Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Master Grace

Shaking off the stupor brought on by the languor of the festive period, the first week of the New Year galloped into the next at a rather worrying lick and shows no sign of slowing down. Stuck indoors, either hunched over the keyboard or poring over the reference material that is gradually beginning to be funnelled my way and piling up on the desk, afforded me the luxury of avoiding going out during the worst of the particularly unsavoury weather conditions.

Trying to negotiate the pavements slick with the crushed and refrozen snow, days after the first flurries blanketed the city, taking tentative, shuffling baby steps like everyone else so as not to have my feet slip out from under me was one thing, but the wind chill made it worse. With the lingering ear infection that has only recently abated, the biting cold felt like someone was repeatedly stabbing me in the head with a stiletto. Even breaking into my stash of codeine tablets, left over from the summer, didn’t really help alleviate the sudden, stabbing pains.

Staying in meant I had to forfeit an event at the BFI Southbank I was looking forward to attending, but having that time available meant I finally got around to catching up with the few remaining television programmes I’d missed over Christmas. In fact, during their last days of availability on iPlayer, I sat down and watched the two episodes of Doctor Who that marked the swan song of Russell T Davies and David Tennant. Figuring I was going to end up watching them eventually, it seemed like an idea to just press play and get it over with.

Over the past few years it has become something of a sport to gleefully knock Davies for writing the most abominably–plotted scripts that appeared to be slapped together without rhyme or reason, but this time it looked like he had actually put some effort into the story. There were instances when it didn’t always make sense, and if there were specific references to the Time Lords machinations that referred to the original run I didn’t get them. But most astonishing of all, I actually enjoyed The End of Time.

I might not have felt the same way if I caught the episodes when they were originally transmitted. Even by the time the Christmas edition of QI came around I was beginning to get a bit fed up of Tennant being carpet–bombed into the BBC’s festive schedule, even half expecting him to turn up and read the early evening news bulletin when he began to appear almost ubiquitous. Actually, it must have been a real downer for a lot of fans sitting down to watch the first part on Christmas Day, and expecting the typical nonsensical crash, bang, wallop only to find the episode given over to two old men contemplated their lives and impending deaths.

Once the theme was firmly established it made it much more easier to forgive the one or two things that didn’t work. With the overriding sense of melancholy permeating the narrative Tennant dialled down on the earlier boggle–eyed overacting, returning to the sort of performance he gave in Peter Bowker’s Blackpool, John Simm gave a far more considered and affecting performance than his over–the–top last go around, and Bernard Cribbins effortlessly stepped up to show the youngsters how it was done.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. Surprised that I hadn’t utterly loathed Davies’ episodes as usual, once it was over I give my skull a rudimentary once over for any serious bumps or cranial damage from a spill on the ice that I hadn’t remembered taking, just I case. When that was done and with a few minutes to spare before the clock ran out, most remarkably of all I watched them through for a second time just to make sure. Bizarrely when I got around to calling pals who were fans of the show, ostensibly to wish them a belated Happy New Year, when we got to talking about the show it turned out they liked it less than I had.

One thing a few of us agreed on was how great Nurse Jackie was. It’s usually the case that once Christmas and the New Year are through and normal service is resumed, television listings throw up some particularly tragic programmes, possibly based on the fact the schedulers were too busy partying last month to really care what they were going to put out for us throughout January. Two or three decent new shows appear but most slots are filled with the likes of The Man Who Can’t Stop Hiccuping or Muslim Driving School or Girl Who Cries Blood or, worse, the new series of Survivors, which were all gobbed out last night to sully our retinas.

After all the indulgences of December, both onscreen and off, there’s nothing better to start the year with a somewhat nihilistic and particularly vicious black comedy about a fucked up nurse and her fellow fucked up employees. It was a good idea by whoever it was stayed off the eggnog long enough to strip the initial five episodes across the first week of transmission before it went weekly so everyone could get a handle on the regular characters and guest roles like the guy who keeps being savaged by his cat.

After watching Monday’s episode it seemed a shame that the BBC didn’t schedule Nurse Jackie in early December because, “Here’s to you. And here’s to me. And if we ever disagree, fuck you! And here’s to me!”, would have made a great Christmas toast, with or without a morphine–laced glass of champagne to raise in celebration. Still, I’m sure there are plenty more occasions where it will come in handy.


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