis, in favour of the supposedly hilarious spectacle of ha-ha-has-beens Keith Chegwin, Shaun Williamson and Les Dennis making fools of themselves. It's truly desperate stuff.