The week in TV: Doctor Who; Jimmy Carr Destroys Art; The Pact; The Devil’s Hour – review

Jodie Whittaker’s sendoff as the Doctor was overstuffed with its own history, while Channel 4’s take on cancel culture missed its mark

Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor BBC One | iPlayer
Jimmy Carr Destroys Art Channel 4 | All 4
The Pact BBC One | iPlayer
The Devil’s Hour | Amazon Prime

Do we need the spoiler klaxon? Is there anybody along the space-time continuum who doesn’t yet know that, at the end of BBC One’s 90-minute Doctor Who special, The Power of the Doctor, when the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, regenerated (sparking and buckling like a billionaire’s faulty space rocket), she turned into the 10th Doctor, David Tennant (“I know these teeth!”), instead of, as billed, 14th Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa (of Sex Education). Now, as Russell T Davies returns to the Whovian helm, there’ll be three episodes featuring Tennant before Gatwa properly takes over.

This was goodbye to showrunner Chris Chibnall and to the first female Doctor, after Whittaker’s four-year tenure. You have to wonder if Whittaker, an accomplished actor, is partly relieved to leave behind the relentless punishment beatings from Whovian fan-trolls. While she wasn’t the best ever Doctor (above all, too much SHOUTING), she was far from the worst; even the casual viewer could see that Who’s problems (rudimentary plotting; clunking scripts; Argos sale-item special effects) went far beyond her performance.

Anyhow. This was a fine send-off, replete with action (from body swaps to volcanoes) and pathos: a final poignant ice-cream break for Doctor and companion Yaz (Mandip Gill) atop the Tardis. Elsewhere, there were adversaries: Cybermen, Daleks, the Master (a wittily overblown Sacha Dhawan). There were also departing allies, including Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Dan (John Bishop), and past Time Lords, including Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy. (Yes, there was very much an air of “who they could entice/afford”, but let’s not spoil the warm fuzzies.) Also, former companions: Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) and, later, during rather awkward Whovian-Friends Reunited-type scenes, everyone from Bonnie Langford to nonagenarian William Russell, who appeared in the original series.

Nostalgia is wonderful, until it regenerates into a cloying, over-reverential logjam. Turning 60 next year, Doctor Who needs to stop being in hock to its own history and mythology. For a start, sideline, even ditch, the Daleks and Cybermen; these days, they’re about as menacing as Iggle Piggle. I also wonder if it’s a mistake bringing Tennant back: it could be read as a wobble of confidence. Certainly, it seems unfair on the vibrant Gatwa, muddying what should be his grand entrance. I hope I’m wrong about that.

Jimmy Carr wielding a hammer
‘Jarring jokes’: Jimmy Carr, host of Jimmy Carr Destroys Art. Photograph: Channel 4/Rob Parfitt

While aiming to be an edgy comment on cancel culture, an exercise in ethical Top Trumps, the one-off television event Jimmy Carr Destroys Art misfired big time. The basic tenet comprised Carr presenting bought artworks by “problematic” characters: Adolf Hitler (watercolour), Eric Gill (print), Pablo Picasso (pot), Rolf Harris (painting) and more. After listening to art expert debates (as well as contributions from the likes of Janet Street-Porter), a studio audience decided which to blast with a flame-thrower, pulverise with a paintball gun, attack with tiny blades and so on.

The result was bizarre: arthouse-Saw meets Kilroy. First of all, Hitler – “problematic”? Talk about a gift for understatement. A clearly nervous Carr (author of a Holocaust “rib-tickler” on his Netflix show) couldn’t resist making jarring jokes. (Sample: “Everyone who wants to save Hitler, move to the right… that’s the far right.”) There was ongoing confusion about who/what was being judged. The standing (shuffling, self-conscious) audience looked as if they’d gotten lost en route to Later… With Jools Holland.

While it was a waste of money, there were no truly valuable works. At £25,200, the Picasso was the priciest, but it still looked like something the untrained eye would ignore on a local fete bric-a-brac stall. Some hearts were in the right place and there’s a fascinating programme to be made about the rights, wrongs and contradictions of cancel culture. This wasn’t it.

Rakie Ayola and Jordan Wilks in The Pact.
Rakie Ayola and Jordan Wilks in The Pact. Photograph: Simon Ridgway/BBC/Little Door Productions

In the first series of BBC One’s The Pact, Rakie Ayola portrayed a detective investigating the murder of a brewery head. In this second six-part series, also written by creator, Pete McTighe, she plays social worker Christine, whose grown children feel threatened by the arrival of a troubled young man (Jordan Wilks) claiming to be her son.

Again set in Wales, this new Pact retains the central premise of the first series – a deadly mistake exacerbated by ruinous decisions – and drenches it in modern-gothic melodrama. While some characters are sympathetic (Aaron Anthony’s vulnerable younger son; Mali Ann Rees’s compassionate daughter), others (such as Lloyd Everitt’s older brother) are conflicted and volatile. Even Christine vacillates between calm and nurturing and matriarchal and domineering.

For me, this new series, though well acted, isn’t quite as gripping – as divinely tense – as the first Pact. But you could do worse than hang on for the big twist – it slyly coils up out of nowhere.

Peter Capaldi as Gideon in The Devil’s Hour.
‘Wasn’t Malcolm Tucker deranged enough?’: Peter Capaldi as Gideon in The Devil’s Hour. Photograph: Amazon Prime Video / Hartwood Films undefined

Must Peter Capaldi (another former Doctor) venture into Hannibal Lecter territory – wasn’t Malcolm Tucker deranged enough? In The Devil’s Hour, a six-parter created and written by Tom Moran, executive-produced by Steven Moffat, Capaldi plays an incarcerated, murderous psychopath, Gideon, somehow attached to a new serial killer case. Lucy (Jessica Raine) is his Clarice, a social worker prone to prophetic visions and waking up nightly at 3.33am, during the so-called devil’s hour.

Lucy also has an eerie, blankly staring son, straight out of The Sixth Sense. Indeed, The Devil’s Hour is overladen with horror motifs, like a chiller Buckaroo poised to spring: from Gideon (abrasively lit, vibrating with villainy) to the spectral tinkly music over the credits, which sounds like The Exorcist’s theme tune played on a broken xylophone by Halloween’s Michael Myers.

The two episodes I sampled involve a murder investigation (with detectives played by Nikesh Patel and Alex Ferns), Lucy’s visions of a child in peril (cue a blood-splattered cuddly toy) and her meetings with Gideon. “What is the worst thing you’ve ever experienced?” he intones, once again lit as though he’s holding a torch under his chin around a school-trip campfire. The Devil’s Hour is a red-hot contender for 2022’s worst title, as well as overworked, derivative and likely to get even more ridiculous. I’m rather enjoying it.

Star ratings (out of five):
D
octor Who: The Power Of The Doctor ★★★
Jimmy Carr Destroys Art ★★
The Pact ★★★
The Devil’s Hour ★★★

What else I’m watching

Louis Theroux interviews… Stormzy
BBC Two

Louis Theroux and Stormzy
Louis Theroux with Stormzy. Photograph: Freddie Claire/BBC/Mindhouse

Covering the bible, the Cambridge scholarship Stormzy set up for underprivileged black students, and Christmas, this kicks off a new series of Theroux interviews.

House of the Dragon
Sky Atlantic

The final episode of the dark, brilliant Game of Thrones prequel ends on a (devastating) high. It’s so superior to Amazon Prime Video’s travesty The Rings of Power – Jeff Bezos must be fuming.

The Wedding
BBC iPlayer/BBC Scotland

Lola Aluko as the bartender in The Wedding.
Lola Aluko as the bartender in The Wedding. Photograph: Create Anything/BBC Scotland

From film-maker Stewart Kyasimire (Black and Scottish), comes this series of dramatic shorts about a Scottish-African wedding from the perspectives of six guests, including a gambling uncle and a bartender. Debuting on iPlayer, it later airs on BBC Scotland.

Contributor

Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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